‘Challengers’ and the Best Movies About Tennis 

'Challengers' — which puts Zendaya at the apex of a love triangle — is one of the most engaging movies to ever center around the world of tennis. From documentaries to satires to bio pics and thrillers, here are the others.

Zendaya in Challengers. Niko Tavernise

For non-fans, tennis can seem like an unexciting sport. Or, at least, it lacks the cinematic drama of football or baseball, two of Hollywood’s favorite subjects when it comes to sports movies. In Luca Guadagnino’s new film Challengers, however, tennis prodigy Tashi Duncan (Zendaya) meaningfully declares that “Tennis is a relationship.” And in Challengers, perhaps the most engaging movie to ever center around the world of tennis, it’s the relationships that keep the drama alive. 

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Set over a single tension-filled match, the film is an electric, kinetic sports movie that never really feels like a sports movie at all. It also makes you want to either pick up a racquet yourself or go watch another tennis-themed flick. And Hollywood has made a surprising number of movies set around the court, from dramas to comedies to documentaries. Whether you’re looking for a biopic like King Richard or a satire like 7 Days in Hell, here are the 10 best tennis movies out there—Challengers included. 

Challengers (2024)

Directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by Justin Kuritzkes, Challengers sets the stakes high both on the court and in the fraught relationships between injured tennis prodigy Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), her world-famous tennis champion husband Art Donaldson (Mike Faist), and their long-time pal/rival Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor). Art, whose career is coached by Tashi, is ready to retire, but not before he takes down Patrick, an old friend with a romantic history with Tashi. The narrative shifts between timelines, slowly revealing just why these two players want to win so badly. It’s a showcase for all of the actors, but also for fashion designer Jonathan Anderson, who created the aspirational costumes, and for composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, whose score is the icing on the already sexy cake. 

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Battle of the Sexes, directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton and written by Simon Beaufoy, recreates a real-life event in tennis history—with a few dramatized flourishes. The film is based around the 1973 match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a pivotal moment in women’s sports. Although the outcome is relatively well-known, the filmmakers keep the narrative taut and uncertain, showcasing the actual investment of both players. Stone and Carell were both nominated for Golden Globes and Carell earned a SAG nod for, but the hair and makeup transformations are as memorable as the acting. 

Wimbledon (2004)

The early 2000s brought a deluge of romantic comedies, some more memorable than others. One of these second tier films was Wimbledon, from British director Richard Loncraine. It starred Paul Bettany as faltering tennis pro Peter Colt and Kirsten Dunst as up-and-coming player Lizzie Bradbury, who meet cute when Peter earns a wild card slot at Wimbledon. It featured a lot of real tennis—pro athletes were cast as characters and served as tennis doubles for the leads—and scenes were filmed during the actual 2003 Wimbledon Championships. It’s a reasonably sweet love story, with charming performances from Bettany and Dunst, and fans will spot several now-famous actors in the mix, including James McAvoy and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. It’s not a top-seed film, but it’s a likable watch with a sense of authenticity. 

King Richard (2021)

Venus and Serena Williams are two of tennis’s most interesting figures, as is their father Richard Williams, who coached the pair to pro success. Reinaldo Marcus Green’s biographical drama King Richard recounts the young life of the Williams sisters (Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton) and their rise to fame under the guidance of their father (Will Smith). The film, which also stars Jon Bernthal and Aunjanue Ellis, is a compelling look at what it takes to become great, especially if you are a Black woman in America. The role won Smith his infamous Oscar for Best Actor, and pulled in dozens of nominations and other awards, including an NAACP Image Awards. It’s one to revisit if you missed it when it first came out. 

Borg vs. McEnroe (2017)

During the 1980s, Björn Borg and John McEnroe had a memorable rivalry, which came to a head at the 1980 Wimbledon Championships. Danish filmmaker Janus Metz Pedersen’s underrated film Borg vs. McEnroe showcases this match and all of the drama surrounding it with compelling flair. Sverrir Gudnason plays Borg, a disciplined Swedish champion, while Shia LaBeouf embodies McEnroe, known for his abrasive demeanor. Although the film didn’t make a huge impact on release, it’s an engaging look at how two very different people approached the same sport. It also makes tennis seem surprisingly cinematic—a challenging feat. 

7 Days in Hell (2015)

Jake Szymanski’s mockumentary 7 Days in Hell was inspired by John Isner’s real-life match against Nicolas Mahut at 2010 Wimbledon Championships, although it’s far more ridiculous. Presented as an HBO Sports documentary incorporating BBC footage, the movie follows two pro players, Aaron Williams (Andy Samberg) and Charles Poole (Kit Harington), who play the longest tennis match in history. It has a stacked cast, with Michael Sheen, Mary Steenburgen, June Squibb and Fred Armisen all making appearances, and Jon Hamm steps in as the narrator. The filmmakers even tapped actual players like Serena Williams and John McEnroe to be part of the faux documentary, which is hilarious and edgy at the same time. 

Citizen Ashe (2021)

Arthur Ashe made essential contributions to both tennis and civil rights. Citizen Ashe, from directors Rex Miller and Sam Pollard, charts Ashe’s rise after he became the first Black player to win the U.S. Open in 1968. The documentary features commentary from Johnnie Ashe, Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Donald Dell and Lenny Simpson, among others, and focuses on why and how Ashe became a political activist who wanted to use his platform for social justice. It’s a well-made and thoughtful tribute to Ashe, although it remained out of the awards race the year it was released. 

Match Point (2005)

The world of tennis never seemed as sinister as it did in Match Point, Woody Allen’s psychological thriller, which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Jonathan Rhys Meyers played Chris Wilton, a retired tennis pro who has become an instructor at a high-end London club. It’s there he meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer), and his American fiancée Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), which results in a tangled mess of marriages, break-ups and affairs. Things get pretty dark—if you haven’t seen it don’t spoil the mid-story twist for yourself online—and it features a strong cast with a lot of notable London locations. Sure, the tennis isn’t really that important to the narrative, but as a backdrop for the scheming of the elite rich it’s a good one. 

Venus and Serena (2012)

This documentary about Williams sisters is a solidly engaging watch. Directed by Maiken Baird and Michelle Major, the film played at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival and took an inside look at the two players’ lives and careers with insight from their father Richard and tennis coach Oracene Price. It’s a relatively surface-level investigation into the sisters, with some depths left to be desired, but the pair are inherently compelling, especially when you get to see them play. It makes for a good double feature with 2016 doc Serena, from director Ryan White. 

Strokes of Genius (2018)

Yet another movie about a tennis rivalry, Strokes of Genius documents the 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, which is now considered to be one of the best matches in the sport. The film, directed by Andrew Douglas, combines footage and interviews to recount the famous match, which is compared to other similar pair-ups like Borg versus McEnroe. Hearing the athletes themselves reminiscence on the historical moment is the best part, although the surrounding commentary is equally reflective. It’s one of the better tennis documentaries out there, especially if you are too young to remember the actual match. 

 

‘Challengers’ and the Best Movies About Tennis