Will Smith, 53, is attracting significant Oscar buzz for his new biopic King Richard, coming Nov. 19 to theaters and HBO Max. Helmed by up-and-coming director Reinaldo Marcus Green, it’s the inspiring true story of Richard Williams, the father and coach of two of the most undeniably dominant athletes of all time: Venus and Serena Williams. Despite high-stakes drama on and off the court, Hollywood has served up surprisingly few movies about tennis — a far cry from the dozens (if not hundreds) of films about baseball, football, basketball and even hockey. From wacky indie comedies to real-life dramas, these nine tennis-themed films will make for an ace “doubles feature” with King Richard.
Battle of the Sexes (2017)
The plot: Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton (64) and Valerie Faris (63) made this underrated comedy about the real-life 1973 matchup between future feminist icon Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and avowed male chauvinist Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell, 59), who boasted that at age 55, he could beat any female tennis player. Though it was unfortunately a box office bomb, the film earned its two leads — who share almost the exact age difference as Riggs and King — Golden Globe nominations.
The ace: The film perfectly captures all the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the match, including the exchange of symbolic gifts: Riggs presented King with a giant Sugar Daddy; King gave him a little pig.
Match Point (2005)
The plot: If you come expecting one of Woody Allen’s urbane comedies, you’re in for a shock: This nasty, brutish thriller shares much more with Alfred Hitchcock than Annie Hall. Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a social-climbing Irish tennis pro who works at a London club, where he befriends wealthy client Tom (Matthew Goode) and soon begins dating his sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer, 50). But things get messy when Chris starts a torrid affair with Tom’s American fiancée Nola (Scarlett Johansson). Lots of metaphors about tennis balls hitting nets and fate and luck ensue. Succession fans take note: Brian Cox, 75, appears as Tom and Chloe’s father.
The ace: The film is filled with references to Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
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The plot: Paul Bettany, 50, channels his inner ’90s Hugh Grant in this cross-the-pond romantic comedy about two tennis players at very different points in their careers. Peter Colt is a has-been Brit who’s sunk from 11th to 119th in the rankings. Despite a wild-card spot at the title tennis tournament, he’s beginning to admit to himself that it might be time to retire and become a tennis pro at a posh club. Enter Lizzie Bradury (Kirsten Dunst), an on-the-rise American player whom he quickly falls for — much to the chagrin of her father and manager, Dennis (Sam Neill, 74), who believes a relationship will hurt her ascendant career. Will their love survive? It’s a rom-com, so take a wild guess.
The ace: Some scenes were shot between matches during the 2003 championships, marking the only time such a thing was ever allowed in Wimbledon history.
Borg vs McEnroe (2017)
The plot: The two tennis greats faced off only 14 times between 1978 and 1981, but their rivalry is still one for the ages. That has quite a lot to do with their diametrically opposed playing styles and personalities, which are perfectly encapsulated in this Swedish biopic that charts the path to their ferocious face-off at the 1980 Wimbledon championship. Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) is the cool and reserved Swede, while John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) is the profanity-spewing American hothead, but the film proves that they were much more alike off the court than they realized — which may explain their real-life, decades-long friendship.
The ace: Stellan Skarsgård, 70, who’s currently starring in Dune, plays Borg’s coach Lennart Bergelin.
7 Days in Hell (2015)
The plot: This raunchy spoof of an HBO Sports documentary takes as its inspiration the 2010 Wimbledon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, which lasted a record 11 hours and 5 minutes. And then it asks the question: But what if it went on for an entire week? SNL alum Andy Samberg plays “the Bad Boy of Tennis,” Aaron Williams, an orphan who is adopted and trained by Richard Williams; his opponent is British child prodigy Charles Poole (Game of Thrones star Kit Harington). The impressive cast includes Mary Steenburgen (68) as Poole’s mom, Howie Mandel (65) as Prince Edward, Jon Hamm (50) as the narrator, and June Squibb (92) as a hilariously foul-mouthed Queen Elizabeth II.
The ace: Like any good sports doc, 7 Days in Hell features a stacked cast of talking-head experts, including John McEnroe (62), Chris Evert (66) and Serena Williams.
Final Set (2021)
The plot: Free from the usual sports-movie clichés, this new French drama is an incisive look at aging and athletics. At 37, former teen prodigy Thomas J. Edison (Alex Lutz) has fallen in the rankings due to an injured knee and declining fitness. But he’s still set on returning to the French Open and facing a 17-year-old challenger who reminds him of himself (played by real-life pro Jürgen Briand). As he tries to mount an unlikely comeback, Thomas’ mother/coach (Kristin Scott Thomas, 61) and wife (Ana Girardot) offer support while also encouraging him to give up the ghost.
The ace: For a touch of realism, the film was shot on the famed red-clay courts at Roland-Garros.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The plot: This stylized Wes Anderson (52) film isn’t about tennis per se, but the sport features heavily in the tale of a dysfunctional New York City family with a trio of child prodigies who have grown into less-than-perfect adults. One of the kids, Richie (Luke Wilson, 50), is a tennis star, known as “the Baumer,” who has a very public on-court meltdown after his adopted sister Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) — whom he secretly pines for — gets married.
The ace: Many a millennial has taken Halloween-style cues from Richie’s Björn Borg–inspired getup, complete with a retro headband and Fila polo shirt.
First One In (2020)
The plot: Buckle up for a quirky plot! After she accidentally kills an endangered rodent on a Survivor-like reality show, Madi Cooke (Kat Foster) becomes, as she says, “the most hated woman on the planet right now.” She loses her job and decides to apply at a real estate firm. But there’s a catch: The boss, Bobbi (Georgia King), will hire only great tennis players — to keep her streak alive at an annual tournament. Madi joins a clinic, where she learns to play alongside a ragtag gang of tennis misfits, which eventually leads to her facing off against Bobbi and her agent minions.
The ace: Josh Segarra — who originated the role of Emilio Estefan in Broadway’s On Your Feet! — steals scenes as clinic coach Fernando.
Break Point (2014)
The plot: In this charming indie comedy, volatile tennis pro Jimmy (Jeremy Sisto) comes crawling back to his estranged brother and former doubles partner Darren (David Walton), whom he had abandoned years before for a higher-ranking player. The brothers couldn’t be more different — Jimmy’s a hothead party animal, Darren’s a cautious substitute teacher — but they join forces for one last shot at the U.S. Open. Expect training montages and abundant sibling bonding.
The ace: The brothers’ veterinarian father is played by Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, 66, who elevates every movie he’s in.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.