Honorable Mention #1: Lady Dynamite
There’ve been some solid pug performances on the small screen. In an episode of Friends where Phoebe is contemplating serving as a surrogate, her mom gives her a pug puppy so that she will know the pain of giving up a baby. And on The King of Queens, Spence, played by geek icon Patton Oswalt, has an adorable pug named Alan. But I decided to limit this list to movies, because otherwise Lady Dynamite would run away with the top spot. The murderous Blossom, the flirty Blueberry, and especially the teutonically brilliant Bert are possibly the three greatest characters in the history of television.
Honorable Mention #2: Pocahontas and The Nut Job
I also decided to limit this list to live action, because really, how do you evaluate Percy, Governor Radcliffe’s gluttonous pug in Pocahontas, or Precious, the eccentric pug in The Nut Job, alongside the live action options here. Bonus points to Precious, however, for being voiced by Maya Rudolph.
8-10. Breakin’ All the Rules; The Great Race; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen Breakin’ All the Rules or The Great Race, and I didn’t realize The Hobbit had pugs in it when I started making this list. But Google tells me there are pugs in them, so there you go. Google also tells me that the pugs who cameo in The Hobbit are Peter Jackson’s actual dogs, which is pretty cool. They’re probably the most interesting creatures in the movie not portrayed by Andy Serkis.
7. Milo and Otis
There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who think Milo and Otis is a cute movie about a couple of animal friends, and those who recognize the truth--that it is the most horrifying film to come out of Japan this side of Takashi Miike’s Audition. Guess what I never need to see a pug do? Watch his mate give birth, then nearly get himself killed trying to fight a bear. No thank you.
6. The Men in Black Trilogy
Here’s a good idea: if you see a pug, make a Men in Black joke to its owner. I guarantee they haven’t already heard it a thousand times before.
5. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Now we’re getting into movies that truly capture the essence of the pug, and of pug ownership. It may seem ridiculous to give a spy-in-training a pug puppy to take care of, but that’s only because pugs are inherently ridiculous. They are the pinnacle of human-directed evolution: pointless, useless lumps that are totally maladapted to life in the “wild,” but perfectly adapted for their ecological niche in human civilization: so friggin’ cute that nobody with a soul wouldn’t want to protect them. That’s why asking Eggsy to shoot the pug is such a perfectly sociopathic test.
4. The Campaign
I have a confession: I actually kind of like David Lynch’s Dune. From Kenneth McMillan’s pulsing face boils to Sting’s knife fight in a speedo, it’s a glorious mess of a movie. It’s actually kind of impressive how much of Frank Herbert’s epic novel, and how much dark Lynchian weirdness, they manage to pack into the 2 hours 15 minutes runtime. It’s an absurd, goofy monstrosity that manages to fail as an adaptation, fail as a sci-fi epic, and fail as an art film. It’s spectacular. And that’s where the pug comes in.
There’s an unwritten rule that if your space opera takes place in a fictional galaxy, no nonhuman earth animals should appear. Ronald D. Moore was known to have regretted letting a reference to “chicken pot pie” slip into Battlestar Galactica, because why would they have chickens on Caprica? And Rian Johnson had to dress Carrie Fisher's dog Gary Fisher up as a space dog for his cameo in The Last Jedi. But when faced with adapting Dune, David Lynch said, “fuck it, the Atreides have a pug.”
I have to believe that Lynch knew this movie was ridiculous, so he put a ridiculous animal in the middle of it. It’s the ultimate wink to the audience, like he’s turning right to us and saying, can you believe this shit? This is a movie in which esteemed Shakespearean actor Sir Patrick Stewart runs screaming into battle with a machine gun in one hand and a pug in the other. It’s glorious.
2. The Room
Hai doggie! This pug is possibly the best actor in the film. It hits its marks, its pacing is natural, you really believe its performance.
1. Mansfield Park
The most famous pug in literature is also my choice for the top spot. Jane Austen repeatedly characterizes Lady Bertram through her love of her pug: “She was a woman who spent her days in sitting nicely dressed on a sofa, doing some long piece of needle-work, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children…” The 1999 film captures this aspect of her character pretty much perfectly. Lady Bertram represents a person who has OD’ed on her pug, which is a real risk; the zen of the pug is a seductive thing. It is sufficient unto itself, living in an eternal present with a mind unencumbered by thought or ego. It lacks even a name. It is simply pug.