Pawn Sacrifice

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Pawn Sacrifice Movie Poster Image
Fascinating chess biopic deals with mental instability.
  • PG-13
  • 2015
  • 116 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Having raw talent will only take you so far -- to really excel, you also need to have the focus and drive to perform at your best. Not everyone has tthat, and the result is that sometimes people squander precious gifts.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Fisher acts spoiled and petulant, often making unreasonable demands from tournament organizers, and he's frequently coddled and indulged. People seem willing to put with all kinds of behavior because they're in awe of his talent, and the results just seem to encourage him to act out even more.


A crazed character destroys the furniture in a room, convinced there's a hidden listening device.


A character talks about wanting to lose his virginity and is later seen in bed, undressed, with a prostitute. No graphic nudity.


Infrequent profanity; mostly "screw" and "damn," with the occasional "s--t" and one choice "f--k," delivered by an angry teenager to his mother.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many characters smoke cigarettes (accurate for the era). Characters also drink wine and hard liquor at parties or while relaxing at home.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pawn Sacrifice is a biopic about famous chess player Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), set mostly during his famous 1972 world championship match against Russia's Boris Spassky. While chess is crucial to the story, the film really focuses on Fischer -- particularly on his tenuous mental condition, featuring several incidents that seem to tip toward madness. Expect plenty smoking (accurate for the era) and some drinking, as well as occasional swearing (including "s--t" and one "f--k") and a few brief suggestions of sexuality. Teens, especially if they're interested in chess, may appreciate it.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byKate G. April 11, 2017

Good autobiography movie

It is hard to say that movie was interesting- it was okay. Autobiography of world chess champion, showing us a genius with social issues and mental health probl... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byDetroitLions21 March 16, 2021

Well-acted biopic of the prime of Bobby Fischer’s life

I was definitely not expecting this film to feel so grounded in reality. The film does a great job of making the viewer feel like they're watching events p... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byrebo344 December 10, 2015

I want to play chess.

Pawn Sacrifice is a great biopic of Bobby Fisher. Tobey Maguire gives a strong performance while Liev Schreiber is great as his opponent. But the real standout... Continue reading

What's the story?

Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) may be the best chess player on Earth. He certainly thinks so, but to prove it, he'll need to beat reigning world champion Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in this biopic set mainly during their famous 1972 match in Iceland. The duo's epic chessboard duel also serves as a Cold War battleground, pitting the eccentric American against the methodical Russian. But even before he sits down to play, Fischer must overcome another significant opponent: his not-so-stable mental state, which threatens to derail the match.

Is it any good?

PAWN SACRIFICE is a fascinating look at high-level chess, but it's really about genius, madness, and the tenuous connection between them. Fischer is a wonder when he sits down to play, but when he's not engaged in a match, his life is -- at best -- a juggling act of coherence, paranoia, and delusion, making him often impossible to deal with. Maguire deserves lots of credit for bringing these complicated feelings to the screen, giving a compelling performance. It's not always clear whether Fischer's behavior is really due to mental illness or whether he's just trying to intimidate his opponents, and Maguire deftly depicts him as man on the edge, who may or may not have fallen off.

Director Edward Zwick wrings the tension out of chess moves that few audience members would grasp; he's helped by Peter Sarsgaard as Fischer's friend/coach, Father Bill Lombardy, whose facial expressions let viewers know whether a move is a blunder or an example of genius. Zwick also manages to imbue the matches with the sociopolitical implications they once carried, which were placed on Fischer's already-burdened shoulders. In the end, we definitely care about the outcome of the match, but we care more about the man who's moving the pieces.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how this approach to a biopic compares to other, more encompassing ones. Do you prefer stories that focus on one specific time/event in a historical figure's life (like Lincoln) or the ones that take a more sweeping view of the actor's whole life (Ray, Walk the Line)? What are the challenges that a biopic faces in depicting its subject? Do you think filmmakers ever tweak the facts? Why?

  • How is smoking portrayed in the movie? Does the impact of seeing characters smoke change when you're watching a movie set in the past?

  • Talk about Fischer's mental state, as portrayed in the movie. Do you think he was mentally ill? Or was he acting that way to throw off his opponents? Or both?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love biopics

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

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.

Learn how we rate