Gambling At The Movies

Movie buffs come in several varieties. There are those who love to trade opinions over those recognizable titles with widespread acclaim that allow film fans to argue their merits or debate and gush online. You’re probably familiar with those kinds of movies and those kind of fans.

But there’s another breed of film nerd who largely allots their interest and expertise to one niche topic or theme within the larger body of films.

Period piece lovers, for instance, will collect and analyze anything with corsets, carriages, or Jane Austen in the credits. Some of these are famous titles — others you’ve never heard of in your life.

Environmentalists tend to love those movies that were featured in the Washington DC Environmental Film Festival. These are documentary or cinematic pieces that explore the many ways we can celebrate or protect the planet.

Once in a while you’ll find casino films in an environmental film festival. For people who love the lore surrounding gambling and casinos, there happens to be a wide range of movies that center around both of these subjects. Sometimes they are casino films in DC environmental film festival,other times casino films from Sundance, Cannes, or a mainstream release.

While these are often Las Vegas environmental films, the genres of the individual movies run the gamut. Sure you’ve got your typical heist flicks and crime genres about greed, scandal and mob antics in the gambling world. But you’ve also got a number of quirky comedies, and intimate character stories from independent filmmakers exploring the phenomenon of gambling from their own unique angle.

Bottomline: whatever your favorite type of movie, you’ll find one that’s about gambling. We’re counting down some of our favorite in no particular order.

25. The Good Thief (2002)

Nick Nolte stars in this crime thriller, a remake of Bob le falmbeur, shot in Monaco and Nice. It follows a thief and heroin addict who comes out of retirement to take on one final job. The film is notable for its remarkable score by composer Elliot Goldenthal.

24. Owning Mahowny (2003)

The Canadian film examines the psychology and compulsions behind an outsized gambling addiction as we watch Philip Seymour Hoffman play bank worker Dan Mohowny who uses a series of work promotions to skim increasing amounts of money for his escapades in Atlantic City. One of the great casino films.

23. The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

A look at the intense dynamics between rival poker players during the depression: one an experienced legend, the other a wily upstart determined to unseat him. Their culminating final hand of poker is a climactic scene for the ages.

22. 21 (2008)

Jim Sturgess stars as the MIT math major with a mind set on medical school who winds up inthralled by the cunning and probability of Vegas blackjack — and its attendant crime world. His exploits make for a rousing admissions tale when he’s at last seated before a Harvard scholarship director.

21. Casino Royale (2006)

The famed Le Casino Royale in Montenegro is the pivotal setting in this, the first of Daniel Craig’s installments in the Bond franchise. The Secret Service, terrorist organizations, extravagant shoot outs, palpitating chases — the movie contains all the elements and set pieces of classic Bond, but the crux of the film is the high-stakes poker game that seals the characters’ fates.

20. Honeymoon in Vegas (1992)

A rigged poker game serves as the catalyst for a test of relationship fidelity in this Nicholas Cage comedy about manipulation, jealousy, and the strains of the psyche. James Caan and Sarah Jessica Parker costar.

19. Very Bad Things (1998)

A late 90s rated-R comedy and casino film that’s a precursor to the hangover movies. John Favreau and Cameron Diaz star in a movie about bachelor party antics with Vegas as a backdrop in one of the earliest movies to cement the notion that “what happens in Vegas stay in Vegas.”

18. Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

Danny Ocean and team work to take down a terse Vegas casino owner played by none other than Al Pacino, who joins the usual all-star lineup in the third installment of the Oceans franchise, which is deeply entrenched in the world of rivalries and intense Vegas intrigue.

17. Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

The sequel to Ocean’s Eleven once again reunites George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon, this time attempting to steal a rare Fabergé egg to replace the mismanaged $160 million stolen in the previous movie. Their second adventure takes them to Rome with the same stylish Steven Soderbergh direction that was a highlight of the first film.

16. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

A remake of the 1960 Rat Pack classic, this action-heist-thriller that spawned one of the aughts’ most popular franchise takes inspiration from the original film and turns it on its head as we follow a group of charismatic conmen in their efforts to rob the money vaults that supply the cash to the world’s largest casinos. One of the top casino environmental films.

15. California Split (1974)

With a nontraditional storyline, largely improvised, and set to an eclectic soundtrack of juxtaposed songs, this is a look at two idiosyncratic characters who unite over gambling. Director Robert Altman allows the narrative to take on a vignette-like feel that creates a mosaic portrait of two distinct lives intersecting.

14. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Terry Gilliam’s alternative beatnik epic about journalist Raoul Duke and his lawyer Dr Gonzo as they take a propulsive excursion from LA to Las Vegas. Real world events through the lens of a psychedelic drug binge and two indelible characters make this a classic road trip and classic casino flick.

13. The Gambler (1974)

Starring James Caan as a deeply in debt college professor needing friends and associates to come to his aid as he sinks deeper into a gambling habit that transforms into an incurable disease. Burt Young plays the loan shark gradually closing in.

12. The Sting (1973)

A oft forgotten follow-up to the legendary Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Robert Redford, Paul Newman and director George Roy Hill re-team for the story of a Depression-era trickster who enlists the help of an infamous conman to help him avenge the murder of his friend and mentor Luther Coleman.

11. The Hangover (2009)

In the inaugural film of the hilarious hangover trilogy, we first meet the characters who wake up after a night of Vegas debauchery and scramble to find their friend Doug who’s gone missing 48 hours before his wedding. A new classic comedy bromance.        

10. Bugsy (1991)

A highly praised character study with Warren Beatty and Annette Benning about a 1940s romance seething in mob drama and set against a speculative backstory of the would-be founding of Las Vegas.

9. Casino Jack (2010)

A riveting Kevin Spacey film inspired by the real-life crime antics of the wildly influential Jack Abramoff, who enlisted crime lords and mafia assassins to help him build his personal empire within a world of scandal, intrigue, murder, and sleaze.

8. Hard Eight (1996)

John, a depleted gambler meets the smooth and ostensibly good-natured Sydney, a successful professional gambler. Sydney offers to convey all of his gaming secrets, but while Sydney is a paragon of balance and restraint, John is all over the map.

7. Swingers (1996)

The movie functions as a coming-of-age comedy using the motif of a retro swing dance movement that has suddenly resurged among a cluster of Hollywood twenty-somethings striving to figure out their lives, their relationships, and themselves.

6. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Another Nicolas Cage Vegas movie, this one a dark comedy dealing with alcoholism and the “brief encounter”-like happenstance of two people converging for a short-lived romance.

5. Croupier (1998)

A gambling thriller set London with a Clive Owen as the protagonist Jack Manfred, a blocked writer who begins a survival job as a croupier and is rapidly absorbed into the world of gaming and its many temptations. Also starring Alex Kingston and Kate Hardie.

4. Revolver (2005)

Jason Statham plays a newly released prisoner who takes the gaming secrets he learned behind bars and brings them to the the real world gaming tables where he’s now undefeated and at last able to plot his revenge against the figure responsible for his jail time.

3. Casino (1995)

Aptly title Scorsese mob movie with the likes of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Sharon Stone. Masterfully peels back the curtains of the Vegas casino world to expose its inner-workings and entire corrupt underbelly.

2. Rounders (1998)

Mike McDermott plays high stake’s underground poker player in New York — which soon becomes a metaphor for the high stakes decisions that he’s confronted with in life. Phenomenal performances from Edward Norton, Matt Damon, and Gretchen Mol.

1. The Cooler (2003)

Romantic drama and one of our top picks among casino movies, this obscure gem starring Alec Baldwin debuted at Sundance as a little indie favorite and has gone on to wider appreciation among film buffs and fans of drama, romance, and gambling.

Well there you have it. Any glaring omissions? We think we’ve covered the bulk of the major players in this fairly niche but still ubiquitous category.

Keep this list handy the next time you’re perusing Netflix or looking for a recommendation. These are well-crafted films worth discovering or revisiting for your personal casino movie fix — or simply as incredible film making.

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