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The 25 Best Animal Performances of the Decade

W.C. Fields once said “never work with animals,” but that’s probably because he was afraid of them stealing the limelight.
Decade Animal Performances
By  · Published on November 11th, 2019

18. Uncredited ants (Hereditary, 2019)

Hereditary Ants

“No way were those ants real,” you sneer. “That delicate ensemble piece is far too complex and evocative to have been the work of real ants.” I’ll admit, I too was skeptical. But then I saw that Hereditary credits an ant wrangler. Much like covert satanic cults, ants are literally everywhere in Hereditary; swarming, teaming, and mobilizing as if to welcome the arrival of something dark and as rotten. Milly Shapiro’s festering, sun swollen head is one of the decade’s most horrifying frames, and we have these ants to thank!

17. Uncredited cat as Marty (Elle, 2016)

Elle Cat

Marty the cat doesn’t have the heroics to match some other animals on this list, after all, he makes himself scarce when things get dangerous and greets Michèle (Isabelle Huppert) with a debilitated sparrow, but he does have a personality to match the protagonist of Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. In low-light, Marty appears black, but he is, in fact, a deep shade of grey, with piercing green eyes that stare into your soul. He’s not especially expressive, instead, he silently bears witness to the events of this erotic thriller that, even for Verhoeven, is a hell of a lot to unpack. Huppert has always possessed feline qualities; she’s mysterious, a little conniving, and completely beguiling. With Elle, she finds herself a companion that matches these traits and shows us there’s always more than first meets the eye. (Anna Swanson)

16. Ricsi as The Horse (The Turin Horse, 2011)

The Turin Horse

Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse concerns a rural farmer forced to confront the mortality of his faithful horse, who, we’re told, is the same infamous horse that drove Nietzsche mad after he saved it from whipping in Turin. Ricsi puts in marvelous, heartbreaking work as an abused, immovable force whose non-cooperation portents his owners’ doom. From the opening five minute one-take of Ricsi battling the wind, to his ultimate refusal to walk, this is a lyrically apocalyptic, stubborn film about a stubborn horse armed with nothing but fearsome passivity.

15. Corfu as Lizzie (Mandy, 2018)

Mandy Tiger

Difficult to believe that at one point Lizzie was supposed to be played by a lizard. Not that we have anything against lizards, but Mandy is a tiger film you know? Lizzie appears, pivotally, near the eye of the storm: caged in the lab of the Chemist (Richard Brake) standing between Red and the bananapants cult leader Jeremiah Sand. By now, Red is on that magic shit, and with no more than a look of cosmic darkness commands the Chemist to release her. Like him, Lizzie is too much for these petty underworld thugs; too powerful and mystic to be under their control. Her in a cage? It ain’t right.

14. Andy as Daisy (John Wick, 2014)

Keanu Reeves John Wick
Summit Entertainment

Andy may only have been 8 weeks old during the John Wick shoot, but his performance set a whole action franchise ablaze. Daisy represented a glimmer of hope for John Wick: the one thing keeping him tethered to normalcy after his wife’s passing. Because of Daisy, Wick starts to live his life again. For her: for this precious, joyful baby. Even when a villainous mobster shit kid attempts to hustle Wick at a gas station, Daisy’s all smiles, jumping up to the window to get pets because gosh she just doesn’t know better. Too pure for Wick’s world, Daisy’s death broke our hearts. And now John Wick has to break skulls.

13. Sayuri as Brandy (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 2019)


Adorable, loyal, and eager to attack white supremacists, Brandy is a pup we could all learn something from. Played by Sayuri, this darling pitbull from Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood picked up the prestigious Palme Dog award at Cannes. Though I’d argue she deserves the whole world, this is a pretty good place to start. Brandy stole hearts this summer as Cliff Booth’s well-trained companion and his right-hand girl. From her eager, wagging tail to her ferocious fight skills, she’s a complete sweetheart with the bite to match her bark. Frankly, the total package. (Anna Swanson)

12. Olivia as Bastian (Game Night, 2018)

Plemons Game Night

Olivia, the Daniel Day-Lewis of West Highland White Terriers, had her breakout role in 2018’s woefully overlooked Game Night, and, as they say: a star was born. As Bastian, Olivia provides a constant source of entertainment as the adorable ying to Jesse Plemons’ sociopathic yang. She even played a part in one of the funniest scenes of the year: acting as a bleeding Max’s (Jason Bateman) incriminating (and shaking) crimson towel.  

11. Jim and Peppy as Apollo (The Rider, 2017)

The Rider

Chloe Zhao’s naturalistic neo-western follows Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), a young cowboy who is forced to retire after a horse crushes his skull at a rodeo. After returning to the Pine Ridge Reservation, Brady comes to terms with his new sense of place outside the livelihood he knows and loves. Brady sees himself in Apollo, a wild thing confused by his circumstances who wants freedom he can’t have. Apollo and Brady’s symbiosis develops into something tender and fragile: it’s as heartwrenching and beautiful as the film itself. 

10. Johnny, Lady, and the Tramp as unnamed seagulls (The Lighthouse, 2019)

The Lighthouse

Anyone who’s had an encounter with The Sea knows the same, indelible fact: seagulls are a menace. Robert “it’s my slumber party and I choose the aspect ratio” Eggers makes full use of these satanic little shits who peck away at Robert Pattinson’s sanity until he commits a big maritime “no-no” and lashes back. The Lighthouse has been unduly marketed a two-hander: the persistent presence of these gulls is undeniable. The birds behind these performances, Johnny, Lady, and the Tramp, are real thespians: fragile, sensitive souls with admirable boundaries and focus (“they will not come and cuddle,” remarks wrangler Guillaume Grange). Consummate professionals is what they are.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.