Two of this year’s critically acclaimed movies — The Artist and Beginners, which both received a first wave of awards love this week — feature notable performances by Jack Russell Terriers. Arthur, played by noted dog actor Cosmo (Hotel for Dogs), wisely counsels Ewan McGregor in Beginners; The Artist’s nameless sidekick (Uggie) performs his “Bang Bang” trick with a sadness that suggests maturity beyond his (dog) years. Both movies would have suffered without these canine star turns, which got Vulture wondering: Are Jack Russell Terriers actually the best kind of movie dog? Or is there some other breed that might correspond to a better movie-going experience? To find out, we undertook a highly scientific inquiry, pitting German Shepherds against Poodles in search of the perfect canine thespian. A few notes on methodology: Scores were determined by averaging the Rotten Tomatoes rating for each movie in consideration; only real, live dog actors were in contention; and only memorable performances made the cut (sorry, random Great Dane wandering through the background of Diner). Herewith, our findings.
Movies in consideration: Rin Tin Tin, K-9, I Am Legend, Cool Dog
Composite Rotten Tomatoes score: 47
Analysis: The German Shepherd’s remarkably low score perhaps reflects fear rather than delight on the part of the audience. Though Rin Tin Tin and his ilk were extremely popular in the twenties and thirties, they have gotten less so. A modern-day rule of dog/movie likability: Don’t use a dog that can eat you. Mathematical note: The Rotten Tomatoes scores for Rin Tin Tin and Cool Dog do not exist, but Vulture assumed that they would likely cancel each other out. (Rotten Tomatoes loves old movies; meanwhile, this is the trailer for Cool Dog.)
Movies in Consideration: Royal Tenenbaums, Underdog, Cats and Dogs
Composite Rotten Tomatoes Score: 50
Analysis: The Tennenbaums’ beloved Buckley — a plane-crash survivor, no less! — was brought low by Underdog’s 16 percent score, leaving Lou of Cats and Dogs, voiced by Tobey Maguire, to rep for the Snoopy descendants. (Snoopy was not in contention, since this study examines ony real, pettable dogs.) Lesson: Dogs-in-human-clothes do not always correspond to an improved moviegoing experience.
Movies in Consideration: Look Who’s Talking Now, Best in Show, Zoolander
Composite Rotten Tomatoes score: 52.67
Analysis: It’s not just the cold, overly groomed nature of the Standard Poodle that turns off viewers: Kiva, the Toy Poodle from Zoolander, was also figured into the composite score. (Look Who’s Talking Now, with a zero percent rating, probably did not help matters.) In general, avoid dog mullets.
Movies in Consideration: Legally Blonde, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Transformers
Composite Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55.3
Analysis: A separate study found that Chihuahuas plus tacos bumped the score up to the high 60s. Next time, Michael Bay.
Movies in Consideration: Beethoven, Cujo, Peter Pan (2003)
Compostite Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55.67
Analysis: Here, surprisingly, it’s not Cujo the psychotic dog that’s dragging down the score, it’s the mischevious Beethoven, who only managed to charm 31 percent of critics. At the risk of sounding size-ist, there is maybe such a thing as “too much adorable dogginess”? Keep it to the supporting roles.
Movies in Consideration: Homeward Bound, Air Bud, Marley & Me, Fluke
Composite Rotten Tomatoes Score: 56.75
Analysis: Unsubstantiated but still true fact: Most people, when asked to name their favorite movie dog, will respond with “Air Bud.” Unfortunately, they don’t also answer “Fluke,” meaning that the beloved Golden Retriever gets shut out of the top three.
Movies in Consideration: Old Yeller, Benji, Look Who’s Talking Now, Life Aquatic, Anchorman
Composite Rotten Tomatoes Score: 61
Analysis: Old Yeller’s perfect rating helps cancel out that goose egg for LWTN, meaning that the mutts got to compete on the strength of Life Aquatic and Anchorman, two films that fully, and fittingly, embody the mixed breed’s endearing, outsider status.
Movies in Consideration: 101 Dalmatians, The Queen, White Fang, Turner & Hooch, As Good As It Gets, Marmaduke
Composite Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69.4
Analysis: There were a number of memorable dog performances that we couldn’t fit into a category, because they involved unique snowflake breeds (Dalamatians, Corgis, a wolf dog, a Dogue de Bordeaux, and a Brussels Griffon, respectively). It turns out that special dogs do make for special movies — but not the most special movies.
Movies in Consideration: Men in Black, Milo & Otis, Hotel for Dogs
Composite Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72.33
Analysis: Your unexpected runner-up owes its success to Men In Black’s 91 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. (Really!) Wrinkles on humans: not allowed. Wrinkles on dogs: encouraged.
Movies in Consideration: Beginners, The Artist, Hotel for Dogs, The Mask, My Dog Skip
Composite Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74.8
Analysis: Math doesn’t lie! The delightful Jack Russell Terrier really is the king of movie dogs, even with Hotel for Dogs factored into the score. Congrats to the Canine champion, and remember: Uggie for Best Actor.