Horses have played a number of important roles throughout human history. As far back as 2,000BC, they were used for transportation and agricultural work, a role they still play today. Horses have also played important roles in wars, races, and sports over the years.
A number of filmmakers have made films about horses, some better than others. This top 10 will list the top 10 horse movies.
10 – National Velvet – 1945
‘National Velvet’, released in 1945, was one of the first popular horse movies. Based on the popular novel of the same name, National Velvet told the story of Velvet Brown, a 12 year old girl, played by Elizabeth Taylor, who wins a horse and starts training him up to take part in the prestigious ‘Grand National’ race.
Screenwriter Helen Deutsch took great care adapting Enid Bagnold’s novel for the big screen. While she amended some of the story’s details slightly, she managed to capture the heart and soul of the story for her screenplay.
National Velvet was a huge hit. It was immensely successful at the box office and won two Oscars at the 1945 Oscars. The film was also loved by critics who scored it a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is currently rated at 7.4/10 on imdb.com.
9 – Dreamer – Inspired by a True Story – 2005
The story of ‘Mariah’s Storm’ is legendary throughout the horse racing community. Mariah’s Storm, an American thoroughbred racehorse, was one of the most promising racehorses the American horse racing scene had seen in years. Unfortunately, in the prime of his career, Mariah’s Storm took a bad fall and fractured his leg, forcing him to take a long break from racing. While many believed Mariah’s Storm would never race again, his trainer, Ben Crane, eventually nursed him back to health and racing form.
‘Dreamer’ adapted the story of Mariah’s Storm and Ben Crane for the big screen. Writer and director John Gatins drafted Kurt Russell to play Ben Crane while rising child star Dakota Fanning was tapped to play his daughter. John Gatins did a great job with the material available to him; his script was heartwarming and his direction excellent. Russell and Fanning delivered excellent performances for the film too, with Fanning, in particular, delivering an impressive performance for her age.
Dreamer fared decently well with critics who scored it 64% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences, in general, enjoyed the film too. It is currently rated 6.9/10 on imdb.com.
8 − Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron – 2002
Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen founded Dreamworks Animations with one goal: to create unique animated film experiences. ‘Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron’, released by Dreamworks in 2002, fit this goal perfectly. The film was an ambitious, albeit flawed, film that pushed the medium in unexpected ways. While it failed to gain recognition on release, it’s slowly built up a cult following over the years.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron followed the adventures of Spirit, a young Kiger mustang stallion living in the American wild west. The film followed Spirit as he explored the wild west and befriended a number of humans and other horses. Dreamworks used a unique blend of hand drawn animation and computer graphics for the film. They called this technique “tradigital animation.” The result was a beautiful film filled with gorgeous visuals.
Spirit was fairly received well by critics who scored it 69% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was also nominated for the ‘best animated feature’ Oscar in 2003. Audiences generally enjoyed the film and it performed quite well at the box office. It is currently rated 6.9/10 on imdb.com.
7 – The Black Stallion – 1979
Walter Farley’s children’s novel, The Black Stallion, is generally considered one of the best American children’s novels ever written. Released in 1941, the novel captured the hearts and minds of children and adults everywhere, and it became a classic overnight. 1979’s ‘The Black Stallion’ adapted Farley’s novel to film.
The film told the story of Alec Ramsay, an American child travelling around Africa with his family. After getting shipwrecked, Ramsay finds himself having to befriend an unruly horse to stay alive and survive his ordeal. Director Carroll Ballard and screenwriters Melissa Mathison and Jeanne Rosenberg did a fine job translating Farley’s novel to film. They stuck to the story of the novel and delivered a faithful adaptation of the source material. Actors Kelly Reno, Mickey Rooney, and Teri Garr did a fantastic job in the film, too. Rooney, in particular, delivered a spirited performance that earned him a nomination for best supporting actor at the 1980 Oscars.
‘The Black Stallion’ was reviewed well by critics who scored it a positive 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is currently sitting on a score of 7.4/10 on imdb.com.
6 – Black Beauty – 1994
Black Beauty, released in 1887, is the last novel written by English novelist Anna Sewell. After publishing the book, she, unfortunately, fell ill and died, robbing the world of one of the finest writers to ever live. Sewell’s book went on to become a classic. With 50 million copies in circulation worldwide, it is one of the best selling and most read books ever written.
1994’s ‘Black Beauty’ was the fifth film adaptation of Sewell’s novel. While its predecessors failed to capture the beauty of Sewell’s novel, 1994’s Black Beauty captured it perfectly. Written and directed by first time director Caroline Thompson, Black Beauty followed its source material faithfully. The film followed the life of Beauty, an English horse, who befriends a young English boy called Joe. The film showed the hardships Beauty had to endure during his life.
Unfortunately, Black Beauty bombed at the box office, only grossing $4,630,377. It found its audience on video and, later, dvd, however, and became a favourite of horse lovers everywhere. The film is currently rated 6.6/10 on imdb.com.
5 – Hidalgo – 2004
American cowboy Frank T. Hopkins is one of the most famous long distance horse racers to ever live. Born in the American wild west, he famously travelled to Arabia with his horse Hidalgo to take part in the prestigious Ocean of Fire race, a gruelling horse race across thousands of miles of Arabian desert.
2004’s Hidalgo adapted Hopkins’ story for the big screen. Director Joe Johnston brought in actor Viggo Mortensen to play Hopkins while Omar Sharif was hired to play the rich Sheikh Riyadh, the organiser of the Ocean of Fire race.
While many criticised Hidalgo for its historical inaccuracies, few had bad things to say about the film itself, with many praising Mortensen’s performance, Johnston’s direction, and composer James Newton Howard’s score. Hidalgo is currently rated 6.6/10 on imdb.com
4 – Secretariat – 2010
Writer and director Randall Wallace is a legend in Hollywood. After releasing ‘Braveheart’ in 1995, he went on to release a number of successful films, including ‘Pearl Harbour’, ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’, and ‘We Were Soldiers’. In 2010, Wallace turned his hand to the sports biographical genre with ‘Secretariat’, a film that chronicled the life of the famous American thoroughbred racehorse Secretariat. The film followed the highs and lows of Secretariat’s career over a ten year span as well the lives of his owners.
Wallace did a great job adapting Secretariat’s story. He brought in Diane Lane to play Secretariat’s owner and John Malkovich to play his trainer and both delivered excellent performances for the film. Critics gave Secretariat mixed reviews on the whole. While some critics, like esteemed critic Roger Ebert, loved the film, others were not as impressed by it. Audiences, however, enjoyed the film immensely and went to see it in big numbers. The film is currently rated 7.2/10 on imdb.com.
3 – Seabiscuit – 2003
Laura Hillenbrand’s novel, ‘Seabiscuit: An American Legend’, is one of the best selling non-fiction books of the last decade. Released in 2003 to unanimous praise from critics and readers everywhere, the novel told the history of the racehorse Seabiscuit, an undersized racehorse who experienced unprecedented success on the American racehorse scene in the 1940s.
2003’s ‘Seabiscuit’ adapted Hillenbrand’s novel for the silver screen. While the film embellished on and changed certain details from the book, it was, on the whole, a faithful adaptation of its source material. Seabiscuit’s stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, and Chris Cooper were excellent in the film. They captured the essence of their characters perfectly and brought a lot of warmth to the film. Writer and director Gary Ross did a great job on the film, too. His direction, while plain, fit the mood of the film, and his script was well paced with well written dialogue.
Critics, on the whole, gave Seabiscuit positive reviews. They scored it 77% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was a hit with audiences worldwide, grossing more than $150 million on the worldwide box office. It is currently rated an impressive 7.4/10 on imdb.com.
2 – The Horse Whisperer – 1998
Writer, director, actor, and producer Robert Redford has had a long and storied career. After moving to Hollywood in the 60s, he broke out in the 1962 film War Hunt and soon found himself headlining some of the biggest movies ever made. In 2002, he was given a Lifetime Achievement award at the Oscars – the most prestigious award a filmmaker/actor can hope to receive.
Arguably Redford’s finest work can be found in his 1998 film ‘The Horse Whisperer’. Based on the 1995 novel of the same name, the film followed an American family living in Montana as overcame their troubles with the aid of a ‘horse whisperer’, a man gifted with the ability to communicate well with horses. Redford directed, produced and starred in the film alongside Scarlett Johansson, Sam Neill, Kristin Scott Thomas, and a host of other Hollywood stars. He did a fantastic job as Tom Booker, the horse whisperer, and he also brought out great performances from his co stars.
The Horse Whisperer was well reviewed by critics who scored it 73% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences, in general, loved the film and went to see it in the millions. The film eventually grossed an impressive $187 million on the worldwide box office. The Horse Whisperer is currently rated 6.5/10 on imdb.com.
1 – War Horse – 2011
Steven Spielberg is arguably the most successful, most revered, and most celebrated director in Hollywood. After getting his big break with 1975’s Jaws, he’s directed over 50 movies, many of which are considered some of the best movies ever made. In 2011, Spielberg released ‘War Horse’ into the cinemas. The film, a war drama, told the story of an English youth called Albert Narracott who befriends a war horse called Joey during World War I. The film followed Albert and Joey as they struggled to return home from the war alive.
Spielberg assembled an excellent crew for War Horse. He tapped writers Lee Hall and Richard Curtis to pen the film’s script and brought in Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, and more to star in the film. The result was one of the finest war dramas ever made.
Critics, overall, enjoyed War Horse, scoring it 77% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences, similarly, enjoyed the film and the film went on to gross more than $150 million on the worldwide box office. Today, War Horse is rated 7.3/10 on imdb.com. It’s also considered by most to be the best horse movie ever made.