So far, Harrison Ford has not deigned to become part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that doesn’t mean the guy won’t work with Marvel stars. In this case, Ford’s co-star wasn’t yet a part of the MCU, though he was only months away. We’re talking about the 2013 sports drama 42, and no it has nothing to do with Douglas Adams or the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. 42 is an acclaimed sports drama/biopic in which the late Chadwick Boseman played baseball icon Jackie Robinson. The film is currently streaming on Netflix in the U.S. and it’s #7 on the streamer’s most watched movies; bookended by Forgetting Sarah Marshall (#8) and another kinda-sorta sports movie, Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore (#6).
In 42, Harrison Ford plays Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey who’s looking for a Black man to join his team. André Holland (Moonlight) stars as Wendell Smith — the real life sportswriter who helped effect Jackie Robinson’s historic recruitment — who gives Rickey Robinson’s name. The owner offers to recruit Robinson (Boseman) from the Kansas City Monarchs but warns the ball player he’s going to be treated like garbage for crossing the color barrier. No matter what, Rickey says, Robinson will have to keep his temper in check.
The owner Harrison Ford plays, if nothing else, proves right about the gauntlet waiting for Robinson. Once he earns himself a spot on the Dodgers, some of Robinson’s teammates write a petition saying they won’t play if he’s on the team. Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) plays manager Leo Durocher, who tells the players where they can stick their petition. Sadly, Durocher is soon suspended when an extra-martial affair comes to light, leaving Robinson light one ally. While the drama rages on the field, at home Robinson is newly married to Rachel (Nicole Beharie) and soon their first child is born.
Eventually, in part by following the advice doled out by the Harrison Ford character, Robinson wins over his teammates. Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black) makes a show of standing with his arm around Robinson’s shoulders to show his support to booing fans. When future Baseball Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter (David Thorns) spikes Robinson in the back of the leg with his cleats, it’s Robinson who has to stop his white teammates from getting revenge on the Cardinals player.
The Harrison Ford/Chadwick Boseman sports drama didn’t exactly break any records with ticket sales. It made a worldwide gross of $97.5 million against a $40 million budget. Judging by Rotten Tomatoes critics score of 81%, it did a lot better with critics. The consensus seemed to be that while 42 could have been a bit riskier in its storytelling, it ultimately delivers a powerful experience. In a rare show of critics and audiences agreeing, RT’s audience score of 85% seems to concur.
The sports drama proved to be Chadwick Boseman’s breakthrough role. It was in November 2013 — 7 months after 42‘s theatrical release — that Boseman’s casting as Marvel’s T’Challa aka Black Panther was announced. He would premiere in the iconic role in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and reprised the role three more times: in 2018’s Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. He also voiced the character for Disney+’s animated series What If…? though the episodes weren’t aired until after his death.
42 is a prime example how drastically things can change in Hollywood from conception to actualization. The film that would eventually star Harrison Ford and Chadwick Boseman began in 1996 with Spike Lee hoping to direct a Jackie Robinson biopic and looking to Denzel Washington as a potential lead. By 2004 the project changed hands to Robert Redford, who was planning to cast himself as Branch Rickey. The film ultimately wound up with the Oscar-winning writer/director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River).
With 42 streaming on Netflix, you can experience the film for yourself. Written and directed by Brian Helgeland; the film stars Harrison Ford, Chadwick Boseman, André Holland, Christopher Meloni, John C. McGinley (Scrubs), T.R. Knight (The Flight Attendant), Toby Huss (Halt and Catch Fire), Lucas Black (Sling Blade), Alan Tudyk (Firefly), Nicole Beharie (Shame), C.J. Nitkowski (Pitch), Brett Cullen (Joker), Gino Anthony Pesi (Shades of Blue), Ryan Merriman (Final Destination 3), and more.