Movies have many different genres, storylines and themes. Not everybody gets their rocks off to a sinking ship, an exploding volcano, a hot and steamy romance, or a tissue-grabbing tear-jerker. Some movie fans want to see gambling and plenty of it. After all, gambling is just as good a theme as any. In fact, some of the best and most popular movies of all time have gambling running through their veins. On this page, we will take a quick look at some of the best (and the worst), in no particular order.
The All-Time Favourites
Where better to begin than with the all-time favourites. It is hard to think of a film which is related to gambling more than the simply-titled, Casino. The 1995 epic-crime film is one of Scorsese’s best, and good chunks of it take place at the Starburst Resort, which doubled as the fictional Tangiers Casino in the film. The movie was a box office hit, won Sharon Stone a Golden Globe for Best Actress and is well a watch.
Another movie you may wish to watch is the 1998-film Rounders. Starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton (as well as Bond’s Famke Janssen) the title of the movie refers to high-stakes players who travel from venue to venue. The story here follows two “rounders” desperately in need of money to pay off a sizable debut. It wasn’t a runaway success story, but any avid film fan with a nose for gambling will like what it has to offer.
If you prefer something rough around the edges, they don’t come much better than Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The film that launched the careers of Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham revolves around a group of four lads who desperately need to win cash to pay off a local gangster. Even Sting makes an appearance in this off-the-walls, but hilarious gang, drug and gambling-themed comedy.
Baccarat at its Best
It was James Bond that introduced baccarat to many Canadians. You don’t have to look far and wide to find a Bond movie which sees the suave, sexy MI6 agent frittering away bundles of cash on the baccarat tables while sipping Martinis. Shaken, but not stirred, remember? However, 2006 saw Bond try his hand at something entirely different – hold’em poker. Much of the mid-section of Casino Royale, we saw Daniel Craig’s Bond losing considerably to villain Le Chiffre, while Eva Green looked on worryingly in the background. We won’t spoil the outcome of the high-stakes poker game; you’ll have to watch it for yourself.
Other big blockbuster films worth of mention include Tom Cruise’s The Color of Money, and the epic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Is That Even About Gambling?
There are more than a few major Hollywood films which scarcely have anything to do with gambling. The Oceans series is a fine example. Yes, Brad Pitt and George Clooney dish out lessons in poker, but those films revolve more around heists than gambling. Of course, these films appeal in other ways. If you don’t want to get stuck watching a film which is solely about the turn of a card, then Ocean’s Eleven its subsequent sequels do offer something you might like.
Modern movies do not tend to go as in-depth into gambling as they used to. You can’t smoke at the tables, and loud-mouthed show-offs, gorgeous girls in revealing dresses and the like just aren’t as appreciated by the modern cinema-going audience as they used to be. However, that doesn’t mean to say that you can’t work gambling into a film somewhere. Both The Hangover and The Grand managed to do just that.
The Hangover is one big, fun and often side-splittingly funny ride. Like Ocean’s Eleven, it centres more on other topics (in this case, Las Vegas) than gambling, but Vegas is unquestionably well-represented in the film.
By contrast, The Grand regularly covers a poker tournament taking place in the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas. Perhaps oddly, near enough the entire movie focuses on this single tournament. Entertainingly, the winner of the game wasn’t written into the script. Instead, the game was played by the cast, and the actual winner was determined in reality – bizarre.
True Gambling Movies
Some Hollywood films are based on reality. High-Roller: The Stu Ungar Story is a biopic released in 2003, and follows the life and times of Stu Ungar, a renowned poker and gin player. The movie is told through a flashback. Don’t expect to watch this one comfortably, though. The film follows cocaine abuse, the breakdown of Ungar’s marriage, the birth of his daughter, and his third WSOP victory in 1997. If there were ever a movie which highlighted how much trouble excessive gambling could cause, this would be it.
The Golden Oldies
Sometimes, the older movies are the best. In 1974, we were treated to The Gambler. The film was remade in 2014, starring Mark Wahlberg, but many believe the original to be better. It tells the tale of Alex Freed, a Harvard tutor with a gambling problem. Dark, gritty and full of controversial moments, it is another film which shows the darker side of gambling, as the main character’s life spirals out of control.
Not all the classics are as downbeat, though. 1968’s 5 Card Stud takes you on a tale of gambling in the Wild West. Dean Martin’s epic film tells the story of several people caught cheating being murdered by a mob, and subsequent vengeance enacted by Reverend Rudd.
If you want to go further back, you can step into the 1931 film, Smart Money. Yes, there are plenty of gangster-elements to this film, too, but the sheer age of this film (and its card-betting storyline) provides an exciting look at gambling before the rise of Las Vegas.