They Shoot Horses, Don't They?


They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Critics Consensus

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Total Count: 28


Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,546
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Movie Info

A total of nine Academy Award nominations went to this wildly acclaimed, allegorical drama set amongst the contestants in a marathon dance contest during the Great Depression. Gig Young stars as Rocky, the obnoxious emcee for a dance marathon that offers prize money of $1,500, a small fortune during hard economic times that brings out the worst in several participants. Among them are Gloria Beatty (Jane Fonda), a malcontent who's partnered with a drifter, Robert Syverton (Michael Sarrazin); a pregnant farm girl (Bonnie Bedelia) and her husband (Bruce Dern); a sailor (Red Buttons); and an aspiring actress (Susannah York). As the marathon winds into a staggering second month, suspicion, doubt and insecurity rages among the competitors and even the decaying and increasingly manipulative Rocky, leading to a shocking crime.


Critic Reviews for They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

All Critics (28) | Top Critics (4)

  • The material is simple and irresistible, and Sydney Pollack stages it well (though without transcending the essential superficiality of his talent).

    May 26, 2008 | Full Review…
  • A sordid spectacle of hard times, a kind of existentialist allegory of life.

    May 26, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • The acting is strident and overblown, the narrative technique gimmicky and obvious, and the implication that the competitors' situation is a microcosm of a wider-reaching American malaise rather pretentious.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • The movie is by far the best thing that Pollack has ever directed (with the possible exception of The Scalphunters).

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 4/5
  • If there was ever a film that completely captures the utter desperation and despair of poverty, it's this one.

    Jun 4, 2019 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • The film's problem is that it is almost an embittered celebration of exhaustion.

    Jul 12, 2018 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

  • Jun 17, 2014
    A dance hall requires poor drifters and lost Depression-era souls to keep dancing for prize money. This film shouldn't work: set almost entirely in one location with the main characters fatigued to the point of almost passing out, the film's pace could slow to a standstill, much like the "dancing" we see by the end of the film. But it does work, thanks to the fantastic performances by Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin. Gig Young adds some energy to the film as one of the few conscious characters. The film is about the Depression, but it's more about class issues. Watching poor people dance to their deaths, the rich are shown getting pleasure out of others' misery, benefitting from the society that deems them superior. Overall, with everything against it, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? nevertheless delivers.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • May 06, 2014
    A slightly depressing film with impact as those who are down and out dance in order to win money during the Depression. A removal of humanity at its worst.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 24, 2013
    Perhaps its a bit heavy handed and obvious in its symbolism, however I don't think there any other films that use a dance marathon contest in the early 1930s as setting to critique American society.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 10, 2011
    In Depression era down-and-out Los Angeles a dance marathon on Santa Monica pier affords the opportunity to look in on the various lives involved. Overdone, yes, okay, but still moving as the cast embraces the cut out characters presented. Sarrazin, York, et al deliver the goods, but the picture belongs to Henry's little girl who manages to do Daddy proud. Gig Young as the ringmaster is nothing short of phenomenal.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer

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