Special Feature: 90 years of lottery on film

The lure of a lottery win has captivated people for millennia, so it’s no surprise that films featuring a lottery plotline have been produced long before the introduction of the talkie. Whether they spin it as a rags to riches tale or a morality play about greed, filmmakers have seen cinematic gold in lottery winners. From 1924 to 2014, we take a look back at some of the most intriguing lottery-themed films throughout the decades. Based on Frank Norris’ 1899 novel McTeague, Erich von Stroheim’s silent classic Greed (1924) tells the tale of three people ruined by avarice.

The trio are McTeague, a dentist in San Francisco; Marcus, McTeague’s friend; and Trina, Marcus’ cousin whom he is courting. Hoping to get Trina dental work, Marcus brings her to McTeague’s practice. While they wait for McTeague to see them, Trina goes out and buys a lottery ticket. McTeague falls in love with Trina and begs Marcus to step aside so he can marry her. Marcus obliges. Soon after they marry, Trina discovers that her lottery ticket is worth $5000, which she immediately hoards – trouble predictably ensues. Much of Greed’s footage was tragically destroyed, and the film is considered one of cinema’s greatest losses.

Le Million (1931): Seven years after Greed, director René Clair provided audiences with a far lighter take on winning the lottery with his musical comedy Le Million. The film follows the story of Michel, a poor artist who wins the lottery. When he goes to get the winning ticket from his jacket pocket, he discovers that the jacket is missing, having been given away by his fiancée Beatrice. The jacket goes from criminal to criminal and is finally traced to the opera where it’s being used by a tenor during a performance. An energetic and music-filled chase to recover Michel’s million-florin ticket ensues. Le Million was critically-acclaimed and had a major impact on early sound film and musicals. It’s now part of the Criterion Collection.

It Could Happen to You (1994): Nothing’s more romantic than winning the lottery. Andrew Bergman (co-writer of Blazing Saddles) directed this film starring Nicolas Cage, Bridget Fonda, and Rosie Perez. Cage plays Charlie Lang, a NYPD officer and all-around great human being. Lang goes to lunch and meets Yvonne (Fonda), a waitress. Instead of leaving a cash tip, he takes out a lottery ticket and tells her that he’ll split it with her if he wins. The next day, his wife Muriel (Perez) finds out that they’ve won $4 million. She protests his generosity, but he is determined to keep his promise to Yvonne. Will there marriage survive the strain or will a new love bloom? Loosely-based on a true story, It Could Happen to You did well with both the critics and the box office. Would you so eagerly split the jackpot with someone else? After seeing this movie, you might change your opinion, and even feel inspired to join a US Powerball syndicate that allows you to play your favourite lottery together with a group, enjoying the thrill of the game as well as the winning experience together with other lotto fans.
Waking Ned (1998): In a small Irish village of only 52 people, one resident has just won the Irish National Lottery. Some of the residents devise a scheme to make the winner reveal his or her identity by inviting all the potential winners to a dinner. They then visit Ned Devine, the only invitee that failed to attend. He is sitting in front of the TV, dead from shock and holding the winning lottery ticket in his hand. With no family to claim the prize, the residents of the village team up to trick the National Lottery into giving them the money. Waking Ned was an international hit, scoring $55.2 million in total worldwide box office sales compared to its $3 million budget. A critical success, the film and its director Kirk Jones was nominated for several industry awards.
Welcome to Me (2014): Kristen Wiig is one of the most successful comedic actors to come out of Saturday Night Live in recent years. In Welcome to Me, she stars as Alice Klieg, a woman who suffers from borderline personality disorder and has an obsession for television and lottery tickets. Alice wins $86 million in the California Lottery and decides to buy her own TV talk show for $15 million. Welcome to Me was directed by Shira Piven (sister of Jeremy Piven) and premièred at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014. The film had a limited theatre run but Wiig’s performance garnered favourable reviews.

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