There is something irresistible about gambling movies, whether you are a passionate gambler yourself, or have never in your life set foot in a casino. Sometimes, they follow the rise and fall of famous poker players, while other times, they are packed with action, crime, and violence, showing the not-so-glamorous side of casino life. With compelling performances by esteemed actors, colorful depictions of high-stakes games, and often, dramatic plot twists, gambling-related films have more than enough suspense and extravagance to keep the average casino enthusiast on the edge of their seat.
The truth is that tens of high-quality movies about gambling have been created over the years, perhaps, too many to count, but there are several titles that have become true classics in Hollywood history. Worth mentioning is Martin Scorsese’s 1995 masterpiece Casino featuring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, as is Casino Royale, the 2006 take on Ian Fleming’s original story about James Bond. They are just two of literally hundreds of films, where, instead of being the main theme, gambling is, in fact, only in the background. There are, on the other hand, pictures that give wagering a major part in the story and as a result, have earned a cult status among film fans and the gambling community. The following titles are, as reported by Casino Games Pro, the top five gambling movies ever made, not just because they are quality productions that deserve to be watched, but also because they give the world a compelling glimpse into the world of gambling.
The Sting (1973)
George Roy Hill’s winner of 7 Academy Awards, including for the Best Picture, The Sting is a movie just as about gambling, as it is about trickery and deception. It stars the adorable duo Paul Newman and Robert Redford, known together as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but here, they are the equally fascinating and lovable con artists Henry Gondorff (Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Redford).
The villain in The Sting is actually their victim, a New York mob boss who turns out to be a gambling addict. While the story is set at the height of the Great Depression, the entire movie is filled with a lot of fun, unexpected twists, and elaborate schemes that lead to fantastic, bizarre situations. Of course, there is a lot of danger, action, and suspense, as well as plenty of gambling throughout the film. Combined with the outstanding directing of Hill, the fast-paced developments, and the beautiful cinematography and editing, The Sting will certainly surprise and delight any type of audience.
When Rounders premiered in 1998, it was described as „unremarkable“, despite its star-studded cast. Yet, today it is widely considered as one of the best and certainly, the most influential poker movie of all time with a strong following among professional poker players. Directed by John Dahl (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction), the film has a noir look and follows the tricky path of law student Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) who tries to lead a normal life away from the poker tables. Everything changes when his childhood friend Lester “Worm” Murphy (Edward Norton) is released from prison – the two young men set out on a chaotic mission to win every high-stakes poker game they can get into. Norton’s character is portrayed beautifully – cynical, edgy, and irritating, but another brilliant performance in Rounders is the one delivered by John Malkovich. He plays a deranged Russian mobster obsessed with Oreos who runs an illegal underground poker room. The film is grim, chaotic, but it displays the authentic atmosphere of underground gambling and the potential danger associated with it. It also paints a somewhat realistic picture of the popular Texas Hold’em poker games.
The Gambler (1974)
While most people would prefer the 2014 remake of The Gambler, because it is new and stars Mark Wahlberg in the lead role, Karel Reisz’s original is simply impossible to surpass. Released in 1974, it manages to capture the spirit of gambling so well, that watching it, you feel slowly dragged into that same addiction that torments the main character. Played by James Caan, English Professor Axel Freed cannot stop gambling, even when he faces a debt to his bookie, almost impossible to pay out. One bet after another, he descends into a world of paranoia and pain, where the moments of winning are filled with deceptive excitement and draw him even closer to his demise.
While The Gambler may be seen as a warning against addiction, the film 21 warns against surrendering to one of the seven deadly sins, greed. At the same time, it is based on real-life events and tells the true story of the MIT Blackjack Team, a group of talented math students who are trained by their professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) to count cards in blackjack. The film starts with the shy 21-year-old Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) who studies in the MIT but wants to transfer to Harvard Medical School and someday, become a doctor. However, the young man cannot afford the $300,000 fee, so he joins the MIT Blackjack Team to earn the money in Las Vegas casinos. Soon, he transforms into a completely different man, while his values are replaced by greed and various vices. The movie shows the skill of card counting and the games of blackjack up close, making the viewer think that deceiving the casino is not that hard. Of course, things get complicated quickly and the ending will surprise you.
Starring Clive Owen as an aspiring writer with a day job as a croupier, the British film Croupier received critical acclaim in Europe and North America when it was released in 1998. The neo-noir production shows the casino life from the other side of the table, exploring human motivations and life as a game of chance. Dealing the cards every night, Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) looks for inspiration for his book, but gradually becomes obsessed with his new job and gets involved in a planned robbery of the casino where he works. The film features a lot of interior monologs and examination of the influence gambling has not only on punters but on dealers, as well. It is a story about gambling, crime, and deceit, but it is portrayed in such a realistic way, including the casino atmosphere, that it is a must-see for every casino enthusiast.