The wolf is special, especially when it comes to animals featured in cinema narratives. Majesty yet cunning, fierce yet loyal, intelligent yet savage, there's none quite like the wolf.
In movies, wolves are often personified as villains, who smartly trick victims into their traps. They're domineering pack animals who can overrun vulnerable prey and fend off powerful adversaries.
But not all wolves are evil. When trust is built, they serve as constant companions—and when that bond is strong enough, they can become family members (much like modern dogs).
Here are my picks for the best movies about wolves. Whether friend or foe, wolves in film are one of my favorite animals to see!
10. Dances With Wolves (1990)
Directed by Kevin Costner
Starring Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene
Adventure, Drama, Western (3h 1m)
You can find wolves in movies of all kinds—even in prestige films, like Kevin Costner's acclaimed Dances With Wolves.
In this Best Picture winner, Army Lieutenant John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) travels to uncharted terrain to set up a military post, but encounters a group of Lakota and decides to join them.
There are two major wolf motifs in this film. First is Two Socks, the gray wolf that Dunbar befriends on his journey. Second is the title itself, which is the name given to Dunbar by the Sioux after they see how Two Socks harmoniously accompanies Dunbar.
Dances With Wolves isn't just a great film with a wolf, but one of the best movies of its decade. If you haven't seen it yet, make sure you do!
9. Hold the Dark (2018)
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård, James Badge Dale
Action, Crime, Drama (2h 5m)
Wolves in thriller movies are rarely on the side of protagonists. For example, take the Netflix film Hold the Dark, where the wolves are placed in a man-versus-animal scenario.
In Hold the Dark, writer Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) is tasked with finding a boy who's lost in the Alaskan Wilderness.
Core has no choice but to endure and outlast all the elements of the wild, including a pack of wolves who just want to survive.
With this being a Jeremy Saulnier film—who was fresh off the neo-Nazi thriller Green Room when he made this—don't expect any mercy from the wolves, who are more bloodthirsty than we've ever seen.
8. White Fang (1991)
Directed by Randal Kleiser
Starring Ethan Hawke, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Jed
Adventure, Drama (1h 47m)
Jack London's classic stories are always reliable source materials for movie adaptations, with White Fang chief among them (which is a bit of a reverse to his other big story, The Call of the Wild).
There have been several adaptations of White Fang, but the 1991 Disney version remains a comfy fable for families to watch.
In this version of White Fang, Ethan Hawke plays Jack Conroy, a man who has goals of finding gold in the Yukon. While there, he finds and takes in a wolfdog, whom he names "White Fang."
While it isn't as gritty as the novel, Disney's White Fang has beauty in its shots and a lot of heart in its relationship between man and canine.
7. The Journey of Natty Gann (1985)
Directed by Jeremy Kagan
Starring Meredith Salenger, John Cusack, Jed
Adventure, Family (1h 41m)
The Journey of Natty Gann is another Disney gem involving wolves, but this one's more obscure than the others.
Set in Chicago during the Great Depression, The Journey of Natty Gann follows a tomboyish girl named Natty (Meredith Salenger) on a cross-country trip to find her father. Along the way, she encounters a wolf who becomes her companion and protector.
What makes this film work is its willingness to paint the harsh realities of Depression-era America. Natty Gann's journey is fraught with hurdles and challenges, but her friendship with Wolf makes their adventure one to be cherished.
6. Never Cry Wolf (1983)
Directed by Carroll Ballard
Starring Charles Martin Smith, Brian Dennehy, Zachary Ittimangnaq
Adventure, Drama (1h 45m)
Before the turn of the millennium, Disney gave us a surprising number of movies about wolves, as we feature yet another! But this one's far from what you'd expect from a typical Disney film.
Never Cry Wolf centers on a biologist named Tyler (Charles Martin Smith) who studies caribou that are threatened by a pack of wolves. Eventually, he moves on to studying the wolves themselves.
Based on the autobiography of famed Canadian environmentalist Farley Mowat, Never Cry Wolf highlights the beauty in Tyler's encounter with the wolves, an experience that's almost meditative.
Complete with gorgeous shots, Never Cry Wolf feels almost like a documentary about wolves. It's a worthy expedition, for sure.
5. The Grey (2011)
Directed by Joe Carnahan
Starring Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo
Action, Adventure, Drama (1h 57m)
Back in 2011, Liam Neeson was hot on a path toward career reinvention, and many expected him to pursue more action-packed flicks akin to Taken. So when he came out in The Grey, it felt out of left field.
Then again, "Liam Neeson versus wolf" isn't really that out of left field, is it? And The Grey ended up being one of his best performances.
In this film, Neeson plays John Ottway, a bodyguard for a group of oilers. When their plane crashes in the harsh Alaskan wilderness, they must survive the elements and a pack of gray wolves.
While The Grey is certainly a man-versus-nature thriller, it has an emotional and intellectual depth that goes much deeper, making this one of the best movies about wolves worth watching.
4. Alpha (2018)
Directed by Albert Hughes
Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Marcin Kowalczyk
Action, Adventure, Drama (1h 36m)
They say dog is man's best friend, a bonded relationship that stretches back thousands of years—and the most accepted hypothesis is that dogs come from the domestication of wolves.
Here comes Alpha in 2018, promising to tell the prehistoric tale behind that very event: the origin of man's best friend.
Set during the last ice age, Alpha centers on a young hunter named Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who befriends and takes care of an injured wolf, which eventually leads to trust and companionship.
With minimal dialogue, Alpha effectively portrays the intimate encounter and growth between Keda and Alpha. It's a friendship that transcends both nature and time.
3. The Jungle Book (2016)
Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley
Adventure, Drama, Family (1h 46m)
When Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book, he included a pack of wolves that served as Mowgli's foster family. Almost every adaptation since has stuck with this element, where these wolves help Mowgli to grasp the importance of family and belongingness.
The 2016 live-action remake by Jon Favreau is no exception. Yet while most of Disney's other modern live-action remakes have failed, The Jungle Book succeeds with Favreau at the helm.
Favreau brings vigor and agency to Mowgli's surrogate wolf parents, Raksha and Akela, who are charming and joyful. All in all, The Jungle Book is one of the best kid movies about wolves.
2. Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)
Directed by Christophe Gans
Starring Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Jérémie Renier
Action, Adventure, Drama (2h 22m)
Right off the bat, Brotherhood of the Wolf defies any singular genre classification. It's what you might get if you made a tongue-in-cheek mashup of Highlander, Sherlock Holmes, and every Hammer horror film.
Throw in several martial arts sequences and you get Brotherhood of the Wolf: an adventure story about two noble warriors who are hunting a beast that's on a murdering spree.
Brotherhood of the Wolf takes advantage of its lore, which is derived from the Beast of Gévaudan but twisted in inventive ways to make it all the more timely and timeless.
Complete with its gothic atmosphere and seamless fight choreography that's effortlessly pulled off by Mark Dacascos, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a fantastic wolf movie worth howling to.
1. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring Yōji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yūko Tanaka
Animation, Action, Adventure (2h 14m)
For me, the title for best wolf movie of all time goes to Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. There's no contest!
Princess Mononoke is Studio Ghibli's crowning achievement due to its beautiful animation, beloved characters, emotional depth, and the way its mythology and themes are woven throughout.
Prince Ashitaka (Yōji Matsuda) needs to resolve the struggles between his people and the kami—but to do so, he must deal with San (Yuriko Ishida), a girl raised by wolves who now serves to protect the forest.
In Princess Mononoke, the wolves represent the hostility that results from humanity's ignorance of nature. It's only through Ashitaka and San's understanding of each other's worlds that peace can be found.
Princess Mononoke is about mankind in conflict with Mother Nature, and it remains a timeless gem with timeless themes. It will forever be one of the greatest wolf movies ever made.