Challengers and Andy Samberg’s 7 Days in Hell are weirdly similar

Exploring the Absurdity of Tennis in Films

It sometimes seems surprising that tennis doesn’t inspire more movies. Its one-on-one gladiatorial clashes are inherently dramatic and psychological, while the devious scoring system means no match is ever lost until it’s lost. Nail-biting climaxes and last-minute turnarounds are baked into the design. On the other hand, the fast-moving, seesawing action is technically difficult to frame in a way that’s both exciting and legible — and that same scoring system might drastically confuse anyone who doesn’t follow the sport.

Or maybe there are only so many tennis stories to tell. It’s certainly true that after watching Challengers, the torrid, wildly entertaining new tennis melodrama starring Zendaya and directed by Call Me by Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino, I was struck by some surprising similarities to an earlier film. Only this film isn’t a proper sports movie, or even a pseudo-serious bit of prestige pulp like Challengers. 7 Days in Hell is a profoundly silly 43-minute HBO mockumentary from 2015, starring The Lonely Island’s Andy Samberg and streaming on Hulu and Max.

It’s tough to prove my point without comprehensively spoiling either film. You should watch them both; they’re both lots of fun. Let’s just say that both feature a hotly contested, emotionally (and maybe sexually) charged match between rival male players that goes the distance — and far beyond. Both movies also feature varying degrees of hot threesome action; an absurdly extended, physically impossible rally at the net; and a certain gesture that takes things up a gear. And they both end in strikingly similar ways, even though the actual outcomes are very, very different.

The Delightful Absurdity of Tennis Depicted in Films