Run The Series: One well-trained dog is all the dirt-cheap Benji movies have to offer

With Run The Series, The A.V. Club examines film franchises, studying how they change and evolve with each new installment.

“People like Lassie, they liked Rin Tin Tin, but people love Benji,” director Joe Camp said in 1977. “Everyone who sees him wants to touch him, to hug him, everyone wants to love him. Why is everyone crazy about Farrah Fawcett-Majors?” The comparison hasn’t aged well (women, dogs, etc.), but the general point abides: Benji was a limited-duration pop-culture phenomenon whose fiscal earnings in the first five years of action, according to trainer Frank Inn, totaled $75 million (close to $250 million now) by 1979. That wasn’t just from the two theatrical movies made by that date, of course: There were greeting cards, books, lunch boxes, calendars—the whole array of merchandising possibilities family films and blockbusters are now built around.

Before Benji was Benji, he was …

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