“We Are Marshall” – More Than Either a Disaster Movie or Sports Movie

In the next of my posts about movies which I studied for my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, I am writing about We Are Marshall (McG, 2006). Although I watched this movie for the first time having come across it while searching for disaster movies, I was also happy to watch it due to American Football being one of my favourite sports.

The movie is based on a true story as a summary about the movie on IMDb points out.

In November, 1970, virtually the entire football team and coaches of Marshall University (Huntington, W.V.) die in a plane crash. That spring, led by Nate Ruffin, a player who was ill and missed the fatal flight, students rally to convince the board of governors to play the 1971 season. The college president, Don Dedman, must find a coach, who then must find players. They petition the NCAA to allow freshmen to play, and coach Jack Lengyel motivates and leads young players at the same time that he reexamines the Lombardi creed that winning is the only thing. The father and the fiancée of a player who died find strength to move on. Can Marshall win even one game in 1971?


As noted in an earlier post, most disaster movies have relatively low ratings on IMDb. Similarly, I suspect that many sports movies have a low rating – after all, most have an obvious happy, winning ending that takes away the key drama of sport itself. So, a disaster movie related to sports was not likely to be a good combination. However, We Are Marshall is a great movie. There are a few good movies related to American Football (Invincible, The Blind Side, and Concussion (though it has too much coverage of a certain unmentionable team for my liking 😉) being worth particular mention. It’s noticeable that all of these, like We Are Marshall, are based on true stories.

Looking at the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, We Are Marshall only has 10 out of 17. Perhaps the lower number is inversely related to how good a disaster movie related to sports is. Some of the low number is due to the fact that the disaster happens so early in the film, and it is so sudden, that there’s little build up or showing of the disaster itself. Indeed, for a while I thought about whether the movie would fit with the definition, set out in my article, about whether it was a disaster movie at all. In the end, I realised that it was, and so it was included and helped to shape the discussion and show how, with just 10 of the 17 conventions (even allowing for the fact that 2 are not usually found in Hollywood movies) that disaster movies do not need to be prescriptive about including conventions.

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