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The Great Debaters (2007)



Average Rating: 7/10
Reviews Counted: 130
Fresh: 102 | Rotten: 28

A wonderful cast and top-notch script elevate The Great Debaters beyond a familiar formula for a touching, uplifting drama.


Average Rating: 6.9/10
Critic Reviews: 42
Fresh: 31 | Rotten: 11

A wonderful cast and top-notch script elevate The Great Debaters beyond a familiar formula for a touching, uplifting drama.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.8/5
User Ratings: 116,054

My Rating

Movie Info

Drawing inspiration from the true story of a temperamental debate coach who molded the students of a small East Texas college into a formidable team that gave even Harvard's elite squad a run for their money, Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters features the director himself as the ambitious educator, and Forest Whitaker as the resentful father of a student whose loyalties now lie almost exclusively with his coach. Melvin B. Tolson (Washington) is the kind of educator who truly recognizes the



Robert Eisele

May 13, 2008


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All Critics (137) | Top Critics (45) | Fresh (102) | Rotten (28) | DVD (12)

As for Mr. Parker and Ms. Smollett, there's no debating what awaits them -- stardom, very soon.

January 3, 2008 Full Review Source: Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The Great Debaters succeeds in bringing a lump to the throat without, as is de rigueur these days, insulting our intelligence.

January 3, 2008 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The Great Debaters is well-acted, deeply felt and delivers a positive message about the importance of education.

December 28, 2007 Full Review Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The film may be manipulative in its construction, and cliché-ridden in some of the incidents it recounts, but it has a good, large heart.

December 28, 2007 Full Review Source: TIME Magazine
TIME Magazine
Top Critic IconTop Critic

...The Great Debaters soars with words and feeling.

December 28, 2007 Full Review Source: Entertainment Weekly
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's important, it's deeply inspiring, it's something from our not-so-distant past we must not forget, and it should be must-see viewing for high school and college students of all backgrounds.

December 26, 2007
Ebert & Roeper
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Washington directed as well as starred, and it is clear he has no trouble wearing both hats at once

September 8, 2008 Full Review Source:

This is a wonderfully acted and directed movie, that has something important to say

August 22, 2008 Full Review
Sin Magazine

I was having mediocre day and I walked out of the movie totally pumped up and ready for the rest of the day, even though it was 10pm at night.

June 1, 2008 Full Review Source: WJFK-FM (CBS Radio)

There's a real organic sense in the film of how young minds can be nurtured and energized way beyond sex, sports and slacker attitude, into caring and evolving kid works-in-progress. And how debating can be pretty cool too, who knew?

May 2, 2008 Full Review Source: NewsBlaze

The acting is great and care is taken to develop these characters into people we can root for.

April 10, 2008 Full Review Source: Laramie Movie Scope
Laramie Movie Scope

Enough fictional liberties were taken with The Great Debaters to make it fit neatly on the inspirational genre shelf, but it's grounded in enough reality to excuse Eisle's we-shall-overcome contrivances

March 17, 2008 Full Review Source: Las Vegas CityLife

Showcasing the history is done with care and purpose, but I wanted more. I wanted more time between Washington and Forest Whitaker. I wanted more...

March 4, 2008 Full Review Source: The Scorecard Review
The Scorecard Review

Although we instinctively should be rooting for these characters, Eisele bends the rules of academic debate to make sure the outcome is never in doubt.

February 15, 2008 Full Review
Northwest Herald (Crystal Lake, IL)

Nate Parker may end up the next Denzel Washington. He has the charm and emotional punch. Put him in more things.

February 12, 2008 Full Review Source: Seacoast Newspapers (NH/Maine)

Sometimes a movie is so literate, so positive and reveals such an intriguing piece of history that it's like a two-hour classroom session.

February 9, 2008 Full Review
Quad City Times (Davenport, IA)

Denzel delivers both in front of and behind the camera with The Great Debaters.

February 3, 2008 Full Review Source: Washington Times
Washington Times

As is typical of such fare, the primary goals are commendable for their well-intentioned earnestness, but zero points for such gluttonous condescension.

January 31, 2008 Full Review Source: Projection Booth | Comments (2)
Projection Booth

Despite its transparent manipulations, the film is more decent than it deserves to be, particularly when the kids step up to the podium and get passionate

January 29, 2008 Full Review Source: I.E. Weekly
I.E. Weekly

With the help of a great screenplay and tremendous acting, this film ... soars above the typical minority/underdog formula to inspire more than it manipulates.

January 26, 2008 Full Review Source: Spectrum (St. George, Utah)
Spectrum (St. George, Utah)

The Great Debaters handles conventions well, making an important piece of history affecting and resonant.

January 21, 2008 Full Review

It's the sort of tradeoff Oprah makes daily, finding ways to represent those histories and experiences that are otherwise unrepresented%u2014ways that will appeal to a broad base and so, somehow, make differences.

January 17, 2008 Full Review Source: PopMatters

. . . an engaging look at a time and place when black men and women had to fight for dignity and respect against overwhelming forces

January 10, 2008 Full Review Source: Atlantic City Weekly
Atlantic City Weekly

The Great Debaters is an amazing story, but it's the sensational direction and terrific cast that make the theme resonant.

January 7, 2008 Full Review Source:

For all of its hermetic dramatic license, "The Great Debators" hits its emotional marks with help from Forest Whitaker and a talented ensemble cast that includes Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett, and newcomer Denzel Whitaker.

January 5, 2008 Full Review Source:

Not only is this a feel good story, but it's moving and inspirational for all.

January 5, 2008 Full Review Source:

Audience Reviews for The Great Debaters

Inspiring American story that''s told much like a sports movie - very much a "feel-good" film, not amazing but quite enjoyable.
February 17, 2013

Super Reviewer

an amazing film without question. let me start with my disclaimer, denzel admitted to knowingly and willfully changing major facts in this story for the purpose of manufacturing extra "inspiration". I am strongly against this practice in films based on true stories. if the story is worth telling, tell it the way it happened, if you need to change the story too much then its not worth telling. the acting on every front was absolutely phenomenal, the story despite the inaccuracies was beautiful, and the film was shot well and very engaging.
November 25, 2011
danny d

Super Reviewer

When it comes to the racial issues touched upon in this film, we only skim the surface, but when it comes to the art of debating, this film is more than a regular formula drama of similar subject matter. It's engrossing, well-written, inspiring, and powerfully acted all round. I would expect nothing less than stardom for Nate Parker and Jurnee Smollett very soon.
November 8, 2011
Raymond Wieser

Super Reviewer

The great debaters are based on a true story about an all black debate team journey to the top. Over time they all white debate teams that are prejudice of the black students. The black debate team became so close that they vow that will not give in to hard times. Then soothing bad happen that torn the team part. Will they stay together or go there separated ways.
May 11, 2011
erika bruhns

Super Reviewer

    1. James Farmer Sr.: Are you fooling around with that girl son?
    – Submitted by Jesse K (16 months ago)
    1. Henry Lowe: I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
    – Submitted by Agbomeji O (16 months ago)
    1. Melvin B. Tolson: Debate is blood sport. It's combat. But your weapons are words.
    – Submitted by Vishal S (18 months ago)
    1. Henry Lowe: Who is the judge?
    2. James Farmer Jr.: The judge is God.
    3. Henry Lowe: And why is he God?
    4. James Farmer Jr.: Because, he decides who wins or loses, not my opponent.
    5. Henry Lowe: And who is your opponent?
    6. James Farmer Jr.: He doesn't exist.
    7. Henry Lowe: And why doesn't he exist?
    8. James Farmer Jr.: Because, he is a dissenting voice to the truth I speak.
    – Submitted by Mani K (23 months ago)
    1. Harvard Debater #1: Nothing that erodes the rule of law can be mortal, no matter what name we give it.
    – Submitted by Mani K (23 months ago)
    1. Samantha Booke: Majority doesn't decide what is right or wrong, one's conscience does.
    – Submitted by Mani K (23 months ago)
View all quotes (10)

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