The Great Debaters


The Great Debaters

Critics Consensus

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



Reviews Counted: 129

liked it

Audience Score

User Ratings: 116,770


All Critics | Top Critics
Average Rating: N/A
Reviews Count: 0
Fresh: 0
Rotten: 0


Average Rating: 3.8/5

You may have noticed some of the recent changes we have made. To read more about what we’ve been working on behind the scenes, please check out our new RT Product Blog here.

Want to See

Add Rating
My Rating    

The Great Debaters Photos

Movie Info

True story of professor Melvin B. Tolson who formed a debate team at a small, African American college in the 1930s. The team went on to beat Harvard in the national debate championships.

Watch it now


Denzel Washington
as Melvin B. Tolson
Nate Parker
as Henry Lowe
Jurnee Smollett-Bell
as Samantha Booke
Denzel Whitaker
as James Farmer Jr.
Jermaine Williams
as Hamilton Burgess
Forest Whitaker
as Dr. James Farmer Sr.
Gina Ravera
as Ruth Tolson
John Heard
as Sheriff Dozier
Kimberly Elise
as Pearl Farmer
Devyn Tyler
as Helen Farmer
Trenton McClain Boyd
as Nathaniel Farmer
Jackson Walker
as Pig Owner
Tim Parati
as Pig Farmer
Robert X. Golphin
as Dunbar Reed
Justice Leak
as Harland Osbourne
Glen Powell
as Harvard Debater No. 1
Brad Watkins
as Harvard Debater No. 2
Brian Smiar
as Harvard Dean
Gordon Danniels
as Paul Quinn Debate Judge
Voltaire Rico Sterling
as Paul Quinn Debater #1
Bonnie Johnson
as Dr. Jennings
Steve Rider
as Paul Quinn Debater #2
Gordon Daniels
as Paul Quinn Debate Judge
Donny Boaz
as Oklahoma City College Debater #1
Sam Whisnant
as Oklahoma City College Debater #2
J.D. Evermore
as Captain Wainwright
Gary Mathis
as Enormous Man
Frank Ridley
as Security Guard
Jeremiah Kissel
as Radio Announcer at Harvard Debate
Jack Radosta
as White Man at Lynching
Harold Evans
as William Taylor
Southey Blanton
as White Labor Organizer
Michael Mattison
as White Sharecropper #1
Jeff Braun
as White Sharecropper #2
Milton R. Gipson
as Prairie View Professor
Marcus Lyle Brown
as Howard Debater #1
Alvin Youngblood Hart
as Juke Joint Musician #1
Dominique Flemons
as Juke Joint Musician #2
Justin Robinson
as Juke Joint Musician #3
Rhiannon Giddens
as Juke Joint Musician #4
Ahmad Powell
as Fisk Professor
Gino Crognale
as Puppeteer
Michael Deak
as Puppeteer
Alex Diaz
as Puppeteer
View All

News & Interviews for The Great Debaters

Critic Reviews for The Great Debaters

All Critics (129) | Top Critics (42)

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

Jan 29, 2008 | Rating: C | Full Review…

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

Jan 3, 2008 | Full Review…

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

Jan 3, 2008 | Rating: B | Full Review…

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

Dec 28, 2007

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.

Dec 28, 2007 | Full Review…

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

Dec 28, 2007 | Rating: B | Full Review…

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.

Daniel Perry
Daniel Perry

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.

danny d
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.

Raymond Wieser
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.

erika bruhns
erika bruhns

Super Reviewer

The Great Debaters Quotes

News & Features