The 12 Best Tennis Movies, from ‘Strangers on a Train’ to ‘Challengers’

Is 2024 the year of tennis? At the movies and on our TV screens, the answer might be yes. This spring brings two major releases that both heavily feature racquets, green courts, and sweaty tennis action. The first was Peacock’s “Apples Never Fall,” a limited series based on “Big Little Lies” scribe Liane Moriarty’s novel about the family of two married tennis pros (played by Annette Bening and Sam Neill) who are forced to contend with the mysterious and sudden disappearance of their matriarch. Even more anticipated is “Challengers,” a Luca Guadagnino film that arrives — after strike-related delays — this April to tell the steamy story of a tennis coach (Zendaya) caught between her husband and an old flame as the two men go head to head in a Challenger tennis event.

These two releases mark the biggest Spring for tennis-related media in…possibly ever. Which isn’t necessarily hard; while (both American and Association) football and baseball movies and TV shows are a dime a dozen, media that follows the stories of tennis players tends to be a bit on the rarer side. Perhaps it’s the solitary nature of the sport; yes, doubles exist, but at its purest, tennis is a player-versus-player game that sees a single athlete on the court, fending for themselves. The team camaraderie that makes for iconic crowd-pleasers like “A League of Their Own” or “Slap Shot” just isn’t really there.

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But that doesn’t mean that tennis can’t be cinematic. Quite the opposite, in fact; at its best, the intensity and demanding physicality of a tennis match can make for an interesting window into a character’s psychology. So while there aren’t a ton of great tennis movies, there are some great tennis scenes, as the sport has been used in thrillers like “Strangers on a Train,” family dramas like “The Squid and the Whale,” and fantasy comedies like “The Witches of Eastwick.” And the films that we do get that focus squarely on the sport, including the rom-com “Wimbledon” or biopic “King Richard,” are often satiating enough to hold a tennis fanatic over until the French Open kicks off in May.

With “Apples Never Fall” now streaming and “Challengers” in theaters, IndieWire decided to spotlight some of the best TV shows and movies that best-used tennis as a storytelling device. Selections range from films all about tennis, to films that use the sport for pivotal and memorable scenes.

With editorial contributions from David Ehrlich.

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