From New Chess Movies to Chess Film Classics: Our List of the Best Chess Movies Ever
There’s no denying it: filmmakers absolutely love chess. Over the years, there’s been a number of hugely-successful films telling stories – and often true ones – involving figures who play our favorite sport. From movies that document the lives of elite players like Bobby Fischer to those that set their story lines around the game, there are plenty of chess movies to choose from.
Even when a film isn’t entirely about chess, the game has made an appearance in a number of highly-acclaimed Hollywood blockbusters. We saw arch enemies Professor Xavier and Magneto face off across the chess board at the end of the first X-Men film. Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway engaged in a very sexy game of chess in the 1968 classic The Thomas Crown Affair. Even the late, great Humphrey Bogart showed his chess chops as Rick in Casablanca.
What about films where chess played an even bigger role? What are the best chess movies of all time? We’ve compiled a list of ten chess movies that absolutely shouldn’t be missed if you’re a chess aficionado. From classics in the chess canon such as Searching for Bobby Fischer to the African chess movie, Queen of Katwe, we’ve got a diverse lineup of stories involving chess. Which ones have you seen…and which ones do you still need to mark off the list?
10 Greatest Chess Movies of All Time:
1. Searching for Bobby Fischer
To those who haven’t seen it, it may come as a surprise that Searching for Bobby Fischer isn’t precisely a Bobby Fischer movie. Rather, its plot centers around Joshua Waitzkin, another young chess prodigy. Based on a true story, this chess player movie explores Waitzkin’s quest to play aggressively in the same vein as Fischer. Starring Ben Kingsley and Laurence Fishburne, Searching for Bobby Fischer has become a classic among chess fans everywhere and definitely rates as one of the best chess movies of all time.
2. Pawn Sacrifice
Released in 2014, Pawn Sacrifice is the definitive Bobby Fischer movie about his life. Starring Tobey Maguire as Fischer, it tells the story of Fischer’s tortured genius and his 1972 face-off against the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky. The match was more than a battle of wits; it was also a tense and deeply symbolic competition during the Cold War era. This chess player movie does an excellent job of telling the dramatic story of the events leading up to that World Chess Championship.
3. Computer Chess
Computer Chess is exactly what its name implies: a computer chess movie. It’s a movie about a group of early-80’s nerds who stage a tournament involving computer programs that are designed to play chess.
Strange and quirkily fascinating, this black-and-white supposed documentary has found its place on numerous “Best Chess Movies” lists. Like it or hate it, Computer Chess is worth at least one watch.
4. Queen of Katwe
Our list is full of classics, but for viewers who would like a relatively new chess movie, the 2016 Disney chess movie Queen of Katwe is an excellent choice. Amidst a library of chess movies that feature men – and primarily white men – it’s nice to see a Ugandan chess movie whose protagonist is a woman. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, Queen of Katwe tells the story of Phiona Mutesi, a young girl from the slum who learns chess and overcomes her struggles in order to become the very first Woman Candidate Master from her country.
5. Life of a King
When we first heard that a Cuba Gooding Jr. chess movie was coming out in 2013, we hoped it would be a feel-good film about the game, and Life of a King did not disappoint.
It’s a true story about ex-felon Eugene Brown (Gooding Jr.) who becomes a master at the game while playing it in prison for cigarettes. When he’s released, he starts the Big Chair Chess Club as a way to discourage inner city youth from pursuing the path that landed him behind bars.
6. The Chess Player
The newest on our Best Chess Movies list was released in 2017. The Chess Player movie takes an entirely different storytelling approach from many of the other films we’ve included. Set in 1934, this movie follows Diego Padilla, a Spanish world chess champion who falls in love with French journalist Marianne Latour. Once married, the pair escape the Civil War and move to Paris, where Padilla is falsely accused of being a spy and imprisoned by the SS. There, he must put his chess skills to the test at the request of the brutal and unpredictable Colonel Maier.
Compulsively watchable and highly entertaining, the Endgame chess movie follows young Jose, a boy from a broken family who is a chess expert thanks to his abuelita teaching him to play ever since he was five.
For years, Jose’s star athlete brother has gotten all the glory, but when Jose’s chess team has the opportunity to fight their way to the Texas state finals, it’s finally his time to shine.
8. The Dark Horse
A truly inspirational chess movie, Dark Horse is a true story that’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. In it, Genesis Pontini, a chess player from New Zealand, works to turn the lives of disadvantaged children around by teaching them the discipline and skills necessary to succeed in chess. The kids learn that not only are chess skills helpful in becoming masters at the game; they’re also helpful in mastering life.
NOTE: While the next two movies on our list aren’t entirely about chess, their plots wouldn’t be the same without the famous chess games that take place in them. Keep reading for our final must-see chess movies of all time!
9. The Seventh Seal
In a scene that’s both beloved and hated by chess lovers everywhere, Death (played by Bengt Ekerot) shows up to spirit Antonius away, so he does what any of us would do – challenges the Grim Reaper to a chess game; winner take all. The match that ensues is one of the most famous in chess movie history for its use of the game to build drama and suspense. It’s also one of the most controversial because, well, the game is set up all wrong. Still, as famous as it is, it had to make our Top 10 Best Chess Movies list.
10. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Yes; we know that the first Harry Potter movie isn’t exactly a chess movie. However, a spectacular game of wizard chess does figure heavily in the action-packed conclusion of the film. Watching Ron, Hermione, and Harry face off against more-than-lifesized pawns, bishops, and knights was like experiencing Battle Chess on steroids. Those who had already read the books knew what was coming when the first saw this film, but for those who hadn’t yet devoured the series, this do-or-die match was just about as suspenseful as it gets.
If you’re not playing chess, you should absolutely be watching others play it. Which of these movies are your all-time favorites?