Some gambling movies are really about gambling; others are simply set against the exciting backdrop of a casino or a casino town (think Chevy Chase in Las Vegas!) Regardless, there are some excellent gambling flicks out there. These are a few of my personal favorites, presented in no particular order. Most are available on video:
The Good Thief (2002) Brand new release about an American gambler and thief played by Nick Nolte who plans to rob a casino in France in one final heist of his career. He runs out of luck, the robbery is botched but he begins to win at cards. Starring Nolte and Ralph Fiennes.
Casino (1995) A classic with Robert De Niro is at his best. Casino is the story of a casino proprietor and offers a great insight into the characters of the real Las Vegas. The first half of this movie is sensational, as it looks at the mob and gambling. The second half bogs down badly, but it is still a favorite of mine, despite Sharon Stone's over-acting in every scene. Starring Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Don Rickles, James Woods.
Ocean's Eleven (2001 and 1960) In the new version, Danny Ocean and his hand-picked crew of specialists gather in Las Vegas to attempt the biggest casino heist ever: they plan to rob the Bellagio, The Mirage, and Treasure Island at the same time. 2001 version stars Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia. 1960 version stars Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson.
The Sting (1973) Two clever con artists arrange an elaborate sting against a powerful crime lord who murdered their friend. Plot twists galore! Brilliant script, excellent story development, captivating performances by the leads and Scott Joplin's music score is legendary. If you haven't seen this, regardless of your age, this will become one of your favorite movies (pick up Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at the same time and make it a Newman/Redford doubleheader). Robert Redford, Paul Newman.
Bugsy (1991) Story about former mob boss Bugsy Siegel, whose love for Virginia Hill motivated him to create the Flamingo Hotel and later, the gambling mecca of Las Vegas. Warren Beatty, Annette Bening.
Croupier (1998) In this British film, Owen leads a double life, working in a casino and writing a book about the lifestyle and gets tangled up with three women. A stylish, riveting crime story, loaded with characters and plot twists to scramble your brain. Stars Clive Owen.
The Sting (1973) Despite note quite deserving its accolades (it won '7 Oscars including Best Picture) 'The Sting' is still a cracking piece of entertainment. Featuring a great poker scene (obeying the cardinal rule of the poker film: always cheat better than the cheater you're playing!), a legendary score and more twists and turns than a twisty turny thing. The final 'betting shop' sting is a cinema classic.
Casino Royale (1967) In a campy spoof of the James Bond films, the now aging secret agent is called to save his agency from infiltration with the help of many new agents and the threat of a chorus of suspected villians. Peter Sellers, David Niven.
The Gambler (1974) About a college professor's compulsion to gamble. Starring: James Caan, Paul Sorvino, James Woods, M. Emmet Walsh, Lauren Hutton. Travelling similar spiral marked 'downward' to Harvey Keiel's lieutenant, Freed seems unflappable in the face of his mounting bookie debts, even after he accompanies a loan shark's thug on a violent collection mission, breaks the hearts of his wealthy mother and grandfather and gambles away the cash his mother lends him to pay off a$44,000 debt. Why? Because, as Axel explains in a class lecture on Dostoyevsky that parallels his own hunger for risky behaviour, he needs to be constantly on the verge of self-destruction to stay alive.
The Cincinnati Kid (1965) Treading similar ground to 'The Hustler', the story pits the over-eager young wannabe against the calm wizened old pro. You know it'll end in disaster. The climactic hand has been discussed for years. They guys have been playing for days. Everyone's exhausted. Even Ann-Margaret's looking a bit peaky. Just The Kid and the old man remain. Kid is dealt an Ace in the hole, showing 10-10-A-A- he's made his full house. The old man, showing 8-9-10-Q of diamonds raises. The Kid borrows $5000 and calls. The old man turns over a jack of diamonds, making his straight flush. Unbelievable bad luck, but players the supposed quality of these two would have folded long ago. A great film nonetheless, and one of the few to show the monotonous drudge of marathon poker games. But at least he doesn't lose the girl (are you watching Matt Damon?).
Viva Las Vegas (1964) Elvis plays a racecar driver named Lucky Jackson who arrives in Las Vegas for a Grand Prix race. He needs money to buy a new car engine, so he becomes a waiter at a casino. He starts a romance with Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret).
Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) Bridegroom (Nicolas Cage) agrees to marry Sarah Jessica Parker but he loses her in a crooked poker game to a professional gambler (James Caan). Set in Vegas.
A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966) Comedy about a poker game in the old West. Henry Fonda, the stranger in town, is tempted to a high stakes poker game with wealthy cattlemen, after promising his wife he would give up gambling. Starring: Henry Fonda, Joanne Woodward.
The Grifters (1990) A small-time con man tries to avoid getting involved in big-time crime. Starring Angelica Huston, John Cusack.
The Hustler/Color of Money (1986) I have to be honest. I have never seen the Color of Money, but it is the follow-up to The Hustler, which was a great flick that took us inside the world of pool hustling. Oscar performances abound in this picture (although none of the nominees actually won one). Fantastic supporting cast and brilliant character development. I hear the Color of Money is a quality sequel, even ranking amongst the best sequels of all-time (although we all know it couldn't touch Godfather II as numero uno).
Wall Street (1987) Is this a gambling movie in the purest sense of the word - I say yes, but I realize many wouldn't think of it that way. To me, the stock market is every bit as much gambling as taking your shots on an NFL Sunday. Don't think so? Drop-in to a Gambler's Anonymous meeting in New Jersey and you'll find a decent percentage of attendees are there due to playing the market, not sports or casino games. Physiologically it is the same, as is virtually every other component of the playing the markets vs. sports events. That's why this movie finds a comfortable spot on this list...that and it is one of my favorite movies of all time.
Eight Men Out (1988) This historically accurate (as far as I can tell from my readings) ensemble brings the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal to the screen. The Chicago White Sox throwing the World Series still ranks as the biggest sports betting scandal in history. This movie does a good job of re-creating the environment of gambling in the early 1900's...
Rounders (1998) I have my issues with this show, but despite its shortfalls, I believe this does deliver a reasonable representation of the underground poker world in the big city (although I really have no idea what that world inhabits, I'm guessing it's somewhat close). John Malkovich's portrayal of "KGB" alone makes this movie worth the commitment.
Let It Ride (1989) Truthfully, I'm not a huge fan of this movie, but enough of my friends seem to like it that I made a spot for it on the list. There are some humorous moments and if you've spent any amount of time at the track, no doubt you've bumped into these characters (hey, you might be one of these characters). I did like the line when Looney says, "maybe I'll put 50 bucks down on the Packers and hopefully not lose too bad." (or something close to that). If there's nothing else to grab, pick this up, you'll get a chuckle.
Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (1998) Guy Ritchie takes a lesson from Quentin Tarantino in this look at the underbelly of London's crime scene. While small in terms of screen time, the gambling angle pushes the plot forward, playing a significant role. Long before Ritchie was sexually contracting fame from a pop megastar wife, he was busy making this gem of a film debut. He may be a secret public school Mockney but he niftily evokes a seedy London underworld of spivs, conmen and thugs. Borrowing not a little heavily from Tarantino in style, the film remains English with some lovely photography courtesy of Tim Maurice-Jones and a top Britpop soundtrack. A very entertaining movie.
Bad Lieutenant (1992) The complete meltdown of a NY City cop, portrayed beautifully by Harvey Kietel. It was painful to watch him keep doubling up his baseball bets, chasing his losses (that was only one of the many painful, but riveting storylines in this raw movie).
California Split (1974)Though dated, this is one of the only movies to attempt to show the day-to-day life of card-playing, sport-betting, dusk-till-dawn gamblers. Marred only by a poor ending and muddled sound, the film was directed by Robert Altman (in between M*A*S*H and Nashville). The cast of multi-layered characters, a pre-cursor to Altman's 'Short Cuts' and 'The Player' includes an appearance by poker legend Amarillo Slim.
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