There are a lot of movies that feature animals, many where they are the main character. But they also often show up in random cameos, sometimes with what seems like no reason. Here, we’re looking at animals that show up unexpectedly but leave a strong impression. The rules are simple, the animals (real, cartoon, or otherwise) serve only to satisfy a scene or to establish a premise but can’t be something a main character is familiar with. Sorry Baxter, though you are a great friend to Ron Burgundy, you don’t make the list (but Ron still does). Nor does Jonesy, Ripley’s pet cat in Alien, or Einstein from Back to the Future. Here’s 25 unexpected movie moments when an animal just shows up.
Summary: Rick Gassko (Tom Hanks) is about to get married so his best friends decide he needs to go out in style. They rent a posh hotel suite and fill it with debauchery and hope to give their pal a crazy night to remember. But Rick’s a good guy and made a promise to his fiance that he would not have sex with any girls so now has to last the night and make it through as a faithful man. Everyone else on the other hand is going wild, though it all seems like good rowdy fun. But then . . .
The Animal: A Mule
As the party shifts into high gear, with more people and more drugs and more hookers in every direction, suddenly, out of nowhere, in walks a donkey with a half naked belly dancer. It goes without saying that the mule eventually pops a pile of pills and snorts a few lines of cocaine before partying completely and permanently out.
Summary: Buddy (Will Ferrell – who excels at putting random animals in movies) is an elf who lives at the North Pole who one day discovers that he isn’t actually an elf at all but a normal human man. His height should have been the first clue. On a quest to find and reconnect with his real father, he heads to New York City still dressed in his elf costume. It’s a journey of discovery and lots of expected fun. But then . . .
The Animal: A raccoon
Up at the North Pole, animals are cute stop-motion creatures that talk. In the world beyond, they are, well, real. When Buddy encounters a wild raccoon in the forest it’s something new and quite naturally wants to give it a hug. Big mistake.
Summary: A fellowship of men, elves and hobbits battle their way across Middle Earth to Morodor to stop a powerful evil that is darkening the land. Two hobbits named Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee are burdened with bringing the One Ring to the fires of Mt. Doom, which will end the reign of terror. When they are caught in the flows of lava as the mountain erupts, all hope seems lost. But then . . .
The Animal: Eagles
There are lots of animals in this long trilogy, but none more elusive and well, convenient, than the Great Eagles of Manwë. They swoop in and like Greek Dues Ex Machinas, turn the ending (one of the many) from tragic to happy.
Summary: Gregory’s Girl is a 1981 Scottish film about a lanky high school footballer (soccer) who is smitten by the team’s new girl player and must contend with the awkwardness of asking her out and passing the social tests each of her friends give him as he attempts to go on a date. Touching, funny, highly personal and a surprisingly good film, this is a grounded coming of age story. But then . . .
The Animal: A penguin (sort of)
Okay, not an actual penguin but a person dressed as one. Interpretations of just what this very quick moment means is one that has raged for decades, but it comes out of nowhere and seems so random, its impression afterwards is long felt.
Summary: When fading-glory stars Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), five-time Academy Award-winning Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.), and rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) go to the jungle to film the story of a Vietnam vet, things go commando as they think they are still filming even though their director is blown up by a landmine (they think it’s fake). As they get separated, Speedman (an active panda bear conservationist) spends a rainy night in the wilds and hears a strange sound. He arms himself with a knife and looks to defend against whatever is in the dark preparing for attack in the bushes. But then . . .
The Animal: A Panda
In a frenzied slash-cut moment that shows only bared teeth and Speedman stabbing mercilessly into the creature, the camera pulls back and reveal that it is (was) in fact, just a little panda bear. Whoops.
Summary: Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a 1975 British comedy starring the sketch comedy troupe of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Telling the tale of King Aurthur’s quest to find the coveted last cup of Christ, the team follows the adventures of the Knights of the Round Table as they traverse the lands and encounter a whole host of strange and amusing situations. But then . . .
The Animal:A Rabbit
The Killer Rabbit of the Cave of Caerbannog. As the knights continue their search, they meet Tim the Enchanter, a kind of busy sorcerer who leads them to a cave that houses the Legendary Black Beast of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh, guarded by a fabled monster that, as he describes, has “nasty, big, pointy teeth!” Part of that is true.
Summary: At Faber College in 1962, the Delta House is in trouble with Dean Vernon Wormer for a number of violations that stem from extensive partying and poor academic performance. He wants the fraternity disbanded and sends in goody-two shoes Omega president Greg Marmalard to find a way to break up the house, initiating a rivalry that escalates to some standard campus shenanigans. But then . . .
The Animal: A Horse
To exact some revenge, the boys from the frat steal the favorite horse of Omega member and ROTC cadet commander Douglas Neidermeyer and plan to leave it in the Dean’s office. As bonus, as they initiate new Delta pledge Kent “Flounder” Dorfman, they give him a pistol and tell him to shoot the horse, not telling him that it’s loaded with blanks. But no one told the horse.
Summary: Detective David Starsky (Ben Stiller) and Detective Ken ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) are two unlikely cops partnered in 1975 to stop a drug kingpin in this comedy homage to the classic 1970s buddy cop television hit show. During their investigation, as the two become closer friends, they meet a pair of lovely ladies and take them back to Starsky’s house for some fun. Using what Starsky thinks is artificial sweetener but is actually cocaine, he puts several spoonfuls in his coffee and drinks while Hutch sings Don’t Give Up on Us (a song written and song by David Soul, the original “Hutch”). It all goes well as the girls smile and Starsky sways to the tune. But then . . .
The Animal: Cartoon Bird
As the drug starts to take effect, Starsky begins to take the saccharine sweet medley a little too much to heart as an animated baby blue cartoon bird flutters into the picture and settles on Hutch’s shoulder. Starky believes it to be real, brushing his hand at it making it fly away. While the film is never really serious, this moment makes sure we understand that this movie is farcical fun.
Summary: Blade Runner has seen many iterations since its release in 1982, but the definitive Ridley Scott sci-fi noir thriller is The Final Cut (2007) that sees the director’s vision as he originally intended. That aside, the 1992 cut also features some dramatic changes to the story of a future dystopian Los Angeles where a cop is on the hunt for a group of rogue “Replicants” or androids who came back to earth illegally. It drops the narration and Hollywood style traditional happy ending. There is also something much more significant. While detective Deckard (Harrison Ford) is in his home, be begins to doze. But then . . .
The Animal: A White Unicorn
For only a few seconds, a white unicorn emerges from a fog-filled forest and runs in slow motion across the screen. While it seems random at the time and might even be dismissed, when the film’s end comes, it completely reinterprets the entire story. (We take a closer look at this moment here.)
Summary: Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a secret agent leading a double life, fooling his wife into thinking he is a traveling computer representative. He’s on the hunt for Salim Abu Aziz, leader of the Crimson Jihad terrorist group. During his investigation, he meets antiques dealer Juno Skinner (Tia Carrere) who is connected to the bad guys. This leads to a chase where Tasker and Aziz are after each other through a shopping mall and a high class hotel. Everything is pretty standard action chase scene fodder up to this point. But then . . .
The Animal: A Horse
As Aziz continues to keep one step ahead of Tasker, the agent commandeers a police horse and rides it straight into the hotel and up an elevator, eventually to the roof where the horse and he have differing opinions about just how far over the line of duty one should cross in pursing a bad guy.
Summary: When Lewis Skolnick (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert Lowe (Anthony Edwards) enroll in Adams College to study computer science, they think life is going to be different from the immaturity of high school. They are proven wrong on day one when the jocks accuse them of being nerds and start a campaign of humiliation against them in efforts to prevent the boys and their friends from forming a fraternity. The hijinks are mostly juvenile throughout, keeping it silly but funny. During a party where the nerds are trying to convince the Tri-Lambda fraternal organization to sponsor them as a probationary members, things are going well for the geeky students. But then . . .
The Animal: Pigs
As the party rages on, a small herd of pigs is sent in through the back door and crashes the party-goers fun, sending a very clear message to the students who are just trying to have some fun and become something they deserve to be. While it breaks up the party, it also has the opposite effect, as U.N. Jefferson (Bernie Casey), head of the Tri-Lam chapter in attendance at the party, witnesses the foul treatment the pledges are enduring. He makes a decision that changes everything for the young nerds. (The sheep almost made it on this lists but the pigs are the stronger impression). Check out our review of Revenge of the Nerds.
Summary: Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell) is a singer who uses the money from his one hit single to buy a basketball team in the American Basketball Association. He assembles a team of poorly trained players of questionable skill, and has trouble keeping attendance up at the arena, which he is told needs to be at around 2000 per game to be able to stay a franchise in the organization. He tries a number of publicity stunts that seem fairly in-line with the sport but nothing seems to really work. But then . . .
The Animal: A bear
Taking the stunts to extremely dangerous levels, after a home game, Moon promises to fight a real bear in a cage match. It goes about as well as expected. Actually worse as the animal escapes into the darkened arena. But it’s a comedy so that’s okay.
Summary: While we’re talking about Ferrell, here he is Ron Burgundy, a famous anchorman in San Diego who is none too happy about some studio changes making more equality for women in the business. His once solo show gets a partner in the lovely Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), who he initially publicly despises but soon falls for, developing a relationship that is half romantic and half contempt. When they finally admit their passions for each other, she begs him to take her to pleasure town, which all seems rather in-line for this absurd comedy. But then . . .
The Animal: Unicorns
They ride animated unicorns in a rainbow-filled star scattered night sky. That’s all there is to say about that.
Summary: Neo (Keanu Reeves) learns that humanity as we know it is only a simulated projection in our minds, created by The Matrix, a group of sentient machines that harvest humans for energy. A few humans have escaped and formed a resistance that attempts to infiltrate the Matrix and defeat it. A prophecy states that there is ‘one’ who can bring this destiny to reality, and Neo is trained to become this warrior. Inside the Matrix, the group are subject to rules, but learn to bend them and recognize when things are being altered by the machines. But then . . .
The Animal: A cat
Neo sees a black cat pass across a doorway, but then sees it do it again immediately afterward. He thinks he just experiencing déjà-vu, but the others know exactly what it means. The machines have made a change and know they are there.
Summary: A young boy in the times of swords and sorcerers witnesses the death of his parents and is raised as a slave, which builds his body and nurtures revenge. When he is older, he is sold as a warrior and learns the way of the sword and goes on a quest to kill the man who slayed his village. Along the way, he adds companions and learns that the man he is after is head of a bizarre cult that worships the serpent. Infiltrating a temple to steal a jewel, they watch as a young woman is about to made a sacrifice, which seems normal for a bizarre serpent cult. But then . . .
The Animal: Giant Snake
Conan enters the cavernous room that houses the jewel far above where the girl is about to jump, and living there is a monstrous reticulated snake that protects the gem. A glorious 1980s cheesy special effects man versus snake battle ensues. Schwarzenegger at his brawny best.
Summary: Speaking of Schwarzenegger. Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) gets a very special movie ticket when he’s given a one-man preview of the new Jack Slater (Schwarzenegger) action movie. It transports him directly into the movie where a world exists just like how people see it in film. There, he ends up helping Slater as he tackles a murderous psychopath and takes down a mafia kingpin. The film plays with a lot of movie cliches in the genre, including explosions, terrible henchmen, beautiful model-type women and shouting police captains. But then . . .
The Animal: A Cartoon Cat
While we know we are in a movie within a movie, it somehow still feels like there are rules to follow, but when Whiskers the Cartoon Cat Cop (voiced by Danny DeVito) shows up, all that is blissfully thrown out the window. His appearance is brief, but crucial for fully establishing the premise and even playing a small but very important role in the action a bit later.
Summary: Joe Brady (Gene Kelley) and Clarence Doolittle (Frank Sinatra) are Navy sailors who have a four-day leave in Hollywood and plan to spend it as action-packed as possible. They sing and dance their way through the town and meet young Donald (Dean Stockwell) who wants to join the Navy. The next day, Joe visits Donald’s school and regales the students with a grand story about how he earned a medal. But then . . .
The Animal: A Cartoon Mouse
Jerry Mouse is King and learns to dance to become happy. While the film is whimsical, and the story he tells the kids made-up, the sudden appearance of the famous animated mouse is a surprise but charming and fun nonetheless. Sadly, Tom doesn’t show up.
Summary: All the Real Girls is a drama about a young couple experiencing their first true love and the all the emotions that comes with it, including heartache. Beautifully acted and directed, the story is a slice of life in a small Southern factory town. Realistic and poignant, the movie is a powerful narrative on people living in a life with few options. Young people live on the fringes passing their hours with little to do but talk about fading dreams. Throughout, we see scenes of broken down homes and cars, streets empty and unkempt, giving the viewer a strong impression of these people’s lives. But then . . .
The Animal: A Disabled Dog
For just a moment, in a random scene shift, a two-legged mutt walks ungainly across the screen. The poor animal is easy to see as a metaphor of life in this mill town and interpretations of the brief image are numerous. It’s a striking moment in an already draining film. Listen to our podcast about this movie here.
Summary: Based very loosely on the popular role-playing video games, this computer animated film tells the story of a Aki, a young woman scientist trying to collect “spirits” found in living organisms that she believes are the only way to stop what looks like an alien invasion of monstrous ghosts. After convincing her ex-lover and his team of “Deep Eyes” soldiers to help gather the last spirits, they fight to beat a power hungry and misguided general who is planning to use a devastating weapon of mass destruction against the creatures that, if Aki is right, will destroy the earth spirit and kill the planet. As the film reaches a powerfully emotional ending, all is a little ambiguous and purposefully mysterious. But then . . .
The Animal: An Eagle
A lone eagle soars to the horizon as Elliot Goldenthal’s epic Dream Within builds. We are left with questions and answers as the animal closes out the film. Touching and unexpected.
Summary: After Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover and sentenced to life at Shawshank State Penitentiary, he meets a number of inmates who he befriends. One of them is an elderly man named Brooks Hatlen, who’s been locked up for nearly forty years. He works at the library and is a kind, gentle man. One day, early in Andy’s sentence, he notices a maggot in his meal and Brooks asks if he can have it. It seems that he might eat it himself. But then . . .
The Animal: A Crow
Brooks takes the maggot and feeds it to Jake, a wounded crow in his pocket. Whew. There was moment when it seemed like Brooks was eying it for himself. The crows has a very short moment here, but it significant to the story for a number of reasons and leaves a lasting impact. Much like Brooks.
Summary: Returning to Wayne’s World for the sequel, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey reprise their famous role as cable access TV show hosts looking to put on a rock concert in Aurora, Illinois because Jim Morrison and a naked Indian told Wayne to in a dream. Taking their irreverent comedy style to the next level, the boys decide to scout for locations in the park. They drive out on a rainy night and get lost. But then . . .
The Animal: Tyrannosaurus Rex
The series isn’t exactly known for its realism, and this film especially takes a number of fun jabs at pop culture, but it somehow always feels grounded – even with the dream sequences – so when a full sized dinosaur appears, it really surprises. Sure, it was probably just their imaginations as it never shows up again, but it works so well as a nod to the blockbuster and the absurdity of the show’s premise.
Summary: TV meteorologist Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is not having a good day. Bored by his job, he half-heartedly travels to Pennsylvania to cover, once again, the annual groundhog day celebration, but after a freak snow storm strands him his cameraman and his producer in town, he wakes up reliving the same day over and over, able to change events without consequences. Naturally, this causes him a lot of stress and after many months of the same day, he decides to end it all. But then . . .
The Animal: A groundhog
He drives over a quarry ledge with Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog, thinking maybe the groundhog is at fault for this circumstances. He kidnaps the animal and steals a pick-up truck, driving it out to a local unfilled quarry. It doesn’t work.
Summary: Doug Billings (Justin Bartha) is getting married and invites his best friends to Las Vegas to celebrate. They have a few drinks and head to the top of Ceasar’s Palace to party more. The next morning they wake up so hungover, they can’t remember what happened. Doug has gone missing and there’s a baby in the closet, plus a chicken is walking about the room (which almost made this list). But then . . .
The Animal: A Tiger
In the bathroom, Alan (Zach Galifianakis) goes to relive himself, but finds a little surprise. A full-grown Bengal tiger. It belongs to Mike Tyson. And he wants it back. The big cat is just part of the mystery and a small but memorable few minutes in a comedy with many.
Summary: Professor of Archeology and treasure hunter, Indiana Jones is called upon by the government to seek the famed Ark of the Covenant, which contains the Ten Commandments. They believe it is about to fall into the hands of Hitler, giving the Nazi’s the ultimate weapon. Jones tracks down the prize near Cairo in the Well of Souls. All he needs to do to acquire the chest is to climb down into the catacomb. He tosses a torch and a rope down and it looks like he’s about to uncover the powerful weapon. But then . . .
The Animal: A Cobra
It’s a pit of vipers. Indy has a terrible phobia of asps and when he realizes the floor is full of them, he panics, but manages to make his way down, landing face-to-face with an angry cobra.
Summary: Sean Connery returns for the second film of the long running series as James Bond, MI-6 agent 007 assigned to stop SPECTRE, who is not only trying to assassinate Bond for killing their top operative, Dr. No (from the first movie) but a devious plan involving a Russian cryptographer that could spell disaster. The head of SPECTURE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), is a maniacal figure named Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and though played famously in later films by Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas, Max Von Sydow and Charles Grey, here he is a mystery with only his upper body and hands visible. We never see his face. Menacing enough. But then . . .
The Animal: A Cat
In his lap is a white Turkish Angora cat. The soft purring and contented feline speaks volumes about the man holding it and has become the single most identifiable cliche ever for super-villianary, eventually being parodied (and thus honored) in the Austin Powers franchise. Blofeld’s cat is a symbol of power and hubris, a clever creature too content and comfortable to recognize just how vulnerable it is. It’s the greatest animal cameo in cinema history.
There you have it. What animals did we miss? Do you have an idea for a Movie Moments List? Click here to let us know.