Generally favorable reviews - based on 32 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 24 out of 32
  2. Negative: 0 out of 32
  1. 100
    This is a film that is affirming and inspiring and re-creates the stories of a remarkable team and its coach.
  2. A triumph. Unapologetically old-school, in both the literal and metaphorical meanings of the term, Debaters overlays the story of social underdogs onto the familiar template of the stand-and-deliver saga, the staple of sports inspirationals like "Rocky," "Invincible" and "The Karate Kid."
  3. 88
    Ultimately an uplifting movie because it is about triumph.
  4. Good story, well told. Interesting concept. I wonder if people will go for it.
  5. The three young actors are good, but the movie is held together from beginning to end by another riveting performance from Washington. Few actors can dominate a film with their diction as well as Washington, and the role of the erudite, passionate Mel Tolson gives him plenty of opportunity.
  6. An edifying and forthright drama that aims to create a lump in the throat, and succeeds.
  7. 75
    For a film about the power of speech, it's the quiet moments of rapture that say everything.
  8. Eisele and Washington lacked faith in their material. So they've made the big debate opponent not USC but Harvard, a more clear-cut epitome of the white world of privilege that has to face the hard truths of racial equality.
  9. The Great Debaters is like one of those sentimentally revved youth-sports-team crowd-pleasers. This time, though, the sport is debating, and the setting is an elite black college in Marshall, Tex., in 1935
  10. If I had to pick one word to describe The Great Debaters, it would be "nutritious."
  11. Succeeds in bringing a lump to the throat without, as is de rigueur these days, insulting our intelligence.
  12. An earnest drama about the search for self-esteem and sense of responsibility among young black people that successfully relies on its fine actors.
  13. Because it is so old-school Hollywood, with a weakness for standard moments and pat situations, The Great Debaters initially comes off as easily dismissible. Largely saving it from that fate is the presence and ability of Denzel Washington, who costars with Forest Whitaker and directs from Robert Eisele's script.
  14. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    Wouldn't it have been more fascinating if, just once, they had to argue, as all debate teams must, against their own beliefs? That would have really tested these amazing kids' mettle--and the movie's too.
  15. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    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.
  16. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Tailor-made for maximum inspirational, historical and educational impact, The Great Debaters shines a bright spotlight on a remarkable example of black achievement long forgotten in the sorry history of the Jim Crow South.
  17. Mr. Washington is splendid, as always. So is Forest Whitaker as James Farmer, Sr.
  18. It's a great family movie, if not historically perfect, and something that a lot of people are going to like.
  19. Conceived like a sports movie, this delivers passion, nuance, and historical insight along with unnecessary hokum.
  20. Not the most thrilling of competition films. There are only two short debate scenes, and each time the team gets to argue (in sound bites of rhetoric) the politically correct side of the issue.
  21. 67
    Even when you're disappointed with the film's predictability, there's something invigorating about the way it embraces literacy and argument.
  22. 63
    There's an air of extreme predictability and inevitability in the script - which takes liberties like moving the climactic debate from the University of Southern California to the grander precincts of Harvard.
  23. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    An enjoyable, rousing film, despite its formulaic quality.
  24. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    While The Great Debaters' intentions don't lead it to movie hell, this picture is far more diffuse, commonplace, and predictable than the surprisingly convincing "Fisher."
  25. 60
    About midway through Denzel Washington's new film The Great Debaters comes a raw and terrifying scene that exemplifies why the movie's worth seeing, despite its hackneyed and awkward story.
  26. The wonder is that The Great Debaters transcends its own simplifying and manipulative ploys; it radiates nobility of spirit.
  27. 58
    Too bad the story is all over the place. One second, it focuses on a love triangle between students; the next, it's about Washington's efforts to unionize the local farmers.
  28. 50
    The Great Debaters keeps things on the surface and pushes the obvious buttons, hoping you won't notice its distinct lack of depth.
  29. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    Polished, pokey and cloyingly formulaic, Denzel Washington's directing follow-up to "Antwone Fisher" is a Harpo -- as in Oprah spelled backwards -- Production all the way.
  30. All of this unfolds with such predictability, the title might as well be The Great Foregone Conclusion.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 48 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 18 out of 20
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 20
  3. Negative: 2 out of 20
  1. Feb 22, 2013
    The Great Debaters is another inspirational tale of the oppressed, but unlike most, this film has the distinction of being pretty close to historically accurate. I was hesitant to see this film, because who wants to watch a film about a debate team? Denzel Washington, however, happens to be one of my favorite actors, so I gave it a shot and learned quite a bit. The debate team was just an instrument, and was comprised of four people who would all go on to play significant roles in the Civil Rights Movement. The films follows award winning author, Melvin Tolson (Washington), on his journey to create the best African-American College debate team in the country, a team that would eventually go on to challenge the debate team at Harvard University. Everything about this movie was extremely powerful and well done. From the language to the graphic imagery to the story and the performances I was completely blown away by this film. I went into it thinking, if it's bad I'll turn if off after a half-hour. Now, I'm thinking about watching it again tomorrow. This is the way historical films should be done, The Great Debaters was fair, accurate, and just a great film! Full Review »