Movies and Chess


A lot of movies have chess scenes in them, which could be well over 2000. That is enough to suggest that chess is fascinating for movie makers and their  audiences too. Chess is an intreging and an easy adaptable metaphor for life.

Some movies are about chess, or chess-players. One thinks of The Luzhin Defence (2000), or The Chess Players (1977), or the little-known Russian silent movie Chess Fever (1925). In other movies, chess is important to the plot, sometimes essential. One of the these is The Seventh Seal (1957), by the famous Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.

1925 Chess Fever

Chess Fever is a funny old Russian silent movie. A bride to come nearly gets mad because her betrothed fiancée (played by the russian comidian Pudovkin) has more interest in chess than in her (and everybody around her likewise). The grandmaster tournament Moscow 1925 plays an important part in the plot. The world champion in this movie is played by J.R.Capablanca, who plays the hero in this movie.

1957 The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal (1957) is a movie masterpiece by the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. A knight plays against Death for his live, and as long as the game goes on, the knight will survive.

1960 Brainwashed (Schachnovelle)

Brainwashed (which was originally titled Die Schachnovelle) is a very dramatic work. The film is based on the novella written by Stefan Zweig. The novella itself actually was published in 1944 after the author of the work and his wife committed suicide. Many people considered the novella to be a perfect foundation upon which a chess film could be built.

Most people do consider the novella to be the best written piece of fiction about chess of all time. The novella became a chess movie in 1960. This chess film tells the story of a man’s slow descent into insanity while imprisoned and tortured in Nazi occupied Vienna during the Second World War. The film centers around the man’s connection to the game of chess, perhaps his only relief in an otherwise horrific existence.

1993 Searching For Bobby Fischer

Perhaps the most famous chess movie is Searching for Bobby Fischer, released on August 11, 1993. This was really more about junior chess and Josh Waitzkin, than Bobby Fischer.

2000 The Luzhin Defence

Another chess movie with a chess plot is The Luzhin Defence, released in April, 2000. The movie is based on the novel 'The Defense' by Vladimir Nabokov. John Tuturro plays Alexander Ivanovich 'Sascha' Luzhin, the eccentric Russian master. The movie features chess exhibitions, a blindfold exhibition, and giant chess sets on the lawn of the Italian resort. In the end, Luzhin commits suicide by jumping out a window. In real life, this happened to Kurt von Bardeleben, who jumped out of his window of his boarding house in 1924 in Berlin at the age of 62. Grandmaster Jonathan Speelman was the technical advisor for the file, but the credits have him as John Speelman.

2001 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The game of chess played a fairly significant role in the 2001 movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This film perhaps presented chess to the broadest possible audience of any of the chess movies or movies that have included chess in their plots. Jeremy Silman has composed a very beautiful chess problem, which was translated beautifully onto the white screen in this movie.