What to Watch If You Can't Get Enough of 'The Queen's Gambit'
Add even more chess, child prodigies, and pill popping to your binge-watching.
In a year full of Netflix-produced hits that faded from the cultural memory almost instantaneously, replaced by the latest buzzy true crime hit or lava-centric game show, The Queen's Gambit played the long game. For weeks, the Scott Frank-produced series about a chess prodigy (Anya Taylor-Joy) dominated Netflix's Top 10 list, only recently falling out of the top spot with the arrival of a new season of The Crown. With audiences increasingly relying on algorithms for recommendations, The Queen's Gambit felt like the rare streaming word-of-mouth hit.
With almost no chance of a second season to the miniseries, the question becomes: What do you watch next? Below we've selected 12 shows and movies that explore some of the same thematic and stylistic territory—stories of chess and narratives of genius—that the seven episode miniseries so deftly cast its eye over. Check out our recommendations below, and then make your move.
Akeelah and the Bee (2006)Inspired by the 1994 Scripps National Spelling Bee and perturbed by the notion that most of the young contestants were from affluent socioeconomic backgrounds, writer and director Doug Atchison developed the idea for Akeelah and the Bee over a period of ten years, deciding to focus on a main character of color, 11-year-old Akeelah Anderson (played by Keke Palmer). Atchison wields the film to comment on the portrayal of non-white characters in film, the importance of community and the specific problems that Black communities face, while also criticizing the U.S. public school system and delineating the difference between encouraging children to follow their dreams and relentlessly pressuring them to succeed.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)While it's not necessarily an addiction story, A Beautiful Mind is a story of an exceedingly brilliant person struggling to find a way to live with a mental illness that progressively impacts every part of his life. Starring Russell Crowe as Nobel Laureate mathematician John Nash, the film portrays his struggle with schizophrenia and paranoid delusions even as his incredible genius leads him to develop his revolutionary work on game theory. Like Beth Harmon, Nash's mind is ahead of his time—and also like Beth, he, too, goes up against the Soviets (though those parts of the movie are fabricated from his hallucinations). While the film suffers from some formulaic (whoops) biopic arcs, the performances give nuance and pathos to a story about a family coming to terms with a devastating mental illness.
Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011)If there's a name from chess that practically anyone knows, it's Bobby Fischer. Directed by prolific documentarian Liz Garbus, Bobby Fischer Against the World serves as his biography, from breaking in as a self-taught whiz from Brooklyn to become the game's youngest-ever grandmaster, his David and Goliath moment in the 1972 match against the Russian Boris Spassky when U.S.-Soviet relations were particularly fraught, and through to his spiral into paranoia and reclusivity when pushed past his breaking point.
Computer Chess (2013)If you wish The Queen's Gambit was funnier and weirder and had more awkward pauses, Computer Chess is for you. The halcyon days of pre-internet computer programming get the mockumentary treatment, as teams of programmers descend on a California hotel—shared with a mysterious, alt-spiritual self-help group—to duke it out in a battle to determine whose computer plays the best chess. Director Andrew Bujalski shot mostly on old Sony black-and-white tube cameras, giving the film a delightfully low-fi look that heightens the humor of characters' bold statements that computers will one day beat humans at chess AND will unlock new dating possibilities. When you want something completely different, try Computer Chess.
Geri's Game (1997)Geri's Game could be written off as a weird, wistful short film about an old man who cheats to win a game of chess, where the stakes are his own dentures, in the park against himself. But this 1997 Oscar-winning short needs to be considered in totality: for the story itself—which is strange, but also a meditative and sublime inquiry into aging, loneliness, and selfhood—for its precedence setting, for its technological breakthroughs. As the first short film in eight years, Geri's Game was Pixar's revival of the form. It conquered new animation techniques to make humans seem, well, human. The figure's depth, range of facial expressions, the movement of Geri's clothes are all momentous details that have influenced everything following. From then on, we expected short films before our Pixar movies. For being two decades old, Geri's Game hasn't befell to the uncanny valley, and remains a master class in just how much one effective character can accomplish.
Godless (2017)In this Western from The Queen's Gambit director and co-creator Scott Frank, Jeff Daniels stars as a dude with one arm and a bad attitude who menaces a town governed nearly entirely by women due to a tragedy at the local mine. Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery plays a no-nonsense widow and Jack O'Connell stars as a handsome young gunslinger who's hiding out from Daniels' domineering outlaw father figure. It doesn't exactly break the Western mold, but there are enough gunfights and monologues uttered on horseback to make the seven-episode run worthwhile.
The Hustler (1961)Before schooling Tom Cruise in The Color of Money (and winning an Oscar for his troubles), Paul Newman's "Fast" Eddie Felson made a name for himself with this poignant adaptation of The Queen's Gambit author Walter Tevis' pool shark novel. With surprising performances from Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott, and Piper Laurie as Eddie's troubled romantic interest, the movie is a captivating blend of old-fashioned craftsmanship and proto-"New Hollywood" grit. Arriving at the beginning of the '60s, it's the type of nuanced character study of an anti-hero that sneaks up on you.
Magnus (2016)The pageantry of Beth Harmon's prodigious chess prowess, taking out an entire high school chess team the first time she visits the club, drew in crowds that only grew bigger as her star rose. In real life, Magnus Carlsen, a Norwegian wunderkind nicknamed the Mozart of chess, took down ten of the world's best chess-playing lawyers in a row—blindfolded. That scene would sound fake if not for Benjamin Ree's compelling documentary following Carlsen's trajectory to the top of the world of chess. Like The Queen's Gambit, Magnus turns a seemingly dull event for onlookers into a nail-biting spectator sport and a persona-driven rivalry not seen since Bobby Fischer's reign.
Out of Sight (1998)Scott Frank's list of screenwriting credits is impressive, to say the least: Minority Report, Logan, and Get Shorty are all products of his pen. But our favorite is Out of Sight, his 1998 collaboration with Steven Soderbergh based on an Elmore Leonard novel. This wildly sexy film stars George Clooney as a bank robber being chased by a U.S. Marshal, played by Jennifer Lopez. It's a cat-and-mouse game, buoyed by the unmistakable chemistry of the leads.
Pawn Sacrifice (2014)A darker sibling to The Queen's Gambit's overall hopeful tone, Pawn Sacrifice charts chess legend Bobby Fischer's rise to fame, from a childhood aptitude for the game encouraged by his mother to becoming the youngest grandmaster ever, to his relentless pursuit of Soviet chess master Boris Spassky culminating in the 6-game match of the 1972 World Chess Championship held in Reykjavik. Unlike Beth, Bobby (played by Tobey Maguire) succumbs to paranoia and often cracks under pressure, the stress and the intense, multilayered nature of the game slowly eroding his mind even as he became better and better.
Queen of Katwe (2016)The true story of 10-year-old chess prodigy Phiona's rise to fame was very close to director Mira Nair's heart: The filmmaker lives near the Ugandan village where the girl's story unfolded. Enlisting Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o as Phiona's fiercely determined mother and assembling a chess team cast of real kids from Katwe, Nair takes us to a vibrant, buzzing town. As Phiona, newcomer Madina Nalwanga works her way toward an improbable dream, learns the pluses and perils of confidence, and pulls off the impossible: turning a chess competition into an electrifying event.
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)Before the arrival of The Queen's Gambit, Searching for Bobby Fischer was probably the most ubiquitous chess-adjacent piece of popular culture. Though the title might make you think it's a biopic of the reclusive chess legend Bobby Fisher, the story centers on the childhood of a different childhood prodigy, Joshua Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc), as he learns the intricacies of the game from a strict instructor, played by Ben Kingsley, and a brilliant Washington Square Park hustler, played by Laurence Fishburne. Adapting a memoir by Waitzkin's father, filmmaker Steven Zaillian, the writer of Schindler's List, turns the material into a pleasingly cerebral sports movie, digging into the ethical minefield of nurturing a child's gift without destroying their natural love of the game.
Valley of the Dolls (1967)Are you less into the chess parts of The Queen's Gambit and more into the mid-century fashions and pill popping? Well, head over to Valley of the Dolls, Mark Robson's 1967 adaptation of Jacqueline Susann's classic novels about a group of talented young women trying to make it in showbiz who become undone by various vices, among them "dolls," aka the drugs that captivate rising star Neely O'Hara. Valley of the Dolls is far more melodramatic than The Queen's Gambit but it's one of the classic Hollywood tales of women and addiction.
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