Humanity and horses have long had such a special relationship, that it is no wonder they are a favourite topic of all kinds of art – from the earliest cave paintings, to Napoleonic era master canvasses and, in the modern day, movies. There’s more than a few to choose from though, with more than 30 on this list of British-based movies alone. That’s why we decided to saddle up and put on our research boots for a journey into Google, and our own childhood memories, to find the three most critically acclaimed and successful horse racing movies ever made.
One of many movies about the true story of this legendary American horse that was a Depression-era champion, the 2001 film starred Toby Maguire and Jeff Bridges. The script was adapted from the best-selling book Seabiscuit: An American Legend, and the film showed similar success as it was eventually nominated for no less than seven Academy Awards on the year of its release. In the movie, Toby Maguire plays real-life Sea Biscuit jockey Red Pollard, who spent his whole racing career blind in one eye after a racing accident at the age of 16. A half blind man and a temperamental and overlooked horse, Red and Sea Biscuit conquer the American racing landscape – culminating in a thrilling showdown with the nation’s most medalled horse, War Admiral.
Despite not actually being about modern horse racing, this period drama is nonetheless a fantastic tribute not only to the speed and determination of horses, but also the unique bond they can share with their riders. The movie follows the story of Viggo Mortensen as famous cowboy John Hopkins, racing his long-distance running horse, Hidalgo, in a 3000-mile race across the Saudi Arabian desert – dramatically known as the ‘Ocean of Fire’. Although it is based upon the real-life historical writings of John Hopkins’, the story upon which this film’s plot hinges has since been found to be a complete lie, cooked up by Hopkins some years after the event.
Despite that, Hidalgo is still a decent movie if you enjoy horse racing. It got mixed reviews at the box office, some positive, and just about made a profit on its hefty $100 million budget.
The winner of two Oscars, and now deemed important enough to be preserved in the National Film Registry for antiquity, National Velvet was a smash hit on 1944 release. Set in England, it chronicles the adventures of a young woman (played by Elizabeth Taylor in her first film role) who sets out to beat the odds and train her unknown horse into a Grand National champion. It also starred future Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney, in his last film role before he was drafted into the army for a short period towards the end of WWII.
At the 1944 Oscars, the film won Best Actress in a Supporting Role, for Anne Revere, and also for Best Editing. Today it has a 100% Fresh rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and is recognized as a true American classic.