9 Must-Watch Rodeo Movies

Bull Riding, Bareback Riding and More

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 nine most significant rodeo movies, featuring bull riding, bareback riding, victory and tragedy.

Colorado Cowboy: The Bruce Ford Story (1994)

This is an award-winning documentary 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. I highly recommend it.

8 Seconds (1994)

This is perhaps the most popular rodeo movie ever made. It 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.

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys (1991)

This is a good rodeo movie about a bull rider (Scott Glenn) who returns to his former life after suffering an injury on the circuit.

He meets up with a former flame (Kate Capshaw) and tries to get his life back together. The film has some good rodeo action, and the scenes with the barrel bull are great.

Everything That Rises (1998)

This is a TV 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. Worth a watch, in my opinion. Dennis Quaid directed this movie.

Cowboy Way (1994)

This 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, but it never fails to make me laugh. You might disagree with me on this one, but I think that it’s worth a look for the laughs.

Pure Country (1992)

What can I say? George Strait. Team Roping. Barrel Racing. E-mail me if you haven’t seen this one and please tell me what planet you’ve been on.

Cowboy Up (2001)

The now famous phrase was made into a rodeo movie (although the film's original title was "Ring of Fire"). I really didn’t like this one at all. The story and rodeo sequences were not very good, but I guess it should go on the list for you to decide for yourselves. You’re going to have to "cowboy up" to get through this one. 

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.

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. Also, legendary rodeo cowboy Larry Mahan makes an appearance as himself.

One thing is for sure: There aren’t enough good rodeo movies out there. Maybe some of you cowboy/filmmakers can do something about it. Until then, we rodeo fans will have to wait and make do with these nine rodeo films.