There is a good chance that you will have been introduced to the world of Blackjack through film or television. There are countless films that give you an insight into life around the Blackjack tables. Some of these films will show the player winning a fortune, and have you thinking, “Well why can’t I?” while other films give perhaps a more realistic overview of what the game is really like. Either way, for gambling fans they are often hugely exciting. Here we give a brief overview of some of the best films to feature Blackjack.
This is probably one of the most famous Blackjack films and one of the few that is actually based around a true story.
The MIT Blackjack Team, a group of students who became experts at counting cards and beating the casinos, inspired the film. Maths major Ben Campbell (played by Jim Sturgess) is accepted to Harvard Medical School but can’t afford the $300,000 fee. Back at MIT his professor, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), challenges him with the Monty Hall problem in a non-linear equation class, which he proceeds to solve. Rosa then notices Ben’s consistently high grades and he invites him to join his Blackjack team with fellow students Choi, Fisher, Jill and Kianna.
While initially reluctant, Ben is eventually persuaded to join the team by Rosa. The team is split into two groups, the Spotters and the Big Players. The Spotters job is to play the minimum bet and keep track of the count, the Big Players are then required to place large bets whenever the count is favourable.
Not only was the film a huge success, but it was also welcomed by casino as it encouraged people to try Blackjack for themselves. The fact that the film was based on a true story added some romance to the tale and certainly left viewers dreaming of possible riches.
Stacy’s Knights (1983)
Stacy’s Knights is probably one of the less well known films about Blackjack, but any enthusiast of the game is sure to love it. The film is also known as Double Down, Winning Streak and The Touch, so if you are looking for it be sure to take this into account.
The film tales the story of Stacy, a shy woman, who discovers she has a real talent for the game of Blackjack. She meets a man named Will (played by Kevin Costner), who is also a skilled player and teaches her about card counting. After a successful session at a casino in Reno, Nevada, the casino assigns her a cheating dealer to try to stop her. The casino end up killing Will and Stacy decides that she must take revenge.
To do this Stacy recruits a team of players and trains them in how to win at the game. After training, the team returns to the casino, with Stacy in disguise, to win as much money as possible and get their revenge for Will’s murder.
As mentioned, this is not a very well-known film and it wasn’t particularly successful. However, it offers a different kind of high stakes Blackjack player to the stereotypical man and fans of the game will enjoy seeing Stacy get one up over the casino.
Rain Man (1988)
Back in 1988 Tom Cruise took to the screen playing a man named Charlie. The film starts with a very jealous Charlie discovering that his recently deceased dad had left him nothing except for a car and a bed of roses. Charlie becomes infuriated when he realises that his dad left his $3 million fortune to someone he doesn’t know and he determines to find out more about the mystery person.
Charlie finds out that his dad’s fortune was left to a brother he didn’t know he had. The brother, Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman, is an autistic savant who is able to keep track of a number of strange facts and builds his life around a very specific schedule. Raymond is housed in a mental institution and Charlie spirits him away from the institution to a hotel for a night. Charlie then tries to get the institution to give him half of the inherited estate in return for Raymond.
When this doesn’t work the two set out on a cross-country road trip during which Charlie learns more about Raymond and the fact that he is a mental calculator, with the ability to instantly count hundreds of objects simultaneously, far beyond what a normal human can do.
Eventually the two end up in Las Vegas and Charlie exploits Raymond’s abilities at the Blackjack table. While the casino bosses are initially sceptical that anyone can count cards from a six deck shoe, they eventually ask the brothers to leave after reviewing the security footage. However, by this point Charlie has made enough to cover his debts.
Rain Man is far from your typical Blackjack film, it is more focused on Charlie’s journey from selfish money-maker to compassionate brother. However, it certainly appeals to gamblers who are sure to be jealous of Raymond’s unique abilities. Furthermore, the film won numerous awards, including Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director, so it is certainly a worthwhile view.
Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians (2011)
The story begins with a couple of young Americans, Colin Jones and Ben Crawford, who grew up in religious homes and meet at a youth gathering to discuss Christian values. The two’s friendship gradually developed and led to discussions about money and whether gambling was acceptable.
They concluded that while gambling may not completely fit with their beliefs, they would not actually be helping casinos by taking money from them. This led to them forming a Blackjack team that would try to win as much money as possible from casinos.
They build up a team consisting of investors and players, but there was a lot of crossover between these roles. The team focused on card counting so that they would always know what was left in the deck. They would avoid games that had 6 to 8 decks in the shoe and this allowed them to produce the best possible results. Over the course of five years they won over $3 million.
However, it wasn’t an entirely smooth process. Some of the casinos forced the team to leave and there were a number of internal problems within the team. The team eventually shut down, but they opened up a training business for those who wanted to improve their Blackjack results. This includes smartphone apps that are still available.
While Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians won’t transport you into a fictional world, it is definitely fascinating to watch and could provide inspiration to a number of players.
The Hangover, and its sequels, were all hugely successful upon their release. The first in the series tells the story of four best friends, Doug Billings, Phil Wenneck, Stuart Price and Alan Garner, who head to Doug’s bachelor party in Las Vegas.
The quartet wake up with huge hangovers the next day with no recollection of what happened the night before, no money, a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in their hotel suite. Furthermore, they realise that they have also lost the groom! The film follows them as they use clues to retrace their steps and unravel what happened the night before. They discover that they were drugged with roofies, that Stuart married a stripper named Jade (who is also the mother of the baby), they are arrested for stealing a police car, volunteer to be targets for a taser demonstration, and so on.
In one scene the guys are driving and are intentionally hit by another car. In the car is a group of gangsters and their boss Chow. Chow claims that they owe him $80,000 and this leads to Alan using his knowledge of card counting to win $82,400 playing Blackjack. Alan’s knowledge comes from a book titled: “The World’s Greatest Blackjack Player”. In the film you see him performing the count for the entire table while his friends get over excited.
License to Kill (1989)
It is impossible to write about gambling films without mentioning James Bond. While in the films he primarily known as a poker or baccarat player, the super spy has been known to turn his hand to Blackjack.
Timothy Dalton is playing 007 in License to Kill and he sets off to track down and seek revenge for a friend who was murdered by a drug lord. The film is full of the usual James Bond antics, plenty of drama, action and of course, beautiful women.
There is just one scene in which Bond sits down at the Blackjack table, but in it he wins a quarter of a million at the tables owned by drug kingpin Franz Sanchez.
The film Swingers is certainly not focused on gambling. Rather it is about two wannabe actors, Trent (Vince Vaughn) and Mike (Jon Favreau), who are best friends. They head into the world of swinging as Mike helps Trent to get over a long-term relationship that has recently ended.
While Blackjack is not the focus, there are a few hilarious scenes with the main characters playing Blackjack. Initially the two head to the high stakes table where they argue over their bets until the dealer suggest that they move to the smaller stakes table if they are not feeling confident enough to bet.
They glance towards the low stakes table where they see some old women and an overweight man who is with a woman with a typically bad 1980’s perm. They quickly look away having decided that they are far too embarrassed to go and join them. At the high stakes table they soon lose after arguing with each other and the film then cuts to them at the low stakes table surrounded by old women. Perhaps their lack of success is due to the terrible advice of “always double down” that Trent offers Mike when they arrive in Vegas. This turns out to be the source of their argument. Mike bets $300 on a £100 minimum table but Trent is encouraging him to “always double down on 11”. Predictably, it turns out to be the wrong advice.
Trivia fans will be interested to learn that Vince Vaughn’s father was the lucky gambler at the $100 minimum Blackjack table while Favreau’s grandmother, Joan Favreau, was the lucky gambler at the $5 minimum Blackjack table.
Again, this film is not really about gambling. But Blackjack players are sure to love the aforementioned scene and the film as a whole is full of plenty of laughs. If you are looking for some classic 1980’s Las Vegas action then Swingers could very much be the film for you.
The Last Casino (2004)
This is another film based upon the MIT Blackjack Team, but this time the film is set in Canada. It follows mathematics professor, Doug Barnes, who utilises card counting to improve the odds in his favour.
However, things go wrong when a casino security manager, Wilson, captures Barnes on camera and blacklists him from the casino. Barnes has borrowed money from a man named Orr and Orr unsurprisingly wants to know how Barnes intends to repay him now that he has been banned from the casino. This leads to the idea of creating a card counting team consisting of students from the university where Barnes teaches.
Barnes then goes recruiting at the university and find three possible candidates. George, who has memorised pi to seventy decimal places, Scott, who excels in a complicated memory test, and Elyse, a waitress who memories a complicated pizza order placed by Barnes in a short period of time. Barnes then goes on to teach the trio how to count cards and then brings them to Orr, telling them that Orr is the investor. Orr agrees to the scheme and tells Barnes that he will be taking 75% of Barnes’ 50% share.
After a slow start, the film shows the three winning large sums of money and having fun living the high life. However, one night Elyse is approached by a man who claims that he is a gambler chaser. Elyse asks him if he can see any pros at the casino that night and the man points out Scott labelling him as an obvious card counter.
Following an poor night of play, Orr tells Barnes that the deal is off as the trio are struggling and Barnes’ gambling is out of control. He tells Barnes that he has one week to pay back his $100,000 debt. Barnes then tells the students that they have to earn half a million in a week and warns them not to mess with Orr.
The students plan to play at all the casinos in the Ottawa and Quebec area. However, the casino discovers the team and questions Scott and George. The students then move onto the Ottawa region in the hope that the casinos will not have heard of them. Following the night in Ottawa Elyse finds out that Scott lost $20K. This prompts George to go back to the casino to try and make money. However, the casino management question George and he gets into a fight.
After taking part in a secret game, where they discover that card counting will not work, the team decide to bring the money they have to Barnes. Following a confrontation, the film ends with them finding out that Barnes lied and George gives Elyse money to help her with school.
The Last Casino focuses on Blackjack from beginning to end and any fan of the game is sure to love every minute of it.