If you enjoy a night out at the casino, or even just a gaming session from the comfort of your own home, then you probably love watching films that features gambling. It can make for compelling viewing, full of drama and tension, or for excellent comedy. Best of all, if you are watching, it isn’t your money at risk!
There are a number of films that are all about gambling, or at least focus on casinos. Here we take a look at some of the most iconic gambling scenes so that next time you are wondering what to watch, you can just pick from the list below
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
The Austin Powers films are brilliant at subverting film stereotypes, and this extends to gambling scenes. In International Man of Mystery, the typical tense gambling scene is completely inverted and parodies the classic James Bond casino scene. Powers is facing Number Two across the Blackjack table, it is a scene that will have Blackjack players wincing and laughing at the same time. Powers comes to the table full of confidence, but with no skills whatsoever, making the worst possible decisions (which even the dealer advises him against). Nonetheless, Powers insists as he loves to “live dangerously”, and he then of course proceeds to lose.
One of the most famous scenes from Swingers is when Trent (Vince Vaughn) and his friend Mike (Jon Fabreau) head to Vegas together and Trent tells his friend to “always double down”. In a scene that will leave card players in stiches, Mike boldly puts down $300 at a $100 minimum Blackjack table while Trent tells him “always double down on 11”. Mike resists the advice and the two get into a bit of a fight, in the end Mike caves in and then discovers that perhaps one shouldn’t always double down on 11.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Ocean’s Eleven and the subsequent films are all about casinos, but containing very few actual gambling scenes. However, in the first film we see a relaxed game between friends as the group prepare for their massive heist. The scene is full of smooth players, with Brad Pitt trying to call George Clooney’s bluff. It is an introduction to the characters before the film really gets underway, and one that is sure to make all gambling fans smile.
Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
This was the final instalment in the trilogy and while it may not have been as successful as the first, it is still a star-studded adventure set in a new Vegas casino. The film was written by David Levien and Brian Koppelman, the people behind the poker films Rounders and Runner Runner. It brings Danny Ocean back together with his band of thieves and the scene with the simulated earthquake in the casino is a true pleasure to watch.
The Parent Trap (1998)
The vast majority of gambling scenes are of course between adults. However, in the 1998 version of The Parent Trap, director Nancy Meyers has two 11-year-old girls playing a high stakes poker game. The twins spend their summer at a camp playing tricks on each other and in one scene, they decide that the best way to settle things is through a poker game, the loser of which will have to jump into the lake naked. The British twin, Annie, looks set to win the game with a straight in diamonds, but then her American counterpart, Hallie, reveals a royal flush.
Joe Pesci delivers a brilliant performance as the unhinged Tommy DeVito in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. It is his presence at a card game, rather than the game itself, that makes for an incredibly tense scene, due to a misunderstanding he has with Spider, a character who is not even playing at the table. Spider forgets to bring Tommy his drink, which to any sane person would not be too terrible a mistake. However, Tommy deals with it in the most over the top way possible, warning others never to cross Tommy DeVito.
Rain Man (1988)
This classic film sees a confused looking Dustin Hoffman walk into a casino and win seriously big. The matching suits he and his brother Charlie (Tom Cruise) are wearing are brilliantly 1980s, and the scene is so fantastically filmed that you can’t help but be drawn in. The club music builds up as the cards are drawn, at the same time we see some brotherly fighting and bonding. Hoffman’s autistic Ray then proves his brother wrong and demonstrates his mathematical and cardcounting ability famously saying, “Hit me, hit me, hit me”, before hitting the big win. Hoffman won an Oscar for his performance in the film, which was also named Best Picture in 1988. If you haven’t seen the film, be sure to do so as soon as you can.
The Hangover (2009)
If you enjoyed Rain Man then you will love the Blackjack scene in The Hangover, which is a direct homage to the scene in Rain Man. Zach Galifianakis, wearing a grey suit just like Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in Rain Man, displays some incredible mathematical skills, completely unexpectedly for his character, and counts cards while his friend Phil (Bradley Cooper) screams, “He can’t lose!” It is a scene that quite literally knocked Heather Graham off her feet, and it is sure to have you in stiches.
There are a lot of fantastic moments in this classic poker film, but perhaps the best is the final Texas Hold’em showdown between the law school student Michael McDermott (played by Matt Damon) and his Russian opponent Teddy “KGB” (played by John Malkovich). The stakes are incredibly high, with Michael having borrowed $10,000 from his professor in order to help his friend (Edward Norton) pay off a debt. It is a scene that will have you biting your nails on the edge of your seat, but in the end, everything works out for the best.
Casino Royale (2006)
Many will argue that this is the most iconic gambling scene ever made. Whether or not this is true, it is certainly the centre point of the film (as the title suggest). They are playing Texas Hold’em (rather than Baccarat as in the book) and the game starts badly for James Bond, so badly that the usually calm Vesper (played by Eva Green) is praying. Bond is playing against the terrifying Mads Mikkelsen who is playing the villain Le Chiffre. Of course, cheating is involved, Bond is poisoned, and he suffers from a heart attack. However, after dealing with it with a bit of help from his car gadgetry, Bond gets back on track and wins well over $100 million.
Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
The stakes in this game of Three Card Brag between Fast Eddy (Nick Moran) and Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty) are insanely high. At one point Eddy opens with a bet of $20,000, Harry then raises to $30,000, Eddy re-raises to $50,000, Harry then takes it up to $80,000, Eddy comes back with $100,000, so Harry explodes up to $250,000. At that point, Eddy wants to call, but he doesn’t have the funds to do so. Harry offers to lend him the money and tells him that it will be a further $250,000 to see the cards, a total of $500,000!
If you like westerns then you are sure to have seen Tombstone, a true classic. Doc Holiday, played by Val Kilmer, is a much loved character and in one scene he finds himself fairly drunk and very happy after having played poker for 36 straight hours. Despite this, he is still fully alert and quick witted, “Let’s have a spelling contest.”
Toy Story 3 (2010)
You may not expect to find gambling scenes in children’s films, but you will if you watch Toy Story 3. There are a number of characters sitting around a See ‘N Say, betting on where the spinner will stop. The way that the toys turn another toy into a gambling game will have you smiling, and perhaps wishing that your local casino would offer something similar.
Run Lola Run (1998)
There are many fantastic scenes in Run Lola Run, but the one concerning us is where the main character goes into a casino. After a money delivery goes wrong, Lola has just 20 minutes to find the 100,000 deutschmarks needed to save her boyfriend from some local gangsters. In an attempt to get the money she enters a casino and bets all that she has on a roulette table, putting everything on 20 black. In real life, the odds are a massive 1,296 to 1, but luckily in films, things have a habit of turning out for the best.
Many people think that Martin Scorsese wasn’t at his best when brought the Goodfellas duo of Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci back together for this film about a 1970s Las Vegas casino boss that is roughly based on a true story. However, it has some fantastic casino action in it and there are some great quotes. Perhaps the best of them is when the boss is dispensing justice to some casino cheats, “You can either have the money and the hammer, or you can walk out of here. You can’t have both.”
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
If you are a gamer and you have played the Fallout video games, then you may think of Las Vegas as a rough, futuristic landscape full of crazy soldiers and raiders. The city is given the same treatment in the atmospheric sequel to Blade Runner. The original film’s main character Deckard (Harrison Ford) is hiding in a Nevada gambling den that, much like Deckard himself, had seen better days. Ryan Gosling’s is sent to bring him in and there is a fantastic gunfight in an old casino cabaret bar while a malfunctioning holographic Elvis sings a few classic songs.
Dr No (1962)
Gambling is a massive part of a secret agent’s work, or at least you would think it is if you have watched the James Bond films. However, Dr No is actually the first film in which we see Bond sitting at a casino table. He has a vodka Martini in one hand, and a beautiful woman by his side. He is playing the true gentleman’s game of Baccarat, and of course, he wins with his usual style and grace.
The film 21 is based upon the book Bringing Down The House by Ben Mezrich. It tells the real-life story of a group of students from MIT who became the most successful Blackjack card counting team in the world. Starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth and Jim Sturgess (amongst others), it may exaggerate the casino’s retaliation tactics, but it still makes for great viewing with some fantastic scenes.
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
For poker players, this film is a true classic, and perhaps one of the reasons that they continue to work so hard on bluffing. Paul Newman is at his best and it is pretty much impossible to outdo him. As a result, this poker scene is something for players to aspire to, but perhaps never actually achieve. Nonetheless, if you are looking for an exciting gambling scene, then this is the film to watch.
The Hustler (1961)
While this film may be over half a century old, it captures a moment in time perfectly. It takes place in the smoky pool halls of the past and there is absolutely nothing glamorous about this game. It is all about being able to work an angle. While The Hustler may not portray gambling in the most positive light, it is still a great watch for those who love to play the game.
This 1994 action-comedy from Richard Donner is full of laughs. It tells the story of a cardsharp (Mel Gibson) who hopes to enter a poker contest with an impressive payoff; however, he first needs to put up a large cash sum. He decides to scam other hopeful contestants in a preliminary card game to win the money he needs. In one of the best scenes, Maverick sits down next to Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster) and joins a game of 5-card draw. It doesn’t take long for the sparks to start flying. Maverick has talked his way in by promising to lose for the first hour he plays. However, as soon as the hour is up Maverick starts to fall out with some of the other nastier looking characters at the table.
Hard Eight (1996)
This film is all about gambling. It tells the story of a luckless and destitute gambler called John who meets the seemingly kind-hearted Sydney, a successful professional gambler. Sydney offers to take John under his wing and teach him all his secrets. The lessons begin in Reno, and while Sydney knows how to be restrained, John is somewhat harder to control. It results in a high speed, high thrill, risk-taking adventure that you are sure to love.
The Sting (1973)
Paul Newman and Robert Redford star in this film about two con men scamming a mob boss and stealing a large amount of money. The films is famous for a high stake Five Card Draw scene in a train where Henry Gondorf (Paul Newman) plays against the mobster Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). While it was more of a con than a poker game, the atmosphere and suspense will have you on the edge of your seat. The film won seven Academy Awards and it is a must see classic.
Big Hand For Little Lady (1966)
This film is famous for the great twist at the end. It is a western that stars Henry Fonda and Joanne Woodsward. It sees Woodsward take over for her husband in a poker game after he collapses. The entire family saving are at stake and the 40-minute long poker scene is one that all fans of cards are sure to enjoy.
The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
If you are a fan of Steve McQueen then you will love this film. It is all about “The Kid” Eric Stoner (played by McQueen), a young stud poker player who takes on the best card player in the country “The Man” Lancey Howard (played by Edward G. Robinson) in a high stake Five Card Stud poker game. The twist at the climax shows just how anything can happen in poker, and if you are a player yourself then this is a must see.
House of Games (1986)
This film is famous for the poker scene where Mike (Joe Mantegna) plays against his rival George with the help of a psychiatrist, Dr Ford (Lindsay Crouse). Mike is a conman who forces the doctor to accompany him to the poker game and analyse the opponent’s body language and expressions in order to give him an edge. Later we discover that this was actually a trick to con the psychiatrist. If you enjoy studies of human behaviour, especially in relation to gambling, then you will learn plenty from this film.