The Best Chess Movies & Documentaries

The Best Chess Movies & Documentaries


If you’re the type of chess player who lives and breathes the game, then you’ll never be able to get your hands enough chess materials.

Books, courses, YouTube videos… if it’s chess related then you’ll want to consume it.

Chess movies won’t be the exception.

In this guide you’ll find a list of the top chess movies of all time, as well as a few great chess documentaries.

Some of them feature chess as part of the main story, while in others chess only plays a background role, but if you’re a chess fanatic then these movies are ones you’ll want to watch.

Best Movies


Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

IMDB Rating: 7.5/10

Available on Netflix: Yes (As Innocent Moves)

We start this list with a movie that just about everyone has seen. Even if they’re not a chess fanatic. Yet, we can’t have a list of the best chess movies without mentioning Searching for Bobby Fischer.

Based on the childhood of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin (just in case the movie’s title lead you to believe it was about Bobby Fischer) and his journey in the chess world of New York City, including plenty of scenes in the famous Washington Square park.

With Ben Kingsley as chess coach Bruce Pandolfini and Laurence Fishburne as chess hustler “Vinnie”, the movie has a great cast.

This is the kind of movie that people who aren’t interested in chess love, so if you’re a chess fan then this is certainly one you won’t want to miss.

Pawn Sacrifice (2014)

IMDB Rating: 7/10

Available on Netflix: Yes

Ask a group of chess fans about their favourite event in chess history and the 1972 World Championship will one of the more frequent answers you hear.

It was billed as Boris Spassky versus Bobby Fischer, but really it was more than that; it was the United States versus the Soviet Union. It was capitalism versus communism.

It may have taken 42 years, but finally we have a movie that tells the story of this famous competition.

With Tobey Maguire starring as Fischer and Live Schreiber as Spassky, the movie has a great cast.

While not as famous as some of the other movies listed here, outside the chess world at least, this one is definitely worth a watch.


Queen of Katwe (2016)

IMDB Rating: 7.4/10

Available on Netflix: Yes

If you liked “Cool Runnings” and you like chess, then you’ll probably enjoy the Queen of Katwe as well.

It tells the story of Ugandan chess player Phiona Mutesi, who grew up in the slums of Katwe and became a Women’s Candidate Master.

It’s a typical Disney feel-good movie that follows a similar formula to other movies about disadvantaged people doing well, so if that kind of movie appeals to you, then you’ll enjoy this one.

The Luzhin Defense (2000)

IMDB Rating: 6.9/10

Available on Netflix: Yes

Based on the popular book by Russian author Nabokov, the Luzhin Defense is a fictional telling of the story of a troubled chess player who arrives in Italy for a major chess tournament.

Part movie about chess and part commentary on life as a genius, Nabokov once said of his book that it was the story of a chess player who was crushed by his genius.

If you are interested in some of the more eccentric characters to have played chess at the highest level then you’ll find this movie very interesting.  


Knights of the South Bronx (2005)

IMDB Rating: 6.5/10

Available on Netflix: No

A similar story to Queen of Katwe, except set in the mean streets of the Bronx, New York City, Knights of the South Bronx tells the true story of a school teacher who taught his under-privileged class of kids how to play chess.

It stars Ted Danson playing a character based on the real life David MacEnulty and was only ever a TV movie.

But don’t let that discourage you. If you like movies that are uplifting, then you can’t go wrong with this one either.

Dangerous Moves (La Diagonale du fou) (1984)

IMDB Rating: 6.6/10

Available on Netflix: No

Slightly older than most of the movies in this list, this French/Swiss movie is another one to check out if you’re interested in chess movies.

About a clash of two players in a fictional world championship, this movie can be a little hard to find (and it’s not yet available on Netflix), but it’s probably worth the effort.

After all, it won an Oscar in 1984 for the best foreign language film, so unless you hate subtitles you really have no excuse to not try and find a copy.


The Grass Arena (1992)

IMDB Rating: 8.5/10

Available on Netflix: No

Based on the book written by John Healy about his own life, the Grass Arena is another movie about a man whose life is turned around by chess.

Somewhat grittier than some of the other examples on this list, it’s nonetheless a great movie.

John Healy was born to Irish parents in London, joined the army and became a boxer. Undone by his drinking, he ended up on skid row where his petty crimes eventually landed him in prison.

After being taught chess by a fellow inmate, it was clear he had quite a talent for the game and it helped him turn his life around.

John Healy, in addition to writing The Grass Arena, has also written a chess book called Coffeehouse Chess Tactics which is also worth checking out.

The Dark Horse (2014)

IMDB Rating: 7.5/10

Available on Netflix: Yes

One of the newer movies listed here, this movie takes us down under to New Zealand to tell the real-life story of chess prodigy Genesis Potini.

In a similar vein to many other chess movies, the theme is one of the ability of chess to heal; with Genesis suffering from bipolar disorder.

After being released from hospital, he hears about a chess club that is not in great shape and spends the rest of the movie trying to turn it around, while keeping some of the local kids out of gangs.

While it may sound formulaic, it has been the recipient of numerous awards and some have called it New Zealand’s greatest ever film.


Fresh (1994)

IMDB Rating: 7.6/10

Available on Netflix: Yes

Marketed as a hip-hop movie rather than chess, Fresh still counts in our book as a chess movie.

It tells the coming of age story of a young boy in New York who gets himself caught up in the world of selling drugs and unable to find a way out.

With the help of his chess master father (played by the one and only Samuel L. Jackson), he is able to formulate a strategy to extricate himself from his life of crime and set himself on the right path.

Fans of Breaking Bad will want to see this just to see Giancarlo Esposito (who played Gus Fring) as the bad guy here too.

The Chess Player (El jugador de ajedrez) (2017)

IMDB Rating: 6.2/10

Available on Netflix: No

This recently made movie tells the story of a Spanish chess master who ends up in a Nazi prison.

In a similar vein to other movies where chess is used to lift the player out of some kind of misery, El jugador de ajedrez demonstrates how to use chess to survive a Nazi prison.

This movie can be a little harder to find than some of the rest and if you don’t speak Spanish you’ll need to find a version with English subtitles, but if you’re a chess tragic and can’t get enough of movies with chess themes then you’ll want to watch this one too.

Documentaries


Magnus (2016)

IMDB Rating: 7.1/10

Available on Netflix: Yes

It’s hard to read anything chess related these days without seeing some mentions of the current world champion Magnus Carlsen.

This documentary takes you back in time to when Magnus was young. You learn from his father why he began to play chess and what characteristics he had early on that hinted at the greatness he would later achieve.

You also get a look at the first time Magnus played Garry Kasparov as well as follow him on his journey to defeat Viswanathan Anand for the world title in 2013. A must for any Magnus Carlsen fan.

Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine (2003)

IMDB Rating: 6.8/10

Available on Netflix: Yes

Even people who don’t play chess know the name Garry Kasparov. Partly for his skill as a chess player, but also for his battles with the chess computer Deep Blue.

Chances are you know a little about the story of how IBM built a computer that was finally able to defeat a human champion, but there are probably plenty of details you don’t know.

If you’re interested in Kasparov or chess computers then this is another documentary you can’t miss.


Brooklyn Castle (2012)

IMDB Rating: 7.3/10

Another story about disadvantaged kids doing well through chess, Brooklyn Castle tells the story of the chess team at Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, New York City.

Despite 70% of the students coming from families living below the poverty line, somehow this school has won more national chess tournaments than any other. So much so that some people have branded them the “New York Yankees” of high school chess.

As much about the personal lives of the kids as it is about chess, this is another highly recommended documentary if you like chess and great human stories.

Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)

IMDB Rating: 7.5/10

No American chess player before or since has captured imaginations quite like Bobby Fischer.

The eccentric chess genius who would break the Soviet Union’s stranglehold on the world of chess was famous not only within the chess world, but the United States as a whole.

This documentary tells the story of Fischer’s 1972 victory against Boris Spassky. If you’re a fan of the 2014 movie Pawn Sacrifice, then you’ll also want to watch the documentary of the same event.

Needless to say that if you’re a chess fan, this is a documentary you have to watch.

Conclusion

  • That’s all we have for you today.
  • What’s your favourite chess movie?
  • Did we miss any must-haves?
  • Let us know in the comments!

Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

IMDB Rating: 7.5/10

Available on Netflix: Yes (As Innocent Moves)

We start this list with a movie that just about everyone has seen. Even if they’re not a chess fanatic. Yet, we can’t have a list of the best chess movies without mentioning Searching for Bobby Fischer.

Based on the childhood of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin (just in case the movie’s title lead you to believe it was about Bobby Fischer) and his journey in the chess world of New York City, including plenty of scenes in the famous Washington Square park.

With Ben Kingsley as chess coach Bruce Pandolfini and Laurence Fishburne as chess hustler “Vinnie”, the movie has a great cast.

This is the kind of movie that people who aren’t interested in chess love, so if you’re a chess fan then this is certainly one you won’t want to miss.


Pawn Sacrifice (2014)

IMDB Rating: 7/10

Available on Netflix: Yes

Ask a group of chess fans about their favourite event in chess history and the 1972 World Championship will one of the more frequent answers you hear.

It was billed as Boris Spassky versus Bobby Fischer, but really it was more than that; it was the United States versus the Soviet Union. It was capitalism versus communism.

It may have taken 42 years, but finally we have a movie that tells the story of this famous competition.

With Tobey Maguire starring as Fischer and Live Schreiber as Spassky, the movie has a great cast.

While not as famous as some of the other movies listed here, outside the chess world at least, this one is definitely worth a watch.