Indiana Jones aside (and I like Indiana Jones movies), I see the bullwhip as a traditional Western item. They show up in plenty of Western films (and non-westerns, as well). They have even been tested by the Mythbusters, and most of their film attributes were found plausible, more or less.
Now I'm sure the majority of people reading this have seen an Indiana Jones film, and seen how he uses a whip. But in the twilight of the B Western (late 1940s to mid 1950s) there was another whip wielding hero. Lash LaRue. (There was also Whip Wilson, but I haven't seen any of his films.) LaRue even changed his legal name to Lash, and said, in an interview, that even his mother had started calling him Lash. By all accounts, he was a master of the bullwhip, and there are even video clips to see online that show his skills outside of the movies.
So anyway, I got me a bullwhip. After reading about how LaRue started (somewhat disastrously) by renting a 15', and 18' whip. I bought a 16' bullwhip. I'm being very careful with it (so I don't repeat Lash's mistakes), and can get it to crack a little bit, even indoors. I'm already thinking it's a bit long, and a 12, or 14 footer might be a better length. There's also a lot to learn about keeping a whip in good condition, including how to replace the parts that wear out. (Surprise! Parts of a whip wear out!) Anywho, I now have another fun "prop" item to play with.
Anyone with whip experience feel free to comment.
And as far as the length of whips in films go, it looks to me as though it can vary, even from scene to scene. In other words, the length of the whip used is proportional to what the scene requires. Really, I've seen the same character using what is supposed to be the same whip that looks to be 10' - 12' indoors, and 16' - 18' outdoors, especially if used from horseback. Fine by me. I figure once I get used to my 16 footer, a shorter whip should be all the more easy for me to handle.
(This reminds me of how I learned to use a manual automobile transmission. I got someone to let me learn on a sloppy "three on the tree" shifter, because I thought if I learned on the worst, I'd be fine with anything else. This turned out to be true, for when I had to drive a 4 speed stick (belonging to the same guy), I did it easily. I was also able to handle a big 4 speed box truck when I had to.)