11 Must-Watch Rodeo Movies

Bull Riding, Bareback Riding and More

Steve McQueen in 'Junior Bonner'
FPG / Getty Images

Besides watching the standard training videos and crash tapes, sometimes you need a good rodeo movie to watch while you heal up from the weekend bumps and bruises. Although Hollywood has neglected rodeo quite a bit, there are some standout options to add to your watch list. The early 1990s, in particular, seemed to be a golden age, with three rodeo movies released in 1994. Here is a list of the eleven most significant rodeo movies, featuring bull riding, bareback riding, victory, and tragedy.

The Rider (2018) 

A moving and moody drama directed and written by up-and-coming independent filmmaker Chloé Zhao, "The Rider" stars real rodeo rider Brady Jandreau as Brady Blackburn, a once-rising star of the rodeo circuit who is forced to quit after a bronc riding accident. Based in part on Jandreau's experiences, The Rider also stars his autistic sister Lilly Jandreau, his father Tim Jandreau, and other riders including Lane Scott, Cat Clifford, Terri Dawn Pourier, Tanner Langdeau, and James Calhoon. Nominated for four Film Independent Spirit Awards and rated 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, this is a terrific movie for anyone and an accurate portrayal of some of the risks of rodeo riding. 

Colorado Cowboy: The Bruce Ford Story (1994)

This is an award-winning documentary shot in black and white that features the story of legendary bareback rider Bruce Ford, the first cowboy to win a million dollars. It’s a fantastic look at the reality of a rodeo cowboy's life. If you don't see any other rodeo movie, see this one. Directed by Arthur Elgort, who interviewed members of Ford's family to get an idea of what his demanding career was like. 

8 Seconds (1994)

Directed by John G. Avildsen, "8 Seconds" tells the tragic life story of bull riding icon Lane Frost (Luke Perry). It dramatizes the beginning of his career, his travels with equally legendary bull rider Tuff Hedeman (Stephen Baldwin) and his untimely death. It has a strong story, good acting, and some great rodeo scenes. Look out for a young Renee Zellweger, who has a small part as one of the "buckle bunnies" in a motel scene. Scored 31 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. 

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys (1991)

"My Heroes" is a good rodeo movie about bull rider H.D. Dalton (Scott Glenn) who returns to his former life after suffering an injury on the circuit, and discovers that his family farm is in danger. He meets up with a former flame (Kate Capshaw) and tries to get his life back together. Also stars the famous stunt rider Ben Johnson as H.D.'s father, who needs rescuing from a nursing home. The film has some good rodeo action, and the scenes with the barrel bull are great. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg and written by Joel Don Humphreys. Scored 33 percent Fresh by Rotten Tomatoes. 

Everything That Rises (1998)

This is a made for television movie, more of a contemporary Western than a rodeo movie. It does have some roping sequences, which qualifies it for the list. It’s a feel-good, heartwarming story about a ranching family facing some serious problems. Dennis Quaid directed and stars in this movie, written by Mark Spragg, and includes Mare Winningham, Meat Loaf, and Harve Presnell. 

Cowboy Way (1994)

"The Cowboy Way" is a goofy, comedic rodeo movie, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Woody Harrelson, about two New Mexico cowboys who go to New York to save a friend. It’s light on rodeo action and does reinforce some stereotypes about cowboys, so not to everyone's taste, but it does include some laughs. Only rated 15 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Directed by Gregg Champion, written by Rob Thompson and Bill Witliff.

Pure Country (1992)

"Pure Country," directed by Christopher Cain and written by Rex McGee, is a dramatic musical western starring country western singing icon George Strait as a country western singing Dusty Wyatt Chandler, who gives up his musical career for team roping and barrel racing. Also stars Leslie Ann Warren, and its soundtrack is among Strait's best-reviewed records. Followed by two sequels; 38% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Cowboy Up (2001)

Directed by Xavier Koller, and winner of the Crystal Heart Award at the 2001 Heartland Film Festival, "Cowboy Up" is the story of rising rodeo star Ely Braxton (Marcus Thomas) who is recovering from a fall but decides to return to riding bulls again to become a champion bull rider like his father Reid (played by Pete Postlewait). Also stars Melinda Dillon, Molly Ringwald, Keifer Sutherland, and Daryl Hannah. Written by James Redford.

Junior Bonner (1972)

Washed-up rodeo cowboy Junior "JR" Bonner (Steve McQueen) returns home to Prescott, Arizona, for the Fourth of July rodeo, only to find his family and the West giving way to the modern world and progress. It's a wonderful movie filled with interesting, subtle commentary on the future of the cowboy and the West. Also starring Joe Don Baker, Robert Preston, and Ida Lupino, directed by Sam Peckinpah and written by Jeb Rosebrook. Scored 91 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. 

J.W. Coop (1972)

Cowboy J.W. Coop (Cliff Robertson) has just been released from a long prison term and must adjust to how rodeo and the world around him have changed and left him behind. Robertson co-wrote and directed this film, which also features Geraldine Page and Cristina Ferrare. "J.W. Coop" includes footage from real rodeo ​events and an appearance from legendary rodeo cowboy Larry Mahan.

The Misfits (1961)

This classic is the last movie for both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, directed by John Huston and written by Arthur Miller. The plot concerns three men (Gable, Eli Wallach, and Montgomery Clift) who join Marilyn in a business deal to capture wild horses. Shot in Nevada, and using real wild horses, "The Misfits" still earns a 100% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.