Ranging from Casino to Rounders and from the story of Stu Ungar to 21, these are the seven movies with a casino theme that have made history over the years and should be on every player’s watchlist.
Getting nice and cozy in front of the TV and putting a good movie is a great way to spend some free time and for those with a soft spot for casino games, there are some titles which fit in just perfectly. Films with a gambling theme have seen their fair share of success over the years and they aren’t just appealing to those that actually spend time on the games but also to a general audience of moviegoers.
It can be a bit difficult to pick the best out of the great pool of options available but one of the things they have in common is that they are must-see films for casino players. As an additional note, all of the entries are available on DVD and can be obtained with ease.
There shouldn’t be a list of gambling related movies that doesn’t include Casino. Having launched in 1995, it became a classic movie and one of the major blockbusters of its time. The cast of actors alone should be enough to get viewers interesting in seeing the movie as Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci do an incredible job in playing their respective characters.
The movie presents the casino industry from the perspective of a skilled mobster player turned casino manager in Las Vegas in the 90s. Needless to say that huge sums of money are involved in the plot and the lifestyle of the rich in the gambling capital of the world is portrayed just perfectly. Of course, it is not all rainbows and sunshine and trouble hits the successful mobster as the story unfolds. The result is a film filled with action scenes and lovable characters, especially to those watching it now and seeing the famous actors when they were 20 years younger.
Martin Scorsese is the director of Casino and this of course adds even more prestige to this classic based on the life behind the casino tables and behind the bags of money. The roles of mobsters for De Niro and Pesci certainly fit like a glove and Casino makes the most of its cast to show that the world of casinos wasn’t always very friendly as Las Vegas was renowned for its mob implications.
When it comes to poker, there is no better movie that presents the game in all its glory and with the element of risk so nicely represented than Rounders. It launched in 1998 and features the story of a poker player who gives up the game he loves for his family. However, he comes back as a way to make some money and help out a friend pay back a loan to some dangerous people.
The story keeps it interesting from the moment it starts and until the very end and while it becomes predictable in many spots, it remains one of the most entertainment movies out there. Poker players will likely appreciate the film even more and although only a few scenes actually take place in a casino, the suspense on the poker table is exciting. There are also representations of how professional poker players grind in order to make a living and how easily it can all go away with a few bad decisions. Despite being a bit old and with the changes that took place in the poker industry, most of the basics still play today and can be found in online poker as well.
One of the key aspects of Rounders is that it explains how Texas Hold’em poker is actually played and how it is a game of skill and not a game of chance like most other casino games. It does go a bit overboard with the emphasis on reading the players at the table and while this is a very important part of the game, there is certainly a lot more to this complex game that sees millions of dollars exchange hands every day on the internet and in casinos around the world. Rounders also benefited a lot from the poker boom but it is a must-see today as well.
3. Ocean’s Eleven
Ok, there are no actual casino games in the main plot but Ocean’s Eleven is certainly a top gambling related movie. The storyline is based on a group of skilled individuals that attempt to rob several major casinos in Las Vegas at the same time; something which has never been done before. This of course is no easy task and it requires detailed planning and flawless execution, something which doesn’t quite happen for Daniel Ocean and his crew of merry men.
The film was released in 2001 and the team of robbers presents different personalities with likeable features. The main roles are played by George Clooney and Brad Pitt but the cast of actors also includes Julia Robert and Matt Damon, thus making for a very impressive poster.
As the two masterminds put the team together and actually start the major heist, the movie has countless comedic moments although it is mostly a thriller. The extravagant casinos in Las Vegas are shown in all their glamour and if not anything else, this movie will certainly get casino players interested in making a visit to Sin City and checking out the tables.
While Ocean’s Eleven is the first of a series of three movies with similar plots, it is arguably the best of the bunch and should certainly not be skipped in a casino related movie marathon. Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen don’t quite live up the same standards but they are entertaining movies which come recommended for those who enjoyed the first one in the series.
4. The Sting
The oldest movie on the list and a true classic for gambling related films is The Sting. It premiered in 1973 and the plot follows a young conman in Chicago who wants to get revenge for his murdered partner. The gambling elements are represented mostly through card games but there are also several other casino games which take the spotlight throughout the movie.
Cheating at cards is the main way through which this conman manages to win and thus beat one of the best players and the most influential person in the city at its own game. The long con takes place in several stages and the story is one of the main reasons why The Sting won seven Academy Awards in the year it was launched. Paul Newman and Robert Redford play the two main roles and have incredible performances that went down in movie history.
For casino players who enjoy watching a classic, it doesn’t get any better than The Sting, although some may not enjoy the old-school quality of the audio and the video, or the differences in storytelling when compared to some of the more recent gambling related titles.
For a more modern approach to casino games, 21 is the movie to go for. This was released in 2008 and follows the story of an MIT student with a gift for mathematics who stumbles into the gambling world and ends up using his skills to make huge sums of money. As the name would suggest, 21 is based on the popular card game of blackjack and promotes the idea of card counting.
The concept is well known when it comes to blackjack and while it is not illegal in casinos, it is frowned upon and generally not allowed. Along with several other MIT students, the leading character learns how to play the game with a significant advantage against the casino by counting the cards which have been dealt and calculating the probability of getting the needed cards every hand from the remaining deck.
As the winnings add up, the life of a successful gambler in Las Vegas is shown through extravagant parties and luxurious hotel rooms but complications are not far away as the plot takes an abrupt turn. Blackjack players will likely appreciate the Hollywood take on card counting which is safe to say that it has been embellished more than a bit in order to make it more appealing as a movie idea. It is however based on actual events.
The cast includes Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth and Aaron Yoo.
6. High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story
There are several poker legends that made their mark on the game but none are quite as famous as Stuart Errol “Stu” Ungar. Many said that he had a gift as he was able at a very young age to hang with the best of the best in the game of Texas Hold’em and take their money, not through luck, but through skill. Stu Ungar is widely regarded as the best poker player that ever lived so a movie based on his life should also be very interesting.
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story presents The Comeback Kid as he struggled to get started and face difficulties in life despite winning a lot of money at the game. The film premiered in 2003 to an eager crowd of poker players who wanted to see how the life of Stu Ungar would translate on the big screen. Al Bernstein does a great job at bringing the main character to life and portraying the gift that Stu Ungar had at the poker table.
Stu was one of the few players to win the World Series of Poker Main Event three times and despite winning an estimated $30 million in his poker career, he had no money to his name when he died as a result of drug abuse. His uncanny talent to know what his opponents were holding made him a legend and there are several examples in which he called a bluff with nothing or pushed in the right spots to win the hand.
7. Owning Mahowny
Most people see casino games as a way to have some fun and not many actually make a living out of it. Owning Mahowny presents the life of a bank manager with two very different lives. Sometimes he does his job and is a reliable person for the clients and other times he takes money from high valued accounts in order to fuel his gaming trips to Las Vegas.
Mahowny starts off small and only bets small amounts but then slowly increase his betting range as the winnings keep coming in. The risk also increases and before long, he has developed somewhat of a gambling problem and is playing for 7-figure amounts. As the bets increase, so do the problems and he is carefully watched from the shadows by detectives and casino managers who want to know his secret for having so much to play casino games with. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Maury Chaykin and John Hurt play the four main roles and the movie is actually based on true events.
It premiered in 2003 and it was directed by Richard Kwietniowski.
There are plenty of other movies which could have made it on the list but the safe bet would be to start with these titles and then move on to more. Casino and gambling related movies often times add a different perspective and while not everything is as it is in the real world, players can use some of the ideas and apply them to their actual lives when they enjoy different casino games, be it in land-based establishments or on the internet.