Best Gambling Movies Of All Time

Casinos are one of those staples used in films to create a sense of glamour and, on occasion, to hint at the lure of the forbidden. They can be a playground for the mega-rich, a source of information for secret agents or simply a place to have fun on a wild weekend. But which films capture them best?

Helmed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci as friends on opposite sides of the tracks, with Sharon Stone in a career-changing supporting role, this is regarded by many as the finest gambling movie of all time. Based on the real life Frank Rosenthal, De Niro’s character is an overseer trying to protect his business in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s a hymn to old-style Vegas where services were based around catering to regulars, and it features a variety of games in a way that shows us what they mean to those involved.

The Hustler
Paul Newman stars in one of his coolest roles as Fast Eddie Felson, a pool shark whose moneymaking smarts are compromised by his desire to be the best. George C Scott is the manager keen to keep the money coming in and Piper Laurie is the woman who gets on the wrong side of his ambition. At the time the role was a bold departure for Newman, though he would go on to reprise it 25 years later in The Color Of Money, training Tom Cruise’s young wannabe to follow in his footsteps. Though the focus is on the acting, the games are well worth watching.

Casino Royale
The other James Bond movie, often forgotten because its humor doesn’t fit with the established canon, sees cinema’s favorite secret agent as an older man (played by David Niven) coming out of retirement, with Ursula Andress – the only actress to play two different Bond girls – as duplicitous love interest Vesper Lynd (the role later played by Eva Green in the more straight-faced adaptation), and a stellar supporting cast including Peter Sellers, Orson Welles and Woody Allen. Baccarat is the game everything ends up riding on.

Hard Eight
The first film from director Paul Thomas Anderson and featuring a memorable cameo from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (whom he went on to work with on The Master), this stars the redoubtable John C Reilly as a young man in desperate straits persuaded to try his hand at craps by Philip Baker Hall’s aging pro. With Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L Jackson in support, it was always going to be good stuff, and though in places it’s very dark it remains a grizzly gambling favorite.

The Cincinnati Kid
With Steve McQueen in the title role up against Edward G Robinson as The Man who seems to hold all the cards, this is a film in which the tension escalates throughout, taking it from slow beginnings to a nail-biting conclusion. Despite occasional lapses into fantasy (you’ll know them when you see them) it scores well due to fine acting (with able support from Ann Margret and Rip Torn) and a portrait of the game that mixes nostalgia with sharp moves.

One of the most realistic gambling movies out there, both in its depictions of poker games and its take on the underground card club scene that flourished in New York in the ‘90s, this is a favorite with many grizzly gambling fans. It stars Matt Damon as the hot young talent drawn deeper and deeper into high stakes games as he tries to help a friend (Edward Norton) pay off debts, and changing his attitude to life as a result. It’s recommended for the way it catches the tension in the game.

A look at the gambling industry from the perspective of those who run it, this critically-acclaimed film follows a croupier whose personal life is gradually consumed by his job, to the point where he can’t imagine living differently. It’s downbeat but thoroughly absorbing and it provides real insight into the way casinos work behind the scenes.

These are just a handful of the many gambling movies out there that are worth looking into if they suit your particular interests. 21, for instance, adapts the story of a real life card counting scam, while The Sting focuses parts of its plot around horse racing. Not all are of the same quality, but the selection above will really get you in the mood for your favorite games and help you recapture the thrill of the big wins.

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