The Express Movie Poster Image

The Express



Inspirational true story tackles race, football.
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2008
  • Running Time: 121 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The entire film involves intense, extensive discussions of race in the America in the '60s, from segregation to "Jim Crow" laws to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s community organizing and marches. The symbols of the KKK and the Confederacy are seen on death threats. A character who has an athletic scholarship is reminded that, while football is nice, a college degree is even more important. The lead character's mother is flighty and leaves her son with his grandfather for several years. Much is made of the lead character's position as a role model and inspiration during the racially divided '50s and '60s in America. Discussion of terminal illness.


Extensive on-field football action/violence, both within the context of fair play on the field and cheap shots after the whistle's blown. Football players are pelted with trash, with the threat that an angry crowd may throw bottles. Some fistfights.


Some kissing and light undressing (blouse removed, underwear on) in the context of a long-term committed relationship. Discussion of interracial dating.


Occasional strong language, including "ass," "s--t," and "hell." Extensive, constant, and strong racial language, including the "N" word, "spook," "negro," "black," and more; a football player says to the lead character: "I'm going to kick your black ass back to Africa." "Retard" is used as an insult.


Some logos visible, like Pepsi, Budweiser, Woolworths, Time magazine, and Ritz; characters sing a Pepsi jingle. Constant mention of universities and athletic teams like Syracuse University, Notre Dame, the UT Longhorns, the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Cleveland Browns, etc.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Beer is served.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this film -- which was originally rated PG-13 and was re-edited to earn its PG -- revolves around the issue of race in America in the '50s and '60s and is fraught with racial epithets and racist attitudes. There's also a certain amount of violence -- including hard-hitting football action and also dirty tricks like a coach directing his players to hit an opponent at the site of an injury. There's also some salty tough-talk from a football coach and depictions of the segregation and racial divides in the American South in the '50s and '60s.

What's the story?

THE EXPRESS tells the story of Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), the first African-American to win the coveted Heismann Trophy for general excellence in college football. It follows Davis' life from his early youth in Elmira, New York, in the 1940s and '50s; raised by his grandparents, Davis' promise in high school turned into a scholarship offer from Syracuse under the direction of coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid). The film focuses on Davis' 1960 season, during which he not only led Syracuse to a national championship but also faced racism and hatred when Syracuse played in Southern states like West Virginia and Texas.

Is it any good?


Inspirational true-life sports films seem to be a dime a dozen, but when they're good, they're worth their weight in gold. Directed by Gary Fleder, The Express is a little overlong and a little over-directed, but the fierce momentum of Davis' story keeps the film going through the slower moments, and the sincerity and sober thought that Fleder and screenwriter Charles Leavitt bring to the film shine through some of the overly flashy camera work and directorial choices.

The cast is also excellent, especially Brown; he manages to make Davis seem dignified but not dull, principled but never preachy -- and he completely sells the excellence of Davis' real-life athletics in the film's recreation of bygone games. Quaid is also outstanding as Schwartzwalder, a man both cold and compassionate, focused on football and yet aware of the world outside it. The film moves downfield as if on rails -- from early childhood to early success, from initial excitement to unexpected setbacks, all leading up to the big game and the tragic real-life events that followed. At the same time, the talent of everyone involved makes it easy to watch the cast and crew go through the moments you expect from the film. The Express isn't as subtle or specific as it could be, but at the same time it's hard to imagine not being moved by Davis' real struggles and story.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the film's historical depictions of race and civil rights. How has America moved forward in the years since the era depicted in the film, when segregation and overt racism were rampant? How has it not? Families can also discuss the appeal of inspirational sports films. Are they a great way to explore history and human behavior, or an "easy out" for filmmakers thanks to their cliches and familiar moments?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 8, 2008
DVD/Streaming release date:January 20, 2009
Cast:Darrin Dewitt Henson, Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown
Director:Gary Fleder
Studio:Universal Pictures
Topics:Sports and martial arts, History
Run time:121 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:thematic content, violence and language involving racism, and for brief sensuality.

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Adult Written byLowe's man November 17, 2014

A movie about football- and a whole lot more!

When Ernie Davis was a young boy living in Uniontown, Pennsylvania he faced lots of racism. (Even if Jim Crow laws weren't official outside of the Southeast, they were informally observed in certain other parts of the country.) Being forced to run from his white tormentors gave him the idea to play football. Things got better for him when he moved to Elmira, New York, in the western part of the state, at age 10. The great skills that Ernie Davis had led to a scholarship at Syracuse University, and ultimately to being the first black player to ever win a Heisman trophy. Unfortunately, he wasn't allowed at the banquet that was given in his honor because of his race, so most of his teammates wisely boycotted the banquet. (It would be interesting to find out why a few didn't.) After graduation he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately his health prevented him from ever playing pro football. He died a year after being drafted. Ernie Davis even had it even harder than Jackie Robinson. If you think about it it makes sense. After all, Jackie Robinson never had to play in the Southeast since major league baseball at the time was only in the Midwest and the Northeast. Davis, however, did have to play in the Southeast. A great way to see where we were in race relations in various parts of the country at the time. I'd highly recommend this movie.
Teen, 14 years old Written byjb223 January 20, 2013

Edgy for a PG Rating

Language is Strong for A PG Rating.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Parent of a 10 and 11 year old Written bywrightmom December 5, 2008

Hard to watch the racial issues, but great story

I almost always agree with the Common Sense ages, but I did take my just turned 10 and almost 12 year old to see it. We have a connection to Ernie Davis due to where we live so it is a popular movie here. I spoke with the my kids before as I knew the racial issues were strong in the movie. It disturbed me to watch but gave good discussion before and after the movie. I would not take any younger child to the movie due to the racial topic and violence associated with it. Make sure you know your 10-11 year old and feel they are ready for this. It was disturbing to mine, but he could deal. All older kids should see as it is a great teaching movie.


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