Say what you will about movie violence, but there’s one thing that I’ve come to think of as hard truth: most people can handle an almost infinite number of human deaths on-screen, but if the dog dies, they’ll damn near walk out of the theatre. I call it “The Independence Day Effect,” after the scene were pretty much all of Los Angeles explodes, but the audience (and I witnessed this in the theatre) held its collective breath until the return of Will Smith’s golden lab. I distinctly remember applause and cheering (and not just from me) when the dog finally leaps to his master and safety, oh-so-dramatically close ahead of the giant alien fireball. But not all movies give us that happy let off when the dog comes bounding to safety. In some movies the dog doesn’t make the improbable escape from the exploding skyscraper. In some movies the dog isn’t around at the end when the world is saved from the robots/aliens/international terrorist stereotypes. In some movies the dog dies. Those movies suck. Here’s a quick list of a few movies that, if you're like me and your enjoyment of the flick hinges on the safety of the dog, you'll want to be wary of.
- Old Yeller (1957) – I hate you, Disney, for making this movie. It’s a classic, of course, despite the fact that everyone knows what’s coming. Famous for bringing tears to the most hardened of moviegoers’ eyes, the scene where Old Yeller dies has traumatized generations of dog-lovers.
- I Am Legend (2007) – Will Smith, who passed the test in dog-friendly Independence Day, lost his canine cred with audiences when his character’s beloved German shepherd didn’t live happily ever in I Am Legend. Sure he cried, but I’d rather he saved the dog.
- Marley & Me (2008) – At least this is a true story of a retriever that lived a long and happy life. And, I know, this is mostly about the dog’s happy life and well-natured antics. But still, the dog-lover in me still wishes they departed from the book, and Marley ends up living on a farm in the country where he has lots of space to run and is really happy forever.
- The Fly II (1989) – The worst of the lot. The innocent golden retriever (why is it always goldens?) suffers horribly from cruel bad guys and twisted science before being relieved of his misery by Eric Stoltz. (Good man, Eric.) No wonder this film got such poor reviews.