Homeward Bound, Cats and Dogs, 101 Dalmations. For years animals have been the stars of both film and TV. From the horses in the early “westerns” to the loyal animal companions that aided a heroes to save the day.
Where would Waratah National Park be now if it wasn’t for Skippy the bush kangaroo? And what would Coral Key Park and Marine Reserve be without Flipper the dolphin to help save the day? Remember the irresistible face of Beethoven, the beloved canine franchise based on the St. Bernard dog, and who doesn’t laugh at the inappropriate orangutan from Every Which Way But Loose? Without these creatures, Ace Ventura would never have existed.
Animals on screen are a great tool for evoking a range of emotions in audiences that human actors struggle to do. They can promote an investment in the film that makes us emote towards them and causes us to fall in love with the characters they portray. That can make them box office gold. This comes with its benefits, some of which being fame and a safe and secure environment, but the other is a wage, and not a bad wage either.
But which of the furry, scaly and feathered animal stars have earned the most in their careers on the big screen? This top 10 countdown looks at the animals that have earned the title of top dog in terms of their earnings.
10. Rin Tin Tin – $6,000
Rin Tin Tin was one of the earliest animal actors, and one of the most prolific, too. The lovable and enigmatic German Shepherd was saved from a World War I battlefield by a soldier named Corporal Lee Duncan . The dog was soon trained to a standard in which he could work on silent movies in the 1920’s, beginning with The Man From Hell’s River. The dogs fame grew and grew, as did the number of films he starred in. This successful career saw the thespian pup nominated for an Academy Award, given his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and he was noted in the famous Diary of Anne Frank. Through his illustrious career, including over 20 films, the talented pooch was paid $6,000 per week. His legacy has even spurned a line in dog treats and products, so technically he is still earning!
9. Keiko the Orca – $36 Million
Keiko is still the world’s most famous orca who appeared in the hit film Free Willy. The image of him jumping over the young Jesse making his break for freedom remains an iconic cinematic image. Having been captured by a fishing boat and held in an Icelandic aquarium in the late 70s, Keiko was then transported to a theme park in Canada where he began to perform for audiences. In 1993, Keiko’s luck changed when he starred as Willy in the surprise smash hit. Keiko shot to fame and so began a campaign to get him released into the wild via the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation. The foundation now works to help other orca’s in the same situation as Keiko was. Free Willy earned the whale a reported $36 million. Keiko was released into the ocean via a graded process and passed away in 2003 having spent his final years out in the open water.
8. Bart the Bear – $6 Million
Not quite as famous as Yogi or Baloo, Bart the Kodiak Bear was most famous for his role in The Edge. He also starred in other films, as well as commercials and TV shows. Born to orphaned bears in a US Zoo, the zoo could not care for Bart and he was taken in by Doug and Lynn Seuss. As Bart grew, the couple trained him and he found work in a number of TV Series and films such as Legends of the Fall. Bart has worked alongside acting greats such as Robert Redford, Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, and Brad Pitt to name but a few. Through his work with these Hollywood stars, Bart is reported to have earned $6 million during his time on the screen before his death to cancer at the age of 23.
7. Pal the Collie – $4,000 Per Week
Born in 1940, Pal was the first collie to play the legendary role of Lassie. An animal trainer by the name of Howard Peck brought Pal to Hollywood animal trainer Rudd Weatherwax to curb an uncontrolled barking habit and reign in his urge to chase motorbikes. Although the barking stopped, the motorbike chasing did not and Peck returned Pal to Weatherwax. However when Weatherwax learned that the novel Lass Come Home was being made into a feature film, he put Pal up for the part and a legend was born. Pal made his debut in the 1943 film Lassie Come Home and from there went on to appear in six more Lassie films and two TV pilots for the Lassie TV series before passing away. His offspring continued to play the role of Lassie after his passing. Whilst starring in the films, Pal was earning $4,000 a week, which would equate to $51,000 a week today.
6. Moose the Terrier – $10,000 Per Episode
This cheeky Jack Russell is probably the only dog ever to steal a scene from Kelsey Grammar. Born on December 24, 1990, this tearaway terrier was too much to handle as a youngster and he was given to a Hollywood animal training company. Moose is known for playing the endearing Eddie on the hugely successful TV series Frasier, made all the more endearing by his ability to fix the lead star with a long hard stare that became a running gag on the show. It is reported that at the height of the show, Moose received more fan mail than any other cast member. Moose also played the older version of Skip in the film My Dog Skip, with his son Enzo playing the younger Skip. Whilst filming Frasier, Moose was earning $10,000 per show. He even had a biography written by the husband of Frasier co-star David Hyde-Pierce, Brian Hargrove, entitled My Life as a Dog.
5. Crystal the Capuchin – $12,000 Per Episode
Crystal has had an illustrious career in Hollywood. After being purchased by Birds and Animals United with the specific purpose of being trained to appear in TV and film, Crystal did not disappoint. She began her career working on the Animal Actors stage show at Universal Studios Florida. She began her movie career playing a young monkey in George of the Jungle.
She has since worked on a variety of films, including the entire Night at the Museum series (troublesome monkey named Dexter), The Hangover Part 2 ( drug dealing monkey) and Zookeeper (she played Donal the monkey). Crystal also starred in the TV series Animal Practice, playing Dr. Rizzo. Before the show was cancelled, she reportedly earned $264,000 per season, or $12,000 per episode. That buys a lot of bananas.
4. Terry the Terrier -$125 Per Week
Potentially one of the most famous and adored canine sidekicks of all time, Dorothy’s little Toto in the Wizard of Oz is a firm favourite in terms of animal characters. Terry is the dog that brought the character to the big screen. This little Cairn Terrier was owned and trained by Carl Spitz and gained her first film role in 1934 in the film Ready For Love. Her first major appearance was alongside Shirley Temple in 1934 in the film Bright Eyes where Terry played the role of Rags. Then came the big one. Her role as Toto in the Wizard of Oz, during which she broke her foot and spent time recuperating at the home of star Judy Garland. Garland grew so attached to Terry that she offered to adopt her, but Spitz refused. A wise decision because as Terry was filming The Wizard of Oz, she earned $125 a week, which is more than the actors playing the munchkins earned. Terry can be seen in other films of that era, but The Wizard of Oz is her only credited role. I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore, Toto!
3. Skippy (A.K.A Asta) -$250 Per Week
No, not the bush kangaroo. This Skippy was a Wire Fox Terrier that had a prolific film career during the 1930s. Trained by his owners Henry and Gale East, with some help from animal actor trainers Frank and Rudd Weatherwax, Skippy found fame with his most popular role of ‘Asta’ in the comedy detective film The Thin Man. So popular was it that his name was changed from Skippy to Asta. Asta also found praise in his role as Mr. Smith in the 1937 film The Awful Truth alongside Cary Grant. Asta appeared in a follow up to The Thin Man, After the Thin Man as well as starring in Bringing Up Baby as George, and as Mr. Atlas in Topper Takes a Trip. Whilst working, Asta/Skippy was earning $250 a week.
2. Trigger (A.K.A Golden Cloud) – $75 Per Week
No, not the dim-witted, wrong-naming character from Only Fools and Horses! Born in 1934, this Trigger is the sidekick of well-known TV cowboy Roy Rogers, and is probably the most famous horse actor to grace the silver screen. Originally named Golden Cloud, he began his career as the mount for Maid Marian in the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood. Once he was chosen by Roy Rogers to star as his trusty sidekick in his western films, Rogers brought the horse and renamed him Trigger due his quick feet. It is reported that Trigger could perform 150 tricks and walk 50 feet on his hind legs. He starred in a number of western films with Rogers as well as his TV series and he even had his own comic book. Trigger earned $75 a week for his on-screen antics, making him one of the top animal earners in history.
Higgins was born in 1957. The scruffy crossbreed was found in an Animal Rescue Shelter by animal trainer Frank Inn who trained him alongside all of the other animals he trained for shows such as Green Acres. He began his career on the small screen in shows such as The Beverley Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, appearing in 149 episodes of the latter. He received a Patsy Award and was featured on the cover of an issue of the TV Guide magazine. Higgins later starred in feature films such as Mooch Goes to Hollywood alongside Vincent Price but it was his part as Benji in the 1974 feature film of the same name that was his most popular role. Higgins played the part of Benji at the ripe old age of 14 and still holds the title as the number one paid animal actor of all time. Nice dogs obviously do not finish last.