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Challengers (film)

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Challengers
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLuca Guadagnino
Written byJustin Kuritzkes
Produced by
Starring
CinematographySayombhu Mukdeeprom
Edited byMarco Costa
Music by
Production
companies
Distributed by
Release dates
  • March 26, 2024 (2024-03-26) (Sydney)
  • April 26, 2024 (2024-04-26) (United States)
Running time
131 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$55 million[2]
Box office$142 million[3][4]

Challengers is a 2024 American romantic sports drama film directed by Luca Guadagnino from a screenplay by Justin Kuritzkes, and stars Zendaya, Josh O'Connor, and Mike Faist. The film centers around the love triangle between an injured tennis star turned coach (Zendaya), her low-circuit tennis player ex-boyfriend (O’Connor), and her tennis champion husband (Faist) across thirteen years of their shared relationship, culminating in the latter two’s match at the ATP Challenger Tour.

Kuritzkes' screenplay was acquired by MGM in February 2022, with the main cast and Guadagnino hired shortly after; the leads trained for months with former tennis player and coach Brad Gilbert to prepare for their roles. Principal photography began that May and lasted until that June, with filming primarily taking place in Boston. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, who previously worked with Guadagnino on Call Me by Your Name (2017) and Suspiria (2018), served as cinematographer.

Delayed from an initial September 2023 release in response to the actors' strike, Challengers premiered in Sydney on March 26, 2024, and was theatrically released in the United States by Amazon MGM Studios one month later. The film received positive reviews from critics and has grossed over $142 million worldwide.

Plot[edit]

In 2006, friends Patrick Zweig and Art Donaldson win the boys' junior doubles title at the US Open. They watch a match played by Tashi Duncan, a rising tennis star, with whom Patrick and Art become infatuated. After meeting at a party, Tashi joins Art and Patrick in their hotel room, where all three kiss before Tashi abruptly ends the tryst. She promises to give her phone number to whoever wins the final the next day. Patrick wins the match, and later signals to Art that he had sex with Tashi by placing the ball in the neck of his racket prior to serving, a tic of Art's.

Later, Tashi and Art play college tennis at Stanford University, while Patrick turns professional and begins a long-distance relationship with Tashi. Art suggests to Tashi that Patrick does not love her. When Patrick visits Stanford, Art similarly suggests to him that Tashi does not take the relationship seriously. Tashi and Patrick have an argument over her attempts to coach Patrick in tennis, and Patrick skips her match as a result; while playing, Tashi tears her ACL. Patrick comes to see Tashi, but Tashi angrily demands he leave. Art sides with her, ending his friendship with Patrick. Art aids in Tashi's recovery, but she is too injured to resume her tennis career.

In 2009, Tashi reconnects with Art, becoming his coach and girlfriend. In 2011, Tashi and Art are now engaged, and Art's career is on the rise. Tashi and Patrick run into each other at the Atlanta Open and have a one-night stand, which Art notices.

In 2019, Tashi and Art are a wealthy power couple with a young daughter. Art is only one US Open title away from a Career Grand Slam, but has been struggling due to injury and age. Tashi enters Art as a wild card in a Challenger event in New Rochelle, New York, hoping to boost his confidence and return him to form. Patrick, who is living out of his car and scraping by on winnings from the lower circuits, happens to enter the New Rochelle Challenger as well.

Sensing Art’s disillusionment, Patrick asks Tashi to coach him to a last winning season. She refuses, but keeps the slip of paper with his phone number on it. Starting at opposite ends of the seeding, Art and Patrick advance through the brackets until they find themselves facing each other in the final. The day before the final match, Patrick attempts to reconnect with Art, but Art rebuffs him.

The evening before the final, Art tells Tashi he plans to retire at the end of the season whether he wins the Open or not. Tashi is unhappy, but reluctantly accepts Art. That night, Tashi secretly meets with Patrick to ask him to throw the match to Art, claiming it is to boost his confidence and to save their marriage. Patrick is disgusted, and he and Tashi have a passionate argument before having sex inside his car. He agrees to throw the match.

The day of the final, Tashi watches as Art and Patrick play. Patrick wins the first set, and Art the second. As Art takes the lead late in the final game, Patrick begins to throw the match through double faults. However, he stops short of losing and instead signals that he had slept with Tashi using Art's serve tic. Stunned, Art allows Patrick to score until they are again tied.

During the tie break, Art and Patrick furiously trade groundstrokes, but begin smiling as they continue. The rally intensifies until both jump for a volley at the net. As Art slams the ball over, he collides with Patrick over the net and the two embrace, while Tashi leaps from her seat to cheer for them.[5]

Cast[edit]

  • Zendaya as Tashi Duncan[6]
  • Josh O'Connor as Patrick Zweig[6]
  • Mike Faist as Art Donaldson[6]
  • Darnell Appling as New Rochelle Final Umpire[7]
  • Shane Harris as Art's security guard
  • Nada Despotovich as Tashi's mother
  • AJ Lister as Lily Donaldson
  • Naheem Garcia as Tashi's father
  • Jake Jensen as Finn Larsen[8]
  • Hailey Gates as Helen

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Justin Kuritzkes was inspired to make a tennis film after watching the 2018 U.S. Open match between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, in which Williams was penalized for receiving coaching from the sidelines. He had never heard of the rule and thought the fact that the player could not talk with such an important figure during the match seemed cinematic. He observed: "What if you really had to talk about something important that went beyond tennis? Something going on with you personally?" While doing research for the script, he read Andre Agassi's memoir Open; in it, Agassi recounts how then-coach, Brad Gilbert, entered him at a Challenger event in Nevada. This served as inspiration for Art's arc in the film.[9] He also knew what the characters' origins were while writing, “Tashi was always a Black woman. Patrick was always a very well-to-do Jewish guy, and Art was always a somewhat well-to-do WASP.” Kuritzkes thought that with the story being centered about tennis, it would be weird if one of the characters was not Black, "because that is the story of American women’s tennis, if you look at all of the big superstars from the past decade.”[10] The script landed on The Black List, the annual list of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood, in December 2021.[11] That same year producer partners Amy Pascal and Rachel O'Connor read the script. Pascal had been wanting to work with Luca Guadagnino for a long time, and sent him the script while he was filming the short film O Night Divine, starring John C. Reilly. "I had the script on set, hiding myself from John C., not showing him that I was reading while I was directing. Anyway, I found it amazing." Guadagnino recalled.[10] In a 2022 interview with Collider, Guadagnino cited Kuritzkes' screenplay, Amy Pascal, and Zendaya as inspirations for making the film.[12] Kuritzkes modified the script to add a scene where Patrick and Art end up kissing each other, at the behest of Guadagnino. "Luca felt it was very important that, in any love triangle, all the corners touch, and I quickly realized he meant it literally."[10]

In early 2022, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's then chairman Kevin Ulrich, met with Guadagnino to discuss distributing the independently financed Bones and All. During the meeting Guadagnino also told him he was in the midst of developing a "sexy tennis story starring Zendaya". Ulrich contacted Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy — then the heads of MGM — and over the next 24 hours, they negotiated a two-picture deal, picking up both movies. When Amazon completed its acquisition of the studio, the latter inherited the titles, and Zendaya landed a $10 million paycheck as star and producer.[10] In February 2022, the film was announced with Zendaya, Josh O'Connor and Mike Faist set to star.[13]

Casting[edit]

Pascal's first choice to play Tashi was Zendaya, who she knew from working with on several Spider-Man films, and passed her the script. Zendaya accepted the role, as it would be a departure from the teenagers she was used to portraying, and felt it was the right time to move into more adult roles, saying "It was nice to play a character that was not a child anymore. It was also interesting playing parts of my life that I haven’t experienced yet: I’ve not gotten married. I’ve not had a child. Those milestones, I don’t necessarily have a direct reference point for."[10]

Guadagnino suggested Josh O'Connor should play the cocky Patrick. For the role of Art, Guadagnino considered West Side Story (2021) actors Mike Faist and his co-star David Alvarez. Faist wasn’t interested at first, but his agent insisted he read the script. Faist was asked to travel to London to do a test screen with Zendaya. "I thought, ‘Why not? If I don’t get the job, I got a trip out of it.’" he recalled. Faist thought that the audition had gone badly, but Guadagnino loved his interpretation. He said that Guadagnino's main preocupations were that he was blond and that his body should be hairless. Faist was put off by the idea of shaving, but Guadagnino felt that as an athlete, he needed to be "aerodynamic".[10]

Zendaya's best friend and personal assistant Darnell Appling portrayed the Umpire at the New Rochelle Final. Guadagnino wanted him to sit on the umpire chair during a camera test, Appling thought he would just be acting as a stand-in, as he had done previously in other Zendaya projects. Guadagnino asked him to play the part, which with Zendaya's blessing, he accepted. To prepare for the role, Guadagnino asked Appling to attend Umpire school. Appling spent three weeks filming.[7][14]

Filming[edit]

Principal photography began on May 3, 2022, in Boston, where a casting call took place for local residents to audition to play tennis players, general extras, and stand-ins.[15] In preparation for their roles, Zendaya, Faist, and O’Connor spent three months training with pro-tennis player-turned-coach Brad Gilbert.[16][10] Faist had to gain 30 pounds for the film, "Mike had to eat between 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day because they wanted him to gain weight, he was super thin. He had to work on his tennis and gain like 30 pounds. I had Zendaya in Los Angeles, so we got her on a program right away, and Josh was working, so [Faist] had the latest start.” Gilbert, who was also a consultant on the film, said. During training the actors started at 6 a.m., they were on the tennis center until noon, and then would act on the afternoon.[17] Filming occurred in and around the Back Bay and East Boston neighborhoods.[18] Sayombhu Mukdeeprom served as cinematographer.[19] Jonathan Anderson, creative director of Spanish luxury brand Loewe, served as costume designer.[20] Filming wrapped on June 26, 2022.[21]

Post-production[edit]

Guadagnino visited Zendaya on the set of Dune: Part Two in order to complete ADR for Challengers.[22] Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross composed the film's score, having previously worked with Guadagnino on 2022's Bones and All.[23] Post-production was completed by April 2023.[24]

Music[edit]

The film's original score was composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. A remixed version was released in collaboration with Boys Noize.[25]

Release[edit]

The film was previously set to be released on September 15, 2023,[26] and before that August 11, 2023.[27] The film was also scheduled to have its world premiere as the opening film of the 80th Venice International Film Festival,[28] but was delayed and pulled out from the festival by Amazon MGM Studios due to the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike at the time.[29]

Challengers premiered in Sydney, Australia on March 26, 2024, followed by premieres in Paris, London and at the Westwood Village Theater in Los Angeles, the latter of which had tennis player Venus Williams in attendance.[30]

Theatrical[edit]

It was released in theaters and IMAX in the United States and Canada by Amazon MGM Studios on April 26, 2024, the same month as the centennial anniversary of the founding of MGM on April 17.[31][29][32][33][34]

Warner Bros. Pictures serves as the film's international distributor.[35] Although the film was initially set for a direct-to-streaming release on Amazon Prime Video in France instead of a theatrical release, the decision was reversed in January 2024, meaning the film would start streaming on the service 17 months after its initial theatrical release. The film was released there on April 24, 2024, two days before its release in the United States, although a spokesperson for Warner Bros. Discovery initially denied this, stating the film had not been dated for a French theatrical release yet.[36][37][4]

Home media[edit]

The film was made available on rental PVOD on May 17, 2024.[38]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

As of June 13, 2024, Challengers has grossed $49.7 million in the United States and Canada and $92.3 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $142 million.[4][3]

In the United States and Canada, Challengers was released alongside Boy Kills World and Unsung Hero, and was projected to gross $12–15 million from 3,477 theaters in its opening weekend.[39][2] The film made $6.2 million on its first day, including $1.9 million in Thursday night previews.[40] It went on to debut to $15 million, topping the box office and marking the best domestic opening weekend of Guadagnino's career.[41] In its second weekend the film made $7.9 million (a drop of 49%), finishing second behind newcomer The Fall Guy and the re-release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.[42] It then made $4.4 million in its third weekend.[43]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 89% of 335 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 8/10. The website's consensus reads: "With its trio of outstanding performers volleying their star power back and forth without ever dropping the ball, Challengers is a kinetic and sexy romp at court."[44] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 82 out of 100, based on 64 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[45] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale, while those polled by PostTrak gave it a 77% overall positive score, with 59% saying they would definitely recommend it.[41]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]