Hidalgo (film)

Hidalgo is a 2004 epic biographical western film based on the legend of the American distance rider Frank Hopkins and his mustang Hidalgo. It recounts Hopkins' racing his horse in Arabia in 1891 against Bedouins riding pure-blooded Arabian horses. The movie was written by John Fusco and directed by Joe Johnston. It stars Viggo Mortensen, Zuleikha Robinson, and Omar Sharif.

Hidalgo film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoe Johnston
Written byJohn Fusco
Produced byCasey Silver
CinematographyShelly Johnson
Edited byRobert Dalva
Music byJames Newton Howard
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release date
March 5, 2004 (2004-03-05)
Running time
136 minutes
CountriesUnited States
Budget$100 million
Box office$108.1 million

Hidalgo was released by Buena Vista Pictures on March 5, 2004. Upon release, the film received mixed reviews and was a box office disappointment, grossing $108 million against a budget of $100 million.


In 1890, Frank T. Hopkins and his mustang, Hidalgo, are part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, where they are advertised as "the world's greatest endurance horse and rider." Hopkins had been a famous long-distance rider, a cowboy, and a dispatch rider for the United States government; in the latter capacity he carried a message to the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment authorizing the Wounded Knee Massacre of Lakota Sioux. Hopkins was filled with regret and shame following the massacre and he falls into an alcoholic depression.

Chief Eagle Horn, who performs alongside Hopkins, approaches Hopkins and Bill about helping the mustangs (wild horses) that have been rounded up by the US government with the intent to euthanize them to make way for farmland. Bill says that there is nothing he can do, but Hopkins decides to help out in whatever way he can.

Wealthy Sheikh Riyadh has sent his attaché Aziz, accompanied by Rau Rasmussen, to ask the show to either stop using the phrase "the world's greatest endurance horse and rider" or allow Hopkins and Hidalgo to prove themselves by entering into the "Ocean of Fire": an annual 3,000-mile race across the Najd desert region. The Sheikh is custodian of the al-Khamsa line, considered to be the greatest distance horses in the world, and traditionally the race has been restricted to pure-bred Arabian horses and Bedouin or Arab riders.

In addition to the grueling conditions, prevailing animosity and contempt for a Christian "infidel" and "impure" horse, horse and rider face stiff competition, including the wealthy and unscrupulous British horse breeder Lady Anne Davenport. Hopkins' opponents try to sabotage him multiple times, such as bribing soldiers who are guarding a well to pretend the well is dry.

To complicate matters, Sheikh Riyadh has promised his daughter, Jazira, his only surviving child, in marriage to the prince riding the Sheikh's horse Al-Hattal, should he win. She would become his fifth wife and no more than a slave. Jazira hopes to prevent this by giving Hopkins advice and information to help him win, thereby resulting in greater danger for them both. Katib, Sheikh Riyadh's outcast brigand nephew, who will stop at nothing to gain control of the al-Khamsa line, raids the race camp looking for Al-Hattal, but the prince rides away with the horse. Aziz betrays the Sheikh by stealing his family's journal of horse breeding and gives it to Katib. Katib also kidnaps Jazira, and threatens to kill her unless he gets his uncle's prize stallion racer as her ransom. Hopkins manages to rescue Jazira, along with the journal. Aziz dies in the scramble. However, Davenport and Katib try to sabotage the race by eliminating the rival riders. Davenport pays Katib to kill Hidalgo and steal Al-Hattal so her mare will win the race and she can breed her with the Sheikh's horse.

For Hopkins the Ocean of Fire becomes not only a matter of pride, honor and survival, but of identity: it emerges that his father was European American while his mother was Lakota Sioux. The Lakota call him "Blue Child" or "Far Rider." As a half-breed he feels sympathy and pity for his mother's people, but does not generally reveal his heritage, especially after the Wounded Knee massacre, for which he feels partly responsible. Jazira compares his relation to his heritage to her desire to avoid wearing the veil, saying that he mustn't "go through life hiding what God made you. ... like me."

It is forbidden to help other riders who are injured or whose horses have succumbed to the harsh conditions, but when Sakr, another rider falls into quicksand, Hopkins drags him out. Nearing the end of the race, Hopkins is ambushed by Katib and falls into a trap, severely injuring Hidalgo. Sakr helps him out of the pit and fights Katib's men but is eventually shot. Hopkins manages to overpower the men and finally kills Katib.

However, Hidalgo is unable to stand up and Hopkins is dying of thirst. He considers shooting Hidalgo to alleviate his suffering, but is unable to bring himself to do it. Kneeling, he chants a prayer to Wakan Tanka as a possible death song, and images of Lakota elders and his mother appear before him before Hidalgo suddenly struggles up, and Hopkins rides bareback to come from behind to win the race, surpassing Davenport's mare and the prince on Al-Hattal. Hopkins wins the respect and admiration of the Arabs, and becomes friends with the Sheikh, giving him his revolver as a gift, as the Sheikh is a great admirer of the Wild West and its stories. As he bids farewell to an unveiled Jazira, she asks him if he is fulfilling the traditional Western tales' ending where the cowboy rides away into the setting sun and calls him Blue Child as she smiles kindly at him and turns to go.

Returning to the United States, Frank uses his winnings to buy the mustangs from the government, therefore saving them from death. The wild horses are released and Frank frees Hidalgo to join them in the wilderness. The epilogue states that Hopkins went on to reportedly win 400 long-distance races and was an outspoken supporter for wild mustangs until his death in 1951, while Hidalgo's descendants live free in the wilderness in and around Oklahoma.



Actor Viggo Mortensen, who is fluent in Spanish, voiced his own character (Frank Hopkins) in the Spanish dubs of the film.

Fact and fictionEdit

The Native American historian Vine Deloria questioned Hopkins' claims of Lakota ancestry, as presented uncritically in the film.[1][2]

But, Nakota filmmaker Angelique Midthunder said during the controversy that "the story of the half Indian who took his pinto mustang across the sea to race in the big desert has been told to children of the northern plains tribes for generations."[3] Lakota elder Sonny Richards writes, "Kaiyuzeya Sunkanyanke (Frank Hopkins) was a South Dakota native and Lakota half-breed."[3]

Based on Hopkins' account of his mixed-race ancestry, the movie production employed Lakota historians, medicine men, and tribal leaders as consultants to advise during every scene that represented their culture. Many of the Ghost Dancers who reenact the sacred ceremony of 1890 in Hidalgo had participated in the film Thunderheart (1992) and the mini-series Dreamkeeper, both written by Fusco. The screenwriter was adopted as an honorary relative of the Oglala Nation in a Hunkyapi ceremony (Making of Relatives) on September 3, 1989, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.[citation needed]

Because the Disney Corporation marketed the movie as a true story, some historians criticized the film both because of the legendary status of Hopkins' claims and for the film's divergence from his accounts.[4] They contend that many of the events, especially the featured race, never took place.[5] Historians of distance riding said that most of Hopkins' claims as depicted in the film, including the race, have been 'tall tales' or hoaxes.[6]

The film says that descendants of the horse Hidalgo, for which the movie was named, live among the Gilbert Jones herd of Spanish Mustangs on Blackjack Mountain in Oklahoma. By Hopkins' original account, he decided to leave his horse in Arabia after the race.[6]

In 2006, John Fusco, the screenwriter of Hidalgo, responded to criticism about the historical basis of the film. He had done research on Hopkins for years. He said that he used parts of Hopkins' 1891 desert memoirs (unpublished during the rider's lifetime) and "heightened the 'Based On' story to create an entertaining theatrical film." He held that the story of the man and his horse is true. Fusco offered quotes from surviving friends of Hopkins, notably former distance riders Walt and Edith Pyle, and Lt Col William Zimmerman, along with information found in horse history texts, as verification.[6]

According to the Longriders Guild, the Saudi Arabian Government say officially that there has never been an "Ocean of Fire" race. Hopkins never named the event; he referred to it in his writings as an annual ceremonial ride in the region.[6] According to the Arab historian Dr. Awad al-Badi, such a lengthy race was impossible. He said,

There is no record or reference to Hopkins with or without his mustangs ever having set foot on Arabian soil. The idea of a historic long-distance Arab horse race is pure nonsense and flies against all reason. Such an event in Arabia any time in the past is impossible simply from a technical, logistical, cultural and geopolitical point of view. It has never been part of our rich traditions and equestrian heritage.[7]


Several American Paint horses were used to portray Hidalgo. The actor Viggo Mortensen later bought RH Tecontender, one of the horses used in the film. The screenwriter John Fusco bought Oscar, the main stunt horse, and retired him at Red Road Farm, his American Indian horse conservancy. Another one was bought by a ranch near Steamboat, Colorado.


Critical responseEdit

The movie received mixed reviews from mainstream critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 46% based on reviews from 164 critics.[8] The critical consensus reads, "The scenery looks great, but this overstuffed horse story contains too much cheese". Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 54/100 based on reviews from 36 critics.[9]

Roger Ebert offered a positive review of the film (three out of four stars), saying it's "Bold, exuberant and swashbuckling," the kind of fun, rip-snorting adventure film Hollywood rarely makes anymore. He added, "please ignore any tiresome scolds who complain that the movie is not really based on fact. Duh."[10]

Box officeEdit

The film grossed approximately $18,829,435 on its opening weekend, peaking at #3 behind The Passion of the Christ and Starsky and Hutch in 3,065 theatres.[11] It closed from theatres on July 22, 2004, with $67.3 million in North America, and $40.8 million internationally. The film made a worldwide total of $108.1 million.[12]


John Fusco won the Spur Award for Best Western Drama Script; although most of the plot of Hidalgo was not set in the American West, it featured an American cowboy figure.


  1. ^ Andrew Gumbel (March 10, 2004). "Disney rides into trouble with story of cowboy who conquers the Middle East". The Independent. Retrieved August 14, 2011. Vine Deloria of the University of Colorado, is furious at the uncritical repetition of Hopkins' claims about his role in Sioux history. He wrote: "Hopkins' claims are so outrageously false that one wonders why Disney were attracted to this material at all, except of course the constant propensity to make money under any conditions available."
  2. ^ "Dr. Vine Deloria Jr. denounces Frank Hopkins as a fraud". Longriders Guild. Hopkins claims are so outrageously false that one wonders why the Disney people were attracted to this material at all. ... Try this on for size – Hopkins claimed to be the grandson of Geronimo who, he confided, was really a Sioux and not an Apache at all. Hopkins, according to himself and wife, was very popular with the Indians because he was half Sioux himself, his mother being a lady called Nah-Kwa – her more formal name was Valley Naw-Kwa or "Valley of Silence" – hardly fitting for a woman who had such illustrious relatives. Hopkins spoke "the Indian language" so he was a natural interpreter for the Army – although his name does not appear on any treaty documents where the interpreters are listed or in any correspondence in government files wherein interpreters were needed.
  3. ^ a b "Frank Hopkins" Archived June 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, Official Website
  4. ^ "The Frank Hopkins Hoax", The Longriders Guild
  5. ^ Anthony B. Toth, "Disney's 'Hidalgo': A New Hollywood Low", History News Network, February 28, 2004
  6. ^ a b c d Basha O'Reilly, "Hidalgo – from myth to movie", The Longriders Guild
  7. ^ Peter Harrigan, "Hidalgo: A Film or Flimflam?" Archived 2011-11-11 at the Wayback Machine, Arab News, 13 May 2003, accessed 2010-12-28
  8. ^ "Hidalgo". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. 2004. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  9. ^ "Hidalgo". Metacritic. CBS Interactive Inc. 2004. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 5, 2004). "Hidalgo". Sun Times. RogerEbert.com. Archived from the original on March 10, 2005. Retrieved December 28, 2018.
  11. ^ "Domestic 2004 Weekend 10". Box Office Mojo.
  12. ^ "Hidalgo". Box Office Mojo.

External linksEdit