At the beginning, there is a scene of a dog being dragged into a dog pound filled with barking dogs. At Castellaneta, Italy, there is a statue dedicated to Rudolph Valentino. In the US, Rossano Brazzi has his shirt torn off by his fans. In New Guinea, there is manhunting. At the Riviera, bikini-clad girls woo US sailors. Back at New Guinea, pigs are slaughtered for a long-waited feast. In Pasadena, California, pet owners mourn their beloved at a pet cemetery. Meanwhile, at Taipei, Taiwan, dogs are butchered and skinned alive for their meat. In Italy, chicks are painted for Easter. In France, geese are force-fed for foie gras. In Sydney, Australia there are the Life Savers Girls. Nuclear contamination takes its toll of animals on Bikini Atoll. Fishermen at the Malaysian village of Raiputh get even with sharks by shoving toxic sea urchins down their throats. On the island of Tiberia, Italy, men in red robes guard the bones of their ancestors. On the Reeperbahn Strasse of Hamburg, Germans drink excessively and act incredibly stupidly. Tokyo has a massage parlor for men who are drunk. In Macao, the dead are covered in make-up for the funeral. In Singapore there is a hotel for the dying. Cars are smashed at a junkyard of Los Angeles and reduced to cubes. In Czechoslovakia, Yves Klein makes his paintings with the help of some female models and some musicians to express his favorite color, blue. In Honolulu, tourists are showered with leis and witness the Hula Dance. In Nepal, Gurkha soldiers perform a rite of passage by dressing up in women's clothing and bulls are beheaded for ritualistic purposes. In Portugal, there is the running of the bulls and bullfights where matadors challenge the bulls. At Goroka, Papua New Guinea, there are indigenous tribes who go to church. The film concludes with a cargo cult at Port Moresby, New Guinea.
In the beginning, as Cavara (who took the helm for European and Euro-Asiatic zone) and his supervisor Stanis Nievo' interviews revealed, Mondo Cane was a unique project conceived with La donna nel Mondo, and worked at the same time (1960–62).
Mondo cane was an international box-office success and inspired the production of numerous, similar exploitation documentaries, many of which also include the word "Mondo" in their title. These films collectively came to be recognized as a distinct genre known as mondo films. In addition, the film's success led Jacopetti and Prosperi to produce several additional documentaries, including Mondo cane 2, Africa addio, and Addio zio Tom, while Cavara directed La donna nel mondo, Malamondo, as well as the anti-Mondo drama Wild Eye (Occhio selvaggio).
Mondo cane was nominated for two awards for the 1962 film season. It won the David di Donatello for Best Production (Migliore Produzione) by the Accademia del Cinema Italiano, which it shared with Una vita difficile. It was also nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 15th Cannes Film Festival, which it lost to O Pagador de Promessas. The movie's theme song, "More", was written by Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero and was given new lyrics in English by Norman Newell. In 1963, the song was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song, where it lost to "Call Me Irresponsible" from the film Papa's Delicate Condition.
The film spawned several direct sequels, starting with Jacopetti and Prosperi's own Mondo Cane 2 (also known as Mondo Pazzo), released the following year. Much later, in the 1980s, two more sequels emerged: Mondo Cane Oggi: L'Orrore Continua and Mondo Cane 2000: L'Incredible. The films continued into the nineties with two sequels from the German Uwe Schier; despite the fact that they were the fifth and sixth films in the series, they were titled Mondo Cane IV and Mondo Cane V.
As well as encouraging sequels, Mondo Cane's shock-exploitation-documentary-exquisite corpse style is credited with starting a whole genre: the mondo film. Examples of mondo film include Mondo Bizarro, Mondo Daytona, Mondo Freudo (1966), Mondo Mod, Mondo Infame and Mondo Hollywood; later examples include the Faces of Death series.
The film also inspired lampooning, including Mr. Mike's Mondo Video, written by Saturday Night Live's Michael O'Donoghue and starring members of the contemporary cast of that program.
In 2010 Mike Patton released a musical album in tribute to the film, also called Mondo Cane.