The ‘Challengers’ Reviews Are Here For Zendaya Truly Becoming A Movie Star In The Wildly Sexy Tennis Film

The first reviews for Challengers are being served, and the critics are absolutely enthralled by the new film from director Luca Guadagnino thanks in no small part to Zendaya.

Based on the reviews, Zendaya thrills in her first proper lead role that wildly combines the world of tennis and a hot and sexy love triangle that spans years. If you’ve been bored of Hollywood’s seemingly puritanical turn as of late, Challengers flies directly in the face of that trend and continues Guadagnino’s track record for delivering horny cinematic delights.

You can see what the critics are saying below:

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter:

Zendaya is the linchpin. Her work here, on the heels of Dune: Part Two, cements her status as a born Movie Star. She moves with the decisive ferocity of a warrior on the court and the floating grace of a ballerina elsewhere. (The use of slo-mo is ravishing.) Holding closeups with the effortless command of an old-school screen siren, Zendaya registers every coolly assessing glance, every flicker of apprehension, every darkening moment of disappointment or anger while seldom surrendering Tashi’s composure, even in the rare moments when her control falters.

Coleman Spilde, The Daily Beast:

Each member of Challengers’ core threesome is down to get dirty. Zendaya, in her first proper leading role in a film, is the best she’s ever been, free from insipid Marvel scripts, Dune’s nonsensicality, and Euphoria’s melodramatic histrionics. Here, she can operate with more subtlety, and it’s a joy to watch what she can do with all of Tashi’s power. It is, however, Mike Faist and particularly Josh O’Connor—whose charisma and sex appeal will leave knees weak on the way out of the theater—who command most of the film. While Challengers is very much about sex and desire, it’s just as much about the intensity that two men can have with one another.

Peter Debruge, Variety:

Another filmmaker might have subtracted himself in order to foreground the story, whereas Guadagnino goes big, leading with style (and a trendy score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). In keeping with the athletic theme, he does all kinds of wild things with the camera, including a composition framed from the umpire’s perspective mid-court that zooms along the net to find Tashi in the crowd. Occasionally, she and other characters smack the fluorescent yellow balls directly at the screen, making us flinch in our seats. By the end, “Challengers” has assumed the ball’s POV — or maybe it’s the racket’s — as Guadagnino immerses audiences in the film’s climactic match.

David Ehrlich, IndieWire:

Challengers is a far cry from Wimbledon, and Guadagnino couldn’t give less of a shit about who comes out on top at the end. On the contrary, the “Call Me by Your Name” director was likely turned on by the sensual backspin of Justin Kuritzkes’ script, which subverts the typical stakes of each match in order to focus on the animating thrill of wanting something with every flooded sweat gland on your body.

Tasha Robinson, Polygon:

In modern studio movies, as R.S. Benedict put it, everyone is beautiful and no one is horny. All of which makes Luca Guadagnino’s sweaty, panting sports-and-sex romantic drama Challengers feel like a thumbed nose (or a raised middle finger) aimed at American Puritanism and an increasingly sex-negative culture. Challengers is a sharp and snappy movie, full of big emotions expressed through fast-paced dialogue in some scenes and through silent, sensual physicality in others, all shot with creative verve and aggressively in-your-face energy. Everyone in this movie is chasing sex and success, and conflating those things with each other in unashamedly provocative ways.

Murtada Elfadl, The A.V. Club:

Zendaya, O’Connor, and Faist play off each other charmingly, particularly in the flashbacks when their characters are younger. Those scenes are lively and jocular and the three actors bring into them combustible chemistry. In one long seduction scene, Guadagnino and his three actors manage the kind of long, sexy kiss that hasn’t been seen on screen since Alfred Hitchcock prolonged Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck’s kisses to satisfy the censors in Notorious.

Valerie Complex, Deadline:

Zendaya’s Tashi is an intimidating presence, both on and off the court. She navigates her role with a compelling mix of strength and sophistication, and portraying Tashi as a catalyst in Art and Patrick’s lives giving her the role of attractor, antagonist and trickster. Her performance is physically convincing and emotionally resonant, highlighting her character’s strategic mind and complex emotions. O’Connor and Faist bring a palpable chemistry that transcends simple rivalry, suggesting a deeper, almost symbiotic relationship shaped by years of friendship and competition. Their interactions encapsulate the film’s central premise that love and rivalry are not mutually exclusive but are instead two sides of the same coin.

Challengers opens in theaters on April 26. You can watch the trailer below.