Horses come out of the gate in 2015 race at Del Mar. Photo by Chris Stone

By Megan Bianco

Horse racing season is almost over at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, but for horse lovers, the off season can be time to not only spend with one’s own horse, but to also visit horse-related content in pop culture. For movies, you have a vast selection of horse-themed movies aimed at girls, though many of them are B-movie schlock like “Flicka” (2006) and “Racing Stripes” (2005). Still, there are a handful of quality movies for equine enthusiasts and film fanatics ranging with subjects ranging from thoroughbred racing to just a boy/girl and his/her horse.

One of my favorites growing up was MGM’s “National Velvet” (1944) based on Enid Bagnold’s novel of the same name. I was never into horses as much as my younger sister, but 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor’s on-screen love and passion raising and training her horse Pie with Mickey Rooney swept me away to film paradise. Even as a young girl, it was obvious Taylor was destined to be a movie star with her natural presence and comfort with the horse on the track. There would be a sequel in 1978 called “International Velvet with Tatum O’Neal and Anthony Hopkins, but that would pale in comparison to the classic original.

Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor in “National Velvet.” Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Another horse classic from a boy’s perspective would be Carroll Ballard’s adaptation of Walter Farley’s “The Black Stallion” (1979) about little boy Alec (Kelly Reno) who’s stranded on an island with a dark Arabian horse named Black. With Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography and Carmine Coppola’s score, the film is a breathtaking piece of nature and cinema. For biopics on real-life horse racing events, Gary Ross’ Depression-era “Seabiscuit” (2003) and Randall Wallace’s 1973-set “Secretariat (2010) were popular with both critics and movie audiences.

For animation, the 2002 DreamWorks feature “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” was originally overlooked in favor of Disney’s “Lilo & Stitch,” but over the years has found its small following with its tale of a free horse captured by humans. Two years later, Viggo Mortensen followed up “Lord of the Rings” with the adventure flick “Hidalgo,” about a cowboy and his horse in Arabia. Although not one of Steven Spielberg’s best films, 2011’s “War Horse” had an interesting perspective on World War I through the eyes of a thoroughbred for history and horse buffs.

A romantic horse-themed movie is Robert Redford’s “The Horse Whisperer” (1998), about an 8th grader (Scarlett Johansson) who loses a leg in a horse accident, while her mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) falls for the trainer (Redford) of the girl’s horse. Steve Miner’s “Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken” (1991) is about a young fair daredevil (Gabrielle Anwar) who jumps horses off high dives and also gets involved with the show promoter’s son (Michael Schoeffling). And finally, Billy Bob Thornton’s overlooked “All the Pretty Horses” (2000), adapted frm Cormac McCarthy’s novel, is a romantic cowboy movie. Matt Damon and Henry Thomas play 1950s era wranglers who move to Mexico for ranch work, and the Damon character begins a romance with a socialite played by Penélope Cruz. Though not a perfect movie by any means, the film still has a lot of intriguing things with the performances and direction going on.

So while the racing winds down on the track, the movies continue to make it down the stretch.

Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.

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