The Express

Movie review by
James Rocchi, Common Sense Media
The Express Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
Inspirational true story tackles race, football.
  • PG
  • 2008
  • 121 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 11 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
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... Continue reading
Adult Written bydr.waters April 10, 2020

Too much cursing

I was shocked this movie had a PG rating. It had many curse words in it, including several instances of profanity with terms of deity. What constitutes PG these... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old November 9, 2020

Quick Tips Before Watching This

First: If you don't want your kids to watch violence that is very real don't watch this with them
Second: This is inspired by a real story and right n... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old May 9, 2020

An Amazing Sports Movie!

This movie is really one of the best sports movies ever! It is a true story and the end will be sad for anyone who watches it. There is bad language in this sto... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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

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