Next to disabled kids, dogs, the terminally ill and Robert Redford, what makes an uplifting tearjerker of a movie more than a good, old-fashioned horse tale? With Disney's Secretariat opening this week, let's handicap some of the movies' most famous steeds and see which would win in an equestrian battle royale for the ages.
Type: American Thoroughbred
Looks: 9. The massive, chestnut-colored horse known as Big Red is ready for his close-up.
Fame Factor: 10. He comes from a famous lineage, won all the major races, was the 9th Triple Crown winner, and became a national celebrity gracing magazine covers. He also made a star out of his owner, plucky housewife Penny Chenery (Diane Lane). Millions mourned his death at age 19.
Tearjerkability: 4. Secretariat was no underdog. It's less about him than Penny.
Black Beauty (1994)
Type:Arabian? Thoroughbred? In the movie, played by a Quarter Horse
Looks: 4. It's all inner beauty. He's been whipped, has scarred knees and a swayed back.
Fame Factor: 4. He's mostly a workhorse. His claim to fame is alerting the world to animal cruelty and the need for reforms.
Tearjerkability: 10. Are you kidding? He sees his beloved fellow horses killed and maimed, endures painful and damaging riding equipment, beatings by his owners and near-blindness. Old Yeller’s story isn’t half what this four-legged friend went through.
Type: Unruly Thoroughbred racehorse
Looks: 4. He's undersized and gawky.
Fame Factor: 8. By 1937 Seabiscuit was the highest money-winner in racing and beat the unbeatable, War Admiral, in 1938, becoming "Horse of the Year."
Tearjerkability: 9. A true "dark horse" story, Seabiscuit's tale involves early failure, rehab by three men (Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper) who are as broken as their horse, and eventual victory and prestige.
Fame Factor: 7. Another supposed "true" story. American Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen), the "greatest rider in the West," joins a 3,000 mile survival race across the Middle Eastern desert. They're pursued by Bedouin riders on their Arabians, who aren't fond of this mutt-riding interloper trying to steal their thunder.
Tearjerkability: 4. At one point Hidalgo suffers a terrible fall, and Hopkins is nearly forced to put him out of his misery.
Phar Lap (1983)
Type: Australian Thoroughbred
Looks: 3. He was skinny, walked awkwardly and had warts.
Fame Factor: 8. A true story, but one not well known in the States. A determined trainer and stable boy have rock-solid faith that Phar Lap will become a winner, which he finally does thanks to their love and care. As the winning long shot, he brings down some big-time bookies.
Tearjerkability: 9. Poor Phar Lap dies mysteriously after winning his last race, hooves bleeding, possibly poisoned. Plus, the horse that played him died of a lightning strike. Phar Lap is Thai for "lightning."
Fame Factor: 2. Flicka never competes in any professional race--she's sold to a rodeo.
Tearjerkability: 6. There's more corn in this Flicka flick than you’d find on Hee-Haw. But, if you're basing this on the tragic death of two horses on the set, give it an 8.
Total: 13. 15?
Pie in National Velvet (1944)
Type: The wild kind.
Fame Factor: 7. Headstrong Velvet (Elizabeth Taylor) wins the black-and-white (piebald) horse in a raffle. She and a downtrodden ex-jock (Mickey Rooney) train him to win England's biggest race, the Grand National steeplechase. Unbeknownst to the officials she rides him herself, earning tons of publicity when they win and she reveals her identity.
The Black Stallion (1979)
Fame Factor: 8. In this boy-and-his-horse classic (produced by Francis Ford Coppola), the Black and his young owner are first shipwrecked on an island, then become the best of friends. A retired jockey (Mickey Rooney, again) agrees to train horse and boy for a major race, as news spreads about this "mystery horse." In the end, he beats America's two current champions.
Tearjerkability: 8. Heart-tugging without being mawkish.
Fame Factor: 6. Loosely inspired by a true story, it's about a promising racehorse who breaks his leg, and is rescued from certain death and brought back to health and success by an emotionally troubled trainer (Kurt Russell) and his spunky daughter (Dakota Fanning)
Tearjerkability: 9. So what if it's cliché-ridden horse pucky?
Pilgrim in The Horse Whisperer (1998)
Looks: 5. He’s your standard horse, of course, brown with a white star on his forehead, and a bit worse for wear thanks to a terrible, tragic accident that causes him to become hostile and uncontrollable.
Fame Factor: 2
Tearjerkability: 9. One horse dies. Pilgrim is scarred and traumatized. Everyone’s broken-hearted. Did we mention this weepie is based on a Nicholas Evans novel? Pass the hankies, please.
Winner: It's the Black Stallion, by a nose.
Not to beat a dead horse here, but let us know what you think--are these and other horse movies full of horsesh**, or are they your cup of oats?