Zendaya's Challengers Movie Reviews: Critics Share Strong First Reactions

By Klein Felt Posted:
Zendaya in Challengers

The reviews are in, and the first reactions to Zendaya's Challengers movie are glowing. 

The sexy tennis drama from Call Me By Your Name filmmaker Luca Guadagnino sees the ever-popular Zendaya (of MCU Spider-Man fame) play Tashi Duncan, a former tennis star turned coach who becomes the center of a love triangle between her athlete husband and one of his rivals. 

After initially being delayed from 2023 due to the SAG-AFTRA strike that dominated Hollywood for months, the wait for Challengers is finally about to end for fans who have been patiently waiting. 

Challengers Receives Stellar Reviews

Zendaya in Challengers
Amazon MGM Studios

The first reactions to Challengers (starring Zendaya, Josh O'Connor, and Mike Faist) have been made public following critics seeing the movie for the first time. 

Early reviews for the racket-swinging erotic thriller are widely positive. The movie is praised for its ability to build tension and the gripping performances at its core. 

Isaac Joel from Agents of Fandom called Zendaya's work in the film "wild," also calling out the "intriguing storyline, stunning cinematography, [and] intense soundtrack:"

"I’m speechless after watching 'Challengers!' Intriguing storyline, stunning cinematography, intense soundtrack, and Zendaya's wild performance make this film a must watch. Close friends turning against each other added an extra layer of suspense. Bravo!"

Deputy Editor of Clapper, Carson Timar, said Challengers is "an unbelievably well-crafted drama," making it one of the "best movies of 2024:"

"'Challengers' is an unbelievably well crafted drama from Luca Guadagnino that unravels to reveal its layers with plenty of style and intensity. The biggest highlights here are the performances from Zendaya, O'Connor, & Faist who all overdeliver. One of the best movies of 2024."

According to Rob Hunter of Reject Nation, the film is "intensely sexy [and] wild excesses," and "Zendaya [owns] every scene:"

"I'm an easy mark for tennis films, and 'Challengers' is a great fucking tennis film. Intensely sexy, wild excesses, pulse-pounding score, highly punchable male leads, Zendaya owning every scene, guys hanging dong, 3rd act had my stomach in knots. Movies for adults are back, baby!"

In a tennis pun-filled review, critic Kit Stone remarked that "Zendaya, Faist & O’Connor all deliver in a tense match of desire, competition, and control:"

"In Luca Guadagnino's 'Challengers,' winning isn't half as fun as playing the game. Zendaya, Faist & O’Connor all deliver in a tense match of desire, competition, and control. You’ll come for the stars but leave talking about the score. In a nutshell — good game."

While many reviews called out Zendaya's performance as a particular point of praise, Cosmopolitan's Tamara Fuentes revealed she will "be thinking about Mike Faist's and Josh O'Connor's scenes forever:"

"Okay, looks like I can finally talk about 'Challengers.' Y'all, this movie is WILD! I'm absolutely obsessed in so many different ways. It's definitely not what some of y'all are thinking, but god, I'll be thinking about Mike Faist's and Josh O'Connor's scenes forever."

Leo Ryder heralded the movie as a "SPICY throuple romcom," heaping plaudits upon the movie's cinematography:

"'Challengers' was the SPICY throuple romcom I didn’t know I needed! Zendaya is INCREDIBLE and Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor are great too! The cinematography is creative with perspective shots and slow mo that creates tension. And that score was a character itself! Loved!"

"I think this is Luca Guadagnino’s masterpiece," Lauren Veneziani posited online, noting that it was her "favorite film of the year so far:"

"'Challengers' is my favorite film of the year so far. Stellar performances from Zendaya, Josh & Mike on these complex & entertaining characters. The score from Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross is intense & elevates the story. I think this is Luca Guadagnino’s masterpiece."

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Bleeding Cool's Kaitlyn Booth summed up her thoughts by saying that she cannot wait to "word vomit how much [she] love[d] it:"

"To the surprise of precisely no one, I am once again a giant stan for a Luca Guadagnino film. At least I'm predictable. Anyway, 'Challengers' ruled, and I will go wallow in it for a little while before I write my review where I word vomit how much I love it."

Josh Parham from Next Best Picture was similarly positive, describing the tennis-based drama as "Sleek, sexy, [and] thrilling:"

"'Challengers' is a kinetic, fast-paced ride that captures the human drama both on and off the court in an engaging manner. The Reznor/Ross score absolutely rocks, perfectly matching the intensity of the three engrossing central performances. Sleek, sexy and a thrilling experience."

Given Challengers is a romantic thriller after all, Lauren Bradshaw said, "The chemistry between Zendaya, Mike Faist & Josh O’Connor will leave you sweating:"

"Luca Guadagnino’s 'Challengers' is a wicked, twisty thrill-ride that is as exciting to watch as a grand slam tennis match. A tense, sexy relationship thriller, the chemistry between Zendaya, Mike Faist & Josh O’Connor will leave you sweating. One of my fav Zendaya performances!"

Next Best Picture's Daniel Howat exclaimed that the film is "electric" with its "intense score," "gripping sound work," and "brilliant editing" being the highlights:

"'Challengers' is a sweaty, pulse-pounding, love triangle. Zendaya, O’Connor, and Faist are undeniable superstars utilized perfectly here.

Intense score. Gripping sound work. The story volleys back and forth in time, but brilliant editing keeps the drama high.

Really electric."

What To Take Away From Challengers' First Reactions

For fans who have been patiently waiting for Challengers (a wait made even more unbearable after its six-month delay), these glowing first reviews will be a weight off the shoulders. 

While some may not be surprised that the movie is getting the praise it is—especially considering the talent behind it—this level of enthusiasm could be seen as a little shocking. 

Audiences have seen Zendaya do a lot in her young career, taking on performances like the bumblingly adorable MJ in Marvel Studios' Spider-Man trilogy to the subdued had-skinned Chani in the Dune films. However, she has never done something like this. 

If there was any question Zendaya could lead a movie - an erotic thriller nonetheless - those doubts seem to be gone. 

Challengers looks to be shouldered by the young actress as she proves once again that she is a superstar with a few different tools in her belt. 

One point of praise that may surprise some is the multiple callouts of the movie's score. Composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the music came up in multiple reviews, with one even calling it "a character [in] itself."

Reznor and Ross come into the Luca Guadagnino having composed the scores for titles like The Social Network, Pixar's Luca, and the ongoing Shogun FX series. 

They are a proven composing duo with yet another hit on their hands. 

Challengers comes to theaters on Friday, April 26. 

- In This Article: Challengers
Release Date
April 26, 2024
Mike Faist
- About The Author: Klein Felt
Klein Felt is a Senior Editor at The Direct. Joining the website back in 2020, he helped jumpstart video game content on The Direct. Klein plays a vital role as a part of the site's content team, demonstrating expertise in all things PlayStation, Marvel, and the greater entertainment industry.