Battle of the Sexes

Movie review by
Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media
Battle of the Sexes Movie Poster Image
Moving dramedy serves up sexism, sexuality; lots of smoking.
  • PG-13
  • 2017
  • 121 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 17 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 8 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Women deserve the same respect and opportunities -- and potential rewards -- as men. Perseverance and hard work will often lead to victory. Teammates should stand by each other. Be true to yourself/what your heart wants, even when it's difficult. Stand up for what you believe in, and don't back down from a challenge. If you have the spotlight, use it to make your voice heard and change things for the better.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Billie Jean King is a trailblazing athlete who stands up for her belief that female athletes (and, by extension, women in general) deserve the same respect as men. As portrayed in the film, she's also relatably human, with flaws and plenty of self-doubt. The latter, plus her concern about negative public opinion, means that she hides a large part of who she is from everyone, which is hard on her and those she loves. Bobby Riggs is depicted as a gleeful opportunist who will do or say anything to advance himself/his schemes; he lies, gambles, says hurtful (and very sexist) things, and looks for shortcuts whenever possible. But, ultimately, he's not mean-spirited. Billie Jean's teammates are confident, talented women; there's some diversity in their ranks. Somewhat stereotypical flamboyant characterizations of the two gay men who handle the women's team wardrobe.

Violence

Trash talking on and off the court; minor sports injuries. Disagreement between a married couple includes some shouting, clothing tossed out the window.

Sex

Romantic tension between two characters eventually leads to passionate kissing/embracing; outer clothing removed (underwear stays on). A woman wearing only underwear is seen from the back. Sheet-covered characters in bed; it's implied that they're naked underneath and have had sex. Innuendo. Skimpy swimsuits/cheerleader uniforms. Riggs poses all but naked for a photo shoot.

Language

Regular but not constant use of words including "s--t," "hell," "balls," "dammit," "damn," "goddamn," "oh my God," "for God's sake," "Jesus" (as an exclamation), "shut up." Men refer patronizingly to women as "honey," "pretty faces," "gals," "ladies," and "girls."

Consumerism

Several brands seen, within the context of re-creating events as they happened: Virginia Slims, Sugar Daddy, etc. Also Rolls Royce.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Very frequent smoking/cigarettes; the women's tour is sponsored by Virginia Slims, and a supporting character is always smoking herself and frequently pushes cigarettes on others. Adults drink cocktails at bars and clubs; wine with dinner; liquor bottles shown. Bobby takes a huge assortment of vitamins/supplements/pills to prep for the match.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Battle of the Sexes is a dramedy about the (in)famous real-life 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). It tackles big issues like gender equality, sexism, and sexuality and has strong themes of perseverance, being true to yourself, and standing up for what you believe in. A major part of the plot centers on King, who was married to a man at the time, acknowledging to herself that she's attracted to women. She and her lover are shown kissing, embracing, and in bed together; sex is implied, but nudity is limited to a shot of an underwear-clad woman from behind. Language isn't constant but includes "s--t," "hell," "goddamn," and more. Men also refer patronizingly to women as "honey," "gals," "ladies," and "girls." Adults drink wine and cocktails, and there's a lot of smoking -- Virginia Slims sponsors the women's tour, and one character (who's always holding a cigarette) frequently urges the players to smoke more. Riggs takes a ton of vitamins and mysterious other pills in the lead-up to the match; he's also an unrepentant gambling addict. If you're a tennis fan, the high-stakes match footage will be right up your alley -- and even if you're not, you might find yourself holding your breath and cheering.

User Reviews

Adult Written byFather_of_Four September 30, 2017

Strong homosexual themes

Parents should know that this movie has a very explicit homosexual sex scene. (Common sense media refers to it as "Romantic tension between two characters... Continue reading
Parent Written byJustin M October 6, 2017

Misleading and very s l o w

Watching the trailer I expected more on the fight for equal pay via competitive tennis. Yes it's about the fight for equal rights but bringing in homosexua... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byAestheticLani October 1, 2017

Don't listen to the parent who rated it 18+

this movie is such an aspiring story to many young girls like me who live in such a sexist world. i have nothing but great and positive words for this movie. Th... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byThe-real-MPAA December 22, 2017

Wow, These Reviews

It's as if the people on this site have not seen a gay person before. Billie Jean King is famously a gay athlete, and a huge advocate for LGBTQ rights, a f... Continue reading

What's the story?

It's 1973, and women's tennis superstar Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is infuriated when she finds out that an upcoming tournament will offer the men's winner eight times as much as the women's champ. Disgusted by arguments such as "men are more exciting to watch" and "it's just biology," she and friend Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) decide to set up their own tournament/tour -- and the Women's Tennis Association is born. A rough start gets smoother when the team lands a major sponsor (Virginia Slims), but the married King's internal turmoil grows as she acknowledges and eventually gives in to her powerful attraction to free-spirited hairstylist Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough). Meanwhile, former men's tennis star Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) -- stifled by the quiet, domestic life he shares with rich wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue) -- comes up with the perfect idea to get himself back in the public eye: a big, publicized tennis match between him and King. She doesn't take the bait at first, but eventually King can't deny that it's her destiny to participate in the BATTLE OF THE SEXES.

Is it any good?

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' thoughtful dramedy is really more about King's personal journey than it is the big match between King and Riggs -- and that's a good thing. She has to do a fair bit of soul-searching before she's really ready to put it all on the line, and her struggles make her even more sympathetic. As played by Stone, King's softer, more vulnerable moments, especially the ones with Marilyn (Riseborough), help make her a real, relatable person -- not "just" a legendary athlete. Carell's Riggs, meanwhile, is both funny and sad; it's difficult not to chuckle at his wild schemes and antics, but it's clear that he pursues them because he can't find any other source of joy and excitement in his life. (That said, you may be hard-pressed to hold on to any kind feelings toward him once he starts gleefully spewing extreme male-chauvinist rhetoric.)

As for the infamous match itself, let's just say that it's always a good sign when a movie based on real-life events with a widely known outcome can build genuinely suspenseful "how will it turn out?" tension at critical junctures (see: Apollo 13). Even non-tennis fans will be caught up in the serves and rallies. And while you can't help wishing that the issues King was fighting for -- equal pay and respect for women -- were as much a thing of the past as all of the movie's '70s cars, clothes, and props (airport TVs!), the fact that they're still timely makes Battle of the Sexes all the more relevant and compelling. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Battle of the Sexes' messages. What is it saying about gender roles and the way that men and women are treated? Was the situation in the '70s a lot different than it is today? Why or why not?

  • How do the characters demonstrate perseverance? Why is that an important character strength? How does Bobby's approach to preparing for the match differ from Billie Jean's? How does that work out?

  • Why do you think Billie Jean was reluctant to share her feelings for Marilyn publicly? Do you think someone in her position would face the same challenges today? Why or why not?

  • How does the movie portray cigarettes and smoking? Is smoking glamorized? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?

  • How accurate do you think the movie is to the way things really happened? Why might filmmakers choose to alter the facts in movies based on real life?

Movie details

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love sports

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate