Luca Guadagnino’s new movie, Challengers, is soon to hit theaters and it looks as though he’ll have another critically acclaimed hit on his hands if critics’ reviews are anything to judge by. The movie stars Zendaya as Tashi, a former tennis prodigy turned coach who lives her life fast and unapologetically. She’s married to Art (Mike Faist), a tennis star, and friend-slash-rival of Patrick (Josh O’Connor). When Patrick and Art find themselves going head to head in the finals of a tournament meant to put Art back on top, it all gets very tangled between the two of them and Tashi – professionally and erotically.

Critics are largely praising the sizzling chemistry between the three leads. Read on for what critics are saying about Challengers.

Associated Press

“[L]ike “Call Me By Your Name” did for Chalamet, “Challengers” is one of those rare original big-screen delights that firmly announces the arrival of a new generation of movie stars. Zendaya and Faist already had a bit of a leg up. She has played significant supporting roles in some of the biggest movies of the past few years, from “Spider-Man” to “Dune,” and he had had his big cinematic breakthrough as Riff in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” But it’s O’Connor who really comes out on top, effectively shedding any lingering image of him as a whiny, dweeby Prince Charles in seasons three and four of “The Crown.” In “Challengers,” his Patrick Zweig is the cocky, flirty, slightly mean, slightly dirty and slightly broken bad boyfriend of our fictional dreams.”

The New Yorker

“Even so, Tashi’s tense gaze seems to contain a small cosmos of anguished possibilities. Is she wryly envisioning herself as the ball that Art and Patrick keep slamming over the net? Or perhaps she’s the trophy that one of them will hoist aloft—and, if so, does that make her the inevitable winner or the ultimate loser?”


Challengers is upfront in its desire to furnish the viewer with beautiful bodies and faces to look at. It doesn’t hurt that Zendaya, Faist (who broke out as Riff in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story), and O’Connor (who played Prince Charles on The Crown) are each a piece of eye candy of a different flavor: Zendaya sleek and imperturbable, Faist elegant and dancerlike, O’Connor a scruffy charmer whose devilish grin recalls a young Nicolas Cage. Thanks to ingenious costuming and styling, these three excellent actors, respectively 27 (Zendaya), 32 (Faist), and 33 (O’Connor), all carry off the trick of seeming to age from recent high school graduates to adults in their early 30s.”

The Observer

“The central drama is juicy beyond words, and the way the relationships unravel is delicious. As Tashi Donaldson-nee-Duncan, Zendaya gets to flex a very different acting muscle than what audiences have seen…The boys aren’t on her level as athletes or as psychosexual tennis lovers, and watching Zendaya pull their strings with that sly grin of hers is an absolute delight. She also gets some of the movie’s best lines, delivered with an iciness that’ll knock the wind right out of you.

Faist and O’Connor deliver some fantastic dueling performances too. Faist, best known for his scene-stealing turn in the recent West Side Story redux, sheds any vestige of a theater kid background to play Art. In the flashbacks, he’s sentimental and soft, polite but with a penchant for passive aggression. In the now, he’s a tennis machine verging on a mid-life crisis that’s only exacerbated by seeing his old friend—his inevitable emotional implosion comes with a rocket serve that’ll make you jump in your seat. As for O’Connor, Patrick somehow manages to be greasier than the actor’s wayward wanderer in La Chimera and infinitely more smarmy. Patrick’s cool guy schtick is out of gas somewhere in the middle of the movie’s timeline, and though he’s self aware about it, Patrick is still a man who thinks he can charm and connive his way out of anything. He’s not likable, but he’s certainly magnetic, with the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth saying more than he ever will.” 


“Zendaya’s Tashi is an intimidating presence, both on and off the court. She navigates her role with a compelling mix of strength and sophistication, and portraying Tashi as a catalyst in Art and Patrick’s lives giving her the role of attractor, antagonist and trickster. 

O’Connor and Faist bring a palpable chemistry that transcends simple rivalry, suggesting a deeper, almost symbiotic relationship shaped by years of friendship and competition. Their interactions encapsulate the film’s central premise that love and rivalry are not mutually exclusive but are instead two sides of the same coin.”

Likewise, the synth-charged score from industrial composer legends Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is getting a lot of love and praise for its power and the way it drives the tension in the film.

Still, critics have also pointed out the movie’s marketing has been a bit misleading – there is steamy eroticism there, but not as overt as the trailers have led people to believe:

Associated Press

“It’s still a sexy tennis movie about friendship, love, competition and sport set to a synth-y score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross — it just might not contain exactly what you think it does. But remember, Luca Guadagnino is the one who filmed Timothée Chalamet with that peach, perhaps more memorable than any actual sex scene from the past decade. Manage expectations, but also trust.”

The New Yorker

“That failed seduction isn’t the only instance of coitus interruptus. So effortlessly does Guadagnino establish a vibe of free-floating horndoggery that it takes a moment to realize how little actual intercourse there is in the movie. It scarcely matters.”

The Observer

“Though the film earns its R rating, it’s not through sex—the three stars are never fully nude, never go further than a steamy makeout or some dry humping. But that doesn’t stop Challengers from being exceptionally sensual, and Tashi’s voyeuristic view of Art and Patrick (and their tennis) adds to that.” 

Ultimately, as the Observer also goes on to say, “Loud, long, a little messy and very sweaty, Challengers may not be as sexy as its explosive first trailer implied, but it’s still a hell of a movie.”

Get tickets to Challengers

  • Editorial