Casinos have always provided exciting backdrops for films, mostly because the audience already has preconceived notions as they associate casinos with excitement and opulence. And out of all of the casino’s games depicted in films, few are quite exciting as the game of poker.
Films sometimes utilize the game to show off a character’s superiority, a subtle way of saying that they can read and manipulate people. Poker is also used as a means to incite tension, forcing the audience to be on the edge of their seats. Because of these scenes, there have many iconic poker scenes in the history of cinema. Not convinced? Well, here’s a list of the ones we think deserve a spot at the top.
Who doesn’t remember Danny Ocean and his band of misfits? 2001 saw the beloved remake of the 1960s flick Ocean’s 11. The remake starring Brad Pitt and George Clooney gathers up 11 of the best con artists and specialists in the field of thievery to pull off a grand Las Vegas heist. And while the film is full of iconic and action-packed scenes it also includes a ton of subtle but memorable sequences. One of which is the scene where Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) is teaching a room of actors how to play poker. Now, we know what you’re thinking: Why would anyone need a poker tutor? Well, PPPoker’s LinkedIn profile notes how games can sometimes feel like a mini-Olympics, especially when the stakes are so high. So it’s not surprising that some people feel the need to enlist a little guidance from seasoned poker pros. What makes this scene iconic is the fact that despite Rusty Ryan’s expert advice, the actors seem laughably hopeless as they seem to lack even a basic understanding of the poker rules. The scene was a great way to establish Rusty Ryan’s character as it was a subtle indication to show how low his life has gotten — justifying why he would be on board with Danny Ocean’s grand heist plans.
House of Games
David Mamet is one of the greatest minds to have ever worked in the field of American theater and film, a fact only strengthened by his directorial debut House of Games in 1987. The film revolves around a psychologist who finds herself wrapped up in a con man’s ploy. The poker scene in question involves the psychologist, the con man, and a game of poker. The con man gets the psychologist to help him out in a game of poker by analyzing the body language and expressions of the other players at the table. This scene is iconic because of the outcome when it’s revealed that the con man had been conning the psychologist the whole time. It says a lot about how playing things by the book may not always be the best course of action when dealing with other people as people, the film reveals, are creatures driven by desire and are not always governed by the same rules.
Remember when we mentioned tension? Keep that in mind for this next film. While some people see In Time as 2011’s not-bad but not-great high concept sci-fi film, it did come with some great moments. But before that, we’ve got to talk about the premise. In the world of In Time, time is money — literally. Everyone in the film stops aging at 25 but dies at 26 as once someone turns 25 their clock starts ticking. One gains more time either by working or by inheritance. People use the time to buy things they need such as food and lodgings. Although, they have found other uses for the time as they also use it to gamble. And that is where this iconic scene comes in. Will Salas, played by Justin Timberlake, enters a haughty casino and heads towards the high rollers’ poker table. He comes in with around 250 years left on his clock but circumstances lead to him betting it all on a single hand of poker. The audience watches as Salas’ clock dwindles to mere seconds as the turn is revealed. Now, things would be pretty tense even if this were just a normal poker match but remember if Salas loses — he loses his life. The audience gets to breathe a sigh of relief once it’s revealed that Salas has won with trip Queens. See, tension.
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