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The Express (2008)

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A drama based on the life of college football hero Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.


1 win & 3 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Will Davis, Jr.
Young Ernie
Justin Jones ...
Young Will
Elizabeth Davis
Bill Bell
Lew Andreas


This biopic focuses on the relationship of Ernie Davis (1939-1963), a gifted African-American athlete, and his coach from 1958 to 1962 at Syracuse University, Ben Schwartzwalder (1909-1993). Schwartzwalder recruits Davis with the help of All-American running back, Jim Brown. The civil rights movement is gaining steam; Davis experiences prejudice on campus, in town, and on the field, sometimes from teammates. How he handles it and how he challenges Schwartzwalder to stand up for his players provide a counterpoint to several great seasons that lead first to a national championship and then to the Heismann Trophy. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


He changed our country... one yard at a time.


Biography | Drama | Sport

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG for thematic content, violence and language involving racism, and for brief sensuality | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:




Release Date:

10 October 2008 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Express: The Ernie Davis Story  »

Filming Locations:



Box Office


$40,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$4,562,675, 12 October 2008, Wide Release

Gross USA:

$9,589,875, 2 November 2008
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |


| (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


In this film, Nicole Beharie plays the girlfriend of the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. In 42 (2013), she plays the wife of the first African American to play Major League Baseball. See more »


In the movie, Texas leads Syracuse 15-14 in the 1960 Cotton Bowl. In real life, the game was never that close in the second half. Syracuse was up 23-6 when Texas scored their second and last touchdown with 7:39 remaining in the game. Texas was not in a position to tie Syracuse even with a touchdown and 2-point conversion. See more »


[watching Ernie practice against high school players]
Jim Brown: He's too fast for these kids.
Ben Schwartzwalder: He's too fast for anybody.
See more »


Let The Good Times Roll
Written by Leonard Lee, Shirley Goodman
Performed by Shirley & Lee
Courtesy of Capitol Records
Under license from EMI Film & Television Music
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

The Express Movie Review from The Massie Twins
9 October 2008 | by See all my reviews

There's no doubt that Ernie Davis led an inspirational and tragically moving life, yet the formulaic presentation and stereotypical structure to the motivational sports drama doesn't provide an appropriately unique platform to tell his story. Perhaps his life is the epitome of the genre, but we've seen this same tale numerous times only with different sports and slightly different obstacles. The Express does an exemplary job of recreating an era and a football legend with plenty of heart and exciting action, but an overlong running time and an over-attentiveness to specific dates and historical accuracy diminishes the entertainment and amps up the documentary vibe.

Ever since he was a young boy growing up in Pennsylvania, Ernie Davis was forced to overcome harsh adversity, and perhaps the greatest came when he was recruited to play college football for Syracuse. The Express chronicles the tragically short, yet monumentally accomplished life of the first African-American to ever win the Heisman Trophy.

All the actors involved portrayed their respective real-life characters with enthusiasm and charisma aplenty, however far too many seemed included just to fill a stereotypical role in such films. Since it's based on a true story, perhaps all of these people really existed. Dennis Quaid gives a notable hard-edged, tough-coach-with-a-heart-of-gold performance who admirably avoids too many lengthy inspirational speeches, yet still manages to breach the trying-too-hard to act tough line at a few points throughout the film.

Once again Hollywood has churned out an inspirational sports drama with that winning blend of feel-good momentum and underdog accomplishments. Although the sport keeps changing, the formula stays the same, and so the significance of this based-on-a-true-story adaptation feels overdone and imitative. Realistic, well-acted, but ultimately more of the same tried-and-true storytelling, The Express is a perfect movie-going experience for those who know exactly what the film is all about before watching it.

  • The Massie Twins

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