Lists · Movies

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

9. Fourteen uncredited horses as Joey (War Horse, 2011)

War Horse

Fourteen different horses? For one role? What is this? I’m Not There? It’s true: eight horses played adult Joey, four played colt Joey, and two played foal Joey. On the horses’ performances, Steven Spielberg had this to say: “Joey had a sense of what was happening in the scene. Joey added things, as the cameras were rolling, that none of us ever asked for, that brought a performance to [the audience] that we didn’t expect when we made the movie.” Damn. A compliment from a master. Good job Joeys.

8. Boris and Krinkles as Bleeker a.k.a. “Cheeto” (Gone Girl, 2014)

Gone Girl Cat

“This cat’s name is Cheeto, because he looks like a Cheeto.” David Fincher’s director commentaries are always valuable, but never more so than when he provides these helpful nuggets regarding the real star of Gone Girl: Cheeto the cat. This handsome fella was beloved on set for staying put wherever he was placed, a handy trait to have when Fincher reaches take 46 and wants to go again. He’s also delightful and charming, with big eyes that glimmer in the flashing lights of Amy’s paparazzi bandwagon. He’s also one hell of a companion to the decade’s best femme fatale. And speaking of Fincher’s feline friends, the unnamed cat from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo failed to make this list (blame Meg) but I’d like to give this ill-fated tabby a shoutout, too. RIP, you darling Swedish stray. Gone but not forgotten. (Anna Swanson)

7. Two uncredited Andalusians and one untrained Mustang as Marquis (The Mustang, 2019)

The Mustang

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s debut feature follows Roman (Matthias Schoenaerts), an incarcerated convict instructed to temper his anger by participating in a rehab program training wild horses, many of whom become police mounts. Stuck in the system together, both Matthias and the mustang he calls Marquis balk at the idea of being tamed, and test each other’s limits until they discover trust and even understanding. The horse actors who portray Marquis are imposing and subtle, articulating a knowing fury and endearing haughtiness in exhales, starts, and sideways glances. It’s a clean and graceful performance; appropriately electric and inarguably boundless.

6. Towne as Jersey (Can You Ever Forgive Me?, 2018)


Can You Ever Forgive Me director Marielle Heller once referred to Towne as “the Marlon Brando of cats,” and frankly, we have to agree. Jersey is struggling author Lee Israel’s whole world, to the point that when Lee can’t afford to pay for Jersey’s vet bills, she turns to a life of crime. Towne has since passed away, but his performance as the sympathetically-faced Jersey speaks volumes of his talents. He was, as his trainer Kim Krafsky puts it, “one of the greats.”

5. Uggie, Dash, and Dude as The Dog (The Artist, 2011)

The Artist Dujardin

While The Dog is a performance brought to life by three separate dogs, it’s Uggie’s inspired turn that set Hollywood aflame with that eternal, noble question: “can we give that dog an Oscar?” Uggie’s performance in The Artist is a stroke of genius, evoking an older generation of pupformance: a workmanly, mark-hitting tribute to the Lassies and Skippys of old. With a long list of credits to his name, Uggie brought seasoned professionalism to set; a confident, endlessly watchable energy. We can only assume that the Academy awarded The Artist Best Picture because they were unable to nominate Uggie as a lead.

4. Sully as Steven Seagull (The Shallows, 2016)

The Shallows

Trapped in the titular shallows, unlucky surfer Nancy (Blake Lively) finds an unlikely friend in Steven Seagull, the charismatic bird who like her is injured, potential shark-food. Without any prior training, Sully adopted a naturalistic style (“I gave him freedom, or whatever,” said director Jaume Collet-Serra, “a genius seagull…the Marlon Brando of seagulls“). Praised for his strong instincts, the whole crew fell in love with the first-timer. It’s a captivating, empathetic performance, and far and away one of the most masterfully executed audience surrogate roles of the decade. 

3. Tigger, Jerry, and Daryl as Ulysses (Inside Llewyn Davis, 2013)

Ild Cat

Yet another ensemble effort. And what an effort. But even so, despite their screen time, Ulysses goes uncredited. How come Coens? The pesky red Mackrel companion was played by three tabbies, and is, it turns out, the cat tying the whole dang plot together. To quote Joel: “The film doesn’t really have a plot. That concerned us at one point; that’s why we threw the cat in.” Such a weighty burden for such tiny little shoulders. Luckily, all three kitties, Tigger, Jerry, and Daryl are purrfessionals (sorry): subway riding escape artists who, like Oscar Isaacs’ Llewyn, and their namesake, get lost from home and have to find their way back. 

2. Olivia as Olivia (Widows, 2018)


Director Steve McQueen’s camera lingers on Oliva whenever she’s on-screen. And how could it not? In McQueen’s words: “People live with dogs, so let’s be true to the reality that we live in.”  In Widows, Hollywood’s preeminent Westie Highland terrier plays opposite Viola Davis, holding her own with Oscar winner. A generous scene partner, Olivia humanizes Davis’ cold, ruthless Veronica; offering silent comfort and unguarded moments of tenderness to an otherwise sealed-off woman. Veronica genuinely cherishes Olivia, and so do we.

1. Charlie as Black Philip (The Witch, 2015)


Black Phillip says ya’ll knew this was coming. Charlie took the world by storm in 2015 with his unforgettably malevolent performance as an uppity billy goat who’s more (satanic) than he seems. Which is already pretty damn satanic if you ask us. Charlie was, by director Robert Eggers’ account, an uncooperative “madman,” a fact actor Ralph Ineson corroborates: “[Charlie] had two modes: chilling out and doing nothing, or attacking me.” It’s as if no one’s ever heard of method acting before. The fact that Charlie retired (after a brief cameo in It Comes At Night) is only further evidence of his greatness: the best actors know to go out on top.

Pages: 1 2 3

Related Topics:

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.