If you like gambling in casinos, then in your down time, one of the many things you’ll likely be doing is watching casino and gambling movies. But over the past few decades what are some of the very best casino movies that are a must-see. It is a lot of fun to go back and look at the movies that have stood the test of time even to this day. Some of the casino movies in this list are based on true-life events and real people for even more captivating viewing.
Casino isn’t your typical gambling movie. Casino, which is directed by Martin Scorsese, doesn’t show the typical high-stakes gambling action you’d expect to see when watching a good gambling movie, but rather depicts what goes on behind the scenes of a mob-controlled casino gaming establishment. Like Scorsese’s mob film The Godfather, it feels like you’re eavesdropping on a secret place, and it makes for a great film.
It depicts part of the story of the mob’s activities in Las Vegas before the casinos were purchased by big corporations. It’s based on a book by the same name penned by Nicholas Pileggi, who tells the true story of a man who had run four Mafia controlled casinos in Las Vegas back before the big corps got involved.
Rounders is the poker movie. Within poker circles, no other movie comes close to depicting the game. Starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton, like other movies in the genre, it revolves around the story of a gambler who falls into debt and needs one big score to get out of the hole. The unpredictably of a gambling movie’s plot is usually the ending; the gambler either overcomes all the odds getting even on his debts, or they don’t.
In Rounders, Matt Damon’s character tries to get his friend Worm (Edward Norton) out of debt after getting released from prison, and build his own bankroll to make a run at the WSOP Main Event. The two play a lot of poker in underground poker clubs in New York City. Some of Damon’s best scenes are when he plays heads-up against Teddy KGB. The movie ends with an upbeat statement with Damon’s character saying: “First prize at the World Series of Poker is a million bucks. Does it have my name on it? I don’t know. … But I’m gonna find out.”
California Split is an old 1974 flick. Directed by Robert Altman, the movie revolves around a pair of gamblers, Elliott Gould (Charlie Waters) and George Segal (Bill Denny). Elliott Gould rooms with two prostitutes. Both of them try to raise enough cash which they can pool together in order to take a trip to Reno so that Bill can win money in a high stakes poker game, and to satisfy his gambler’s fix. One of the players in the high stakes game was Amarillo Slim, who was portraying himself.
Bill books a $18,000 win in Reno and convinces himself that he is running well. He decides to also play blackjack and roulette and wins even more money, finally ending up at the craps table to build up a $82,000 stack. However, something happens at the craps table, Bill becomes drained and is almost feeling apathetic. They split their winnings and he tells Charlie he is going home and they separate ways.
The unluckiest man in Las Vegas, Bernie Lootz played by William H. Macy, is used by a mob run casino to kill high stakes action at the tables. Everything was going well, until Bernie, a washed up gambling addict, falls in love with a cocktail waitress working at the casino, and everything gets reserved. Things become more complicated due to the reappearance of his no-good son who comes looking for a handout.
It is a story about love, luck, gambling, ego and redemption. Bernie’s struggles are played out against the casino’s cultural battles between the Vegas of old, which is represented by Alec Baldwin’s character, Shelly Kaplow, and the new owners who are wanting to turn the casino into a family attraction that isn’t so reliant on gambling revenues.
The Gambler is a 2014 film which is based on the 1974 film The Gambler. The new film stars Mark Wahlberg (Jim Bennett) and John Goodman. Wahlberg plays a literature college professor and gambler who is down on his luck at the time.
The film tells the story of how Jim tries to get his life back in order. This was not a typical role for Wahlberg. Instead of playing a likeable character like you role you would expect him to sink his teeth into, in The Gambler he highlighted his flaws, playing a more imperfect character. During Jim’s lecture sessions, he discussed ideas such as desire and what it means to be happy, which really added to the film’s overall theme and character motives.
Mississippi Grind is a 2015 gambling movie featuring Ben Mendelsohn (Gerry) and Ryan Reynolds (Curtis) that revolves around poker, and even though it’s no Rounders, but it’s one of the best movies released in 2015 nonetheless.
The film is about a down on his luck gambler that is facing financial hardship. Convinced he was a good luck charm, Gerry teams up with a young and charismatic poker player he had met in a poker game. The two have visions of going on a road trip to Mississippi, New Orleans, to play in private games and hit casinos/racetracks at the same time, chasing a big payday. It is a film that depicts gambling debauchery that gamblers relate so well to. A must-watch of this Casino Movies list if you haven’t already. You’ll likely want to watch if a few times.
A remake of a 1960 Ocean’s Eleven movie that originally starred the Rat Pack (Sinatra, Martin and Davis, among others). The 2011 Ocean’s Eleven movie featured an all-star cast of actors, including the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia and Don Cheadle. It is an over-the-top heist film and it never really tries to take itself very seriously. Ocean’s Eleven tells the story of how eleven robbers plan and then execute three casino robberies at the same time in Las Vegas in this action-packed and suspenseful film that makes for great drama.
The Cincinnati Kid
The Cincinnati Kid is a 1965 film directed by Norman Jewison. It is about an up and coming stud poker player who tries to prove himself against The Man (Edward G. Robinson) in a private poker game, ‘The Man’ was the reigning poker champion and a master of the game. Tired of the chicken feed, Eric Stoner (Steve McQueen), who is known as the “Cincinnati Kid,” decides he wants to build up his reputation by playing against the best player that was known in poker circles. Upon its release, the movie was favourably reviewed by critics.
21 which is directed by Robert Luketic details the true story of six MIT students who were trained to count cards and their subsequent Las Vegas antics, taking Vegas casinos for millions of dollars. Then the secretive blackjack team got greedy and their situation takes an ugly turn.
In the movie, Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is the main character. He is a highly intelligent MIT student with a strong drive to succeed. After learning that he cannot front up the $300,000 to become a doctor, an opportunity presents itself when he was invited into the highly exclusive MIT Blackjack Team.
Other students, Jill, Choi, Kianna, and Fisher were already training in preparation for the Vegas card counting trips, and Ben who was intrigued by making money to pay for tuition, became the sixth member of the team. During blackjack training, the team members developed code talk and hand signals so they could know the count at all times and adjust their bets accordingly.
According to Kevin Spacey (Micky Rosa), the math professor and leader of the MIT blackjack team, as part of their research during filming of the movie, they took some real players from the original MIT Blackjack Team to Las Vegas.
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story is a documentary based on the rise and fall of Stu Ungar who died in 1998 as a result of heart complications due to drug abuse. Stu Ungar was a genius of a poker player, and the youngest player to win the World Series of Poker.
He is arguably the best poker player of all time, and well ahead of his time and a real game changer. Stu was one of the first poker players to know how to use aggression in No-Limit Texas Hold’em effectively, a style that has been copied by countless players since. Doyle Brunson shared Stu Ungar’s poker philosophy, endorsing an aggressive playing style which he talks about in his own books.