While it may not be the most popular subject for directors to tackle, there are a host of fascinating movies about chess that we think you’ll love. The recent rise in chess’s popularity thanks to movies, TV shows, and streaming platforms like Twitch has driven people to hunt for chess-themed media, and we’re here to help.
Now that playing chess has become a new and exciting hobby for so many people, it stands to reason that there’s also a growing interest in movies about chess.
Our list has something for everyone, from book adaptations to documentaries. So grab your popcorn, sit back, and relax. We’ve got your best movies about chess covered.
7 Best Chess Movies Of All Time (Our Review)
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)
This 1993 title follows the beginnings of Waitzkin’s son, Joshua. It’s based on the book Searching for Bobby Fischer by Fred Waitzkin.
Joshua Waitzkin is a real-life chess player and prodigy who went on to become a chess master in his later years. Based on his son’s interest in chess, Searching for Bobby Fischer retells the events that lead to Joshua’s fascination with chess.
The plot follows a young Joshua (played by Max Pomeranc), who’s taken in by the chess players in Washington Square Park. After playing a match with one of the homeless chess players, Joshua’s interest in chess begins to grow.
Seeing the young boy’s potential, Vinnie (Laurence Fishburne) – another player that frequents the park – takes Joshua under his wing to tutor him.
This heart-warming and inspirational movie about a boy and his love for chess is a must-see for any chess lover. The PG rating also makes the film a great pick for family movie night.
- 7.4/10 – IMDb
- 100% – Rotten Tomatoes
- 89% – Metacritic
Pawn Sacrifice (2015)
This 2014 drama is based on the real-life of legendary chess master Bobby Fischer, played by Tobey Maguire.
Set during the Cold War, the movie takes us through Bobby’s matches against expert Soviet players and his climactic career-making win during the 1972 World Championship chess tournament.
Throughout the film, the audience is allowed a glimpse into Fischer’s slow descent into madness and the chess legend’s silent struggle with delusions and his mental illness.
Pawn Sacrifice is a brilliant and hard-hitting retelling of Bobby Fischer’s life and is a true cinematic rollercoaster. We highly recommend this movie for chess fans and movie buffs alike.
- 7/10 – IMDb
- 71% – Rotten Tomatoes
- 65% – Metacritic
Bobby Fischer Against The World (2011)
If you’re looking for a more accurate depiction of the Bobby Fischer story, this 2011 documentary explores the life of the late legend of chess through a combination of interviews and archived footage.
After Fischer’s passing in 2008 at the age of 64, filmmaker Liz Garbus put together a detailed analysis of his life. It’s told through various interviews with other famous players like International Master of chess Anothy Saidy and American Chess Grandmaster Larry Evans.
The documentary features rare footage of Fischer’s winning 1972 match against Boris Spassky and is a fascinating watch for chess players with an interest in chess history.
- 7.4/10 – IMDb
- 88% – Rotten Tomatoes
- 8.1/10 – Watch Documentaries
Another documentary, this 2016 film focuses on current World Champion and top-ranking player Magnus Carlsen.
The documentary follows Magnus and the Carlsen family as they navigate Magnus’ rise to fame within the chess world, with footage from the child prodigy’s early years.
Magnus was born in 1990 and earned the title of Grandmaster at the age of 13. He has held the title of the number 1 ranking player in the world for the last decade.
Magnus has often been compared to a young Bobby Fischer and is one of the most well-known players in the chess community.
Magnus is one of our top picks for chess enthusiasts and can serve as a source of inspiration for younger players or beginners.
If you’re interested in playing chess online, Play Magnus created a chess app called the Play Magnus Chess App. We highly recommend this for chess enthusiasts.
- 7.1/10 – IMDb
- 81% – Rotten Tomatoes
- 4.3/5 – Vudu
Queen of Katwe (2016)
Disney’s Queen of Katwe was an instant hit among viewers, both young and old.
This biographical drama tells the true story of Phiona (played by Madina Nalwanga), a young girl living with her family in the slums of Katwe, Uganda. Not knowing her potential, she learns to play chess and quickly garners attention as a chess prodigy.
Phiona’s coach (David Oyelowo), who was a local missionary at the local town center, helps her navigate her way through chess matches and tournaments, leading to Phiona becoming an expert of chess.
Phiona uses her gift to advance in the world of competitive chess and eventually uses her talent to help herself and her family escape their life of poverty.
The movie certainly has a more serious undertone. But the difficult subject matter is handled gracefully in a way that makes for a touching and inspirational film for the whole family to enjoy.
- 7.4/10 – IMDb
- 94% – Rotten Tomatoes
- 4.5/5 – Vudu
Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine (2003)
This unique documentary by Vikram Jayanti centers around the match between Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue – a computer specifically designed by IBM to beat him.
Kasparov was the highest-rated player at the time of filming and was reigning World Champion for 15 years until 2000.
This exciting film allows the audience to watch a legendary chess player go head-to-head against a computer in the most fascinating game of chess that the world has ever seen.
- 6.8/10 – IMDb
- 76% – Rotten Tomatoes
- 7.9/10 – Top Documentary Films
The Luzhin Defence (2000)
Set in the late 1920s, the film follows the story of chess Grandmaster Aleksandr Ivanovich ‘Sascha’ Luzhin (John Turturro).
Luzhin travels to the Italian Lakes to participate in a career-making chess competition and unexpectedly falls in love with the beautiful Natalia Katkov (Emily Watson). Suffering from mental exhaustion, the pair must find a way to help Luzhin finish the competition despite his fragile mental state.
The film is based on the Vladimir Nabokov novel ‘The Defense’, and it explores darker themes like mental fragility and death. While the movie is rated PG-13, we would recommend caution for younger viewers.
- 6.9/10 – IMDb
- 58% – Rotten Tomatoes
- 64% – Metacritic
Special Mention: The Queen’s Gambit (2020)
We just had to make this special mention on our list of best movies about chess. Although The Queen’s Gambit is not technically a movie, the Netflix original miniseries garnered the attention of audiences all over the world, effectively reigniting a universal interest in chess.
Released in 2020, the 7-episode long series was based on Walter Tevis’ novel of the same name.
The series follows the life of chess prodigy and dark horse Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) during the mid-1950s and into the 1960s. The show opens with Beth living in an orphanage, where the young girl learns to play chess with the school’s caretaker.
After being adopted by the Wheatleys, Beth’s adoptive mother sees an opportunity to profit off of Beth’s talent. The series chronicles Harmon’s rise through the chess world and subsequent descent into drug and alcohol abuse in an attempt to deal with her newfound fame.
The series received critical acclaim and was nominated for 18 categories at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards. The show also won a Golden Globe Award for Best Limited Series or Television Film.
- 8.6/10 – IMDb
- 96% – Rotten Tomatoes
- 4/5 – Common Sense Media
We’re crazy about chess, and after watching a few of our top picks for the best movies about chess, we hope you will be too.
Whether you’re here to take a load off with a light-hearted inspirational film, or you’re a history buff looking for a good documentary, our list has it all.