There’s just something about a great gambling film that gets our attention. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, but there’s a natural sense of drama and suspense surrounding any gambling activity, and it lends itself well to a script. Throw in the chance for film stars to dominate scenes (as opposed to varied scenery, action sequences, etc.) and the general coolness that pervades back rooms and casino floors alike, and the stage is always set for a good drama.
That doesn’t mean all gambling films are masterpieces. There have actually been quite a few misfires over the years, and to some extent the genre can be repetitive. But there are still enough gems to make a pretty satisfying list of 10 must-sees.
Owning Mahowny (2003)
The Cooler (2003)
The Gambler (1974)
The Hustler (1961)
#10: Mississippi Grind (2015)
The second-newest film on this list, Mississippi Grind actually received very little attention on and after its release, though it was called “compulsively watchable” by one review. The movie has a lot of charm to it however, with co-stars Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn comprising a surprisingly compelling duo in what’s effectively a buddy road trip/casino flick. Yes, it has its dry spells and some of the gambling-related tropes are all too familiar, but it’s a well done version of a film type we all enjoy at least a little bit.
#9: The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
This film, more than 50 years old now, still has one of the great taglines of all time: “He’d take on anyone, at anything, anytime.” It wasn’t a bad way to introduce Steve McQueen’s “Cincinnati Kid,” who was an up-and-coming poker player who rose through the world of gaming to take on one of the best players around. It’s a fairly simple story, but a great one for its time.
#8: The Sting (1973)
The Sting is one of a couple of films on this list that starred Paul Newman, this time alongside his Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid co-star Robert Redford. The two of them really were the Clooney and Pitt of a different time (more on that duo later as well), and did excellent work in this film, which was effectively a con story revolving around casino play.
#7: Croupier (1998)
Croupier is the forgotten classic in this genre — a clever and even educational drama that for whatever reason doesn’t often get mentioned. It’s also one of the few (and the only one on this list) that takes the dealer’s point of view, even if not for the whole film. If that doesn’t sell you, know that it’s said to have helped launch Clive Owen’s career in Hollywood — and who doesn’t love Clive Owen?
#6: Molly’s Game (2017)
The most recently released film on this list is one that may well start to get more attention as one of the all-time great gambling films in the years to come. Granted, it’s sort of a hybrid — part biopic, part law drama, and part gambling movie — which is what keeps it from being higher on this list. Nonetheless, the incredible work of screenwriter (and, this time, director) Aaron Sorkin in adapting the story of Molly Bloom, who ran a high stakes underground poker ring packed with celebrities, is admirable. This was one of the most fun movies of 2017.
#5: Casino Royale (2006)
Casino Royale was at once a new kind of James Bond film and a perfect homage to some of the older titles. More importantly for this list, it took Bond (played by Daniel Craig for the first time) to a few different casinos around the world, and ultimately made a very, very high stakes poker game a core part of the plot. We’re used to the combination of crime and casinos in plenty of films, but international espionage played out over a poker table was fresh, and wonderful.
#4: Rounders (1998)
Rounders stars Matt Damon, Edward Norton, and John Malkovich, and concerns the world of back room Texas Hold’Em. It’s an extremely enjoyable drama that’s basically a rich version of a film that would have been forgettable in lesser hands. It also gets a ton of credit for starting the ‘poker boom’ of the turn of the century, with one-time amateur World Series of Poker champion Chris Moneymaker having said the film helped get him into poker. Given that PokerStars is now launching an anniversary tour to commemorate Moneymaker’s win, we’d say that means Rounders had a profound impact on the real world of gambling.
#3: The Color Of Money (1986)
You might have noticed The Hustler up above in the honorable mentions. It’s a fun film starring Paul Newman as a sort of up-and-coming pool shark who takes on the more established Jackie Gleeson. It’s just a little dated. The Color Of Money picks up with the same character 25 years later however, this time with Tom Cruise on board as the up and comer, and Martin Scorsese in the director’s chair. It’s a better film, and ultimately an awesome example of how a great gambling movie doesn’t have to take place at a poker table.
#2: Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
The only objection anyone could have to this film placing this high on the list is that it’s not so much about gambling. That’s fair. There are actually only a few legitimate gambling scenes in the movie. But those scenes (such as when Brad Pitt’s character is teaching celebrities how to play poker) do the trick, and beyond them this film does as much to promote a sort of ideal vision of Las Vegas as any. It’s a wonderfully suave heist flick, and probably the most enjoyable film on this list to rewatch over and over again — thanks mostly to a stellar cast and Steven Soderbergh’s direction.
#1: Casino (1995)
If you look around for similar lists or arguments about cinema’s best gambling movies, you won’t find much debate. Casino tends to occupy the top spot, despite the fact that it’s a mob movie first and a casino drama second. The power of Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci working on Martin Scorsese’s behalf is just too much to deny, and the film produces some of the most memorable scenes and shots inside casino venues we’ve ever seen.
Thank you for reading! What are you thoughts on the top 10 best gambling movies? Comment down below!
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