Gambling is a tale as old as time. Almost literally. There is evidence of gambling that dates back to the Paleolithic period. We are talking thousands of years Before Christ, dating back longer than the written word.
Gambling has always been a source of entertainment and leisure throughout all of society. Whether it’s the shining casino halls of Las Vegas or just a casual $10 wager with a friend, humans have always wagered money on games of chance.
The glitz and the glamour, the allure of hitting it big, the excitement just before the ball stops or your card is revealed; it’s easy to see the appeal of it. Add in the psychological factors of gambling, and you have a perfect recipe for human drama.
And Hollywood, clever as the industry is, knows this well. This is why gambling has been a central element in many blockbusters over the years. This article will look closer at 10 of our favourite movies about, or heavily influenced by, gambling.
In no particular order, we present our Top 10 Movies About Gambling:
This mob classic isn’t as much about the gambling itself as the surroundings where gambling takes place. That being said, no list about gambling-related movies is complete without Casino on the list.
Few directors do mob stories better than Martin Scorsese. In this 3-hour mob epic, Robert de Niro shines as the mobster running a casino in Sin City. Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone also put in memorable performances in this intriguing tale of greed, sin, betrayal, money and power. A classic!
The mob is involved in this Best Picture winner from 1973, but not as much as in Casino. Widely regarded as one of the best con movies of all time, The Sting racked up no less than 7 Oscar awards, with another 3 nominations.
Robert Redford and John Newman play two con-men who devise an elaborate con with a long time frame involving horse racing and card games. The brilliantly acted movie promises high-octane entertainment with loads of twists and turns.
It is seen by many as the ultimate gambling movie. For sure, the top poker movie. You could argue about how the movie fares on a “general” basis in the overall film canon. But no one can dispute Rounders’ status as a top-tier gambling movie.
Matt Damon plays the young man who needs to help his friend (Edward Norton) pay off loan sharks. How? By playing high-stakes underworld poker games. John Malkovich, brilliant as always, steals the show as Russian club-owner Teddy KGB (yes, you read that right).
James Caan plays Axel Freed, a literature professor with a bad gambling habit. He can’t stop gambling, even when his life is falling apart around him. Caan is a brilliant actor, and he shines in this well-paced movie that touches upon addiction.
Gambling addiction is a genuine disease with awful consequences. In The Gambler, we are shown the less glamorous side of the gambling vice.
Not to be confused with the inferior 2014 Mark Walhberg remake bearing the same name.
If slick and snazzy ensemble movies aren’t your thing, look away right now. Steven Soderbergh decided to remake the Rat Pack movie with half a dozen of the most prominent actors in the early 2000s.
The Ocean’s trilogy, and especially the first instalment, encapsulates what makes Vegas so popular in this ultra-cool tale of robbing one of the biggest casinos in town. We’re talking drinks, drama and doubling-down at the card tables. The story is told at a blistering pace, and many Hollywood stars are almost too cool for their own good here. But just almost. A highly entertaining movie, Ocean’s Eleven spurned two sequels and a more recent all-female remake.
The Cincinnati Kid
Often seen as a copy of The Hustler (further down on this list), The Cincinnati Kid focuses on the game of poker.
The legendary actor Steve McQueen plays the title character, an up-and-coming poker player with good abilities and even better belief in himself. Are they good enough to challenge a master of the game in a high-stakes match-up, though?
If Rounders has a challenger for best poker movie, this is it. If you’re not put off by it being more than 55 years old, The Cincinnati Kid should be on the list for all lovers of gambling movies.
Daniel Craig won’t go down in history as the most charismatic Bond actor. Still, he finds his way onto this list via Casino Royale. It’s arguably the best Bond movie of the Craig era.
In his first mission as a 00 agent, Bond is pitted against the do-no-good banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). The two men go head to head over a not-so-friendly game of poker in Montenegro, and as usual for 007, it’s not as straightforward as he’d have liked.
Casino Royale isn’t just about poker. As in any Bond movie, there’s tons of gadgets, pretty ladies and action sequences going on. Poker still plays a big enough part to justify a place on this list.
OK, this movie falls shorter than the others in a lot of ways. It’s just not as good, which we will happily admit. But the film is entertaining, it focuses heavily on gambling, and the story told is pretty extraordinary.
The movie tells the true story of six MIT students and their professor, who devise an intricate system to count cards in Blackjack. They then go on tour through Las Vegas taking the big casinos for considerable sums of cash. As one can imagine, such a bold plan is not without complications. Accept that it’s a simply told Hollywood movie taking some liberties, and you’ll enjoy an entertaining gambling movie.
It’s that man Paul Newman again. In The Hustler, he plays an up-and-coming pool player taking on the reigning champion in a high-stakes match. Sounds a lot like The Cincinnati Kid, doesn’t it?
If you were to compare, The Hustler is definitely the original. It’s a lovely tale about talent and character, and the movie is full of good acting performances (Jackie Gleason shines). It might not be as gambling-focused as the other titles on this list, but it’s a helluva good movie either way.
Paul Newman returns as the same character, Fast Eddie Nelson, 25 years later in the Tom Cruise movie The Color of Money. The Oscar-winning movie is a natural next choice after finishing The Hustler.
There were several good candidates for the last entry on this list. We choose to give it to Molly’s Game, the Aaron Sorkin movie telling the true story of Molly Bloom. Bloom was an Olympic skier who ran one of the world’s most exclusive poker games with ridiculously high stakes.
Jessica Chastain shines as the main character, and it’s always a joy to see Idris Elba on the big screen. Poker is at the heart of this story, but it offers so much more than that in this high-intensity movie Hollywood flick.
The slightly goofy Mel Gibson flick Maverick could’ve made this list. Bugsy, telling the story of Bugsy Siegel trying to reshape the future of the mob by creating a gambling mecca, as well.
Do we include Rain Man, a world-class movie with perhaps the most iconic gambling sequence in any film ever? We decided against it this time, but it was a tough call. Owning Mahowny, where Philip Seymour Hoffman showcases his incredible talent, is a harrowing depiction of gambling addiction. It didn’t make this list, but we recommend it to anyone with half an interest in the subject.