Films about gaming naturally contain drama because risk is a central theme in them. Gamblers in gambling movies are often compared to that veteran policeman who accepts One Last Case before retiring. It’s not entertaining to watch someone be prudent and cautious, but it is entertaining to see someone constantly risking his safety in the hope of that One Big Score. Usually, they don’t have a serene home life upstate where they can sit back and tally their winnings.
So, in light of the debut of Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter, we chose to review some of the greatest gambling-related films ever made. A word about methodology: We made careful to prioritize the gambling over the film. Few people would contest that Rounders is superior to Casino, but Casino is more concerned with the environment in which gaming occurs while Rounders is firmly focused on gambling. We tended to gravitate more toward films about gaming. Fortunately, many of them are excellent films in and of themselves.
California Split (1974)
Elliot Gould delivers a career-best performance as Charlie Waters, the serial gambler who can literally wager on anything, in California Split, the Citizen Kane of gambling movies. Gould’s cocaine-fueled charisma dominates the screen, and Robert Altman’s casual realism draws you into every shot, casino, and horse race.
One of the few gambling films to come out of British and achieve cult classic status is Croupier, directed by Mike Hodges. The protagonist of the film is Jack Manfred, a struggling novelist in London who is portrayed by Clive Owner. Jack decides to work as a croupier to earn some extra cash, but he quickly becomes engrossed in the seedy gaming lifestyle. His personal and professional lives start to unravel when he becomes engaged in shady business dealings with a gambler. One of the things that makes the movie so alluring to us is that it really explores the less glamorous side of gambling, far from Las Vegas, and gives us a chance to see this industry from a different angle than the one that is so frequently painted as being one of excess and riches.
21 transforms an intriguing math and business story into a sort of dumb heist film with a lot of young, attractive actors (Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, Jacob Pitts, and even Josh Gad) trying to pull one over on Kevin Spacey. The film is based on the true (if embellished by author Ben Mezrich) story of the MIT Blackjack Team that beat the house for nearly a decade. The film was criticized for “whitewashing” in its casting, transforming the majority of Asian-American real-life actors into stereotypical white people. Spacey is especially checked-out in this scene. Nevertheless, for a short period of time—before Spacey is abducted and brutally beaten in a hotel room—an it’s intriguing look at the science of wise gambling. only for a split second.
Wake in Fright (1971)
Most people aren’t even aware of Wake in Fright, one of the greatest films ever about gaming. Let me summarize it for you: In Australia, Gary Bond portrays a golden, tan, sweat-drenched schoolteacher. He ends up in a small village where everyone is Stepford Wives-level sexist and there is no water, just beer. Madly, things worsen when he loses all his money in gambling. If the title wasn’t clear enough, things progressively get worse before becoming truly terrifying.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
While not specifically about gaming, Ocean’s Eleven is one of the most recognizable heist films ever created. The star of the Steven Soderbergh-directed film, Danny Ocean (George Clooney), gathers a group of daring, gifted people to participate in the greatest heist ever. The biggest hotels and casinos in Las Vegas are the intended targets, and this suspenseful film offers a ton of twists and turns along the way.
Molly’s Game (2017)
Beware if you dislike Aaron Sorkin’s ostentatious, arrogant demeanor in his screenplays: The Academy Award winner is at his most Sorkin in his directing début. The memoir of Molly Bloom, a former ski champion who changed professions after a terrible accident and focused on the world of underground poker, served as the inspiration for the movie Molly’s Game. Molly, played by Jessica Chastain, is coiled-cobra cocky and leads us on a tour of this illegal, yet highly lucrative ecosystem as she rises to the position of supreme organizer of high-stakes games. However, you can sense Molly’s rush and meet some incredibly heartbreaking characters, like Bill Camp’s hopeless gambler. This thriller is far too prideful of its own cleverness, which is a persistent Sorkin shortcoming. Watching him drown in slow motion is terrifying.
Hard Eight (1996)
When Paul Thomas Anderson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, and Philip Baker Hall are on the table, it’s a Royal Flush. If you enjoy your casino pictures with a touch of tragedy, Anderson’s first film, about a seasoned card player and a lonely orphan, is an engrossing investigation of the men who spend their lives in Las Vegas.
The most well-known gambling drama ever is this Martin Scorsese classic. It contrasts Vegas’ wealth, renown, and glamour with the frequently savage and cruel dealings that take place behind the scenes to demonstrate the two sides of the city. The lead actor, Robert De Niro, portrays an operator with ties to the mob. The appearance of an old friend who has transformed into a mafia boss upends his apparently normal way of life. The rules of the game are deception, control, greed, money, and murder.
Vegas Vacation (1997)
Okay, so we already know that this isn’t a very decent movie. It’s possibly the worst Vacation film since the awful Ed Helms reboot. But you’ll have to just bear with us on this one because it contains what is arguably the funniest, silliest gambling joke ever. Basically, Wallace Shawn’s awesome performance as Marty the card dealer torments Clark Griswold as he develops a gambling obsession. Because of his poor gaming skills, Clark once paid $20 to play the game “Pick a Number Between 1 and 10?” in a “discount” casino. He predicts “4”. The dealer simply accepts his money after saying, “Nope, 7.” While leaving, Clark mutters to himself. This game’s existence essentially sums up Las Vegas and gaming in general. It might be the most sincere card game there is.
Uncut Gems (2020)
In the intense farce by the Safdie Brothers about a jeweler (Adam Sandler), the mafia, and Kevin Garnett, betting has never seemed as bitterly hopeless. The entire city seems to mirror Sandler’s down-on-his-luck, out-of-options plunger as New York transforms into a manic monstrosity filled with bookies, sad sacks, and commotion.
The Gambler (1980)
One of the best films about gambling addiction and the lengths people will go when confronted with high stakes was directed by Karel Reisz in the late 1990s. Axel Freed, who is portrayed by James Caan, is the main character. On the surface, his existence as an English professor and author appears to be inspiring and fruitful. Axel, however, has a serious lying problem, a gambling addiction, and mounting bills. He brings his wife Billie to Vegas and steals money from his mother in an effort to strike it rich.
You’ll be kept on the edge of your seat the entire time as you read this captivating story about addiction and the contemporary social issues that many people battle with.
Casino Royale (2006)
There is a classic Baccarat sequence in Dr. No. In Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery plays the charmer at the craps table. But if we’re going to include a Bond movie (and how could we not? ), it has to be Casino Royale because it has a poker scene where Bond competes against the dreadful Le Chiffre.
It’s a cliché, but “It’s essentially Citizen Kane for gambling addicts and… perfectly fine for everybody else” is still true every time we write about Rounders. Because of this, it ranks higher on this list than it would on almost any other, but it succeeds in perfectly encapsulating the haughty, swaggering machismo of being a professional poker player. (Or at least, in the late 1990s, of being one.) We appreciate Matt Damon. eventually outgrew these parts, but with such an ensemble (John Malkovich! Martin Landau, John Turturro Janssen, Famke Even Bill Camp!) can’t resist filling this with characters who give life and character to a universe that is mostly made of fiction. People, watch The Cincy Kid. (That will be addressed soon on this page.)