Chess is a game that transcends the 64 squares of the chessboard. For a lot of folks, it is a way of life, and what speaks more about life than films, movies and documentaries? Imagine the majestic world of chess brought to your screens with mind-blowing storylines and relatable details through chess movies. Amazing right?
So, sit back, relax, and grab a snack as we take you through 20 of the best chess movies ever made.
20. Chess Fever
Chess fever is a silent comedy film about the Moscow chess tournament of 1925. It tells the story of how the lead actor and his fiance who are engaged to be married, get caught up in the society-wide chess craze.
World chess champion Capablanca starred in the film.
19. The Great Chess Movie
This 80-minute documentary was produced by the National Film Board of Canada. It was directed by Gilles Carl and Camille Coudari. It starred heavyweights in the world of chess, the likes of Bobby Fischer, Victor Korchnoi, Anatoly Karpov, Ljubomir Ljubojevic and other well-known chess players.
18. Game Over: Garry Kasparov And The Machine
This is a 2003 chess movie that focuses on the chess match between the chess champion Garry Kasparov and “Deep Blue”, a high-level chess-playing IBM computer. The documentary also includes interviews with Garry, his manager, chess experts and members of the Deep Blue team as well as original footage of the match.
17. Dangerous moves
Dangerous moves is a 1984 thriller. Its original title was in French “La diagonale du fou” (which translates to The Fool’s Diagonal), a direct reference to the Bishop chess piece. The film tells the story of two different players competing in the final match for the world chess championship.
16. Red Army
This movie tells the story of the famous Soviet Union Red Army hockey team that was one of the most successful sports teams in its history. The story is told from the perspective of the team’s captain, Slava Fetisov and it portrays his transformation from hero to political enemy. The movie has direct reference to chess as soldiers in the movie were regarded as “Pawns on a chessboard.”
15. A Little Game
A ten-year-old girl named Max who lives in Manhattan, New York stumbles on people playing chess at the Washington Square Park. She develops interest and asks a friend, Norman, to teach her. Norman makes her learn that, in chess, like life, there are no shortcuts to success and teaches her the game from the basics. A Little Game is a movie that shows the nexus between chess and life.
Fresh is a movie that shows that chess, when applied to life, has infinite possibilities. In the movie, Fresh is a twelve-year-old drug dealer who finds himself trapped in a web of poverty, corruption and racial discrimination in Brooklyn. When his sister who is a drug addict starts having sexual relations with a local drug lord, Fresh uses the skills he learned playing chess with his father who is a speed chess champion and plans a complex strategy that will free both himself and his sister.
13. Life Of A King
Life Of A King tells the true story of an ex-convict who after being released from prison, is determined to use the knowledge of chess which he learnt while in prison to change the lives of young people in a troubled neighborhood.
Closing Gambit is a chess star-studded film that features the fascinating story of the 1978 world chess championship match between the Soviet Communist Party’s Anatoly Karpov and the defector labeled traitor from the Soviet Union, Victor Korchnoi. Consequently, the match was both a sporting and political affair.
11. Critical Thinking
This movie is based on the true story of the 1998 Miami Jackson High School chess team, It is an American biographical drama film that was released in 2020. It follows the efforts of a dedicated teacher who motivates and inspires the chess team of the Miami Jackson High School to emerge as the first inner-city team to win the United States Chess Championship.
10. Brooklyn Castle
If you’re looking for a bit of motivation then this one’s for you. Brooklyn Castle is a documentary film about Intermediate School 318. A public school in the city of Brooklyn uses an after-school chess program to groom students.
Despite heavy budget cuts,the program went on to build the highest winning junior high school chess team in the USA.
They further went to become the first Middle school year to win the United States Chess Federation’s national high school championship.
9. Bobby Fischer Against The World
Bobby Fischer Against The World is a documentary by Liz Garbus that explores the life of chess superstar and 11th world champion Robert James Fischer. The work on the film began after Fischer’s death in 2008 at age 64. The documentary tells the story of Fischer’s rise from a self-taught eight-year-old in Brooklyn to a world chess champion.
8. Queen To Play
This movie is based on the novel, La Joueuse d’échecs by Bertina Henrichs. It tells the story of a French maid who develops an interest in chess. One of her clients offers to teach her the game and her interest quickly turns to an obsession. Also, this movie is one of few chess movies to be adapted from a novel
7. The Coldest Game
The Coldest Game is a Netflix original that debuted in February 2019. It tells the story of a fictional character, Joshua Mansky who is a genius mathematician from the United States that gets kidnapped by the United States secret service and is forced to play a chess game against the Soviet Union Grandmaster Alexander Garrylov.
6. Searching For Bobby Fischer
Searching For Bobby Fischer is a 1993 documentary drama that tells the story of a well-known chess prodigy Joshua Waitzkin. It focuses on the rise of Joshua from being a little chess playing lad to achieving the title of Grandmaster under the tutelage of a strict chess instructor, Bruce Pandolfini who tries to nurture him into becoming a chess wizard like Bobby Fischer.
5. The Seventh Seal
Let’s dive into the world of the supernatural. The Seventh Seal tells the story of a brave knight that returns to Sweden after the crusades and seeks answers about life, death and the existence of God as he challenges Death to a chess game to save his friends and himself. The Seventh Seal is unique from other chess movies as it transcends the realm of humans.
Of course a list of chess movies would not be complete without a movie on the world champion. Nicknamed the “Mozart of chess”, Magnus Carlsen is one of the greatest players of the game. The 2016 documentary “Magnus” directed by Benjamin Ree focuses on the early life of the Norwegian chess prodigy, his attainment of the title of grandmaster at age 13 and finally winning the World Chess Championship title in 2012 by beating Vishwanathan Anand.
3. Pawn Sacrifice
Pawn Sacrifice is an American biographical drama about the chess legend and enigma Robert James Fischer popularly called Bobby Fischer. It follows Fischer’s rise from his boyhood days as an eight-year-old boy living in Brooklyn with his Soviet Jewish mother.
It tells the story of how Bobby began playing chess, his remarkable achievement of becoming a grandmaster at a very young age and his triumph over the world champion Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland.
2. The Queen of Katwe
The Queen of Katwe is an inspiring chess movie that aired in 2016 . It is an American biographical film that focuses the life of Phiona Mutesi, a poor girl living in Katwe, a slum of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Born into a poverty-stricken family, Phiona and her brother help their single mother at the market. But Phiona’s fortunes change when she meets Robert Katende at a missionary program. Soon after, Katende, who is a chess player and coach, introduces her to the game. She shows a natural aptitude for chess and despite her mother’s initial reluctance to allow her to play. As a result, she goes on to represent Uganda at the chess olympiad. She ultimately succeeds in fulfilling her lifelong dream of liberating her family from poverty. The Queen of Katwe is a gem amongst chess movies
The Queen’s Gambit
The Queen’s Gambit is arguably top of the list of chess movies that caught everyone’s attention, both chess players and non-chess players included.
Staged during the 1950s cold war era. It tells the story of Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy and orphan struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. It focuses on Beth’s quest to become an elite chess player while struggling with depression, alcohol and drugs. The movie also featured the real-life games of strong chess players.
What chess movie do you think deserves to be on the list? Let us know in the comments below!