Like many industries, film is one of patterns, of ebbs and flows. This makes sense, as mass media tends to reflect current social climate. Our fears, our hopes, and our dreams for the future, all of these help shape which topics and genres are at the forefront of entertainment at any given time.
While we can see this take so many forms, perhaps the most obvious is that of the big budget action blockbusters. Formerly the antagonists in these would commonly be Russian, owing to our collective fear during the Cold War, though today these tend to manifest as superhero movies where the villain is more fantastical than based in reality.
What of those topics which saw a lull, only to again take their place in the spotlight? Here, we want to take a look at casinos in film, how their popularity waned only to rise again, and what difference we might expect this industry to make in the future of cinema.
The rise and fall of casino gambling
Back in the early days of film, the environment of glitz and glamour was taking shape on a scale never before experienced. Actors and musicians were reaching international recognition and acclaim, and with this came the obsession and adoration of the public. This is what we wanted to experience for ourselves, or at least attain some taste thereof.
It’s no coincidence that this obsession was mirrored by the development of Las Vegas into the gambling capital of the world – it was celebrity culture made mainstream, accessible for more than just the lucky few. Over time, however, the ostentation of this type of life dimmed from public perception, as tastes changed and the more realistic and grounded claimed its place as the American Dream. This cycle, as it seems, would turn its full rotation, and with time would again find its place in the limelight.
Exactly why we saw a resurgence of casinos films during the new millennium comes down to two main factors – an untapped market and the huge growth of the online casino industry. Hollywood, as we all know by this point, has a huge interest in creating remakes as a way to generate additional buzz. While this often takes the form of the most popular genres and topics, there are other cases like with casinos where the market in the current generation was untested and untapped.
This is one of the reasons why the remake of Ocean’s 11 in 2001 was immediately poised for success – it had the legacy of a classic film. Combine this with the opportunities afforded by new filming technology and techniques, and some of the biggest name actors in casino movies and film in general, like George Clooney, and it should be no surprise that the series would go on to huge commercial success.
When it comes to the casinos themselves, there can be no denying that these have always been popular. Going back thousands of years, the concept of gambling has proven so enjoyable that it will probably remain a mainstay in human society for the rest of our existence. Yet, at the time, the industry was not at its highest point. Often seen as opulent and tacky, the public eye had shifted away from their former obsession with in-person casinos, and had turned to more down-to-earth expressions of chance and skill.
A primary influence here, while not immediately obvious to those not involved in the industry, was that of the online casino. These had become popular not only on home computers but on mobile devices which soon became de facto parts of our daily carry. Here players could find a range of games which in many cases exceeded the selection of in-person casinos, which could be enjoyed from almost anywhere, and without the need for getting dressed up or going out. Sure, online gaming might not make much sense as a theme for something like a casino heist, but the undeniable growth of the industry had raised it back into public perception, where it has only continued to gain momentum.
A cycle evolving?
With the recent release and success of Ocean’s 8, the public has shown that the desire for high-quality casino based films is a high as ever. The question we have is exactly what form this might take as the film world slowly becomes aware of the increasingly large part which online casinos play in the world of modern gambling.
Will they continue to base their films around traditional casinos, owing to the difficulty of adapting a digital casino into an exciting blockbuster, or will a more tech-savvy generation of writers and audiences find a way to bridge the gap into this new world? Whatever the case, we’re caught in an unprecedented area when it comes to film cycles and the recycling of older ideas and series. Here’s hoping casino cinema still has something good up its sleeve.