This is part of our Decade Rewind, which runs throughout November. Keep up as we look back at the best, worst, and otherwise interesting movies and shows of the 2010s.
Sit, stay, and settle in. Welcome to the most competitive and contentious list in Film School Rejects’ Decade Rewind. Unlike the Oscars, and just about every bigwig film institution shy of Cannes’ Palm Dog, we take cinematic animal performances very, very seriously around these parts. Our furry, feathered, and otherwise textured friends didn’t go to animal Julliard just to have their work ignored.
Some quick notes before we reveal our esteemed winners. First: this is a list celebrating animal performers, not animal characters. This rules out all animated animals, which I might add includes all those Disney hyper-realistic “live-action” remakes. The same logic applies to human mo-cap performances. The bear in The Revenant was not a real bear. That was a very large, hardworking Canadian stuntman named Glenn Ennis. Relatedly, you will also not find any performances on this list where an animal performed “reference work” for characters who were predominantly computer-generated.
Like I said this is a very tightly adjudicated and very serious bracket. But rules exist for a reason: we’re here to celebrate animals, people! Animals who act! So without further ado, let’s get to it:
25. Ruby and Pearl as Meowthra (The Lego Ninjago Movie, 2017)
I’m very honored to have a real-life kaiju on this list. Meowthra is a laser-loving terror on a warpath: an awwwww-inspiring, adorable monster. And yeah, sure Meowthra has some, let’s call them, “CGI moments.” But come on. These rescue kittens were “one of the biggest draws” of the film for Dave Franco. And who can blame him? Meowthra is a fun, playful twist on the genre and a real-life threat to legos everywhere.
24. Uncredited spider (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, 2012)
There are less than three weeks left until Armageddon, Dodge Petersen’s (Steve Carell’s) wife has just left him, and he’s such a docile pencil pusher he’s still showing up to his day job selling insurance like a total pleb. And flossing. Like there’s a point in all that nonsense. But anyway, it is while flossing that he encounters a bona fide scene-stealer in the form of little eight-legged fiend crawling up from the depths of his bathroom sink drain. “Oh shit,” he says, because, y’know, duh, it’s a spider, and grabs some TP to take out the arachnid invader. Only then, feeling a sense of kinship with one of the least beloved of God’s creatures, Dodge decides to take the high road and let the spider live. There’s plenty of apartment for the two of them, after all. Only no there fucking isn’t because the second he falls asleep his new roommate crawls up on his face and bites him repeatedly. What a legend. (Ciara Wardlow)
23. Kelly as Pippin (The Meg, 2018)
The second time I saw The Meg in theatres (yep), it became abundantly clear to me that Kelly was a star. She has perfect comedic timing and introduces some goddamn stakes to a film that’s pretty timid for being about a giant prehistoric shark. Kelly jumped into the water and into our hearts: the itty bitty scream queen we didn’t know we needed.
22. Cinderella and Prince as Bitch (Hush, 2016)
Deaf author Maddie (Kate Siegel) lives alone in the woods with a fluffy (but hard as fuck) kitty named Bitch. Despite some very close calls, this cat and mouse thriller sees Bitch for the survivor she is. Though, really, she could care less. Bitch is an heir to the throne of Alien’s Jonsey; totally unbothered (and even annoyed) at all the kerfuffle. A calm, cool and collected queen? Such a subtle performance. We have to stan.
21. Fourteen uncredited snakes (Them That Follow, 2019)
The cleansing power of snake handling has a longstanding history in Appalachia. In Them That Follow, Walton Goggins’ Pentecostal commune sees venomous snake-handling as a means of proving (or disproving) the existence of God’s favor. In a film boasting an exciting cast, the real stars of Them That Follow are the snakes. They command every scene; demanding faith with twists and flicks that keep the congregants, and us, on edge.
20. Uncredited rabbit in (The Favorite, 2018)
Near the end of The Favorite, Abigail (Emma Stone) finally bears her self-serving, sadistic, socialite soul to Queen Anne. And she does it in the most unambiguously villainous way possible: by pushing her heel onto the back of one of Anne’s “children,” a small rabbit, who squeals, alerting Anne to what kind of a “friend” Abigail really is. This lil’ bunny was not harmed in the making of this top tier character moment, but it put on one hell of a show; erasing any unsureness of Abigail’s cruelty.
19. Gamja, Mangchi, and Mungchi as Zoonie, Berry, and Foofoo (Parasite, 2019)
An ensemble of three, the dogs in Parasite may have no direct bearing on the plot, but their charms are put to greater thematic use. Even the Parks’ dogs have it better than the Kim family. Feasting on kangaroo jerky and having the run of, what we’re confident in saying is, the most enviable house in all of modern cinema. Sure, they may be cute, but there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism. No matter how much you want to squish that Pomeranian’s face.
Author’s note: Googling “Dogs in Parasite” is not a good idea.