Chess Movie and Documentary Recommendations

By Candidate Master Danilo Cuellar, Premier Chess Rockland County Instructor and Founder of  Danilovich Chess 

Here’s the list of my recommended chess related documentaries and movies.

These films are free on Amazon Prime: 

 Magnus

This film is called “Magnus”. It came out in 2016. It’s a documentary style film about the life of child prodigy, Magnus Carlsen. He became world champion in 2013 when he was 23 years old. He’s still world champion today. I saw it a few years ago and it inspired me to get back into chess in a major way. It’s a gorgeous documentary. It’s free to watch on Amazon Prime as of now.

See the trailer here.

Endgame 

Since he was 5 yrs. old, Jose’s Abuelita taught him to play chess like his grandfather who was a champion in Mexico. Now as part of the Brownsville school team, Jose has the chance to use his skills and for once in his life, finds himself in the spotlight, as he tries to help his team make it to the Texas state finals. As their coach, Mr. Alvarado, teaches his students the meaning of perseverance and team effort in the face of adversity, Jose discovers his own strengths and uses them to bring his broken family together.

See the trailer here.

These films are currently free on YouTube:

Life of a King

Life of a King is the unlikely true story of Eugene Brown and his one-man mission to give inner-city kids of Washington D.C. something he never had – a future. He discovered a multitude of life lessons through the game of chess during his 18-year incarceration for bank robbery. After his release and reentry into the workforce, Eugene developed and founded the Big Chair Chess Club to get kids off the streets and working towards lives they never believed they were capable of due to circumstances. From his daring introductory chess lessons to group of unruly high school students in detention to the development of the Club and the teens’ first local chess competitions, this movie reveals his difficult, inspirational journey and how he changed the lives of a group of teens with no endgame.

See the trailer here.

Knights of the South Bronx

The movie is based on the true story of David MacEnulty who taught schoolchildren of the Bronx Community Elementary School 70 to play at competition level, eventually winning New York City and the New York State Chess Championships. The screenplay portrays whistle-blowing and a mid-life crisis that combine to remove Richard Mason (played by Ted Danson) from his old life. He becomes a substitute teacher and is assigned to a fourth-grade class in a South Bronx school. In the class are students with parents who are drug addicts or in jail or just scrambling to pay the bills. Few of them see a purpose in school other than meeting society’s requirements, and he struggles, mostly in vain, to reach them.

Then a student whose father is in jail sees Mason in the park playing a simultaneous exhibition, and beating fourteen opponents at once. He asks to learn the game. One thing leads to another, and soon the entire class is interested in the game. Mason convinces them that on the chessboard it doesn’t matter how much money you have or what clothes you’re wearing or where you come from, and that it’s only the moves you make, then and there. The class forms a team to compete in ever-larger tournaments.

See the trailer here.

These films are great, but are not free on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or YouTube.

Searching for Bobby Fischer

Josh Waitzkin and his family discover that he possesses a gift for chess and they seek to nurture it. They hire a strict instructor, Bruce Pandolfini, who aims to teach the boy to be as aggressive as chess legend Bobby Fischer. The title of the film is a metaphor about the character’s quest to adopt the ideal of Fischer and his determination to win at all costs. Josh is also heavily influenced by Vinnie, a speed chess hustler whom he meets in Washington Square Park. The two coaches differ greatly in their approaches to chess, and Pandolfini is upset that Josh continues to adopt the methods of Vinnie. The main conflict in the film arises when Josh refuses to accept Pandolfini’s misanthropic frame of reference. Josh then goes on to win on his own terms.

See the trailer here.

Queen of Katwe

Living in the slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle for 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) and her family. Her world changes one day when she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a missionary who teaches children how to play chess. Phiona becomes fascinated with the game and soon becomes a top player under Katende’s guidance. Her success in local competitions and tournaments opens the door to a bright future and a golden chance to escape from a life of poverty.

See the trailer here.

Pawn Sacrifice

This is a 2014 American biographical drama film about chess player Bobby Fischer. It follows Fischer’s challenge against top Soviet chess grandmasters during the Cold War and culminating in the World Chess Championship 1972 match versus Boris Spassky in Reykjavík, Iceland.

See the trailer here.

Brooklyn Castle

Brooklyn Castle is the remarkable and improbable true story of I.S. 318 in Brooklyn. The school, where 65% of students live below the federal poverty level, has the highest ranked junior high chess team in the nation. The heart of the film is the engaging young students who populate the team: Rochelle, who has the goal of becoming the first female African-American chess master; Pobo, the team’s charismatic leader; Justus, an entering student who must manage the high expectations that come with achieving master status at an early age; Alexis, who feels the pressure of his immigrant parents’ desire for him to realize the American dream; Patrick, who uses chess to help overcome his ADHD; and James, the young rapping maestro and budding chess talent; among several others. We have the honor of having some IS 318 alumni in our fall virtual classes

See the trailer here.

For some reviews on recent chess films, check out WIM Alexey Root, PhD‘s recent SparkChess article.

What is your favorite chess film?

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