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Filmmakers use appealing subject matter, take advantage of the inherent intrigue of gambling, take place in bright and vibrant settings, and have often attracted the biggest stars in the business. These are the best casino movies that Hollywood has ever produced and here’s my countdown of the top-10…
Don’t be fooled by the negative reaction received by 2014’s remake (also titled The Gambler). The original, starring James Caan, was a pretty great film about gambling addiction, taking viewers through the highs and lows of casino life in the ’70s.
Some may not consider The Hangover a true casino movie because it really doesn’t involve much in the way of gambling. But in a strange way, it’s also become the quintessential Vegas movie for millennials who know Sin City more for, well, sin, than for the actual casino games. A review by East Bay Express probably put it best when it stated, “a younger generation is finding new stupid things to do underneath the desert sun.” Plus, you know, it’s hilarious.
Naturally, Casino has to make the list because of its name, if nothing else. Beyond that, it’s a wonderfully enjoyable, classic mob movie starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, directed by Martin Scorsese. Vegas casinos more or less serve as a backdrop to mob activity, so it’s not as much of a “gambling film” as it may appear to be even while you’re watching it. However, it is one of the only high-profile movies to address the mob connection to casinos just a few decades ago.
I love this film among casino movies because it’s different in everything from its plot, to its central character, and even it’s setting. The movie is set in London, which always seems to be forgotten as a casino destination, despite being ranked as the fifth-best gambling town in the world by The Richest. The protagonist (played by Clive Owen) is a struggling writer-turned-croupier and the idea is basically that his casino experience, while getting him into trouble, also provides material for the perfect book. It’s more creative than most casino film plots and goes beyond being just another depiction of gambling addiction or high stakes crime.
I hesitate to call Rounders a casino movie because really it’s a poker movie in which the games primarily take place in back rooms and basements. But given that it’s pretty much the poker movie, it belongs. Also, there are several scenes that take place in Atlantic City, so there’s that.
The Cooler is one of the complete casino movies I can think of in that it touches on just about every aspect of casino culture: good and bad luck, debt and victory, mob influence, romance. It’s also a fascinating peek at casino history, given that one of the sub-plots is basically the idea of a casino transitioning from an era of mafia control into a more regulated time.
Strangely enough, 21 is the only major casino movie to prominently feature blackjack, and it does so in about as thrilling away as possible. For those unfamiliar with the game, online platform InterCasino explains that you can win by “making a hand with a higher point score than the dealer, getting 21 on the first two cards, or by allowing the dealer to draw cards which produce a hand exceeding 21.” Well, the characters of 21 would likely add, “or by building a team of mathematical savants to count cards all over Vegas.” That’s how it goes in this thrilling, if the slightly cheesy movie, which actually tells a version of a true story of M.I.T. students led by a math professor to take Vegas blackjack tables for all they’re worth.
No. 3 seems a little high, I’ll admit, for a movie that’s primarily a James Bond action film. However, in addition to a fun early scene in a hotel-casino in the Bahamas, the movie has a very long segment in Montenegro, an iconic high-roller destination. During that segment, Bond (Daniel Craig) engages in some of the most thrilling Texas Hold’em action ever put on screen—with the mission and his life on the line, of course. For better winning chances than the movie you can visit here.
For whatever reason, Owning Mahowny never seems to get its due in this category. Roger Ebert loved it, which definitely counts for something. And even though at its heart it’s another movie about gambling addiction, it addresses that theme in a more thorough and devastating manner than any other film. Plus, it touches on both Atlantic City and Las Vegas, which is an achievement in and of itself.
It may have little to do with gambling in the traditional sense, but has any other movie had more fun with a casino setting than 2001’s Ocean’s 11? Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, and Co. comprise one of the best ensemble casts in history, and the Vegas atmosphere unfurls in all its delightful glory. This one is tough to top.