Searching for Bobby Fischer

Movie review by
Scott G. Mignola, Common Sense Media
Searching for Bobby Fischer Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Young chess prodigy learns about sportsmanship.
  • PG
  • 2002
  • 111 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

May get kids interested in chess.

Positive Messages

Good sportsmanship is upheld as the most positive of virtues. This virtue is also shown to be good when contrasted with the negative behavior of some parents and of some of the other young chess prodigies. The importance of following one's own destiny as opposed to copying everything about a legend in one's art, sport, pastime, or career. The importance of cultivating a child's natural talents while still giving the child time to be a kid. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

As a young boy developing his genius for chess, Josh decides to think for himself rather than following in the footsteps of chess legend Bobby Fischer. Josh learns good sportsmanship, and displays it when it counts. While they occasionally go overboard in their obsessions with Josh's play, Josh's parents encourage and work to cultivate Josh's gift for playing chess; this is shown to be in marked contrast of other parents, who get angry when their kids lose at chess, seem to want to live vicariously through their kids' competitions, and never give their kids the chance to just be kids. 

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff

Rare profanity: "Jesus," "hell," damn," "ass." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Around the chess tables of a city park, a young boy sees a drug deal, joint smoking, drinking, and cigarette smoking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Searching for Bobby Fischer is a 1993 movie about the early years of chess prodigy Joshua Waitzkin. It's based on a book written by Waitzkin's father. Around the chess tables of a city park, a young boy sees a drug deal, joint smoking, drinking, and cigarette smoking. Profanity includes "Jesus," "hell," damn," and "ass."  At the core of this story is a valuable lesson about sportsmanship. Josh emerges as a positive example of good sportsmanship even as so many adults around him don't. The movie also teaches valuable lessons on the importance of parents encouraging and cultivating their child's natural gifts and interests without overwhelming them or forgetting to let their kids be kids. Younger kids will enjoy seeing someone their own age intelligently portrayed, even if they don't quite grasp his particular gift or the situations it places him in. For older kids, this is one of the greatest movies around for demonstrating -- without preaching -- the value of decency and the payoff that comes from serious study. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 12-year-old Written bybmactmac March 9, 2014

Excellent message for parents

I think this movie has an excellent message, especially for any parent that has seen a unique talent in their child. I think kids will appreciate the message i... Continue reading
Adult Written byhiroasa95 April 8, 2021
Teen, 14 years old Written byHonestAri April 16, 2021

Amazing but Language

It's a great movie for kids but it has language which is the reason I labelled it 10+. It also mentions drugs as one of his "coaches" is a drug a... Continue reading
Kid, 8 years old January 27, 2013

good movie if you like chess.

I liked searching for bobby fisher because it was about chess and i personally like chess. It was about a real person. The camera followed the characters really... Continue reading

What's the story?

Based on a true story, SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER centers on young chess prodigy Josh. While chess tutor Bruce (Ben Kingsley) helps the boy hone his skills for competition, Josh's parents (Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen) are strong and supportive. Mom tells him, "You have a good heart. And that's the most important thing in the world." Josh struggles with slipping into arrogance over his amazing talents, and he heads to a major competition intent on proving he's the best. But in the end, he learns that winning isn't everything.

Is it any good?

It takes confidence and loads of talent to make a movie about a boy who plays chess, and to make it riveting, but Steven Zaillian's directorial debut does just that. There are no clenched fists here, hardly a raised voice, and yet the movie is mesmerizing. There's a true sense of wonder in the scenes of Josh watching the chess players in the park, absorbing the intricacies of the game. That wonder is potent enough to spark an interest in young viewers, and encourage adults to take the board down from that dusty closet shelf. But an understanding of chess isn't vital to appreciating the movie, although a vague understanding does heighten the drama.

The characters, even the sideliners, are compelling, and a good streak of humor runs through the movie, especially in competition scenes when the nervous chess parents act less mature than their children.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what good sportsmanship means. How is good and bad sportsmanship shown during the movie? What role do parents play as role models?

  • How does this movie address the theme of parents finding the room to cultivate and encourage their child's abundant gifts while also giving them the time and space to still be kids? 

  • While Bobby Fischer is shown to be an icon of chess in much the same way as Michael Jordan is to basketball, he is also shown to be rude, temperamental, misanthropic, and someone who disappeared rather than defend his chess championship. In later years, living abroad and mostly hiding out from the public eye, Fischer often made vicious anti-Semitic remarks in the rare interviews he gave, in addition to anti-American remarks immediately after 9/11. Who are some other examples of geniuses in their fields who also had extreme dark sides to their personalities? How is the theme of "the troubled genius" addressed in the movie? 

Movie details

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