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Invictus (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byClint Eastwood
Screenplay byAnthony Peckham
Based onPlaying the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation
2008 book
by John Carlin
Produced by
CinematographyTom Stern
Edited by
Music by
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures (United States)
Times Media Films (now Empire Entertainment, South Africa)[3]
Release date
  • 11 December 2009 (2009-12-11)
Running time
135 minutes[2]
  • United States[2]
  • South Africa[2]
Budget$50–60 million[4][5]
Box office$122.2 million[4]

Invictus is a 2009 biographical sports film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, making it the third collaboration between Eastwood and Freeman after Unforgiven (1992) and Million Dollar Baby (2004). The story is based on the 2008 John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation about the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The Springboks were not expected to perform well, the team having only recently returned to high-level international competition following the dismantling of apartheid—the country was hosting the World Cup, thus earning an automatic entry. Freeman portrays South African President Nelson Mandela while Damon played Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks, the South Africa rugby union team.[6]

Invictus was released in the United States on 11 December 2009. The title refers to the Roman divine epithet Invictus and may be translated from the Latin as "undefeated" or "unconquered". "Invictus" is also the title of a poem, referred to in the film, by British poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903). The film was met with positive critical reviews and earned Academy Award nominations for Freeman (Best Actor) and Damon (Best Supporting Actor). The film grossed $122.2 million on a budget of $50–60 million.[4]


On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela is released from Victor Verster Prison after having spent 27 years in captivity.[7] Four years later, Mandela is elected the first black President of South Africa. His presidency faces enormous challenges in the post-Apartheid era, including rampant poverty and crime, and Mandela is particularly concerned about racial divisions between black and white South Africans, which would lead to violence. The ill will which both groups hold towards each other is seen even in his own security detail where relations between the established white officers, who had guarded Mandela's predecessors, and the black ANC additions to the security detail, are frosty and marked by mutual distrust.

While attending a game between the Springboks, the country's rugby union team, and England, Mandela recognises that some black people in the stadium are cheering for England, and not their own country, as the mostly-white Springboks represent prejudice and apartheid in their minds; he remarks that he did the same while imprisoned on Robben Island. Knowing that South Africa is set to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup in one year's time, Mandela persuades a meeting of the newly black-dominated South African Sports Committee to support the Springboks. He then meets with the captain of the Springboks rugby team, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), and implies that a Springboks victory in the World Cup will unite and inspire the nation. Mandela also shares with Francois a British poem, "Invictus", that had inspired him during his time in prison.

François and his teammates train. Many South Africans, both black and white, doubt that rugby will unite a nation torn apart by nearly 50 years of racial tensions, as for many black people, especially the radicals, the Springboks symbolise white supremacy. Both Mandela and Pienaar, however, stand firmly behind their theory that the game can successfully unite the South African country.

Things begin to change as the players interact with the fans and begin a friendship with them. During the opening games, support for the Springboks begins to grow among the black population. By the second game, the whole country comes together to support the Springboks and Mandela's efforts. Mandela's security team also grows closer as the racially diverse officers come to respect their comrades' professionalism and dedication.

As Mandela watches, the Springboks defeat one of their arch-rivalsAustralia, the defending champions and known as the Wallabies—in their opening match. They then continue to defy all expectations and, as Mandela conducts trade negotiations in Taiwan, defeat France in heavy rain to advance to the final against their other arch-rival: New Zealand, known as the All Blacks. New Zealand and South Africa were universally regarded as the two greatest rugby nations, with the Springboks then the only side to have a winning record (20–19–2) against the All Blacks, since their first meeting in 1921.

Meanwhile one day during the tournament, the Springbok team visited Robben Island, where Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail. There, Pienaar is inspired by Mandela's will and his idea of self-mastery in "Invictus". Francois mentions his amazement that Mandela "could spend thirty years in a tiny cell, and come out ready to forgive the people who put him there".

Supported by a large home crowd of all races at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, Pienaar motivates his teammates for the final. Mandela's security detail receives a scare when, just before the match, a South African Airways Boeing 747-200 jetliner flies in low over the stadium. However, it is not an assassination attempt, but a demonstration of patriotism, with the message "Good Luck, Bokke"—the Springboks' Afrikaans nickname—painted on the undersides of the plane's wings. Mandela also famously arrives onto the field before the match wearing a Springbok cap and a replica of Pienaar's #6 jersey.

The Springboks complete their run by beating the All Blacks 15–12 in extra time, thanks to a drop goal from fly-half Joel Stransky. Mandela and Pienaar meet on the field together to celebrate the improbable and unexpected victory, and Mandela hands Pienaar the William Webb Ellis Cup, as the Springboks are now indeed rugby union's world champions. Mandela's car then drives away in the traffic-jammed streets leaving the stadium. He insists that there is no hurry as his security team wanted to change the route due to the cheering crowd. As Mandela watches South Africans celebrating together in the street from his car, his voice is heard reciting "Invictus" again.



The film is based on the book Playing the Enemy: Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation by John Carlin.[9] The filmmakers met with Carlin for a week in his Barcelona home, discussing how to transform the book into a screenplay.[10] Filming began in March 2009 in Cape Town. Primary filming in South Africa was completed in May 2009.[10]

Morgan Freeman was the first actor to be cast, as Mandela. Matt Damon was then cast as team captain Francois Pienaar, despite being significantly smaller than him[11] and much smaller than members of the current Springbok squad.[12] He was given intensive coaching by Chester Williams, another star of the 1995 team, at the Gardens Rugby League Club.[13] "In terms of stature and stars, this certainly is one of the biggest films ever to be made in South Africa," said Laurence Mitchell, the head of the Cape Film Commission.[14] On 18 March 2009, Scott Eastwood was cast as flyhalf Joel Stransky (whose drop goal provided the Springboks' winning margin in the 1995 final).[15] Over Christmas 2008, auditions had taken place in London to try to find a well-known British actor to play Pienaar's father, but in March it was decided to cast a lesser-known South African actor instead.[16] Zak Fe'aunati, who had previously played professionally for Bath, was cast as Jonah Lomu,[17] while Grant L. Roberts was cast as Ruben Kruger, who was the Springboks' other starting flanker in 1995. Chester Williams was also involved with the project to teach rugby to those of the cast playing players who had not played it before, while Freeman and Williams also became involved with the ESPN 30 For 30 film The 16th Man. Filming of the final also took place on location at Ellis Park Stadium, the actual venue for the 1995 final.


Invictus opened in 2,125 theaters in North America at #3 with US$8,611,147 and was the largest opening for a rugby-themed film. The film held well and ultimately earned $37,491,364 domestically and $84,742,607 internationally for a total of $122,233,971, above its $60 million budget.[4]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on 18 May 2010 on DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Special features include

  • Matt Damon Plays Rugby
  • Invictus music trailer

The Blu-ray release included a digital copy and additional special features:

  • Vision, Courage and Honor: Diplo and the Power of a True Story
  • Mandela Meets Morgan
  • The SmoothieWolf Factor documentary excerpts
  • Picture-in-Picture exploration with cast, crew and the real people who lived this true story


The film was met with generally positive reviews. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 76% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 246 reviews, with an average score of 6.60/10. The website's critical consensus is: "Delivered with typically stately precision from director Clint Eastwood, Invictus may not be rousing enough for some viewers, but Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman inhabit their real-life characters with admirable conviction."[18] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 74 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[19]

Critic David Ansen wrote:[20]

Anthony Peckham's sturdy, functional screenplay, based on John Carlin's book Playing the Enemy, can be a bit on the nose (and the message songs Eastwood adds are overkill). Yet the lapses fade in the face of such a soul-stirring story—one that would be hard to believe if it were fiction. The wonder of Invictus is that it actually went down this way.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three-and-a-half stars[21] and wrote:

It is a very good film. It has moments evoking great emotion, as when the black and white members of the presidential security detail (hard-line ANC activists and Afrikaner cops) agree with excruciating difficulty to serve together. And when Damon's character—François Pienaar, as the team captain—is shown the cell where Mandela was held for those long years on Robben Island. My wife, Chaz, and I were taken to the island early one morning by Ahmed Kathrada, one of Mandela's fellow prisoners, and yes, the movie shows his very cell, with the thin blankets on the floor. You regard that cell and you think, here a great man waited in faith for his rendezvous with history.

Shave Magazine's Jake Tomlinson wrote:[22]

Eastwood's film shows how sport can unify people, a straightforward and moving message that leaves audiences cheering. The sports, accurate portrayal and the solid storyline earn this movie a manliness rating of 3/5. However, the entertainment value, historical accuracy and strong message this movie delivers earn it an overall rating of 4.5 stars. Definitely, worth seeing.

Variety's Todd McCarthy wrote:[23]

Inspirational on the face of it, Clint Eastwood's film has a predictable trajectory, but every scene brims with surprising details that accumulate into a rich fabric of history, cultural impressions and emotion.

Awards and honors[edit]

Organization Award Person Result Ref
Academy Awards Best Actor Morgan Freeman Nominated [24]
Best Supporting Actor Matt Damon Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Nominated [25]
Best Director Clint Eastwood Nominated
Best Actor Morgan Freeman Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Matt Damon Nominated
Cesar Awards Cesar Award for Best Foreign Film Nominated [26]
ESPY Awards Best Sports Movie Nominated [27]
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role – Motion Picture Drama Morgan Freeman Nominated [28]
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Matt Damon Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Clint Eastwood Nominated
Movieguide Awards Faith & Freedom Award for Movies Won [notes 1] [29]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture Morgan Freeman Won [30]
Outstanding Motion Picture Nominated [31]
Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Theatrical or Television) Anthony Peckham Nominated
National Board of Review Freedom of Expression Award Won [32]
NBR Award for Best Director Clint Eastwood Won
NBR Award for Best Actor Morgan Freeman Won [notes 2]
Producers Guild of America Award Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award in Theatrical Motion Clint Eastwood, Rob Lorenz, Lori McCreary, Mace Neufeld Nominated [33]
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Morgan Freeman Nominated [34]
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role Matt Damon Nominated
WAFCA Awards Best Actor Morgan Freeman Nominated [35]
Best Director Clint Eastwood Nominated
Visual Effects Society Awards Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture Michael Owens, Geoff Hancock, Cyndi Ochs, Dennis Hoffman Nominated [36]
  1. ^ tied with The Stoning of Soraya M.
  2. ^ tied with George Clooney for Up In The Air


  1. "9000 days" – Overtone with Yollandi Nortjie
  2. "Invictus Theme" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
  3. "Colorblind" – Overtone
  4. "Siyalinda" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
  5. "World in Union 95" – Overtone with Yollande Nortjie
  6. "Madiba's theme" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
  7. "Hamba Nathi" – Overtone with Yollande Nortjie
  8. "Thanda" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
  9. "Shosholoza" – Overtone with Yollande Nortjie
  10. "Inkathi" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
  11. "Ole Ole Ole—We Are The Champions" – Overtone with Yollandi Nortjie
  12. "Enqena (Anxious)" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
  13. The South African National Anthem – Overtone
  14. "Ukunqoba (To Conquer)" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
  15. "Victory" – Soweto String Quartet
  16. "Xolela (Forgiveness)" – Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
  17. "The Crossing (Osiyeza)" – Overtone with Yollandi Nortjie
  18. "9,000 days (acoustic)" – Emile Welman

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Invictus (2009)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 8 May 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Invictus". American Film Institute. Retrieved 17 February 2024.
  3. ^ "Invictus".
  4. ^ a b c d "Invictus". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  5. ^ Thompson, Anne (10 June 2009). "Produced By Conference: Are Boomers Abandoning Movies?". Variety. Archived from the original on 14 June 2009. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  6. ^ Stephensen, Hunter (14 March 2009). "First Look: Clint Eastwood's The Human Factor with Matt Damon". Slash Film. Archived from the original on 4 June 2012. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  7. ^ Archive: Nelson Mandela's 'walk to freedom' in 1990 after his release from prison, archived from the original on 6 December 2013, retrieved 20 June 2017
  8. ^ Turner, Rob (March 22, 2009). "Life on the set with Clint Eastwood, by Welsh actor". Wales on Sunday. Retrieved May 6, 2009.
  9. ^ Leyes, Nick (15 March 2009). "François Pienaar takes rugby union to Hollywood. Somanth as François Pienaar' brother". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  10. ^ a b Interview with Carlin, BBC Radio 5, May 21, 2009
  11. ^ "Photo showing Freeman and Damon at premiere". IMDB.com. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  12. ^ "Photo". celebrity-gossip.net. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
  13. ^ Rappe, Elisabeth (16 March 2009). "Matt Damon Goes Blond For 'The Human Factor'". Cinematical.com. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  14. ^ [dead link]"Matt Damon injured at rugby union training". The Times (South Africa). 8 March 2009. Archived from the original on 11 April 2009. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  15. ^ White, James (18 March 2009). "Scott Eastwood joins the Mandela pic: Clint casts his son ..." TotalFilm.com. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  16. ^ Jones, Alice-Azania (16 March 2009). "Pandora: An accent beyond the best of British". The Independent. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  17. ^ (March 25, 2009). Zak Feaunati to play Jonah Lomu in film, BBC News. Retrieved on May 6, 2009.
  18. ^ "Invictus (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  19. ^ "Invictus Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  20. ^ David Ansen (25 November 2009). "'Invictus': A Whole New Ballgame". Newsweek. Retrieved 7 December 2009.
  21. ^ Roger Ebert (9 December 2009). "Invictus". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 13 December 2009.
  22. ^ Jake Tomlinson (10 December 2009). "Review: Invictus". Shave. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 23 December 2009.
  23. ^ Todd McCarthy (27 November 2009). "Invictus". Variety. Retrieved 9 December 2009.
  24. ^ "Academy Award nominations". Variety. 2 February 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  25. ^ Levine, Stuart (14 December 2009). "BFCA announces its nominees". Variety. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  26. ^ Keslassy, Elsa (25 February 2011). "'Of Gods and Men' tops Cesar Awards". Variety. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  27. ^ "Brees nominated for several ESPYS". ESPN. 14 July 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  28. ^ "67th Annual Golden Globes winners list". Variety. 17 January 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  29. ^ "2010 Movieguide Awards Winners". Movieguide Awards. 1 February 2010. Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  30. ^ Engelbrektson, Lisa (26 February 2010). "'Precious' tops NAACP Awards". Variety. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  31. ^ Engelbrektson, Lisa (6 January 2010). "'Precious' tops NAACP nominations". Variety. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  32. ^ Thielman, Sam (3 December 2009). "NBR's best: 'Up in the Air'". Variety. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  33. ^ McNary, Dave (5 January 2010). "PGA unveils nominations". Variety. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  34. ^ Barraclough, Leo (17 December 2009). "SAG nominations list". Variety. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  35. ^ Knegt, Peter (6 December 2009). ""Up In The Air" Leads D.C. Critics Nods". Indiewire. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  36. ^ "8th Annual VES Awards". visual effects society. Retrieved 22 December 2017.

External links[edit]