The World’s Favourite St Bernard: The Beethoven Movies

Meet the star of the Beethoven movies, the most famous St Bernard ever!
A St Bernard dog lying on the ground in front of mountainsGetty

In 1992, a beloved new star leapt onto the silver screen and became a worldwide sensation! This unique actor wasn’t your typical leading man; he was the adorable canine hero of the Beethoven film series. 

Most dogs are adored by just one family, but the original 1992 hit was so popular and successful that this pup was adored by families all over the world. The sequel, Beethoven’s 2nd, was a similar success story – and managed to spawn another six Beethoven movies. 

The original Beethoven dog was so universally adored by viewers that he’s become one of the most famous dogs of all time. So, who was this special canine? What made him so popular? And what was Beethoven the dog’s breed? Today we answer everything you need to know about the dog behind this cult classic!

RELATED: A Dog Melts Hearts On Australia’s Got Talent

What Are The Beethoven Movies?

The Beethoven film series has eight installments; but the first two are the most popular. They are the only two Beethoven movies to be released in cinemas, and the only two to feature the original and most loved canine actor. 

Created by John Hughes, the esteemed director of a multitude of classic hits including The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the series revolves around a precocious St Bernard and his family’s attempts to deal with his wacky antics.

Beethoven 1

The cast of the first and most successful film was led by Charles Grodin and Bonnie Hunt, who play the parents of the Newton family. The Newtons find and adopt a St Bernard and name him Beethoven, after the famous classical composer Ludwig Van. The family quickly fall in love with Beethoven, except for father George (Grodin), who struggles to get over his hilariously destructive behaviour.

Meanwhile, a sinister veterinarian played by Dean Jones, following the cinematic tradition of mad scientists, plans to kill Beethoven for an experiment. Ultimately, George discovers his love for the dog and rescues the family’s beloved pet.

Beethoven grossed $USD147.2-million (or $AUD216-million) at the box office.

Beethoven’s 2nd

The title of Beethoven 2, is a play on words referencing the REAL Beethoven’s numbered compositions. In the popular follow-up, Beethoven falls in love and has a litter of puppies with another St Bernard named Missy. Missy’s cruel owner Regina plans to drown the litter, before discovering she can sell them for a high price. However the Newton kids discover the plot and kidnap the pups to save them, taking them on a lakeside holiday, but Regina follows them. The family do everything they can to save Missy and the puppies, returning them to a safe and loving home. 

Beethoven’s 2nd grossed $USD118.2-million (or $AUD173-million) at the box office.

The Rest Of The Series

Beethoven’s 2nd was the last film to feature the original canine star who made the franchise so popular. In fact, the following six films featured a variety of different dogs and went straight to video. These movies were Beethoven’s 3rd, Beethoven’s 4th, Beethoven’s 5th, Beethoven’s Big Break, Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure, and Beethoven’s Treasure Trail

A Beloved Breed

So what type of dog is Beethoven? Beethoven is a St Bernard, a huge breed that originated in Switzerland and Italy. They are named after the Great St Bernard Pass on the Italian-Swiss border, where they were bred for the purpose of hospice and rescue. Perhaps this is why they are so lovable! Before the Beethoven films, St Bernards were famous due to their large size, and the dramatic stories of their rescues in the Western Alps.

Just how big are they? They weigh between 65 and 120kg, and sometimes even more! They are about 70 to 90cm tall. They are powerful and strong, making them ideal for mountain rescues. Because they are so gigantic, they mature much slower than other breeds, taking two or three years to reach their full size.

When it comes to their personalities, you can understand why the St Bernard was the great choice for the film franchise. They are calm, sweet, patient and friendly. They are known to be good with families because they are gentle and understanding, and careful not to injure children in spite of their strength and size. They are also easy to train and eager to please, which makes them good actors. They are social canines who love to be involved in family activities.

A St Bernard dog lying on the ground in front of mountains
(Credit: Getty)

The Dog Behind The Role

The much loved titular star of the first two films was the 90kg St Bernard, Chris. Teresa Miller, one of his trainers, described him as enjoying “being lazy and drooly and hanging around the house”.

Another of his trainers, Kar Lewis Miller, was eager to portray St Bernards in a more positive light after working on the horror film Cujo, about a rabid St Bernard. 

It wasn’t easy to find the perfect dog for the role, and Miller spent months auditioning over twenty different St Bernards. When Miller found Chris, a patient dog who was eager to please, he knew he had found his star.

Some of the script had to be reimagined, because originally a Golden Retriever was considered in the role. St Bernards are not known for the agility and energy required for the variety of tricks in the film – however, Miller explained, “People say, ‘I’ve had my dog for 17 years. He would never do that.’ Believe me, the dog is capable of doing it. Beethoven could have been anyone’s St Bernard.”

Sadly, giant dog breeds have short lifespans, and after the second film, Chris passed away. He was 12 when he died, which is actually longer than a lot of St Bernards live to be. 

It took several other dogs to take up the mantle of Beethoven. For the films following Chris’ death, three dogs were used to do different tasks. This was to ease the pressure and burden on the canine actors, as well as fill the big paw prints of the versatile Chris. The first dog was Benz, who was used to perform physical activities and tricks. The second, a female called Dolly, was used in scenes with puppies and children due to her gentle nature. The third was Boomer, used in comical scenes that involved rolling around in mud or drooling a lot.

The Beethoven movies remain a favourite for families and Chris remains the most famous and adored St Bernard ever!

RELATED: The Ultimate Pet-Friendly Holidays

Related stories