Zendaya's new sports drama just beat ‘Dune Part Two’ as my favorite movie of 2024

(L-R) Mike Faist as Art Donaldson, Zendaya as Tashi Duncan, Josh O'Connor as Patrick Zweig in "Challengers"
(Image credit: FlixPix / Alamy Stock Photo / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Amazon)

When I walked out of my local theater after watching a midnight screening of “Dune Part Two” in early March, I knew it would take something special to challenge the blockbuster sci-fi epic for the title of my favorite movie of 2024. And that movie has arrived in the form of “Challengers.”

This romantic drama set in the world of professional tennis was on my radar partially because I love a good sports movie, and also because I’ve been playing a load of TopSpin 2K25 on PS5 lately, so I’m in a real tennis-y mood right now. 

However, even with very positive early buzz from critics, I didn’t expect “Challengers” to be so good that I’m debating if it’s my No. 1 pick for my favorite movie of 2024 (so far). Here’s why “Challengers” is giving “Dune Part Two” a run for its money in my personal ranking.

‘Challengers’ is more dramatic than a Wimbledon final 

“Challengers” centers on the shifting dynamic between three people: Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor) and Art Donaldson (Mike Faist).

Art is a former top tennis player enduring a dry spell, trying to get back on his game, while Tashi is his wife and coach, as well as a former prodigy herself whose potential was curtailed by a career-ending injury. Patrick is Art’s former best friend and Tashi’s former boyfriend. Oh, and Art and Patrick are facing off in a tournament final. 

That’s a setup ripe for plenty of drama, and I especially love the way “Challengers” presents its story. The movie opens during the first set of Art and Patrick’s tennis match, and then frequent flashbacks fill in the details and explore how each character came to be in their current headspace . While this story structure is hardly original (lots of movies use flashbacks), it’s used effectively to slowly peel back the layers and drip-feed the audience new information that adds to the overall picture.  

(L-R) Zendaya as Tashi Duncan and Josh O'Connor as Patrick Zweig in "Challengers"

(Image credit: BFA / Niko Tavernise / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, “Challengers” isn’t really about the sport of tennis, but more of a character study of three seriously fascinating characters. The standout is Tashi, probably because Zendaya is among the best working actors in Hollywood right now. Her fantastic character arc takes priority, but O’Connor and Faist are also given solid material. Faist adds a whole lot, and gives a subtly strong performance. 

“Challengers” builds to a thrilling, and deliciously tense, final act, and it’s also here that Guadagnino gets to stretch his filmmaking muscles with some highly inventive camera work. The Italian has claimed he doesn’t watch tennis and even finds it “boring” but he’s got a real knack for presenting the sport in the best possible light. After watching “Challengers” I’m eager to watch the French Open next month! 

However, whether you’re a tennis fan or not is irrelevant, “Challengers” is a tightly constructed and remarkably well-acted drama. It squeezes out every ounce of melodrama from its compelling setup and also packs an engaging romantic element. It’s a movie I can’t wait to rewatch and will be recommending all year long. 

‘Challengers’ reviews — critics also love this movie 

“Challengers” has served up an ace with critics. The movie currently holds an extremely impressive 96% rating on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, and this score comes from more than 110 individual reviews. 

“A funny, tempestuous, and exuberantly lusty story about how three athletic demigods see their destinies upended. And Guadagnino tells it the way he knows best, with a sometimes exasperating but ultimately irresistible surfeit of style,” said Justin Chang of the New Yorker

David Sims of The Atlantic felt there was more to the movie than your standard sports drama, they said “It’s far more thrilling, and triumphant, than a simple tale of someone lifting a trophy, or love conquering all.” Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson notes its “humble ambition is to charm and entertain” making it “a refreshingly sincere and uncynical movie.” 

A more mixed verdict came from Angelica Jade Bastién of Vulture who said, “The details of these people’s lives and their interiorities are so thinly drawn they feel more like beautiful ideas crashing into one another and leaving little messes that are too easy to clean up.” 

Go see ‘Challengers’ in theaters this weekend 

If it wasn’t already clear, I really like “Challengers.” I desperately hope it does well not  merely because it’s always pleasant to see good movies find an audience. “Challengers” is also an original drama created for an adult audience, and we simply don’t get enough of those in a theatrical landscape dominated by tentpole blockbusters, stale superhero flicks and relentless remakes/reboots. 

More than ever we need original movies like “Challengers”, so if you have even the slightest interest then I encourage you to make the effort to catch this one in theaters. The well-crafted tennis scenes shine on the big screen, and if this is a box office success hopefully it sends a message to studio executives to greenlight more movies like this. 

"Challengers" is scheduled to release in theaters on Friday, April 26 in the U.S. and U.K. 

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Rory Mellon
Entertainment Editor (UK)

Rory is an Entertainment Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on gaming and streaming. When he’s not reviewing the latest games, searching for hidden gems on Netflix, or writing hot takes on new gaming hardware, TV shows and movies, he can be found attending music festivals and getting far too emotionally invested in his favorite football team.