Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Magnus Movie Poster Image
Inspirational docu on the "Mozart of Chess"; some bullying.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 78 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Shows the positive things that can happen when those who are "different" are allowed to thrive and develop their unique talents to their fullest potential. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

As a chess prodigy and an extreme introvert as a child and teenager, Magnus Carlsen was bullied and had few friends, but emerged as a chess Grand Master as well as a media star admired by many. 


Magnus talks of being bullied by other kids in school, and starts to break down in tears. 



Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brief shot of wine drinking at a social function, no one drunk. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Magnus is a 2016 documentary about Magnus Carlsen, a young Norwegian prodigy known as "The Mozart of Chess." While an interest in chess would certainly enhance interest in this movie, it isn't necessarily needed, as this is, ultimately, the story of someone who grew up "different" from those around him due to both extreme introversion and a gift for winning at chess, was bullied for it by classmates, but with the tireless support of his family, was allowed to transcend these difficulties and use his talents to their fullest potential. This movie should prove inspirational for anyone who has grown up "different" for whatever reason, and affirms that it's fine to be that way. Magnus talks of being bullied by other kids in school, and starts to break down in tears. While the movie is primarily in English, there are moments when some of those filmed speak in Norwegian, with English subtitles.

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What's the story?

Even as a toddler, Magnus Carlsen seemed lost in deep thought, possessed with an incredible memory and gift for finding patterns and relationships between the flags of the world. Observing this, Magnus's father introduced him to chess at age 5. In a short amount of time, he proved to be a chess prodigy, playing obsessively and eventually becoming a ranked player. While still severely withdrawn and bullied as a tween and early teen, Carlsen was also gaining worldwide recognition for his incredibly unique and intuitive style of play, even playing to a draw against iconic chess master Gary Kasparov. This documentary shows the coming of age and development of "The Mozart of Chess," from a chess-obsessed boy picked on by his peers to his current celebrity status as the highest-ranked chess player in the world. 

Is it any good?

Like its subject, this documentary is one of a kind. Magnus stands out from so many other niche-centered documentaries because it's about so much more than chess or even a chess prodigy. Ultimately, it's about what can happen when someone who is "different" from those around him is given the space and freedom to develop his or skills to their fullest potential. This makes the movie engaging not just for chess aficionados, but also for those who don't know their rooks from their bishops. 

And that's what makes the documentary special. Not only does it trace the growth of Magnus Carlsen the chess player, but also Magnus Carlsen the human being. From an introverted chess-playing tween who was an easy target for bullies to an internationally-known media star (even giving Homer some pointers in a Simpsons episode), Magnus is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a chronicle of an extraordinarily gifted young man's whirlwind ascendance into becoming the highest-ranked chess player in the world. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about documentaries centered on a specific activity, such as chess, football, or cooking. In what ways do documentaries like these try to be engaging to all viewers and not just fans of the specific sport, hobby, or profession? 

  • How were home movies used to tell this story? What would be lost if these home movies weren't a part of the documentary? 

  • How is tween and teen bullying toward those deemed "different" addressed in this movie? Who are some other examples of talented people who were picked on by their peers while growing up? 

Movie details

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