25th April 2024

Challengers movie: everything you need to know

Zendaya and the director of Call Me by Your Name team up for a new romantic drama in the competitive world of tennis.

Akhil Arora, a member of the Film Critics Guild and a Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic with over eight years of experience

Mike Faist and Zendaya in Challengers
Mike Faist and Zendaya in Challengers // Photo: Niko Tavernise/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Zendaya is in the lead of the new romantic drama from Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino. The 52-year-old Italian returns to the genre he’s had his most success in, drawn by the premise of the story: “People who are complicated and who never really want to put things in place but in fact make things more complicated for themselves.” With Challengers, Guadagnino is going from rural northern Italy to the competitive world of sport, chronicling a tennis-fuelled love triangle with Zendaya at the centre. Expect the steamy eroticism that Guadagnino brings to his movies, alongside a volley of balls being hit.

Mike Faist and Josh O'Connor in Challengers movie

Challengers ending, explained

Zendaya’s Challengers ends with Art and Patrick hugging each other at the net as Tashi cheers them on. Who won? What’s the meaning?

On Challengers, Zendaya and Guadagnino are also producers alongside Rachel O’Connor and former Sony Pictures chairperson Amy Pascal. (The latter two run Pascal Pictures.) The background score has been provided by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Now in theatres (or soon to be, depending on where you live), here’s everything you need to know about Challengers, including who else is in it, what it’s about, what kind of reviews it’s been getting, and when you can expect it on streaming.

Challengers release date

The new Zendaya movie premiered Thursday, April 18 in Australia and New Zealand. The following Wednesday, April 24, Challengers rolled out in France, Italy, the Philippines, and South Korea.

On Thursday, April 25, the new Guadagnino film arrived in cinemas across Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, Ecuador, Germany, Hungary, Lebanon, Mexico, and Slovakia.

Challengers released Friday, April 26 in the US, the UK, Canada, Chile, Egypt, Finland, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey.

The movie is due to open Wednesday, May 1 in Belgium, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and Taiwan; Thursday, May 2 in Ukraine; and Friday, June 7 in Japan.

Zendaya in Challengers movie
Zendaya in Challengers // Photo: Niko Tavernise/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Who is in the cast?

Zendaya leads the new Guadagnino movie as Tashi Donaldson née Duncan, a former tennis prodigy turned coach. She is a “force of nature and makes no apologies for her game on and off the court”, the film’s official description notes.

The 27-year-old is best known for her role as MJ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and Spider-Man: No Way Home. For her role in HBO’s Euphoria, Zendaya became the youngest winner of the Emmy Award for leading actress in a drama series. She was last seen in the sci-fi film Dune: Part Two.

In Challengers, Tashi is married to six-time Grand Slam winner Art Donaldson. Art is played by Mike Faist, a Tony Award-winning actor best known to film audiences for his role as Riff—the leader of the Jets—in Steven Spielberg’s 2021 remake of West Side Story.

The love triangle is completed by the presence of Josh O’Connor as washed-up tennis player Patrick Zweig, who is also Tashi’s former boyfriend and Art’s former best friend and doubles partner. After supporting roles in Doctor Who and Peaky Blinders, O’Connor broke out with the romantic drama God’s Own Country. He followed that up with an Emmy and Golden Globe win for playing Charles, Prince of Wales in Netflix’s The Crown.

What is the movie about?

Spanning a decade and featuring a nonlinear narrative, Challengers follows the complicated dynamic between Tashi, Art, and Patrick. Tennis prodigy turned coach Tashi has taken her husband, Art, and transformed him into a world-famous Grand Slam champion. (In tennis, the Grand Slam refers to the top four tournaments: Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open.)

Josh O'Connor and Zendaya in Challengers movie
Josh O’Connor and Zendaya in Challengers // Photo: Niko Tavernise/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

When Art finds himself stuck in a losing streak, she makes him play a “Challenger” event, close to the lowest level of a pro tournament. (For comparison, while winning a Grand Slam tournament nets you 2,000 points, Challenger events are restricted between 100–175 points. They also don’t pay very well, at times not enough to even cover the expenses to travel to the event.)

But Tashi’s strategy for her husband’s redemption takes a surprising turn when Art finds himself standing across the net from the washed-up Patrick, his former best friend and Tashi’s former boyfriend. As their pasts and presents collide, and tensions run high, Tashi must ask herself, what will it cost to win?

Is Challengers based on a true story?

No, the new Zendaya movie is not based on a true story. Tashi, Art, and Patrick are all fictional characters created by Justin Kuritzkes, the writer of Challengers. Kuritzkes says he became obsessed with pro tennis after watching the 2018 US Open women’s singles final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, where Williams lost her cool and clashed with the needlessly strict umpire.

After that, Kuritzkes began watching every tennis match out there, including smaller low-paid tournaments like Challenger events. As a then-struggling playwright, he could relate to what the players were going through: “Although the stands at a Challenger are mostly empty, the players’ emotions are just as if they were at the US Open because they’re fighting for their lives. It’s the humiliation of being a gladiator and nobody’s even there to watch you die. I connected with that deeply as a theatre person. If you asked me if I know the 271st most successful theatre actor in America, I probably do. And I guarantee you they’re broke.”

Challengers trailer

The first trailer for the Challengers movie dropped in June last year, nearly 10 months ago. This was back when Challengers was slated as the opening film of the 2023 Venice International Film Festival. But owing to the 2023 Hollywood actors’ strike—which lasted from July to November 2023—the release date was pushed, and the film was pulled from the festival.

A second Challengers trailer arrived in February after the new April release date was locked. Finally, in the week of the film’s release, MGM dropped a third and final trailer on April 22 that you can watch below.

Why is Challengers rated R?

According to the MPAA—short for Motion Picture Association of America, the body responsible for film ratings in the US—Challengers is rated R for “language throughout, some sexual content and graphic nudity.”

In the UK, Challengers has been rated 15 for “strong language, sex, [and] sex references” by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). Per the BBFC, there are brief scenes of violence, brief verbal suicide references, genital and buttock nudity, a prolonged sex scene, a scene featuring a threesome, and graphic descriptions of ejaculation.

The new Zendaya movie has been rated M for “coarse language, sexual references and nudity” and “offensive language, sexual references and nudity”, respectively, by the Australian Classification Board and New Zealand’s Classification Office.

Challengers movie review

Mike Faist, Zendaya and Josh O'Connor in Challengers movie

Challengers review: ace

With Zendaya leading a stellar trio, director Luca Guadagnino concocts a heady mix of jealousy, ambition, and attraction. It’s terrific.

On reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, at the time of writing, Challengers holds a 93 per cent “fresh” score based on 131 reviews. Rotten Tomatoes has a binary rating system—fresh or rotten—which means a mere seven per cent of the 131 critics did not favour the film. The RT critics’ consensus reads: “With its trio of outstanding performers volleying their star power back and forth without ever dropping the ball, Challengers is a kinetic and sexy romp at court.”

Meanwhile, on fellow reviews aggregator Metacritic, Challengers has won universal acclaim from 43 critics and holds an 85/100 score. Unlike Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic employs a weighted score system, assigning a score to each review. Challengers’ score puts it into Metacritic’s “must-see” category.

Mike Faist and Josh O'Connor in Challengers movie
Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor in Challengers // Photo: Niko Tavernise/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Where is Challengers streaming?

Challengers is a production of Pascal Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The latter is a subsidiary of Amazon MGM Studios—also the film’s American distributor. (Warner Bros. Pictures is handling distribution in the rest of the world.)

Given the Amazon involvement, Challengers will stream on either MGM+ or Amazon Prime Video in the US following its theatrical window. Given that MGM+ is US-only, Challengers will drop on Prime Video outside the US after it’s done playing in cinemas.

As for when that might happen? For that, we can only speculate based on previous titles under the MGM label. The most recent one was the Jason Statham-led action thriller The Beekeeper, which premiered on January 12 in US cinemas and released on April 19 on MGM+. That’s 98 days.

Before that, we had the George Clooney-directed sports drama The Boys in the Boat, which premiered Christmas Day in US theatres and made its way to MGM+ on March 29. That’s 95 days.

Going by that approximate three-month gap, don’t expect Challengers to stream on MGM+ or Prime Video before July 25.

Of course, there will be an opportunity to watch the Zendaya movie at home earlier. Like other major Hollywood studios, Amazon has become quite traditional with movie distribution in recent months. They debut in theatres, then arrive on video-on-demand platforms, before eventually making their way to subscription-based streaming services.

Unfortunately, Amazon’s theatrical-to-digital window varies wildly—between 18 and 53 days. Outside of making a wild guess, it’s impossible to say when Challengers might arrive on VoD platforms such as Apple TV, Amazon Video, or YouTube Movies.

Akhil Arora

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.