by Casino Horse・16. Mar 2021
Casinos have long drawn the attention of Hollywood movie makers, and for good reason. They exude extravagance, excess, style and luxury. More importantly, they hold the promise of immense riches as well as the risk of losing it all. Some of the best gambling movies are based on real events and daring cons. Others are visceral masterpieces of fast paced action, explosions and over the top cinematics. The one thing that ties them all together is the drama that comes from the inherent risks associated with gambling. They never center on the cautious and timid player, but rather on protagonists that throw caution to the wind and risk everything in pursuit of that elusive big win.
Our list of the best casino movies of all time covers various interesting historical periods and features luxurious locations around the globe. Naturally, all of the famous casino hotspots are covered- from Monte Carlo and Las Vegas to Montenegro and Atlantic City. Some of them feature intriguing poker or blackjack hands that will be of interest to passionate punters, whilst others focus on beating the house by less legal means. Without further ado, here is our list of the best gambling movies in no particular order.
What better way to start off our list than with a movie that is literally called Casino. This movie came out in 1996 and was directed by none other than Martin Scorcese. As with most Scorsese movies, Casino deals with the intricacies of mob life- wealth and glamour on one side and a seedy and ruthless life of crime on the other. A parallel is drawn between Las Vegas casinos and the mobsters who run them. The surface is all glitz, glam, opulence and success, but the core is corrupt.
“That’s The Truth About Las Vegas. We’re The Only Winners. The Players Don’t Stand A Chance.”
At the start of the movie, Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (played by Robert De Niro) is living a normal life with his wife in the suburbs. This all changes when his former life as a Las Vegas casino manager comes back to haunt him, in the form of his old mobster friend Nicky Santoro. Played by quintessential mobster actor Joe Pesci, Nicky lures Ace back into the mob game, and his plans for a quiet retirement go up in smoke. A great movie that delves deep into the greed, power, murder and darkness of the Las Vegas strip.
Even Bond, James Bond, is not immune to casinos. Released in 2006, Casino Royale is the first in the series to star Daniel Craig. Unlike many other Bond films, this one is based exclusively on Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel of the same name. It is interesting to note that this was the third movie adaptation of the book. The movie is an important departure from the traditional Bond franchise, as it shows a more vulnerable and inexperienced M16 agent. The movie finds our secret agent at the very beginning of his career, and still in the process of earning his licence to kill.
“Oh I'm sorry, that last hand nearly killed me.”
Bond’s assignment is to take part in a high stakes poker game in the Casino Royale in Montenegro. The goal is to bankrupt mobster banker and financier Le Chiffre, played by the virtuous Mads Mikkelsen. Of course, there is also a femme fatale, love, lust and lots of action as well as breath-taking poker playing. The movie culminates with an epic poker round that pockets James Bond a cool $115 million. Chifre, in return, kidnaps his love interest and chaos ensues. Casino Royale with amazing cast is not only a great gambling movie, but is also one of the best films in the 007 franchise. Chris Cornell sings the Casino Royale theme song called “You Know My Name”, giving the movie a very rock and roll feel.
Molly’s Game is a 2017 poker film based on a true story. The Molly in question is Molly Bloom, a retired Olympic skier who starts running underground high stakes poker games in a quest to make it big. The catalyst for this drastic change in direction was an injury that caused Molly to be eliminated from competing in sports. Molly starts by running poker games from millionaires but soon goes solo with her very own high stakes games.
“You know what makes you feel okay about losing? Winning.”
The players include extremely famous A-listers, from Hollywood stars to sports legends and leaders of business. Things take a downward turn when, unbeknownst to Molly, the Russian mob also gets involved. This brings the unwanted attention of the FBI and starts a decade long process that culminates in Molly’s arrest. During this time, her only friend and ally is her defence lawyer who discovers that there is a lot more to Molly than what’s in the tabloids.
Ocean’s Eleven is a textbook group heist movie, and is arguably one of the best in the genre. The heist mastermind is Danny Ocean, played by George Clooney, assembles a crew of professional misfits to pull off the biggest heist of the century- to steal from the three biggest casinos on the strip- the MGM Grand, the Mirage and the Bellagio. The cast is as star studded as it can get- Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, Elliot Gould, Carl Reiner, Casey Affleck, Shaobo Qin, Miguel Perez, Livingston Dell, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts and a bunch of other A-listers.
“Apparently, he's got a record longer than my... well, it's long.”
The movie is very fast paced, exciting, entertaining and easy to watch. As for the plot, it is improbable to say the least, but this does not take away from the experience. The actors have amazing on screen chemistry, and the dialogues are smart, snappy and perfectly timed and delivered. Andy Garcia plays a fabulous villain; elegant, calm and extremely scary. All in all a fantastic feel good movie with huge entertainment value and almost unprecedented star power.
This isn’t your run of the mill flashy casino movie. It’s a semi-autobiographical drug fuelled stream of consciousness style report of Hunter S Thompson’s (Raoul Duke in the movie) trip to Vegas to cover an off road racing event. The movie’s script is based on a two part article written by Thompson for Rolling Stone Magazine. The two lead roles are played by Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. Johnny was a long-time fan of Thompson’s work, and spent a lot of time with him to perfect his speech and mannerisms.
While drugs play a pivotal role in the movie, there is no preaching against them or romanticizing the effects of psychedelics. Just like Thompson’s writing, the movie is filmed in the Gonzo style- fast paced, direct and dynamic. The movie was directed by ex-Monty Python member Terry Gilliam, and has a lot of absurdist moments. It is a direct tribute to the toxic excesses of the consumption culture of the early seventies, and uses Las Vegas as the ultimate symbol of this.
If you could sum up The Hangover Las Vegas movie in one sentence it would definitely be “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”. While the movie is not strictly based around gambling, there are several gambling scenes. The film follows an odd crew of four friends taking a trip to Vegas for a bachelor party. After a night of heavy drinking, the gang wakes up to an epic hangover and no recollection of the previous night’s events. In addition, they are lost and have no idea where the groom is.
“It's not a purse. It's a satchel. Besides, Indiana Jones has one.”
The Hangover Las Vegas is packed with hilarity, as well as a bunch of celebrity cameos. It is a flat out funny movie, crammed full of comedic situations and hilarious dialogue. The movie is structured around the search for the groom and piecing together fragments of their misadventures from the night before. Mike Tyson’s tiger makes an appearance, as the gang had stolen him during their drunken escapades. All the while, the wedding deadline draws nearer. Several classic Vegas casinos appear in the movie, including Caesar’s Palace.
Directed by Guy Ritchie in 1998, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a masterpiece of mystery, crime and comedy. It is bursting with dry English wit, and full of over the top characters you can’t take your eyes off of. Four friends decide to pool their money to beat a notorious gangster called Hatchet in 3 card brag. However, Hatchet cheats during the game and the gang is left with nothing. To pay off their gambling debt, they must find a way to raise half a million pounds.
“The entire British Empire was built on cups of tea. And if you think I'm going to war without one, you're mistaken.”
After overhearing their next door neighbours planning to rob a group of inept drug growers, the gang decides to rob the robbers. This sets in motion a fast paced wild thriller full of misunderstandings, confusion and spectacular mess ups. Before they even set out on their ill-advised caper, two double barrel shotguns go missing. The storytelling is captivating, as the storyline is not linear, but follows different characters during the same time slot. Only at the end do you figure out what really happened.
The Cincinnati Kid is a Steve McQueen classic drama film from 1965. It is set in depression era America and tells the story of Eric “The Kid” Stoner, an aspiring poker player travelling from town to town looking for high stakes games and women. On his way to the top, he butts heads with Lancey “The Man” Howard in a classic David vs Goliath showdown. Howard is a well-established poker player and widely regarded as the best in the business.
“You're good, Kid. But as long as I'm around, you're second best.”
Stoner seems to have the upper hand in the first few rounds, but it quickly becomes apparent that the game is rigged, with Howard pulling an ace out of his sleeve in the final hand. The film is held in high regard by professional poker players because of its faithful portrayal of the skills, intelligence and cunning required to excel in the game. It doesn’t hurt that Steve McQueen absolutely owns the lead role.