The thrill of wondering whether or not the characters will win or lose, often paired with violence and romance, makes these types of films electrifying and attractive. Unfortunately, the glamour of gambling in films is not often replicable in real life, and many movies that glorify gambling as exciting and risky only encourage this irresponsible behaviour. Some of the best of these types of gambling films include:
Director Guy Ritchie helms this film about a big-time gambler, Jason Statham as Jake Green, who served seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Banned from many casinos due to his gambling skill and notoriety, Green returns from prison to take down Dorothy Macha, a local casino owner and mob boss who never loses. When Green quickly wins the game, Macha orders a hit on Green, leaving the unlikely protagonist to bet on himself to save his life.
Owning Mahowny (2003)
Based on the true story of a Toronto bank vice president, Mahowny owes $10,300 for his racetrack gambling debts that quickly spiral even further out of control. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the banker who starts with small wagers that require him to stealing millions of dollars from his bank to pay for his high-rolling bets. The audience knows that his ever-increasing debt and addiction to gambling will eventually lead to his doom, but Mahowny’s narrow focus is so enthralling that it is impossible to turn away.
This is one of the best movies on poker in the last quarter century. Matt Damon is a math and poker genius who loses against John Malkovich’s Russian gangster, Teddy “KGB.” When the debts mean he can no longer pay for his college education, Damon’s character must get his hands on $15,000 in just five days. His gambling picks up steam when his friend and fellow gambler, Worm, portrayed by Edward Norton, comes to the table with his own debts and reckless abandon. Insisting that poker is not about chance but about skill, Damon’s bettor demonstrates the root of gambling addiction in the final high-stakes showdown.
The Hustler (1961)
A young Paul Newman brings Fast Eddie Felson to life in this movie about a hot-headed young man with a talent for pool. Felson takes on local pool master Minnesota Fats, played by Jackie Gleason in a rare straight role. Despite a great start and being up nearly $18,000 at one point, Felson does not know when to stop, and his pride gets in the way as he loses the 25-hour game. With the help of his girlfriend, he is able to regain his self-esteem and challenge Minnesota Fats to a rematch.
The Sting (1973)
Paul Newman ‘s Henry Gondorff and Robert Redford’s Johnny Hooker are two con artists in Chicago during the Great Depression. The pair’s con game is focused on New York racketeer Doyle Lonnegan, a man whose business sense is nearly crippled by his gambling addiction. As the film moves through high-stakes poker games and horserace-betting parlours, the audience finds itself rooting for the con men who keep making the best gambles. The last bet and final act of the movie reveal the big payoff.
The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
Starring Steve McQueen as up-and-coming gambler the Cincinnati Kid, this film pits the young man against the local high-roller, Lancey Howard. Thinking that the Kid only had back-room poker competition and no real experience, Howard agrees to take on the Kid in a one-time game. Despite many life distractions, the Kid hopes to defeat the reigning champ and take on the title of the best in the land. Bets are made on the game as the old gambler takes on the new one, and the movie culminates in a final raise in the stakes and a thrilling game until one winner is announced.
The quintessential example of casino based movies, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of a nonfiction book of the same title stars Robert DeNiro as “Ace” Rothstein, a tortured Jewish bookie ordered by Chicago mob bosses to run a casino in Las Vegas. Joe Pesci costars as a psychotic enforcer whose erratic behaviour only increasse the high stakes of the plot and gambling. The rock and blues music, paired with slow-motion sequences and meticulous editing, depict the beauty and ease of Vegas gambling and seduction.
Casino Royale (2006)
This original story of James Bond was redone in 2006 with Daniel Craig in the titular role. Filmed at break-neck speed, the film follows Bond as he faces the dangerous, poker-playing Le Chiffre. One of the most important scenes involves a stunning showdown in Monte Carlo when Bond and Le Chiffre square off for an all-or-nothing game of poker. Not only is Bond suave and debonair, but also his poker skills are sublime.
Clive Owen is Jack Manfred, an aspiring writer with no income. Against his better judgment, Manfred accepts a job as a croupier. From his position behind the casino table, Manfred watches gamblers and employees alike and uses what he learns for his novel. It is not until he meets Jani, a gambler who is off-limits thanks to the rules of the casino, that Manfred considers the odds and chooses to take the gamble and jump into the casino world.
The Gambler (1974)
Although this film was remade with Mark Wahlberg, the original cut shows the thrill and drama of gambling much better. English professor Axel Freed, played by James Caan, has gathered a $44,000 gambling debt that he must find a way to repay. The audience is privy to Freed’s paranoia of knowing a bookie is just waiting for a deadline to pass and the euphoria of winning a bet, showing the many high-stakes choices that gamblers make while trying to balance their addictions with their incomes.