The casino makes for a great movie setting. It’s bright, it’s flashy, and the thrills associated with gambling can make for one anxiety-filled joyride. Sometimes, we’re not trying to take those risks, so we watch a movie and live vicariously through Danny Ocean or Ace Rothstein.
There are a ton of articles out there about the classic casino movies – you know, movies like 1961’s Hustler or 1973’s The Sting. Not to diss the Paul Newman casino classics or anything, but everyone already knows about those movies. Instead, we want to focus more on the high-stakes gambling movies that were released in the past twenty-five years or so.
While there is definitely something great and nostalgic about the casino world of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, things have changed since then. Now, you can bet from an online casino or play a poker game right on your phone.
Las Vegas isn’t the only gambling world hot spot anymore, either – there’s Atlantic City, Reno, and even the country of Singapore just legalised casino gambling back in 2005. The casino industry is changing, so naturally, the casino movie industry is changing, too. With all that being said, let’s explore the ten best casino movies from the past few decades.
10. The Gambler (2014)
In the spirit of updating the canon of casino movies, we’re starting the list off with a remake of an old classic. The Gambler is a remake of the 1974 film of the same name but places it in modern times. The movie stars Mark Wahlberg as the destructive Jim Bennett, who has a major gambling problem.
After a big loss, he winds up with a week to pay off his debts to a loan shark – if he can’t pay up, he’ll be murdered. The movie also stars Brie Larson as Amy, one of his students who gets wrapped up in Jim’s debts. Truth be told, this movie doesn’t quite hold a torch to the original, but it’s still a ton of fun.
9. Rounders (1998)
Thanks to the poker boom of the early 2000s, this drama about a poker tournament gone awry became a cult hit. The movie stars a young Matt Damon as Mike McDermott, an honest law student who gets in way over his head after he loses $30,000 against a Russian mobster (played by John Malkovich).
Mike starts to think he should quit taking risks on poker games…that is until his old buddy Worm (Edward Norton) gets out of prison. Worm convinces Mike to get back into the gambling world, but Worm’s methods are a bit more unorthodox. He’s an out-and-out cheater, and soon, he Mike into a world of debt and trouble with the Russian mafia.
8. Molly’s Game (2017)
If you missed Molly’s Game when it came out a few years ago, you missed out. It’s based on a true story about Molly Bloom, a would-be Olympic skier who turned to a life of gambling and ran a high-stakes poker game in the Viper Room of Los Angeles.
Between its incredible cast (Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba star) and the screenplay written by movie industry favourite Aaron Sorkin, the movie is a must-see. It has a pretty impressive Rotten Tomatoes score of 81% and an audience approval rating of 84%.
7. Mississippi Grind (2015)
This one here is another newer release that’s destined for instant classic status. The story follows Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn), a struggling gambler who has already racked up quite a debt with his loan shark. He has a chance meeting with the younger Curtis, played by an infectiously charming Ryan Reynolds.
Curtis is a traveling gambler, and after a fun night, he tells Gerry that “Machu Picchu” time is close. Basically, it means he’ll be skipping town again soon. Gerry suggests that they take a giant high-stakes gambling trip down the Mississippi River – hence the title of the movie, Mississippi Grind. The atmosphere of the South really sets it apart from other casino movies. After all, when was the last time you saw a movie set on a gambling boat on the Mississippi River?
6. The Hangover (2009)
Not all gambling movies need to be tense and dramatic, though – The Hangover has more comedy scenes than most of the other movies on this list, but it’s just as thrilling as the others. The story follows a Las Vegas bachelor party gone terribly wrong. Phil, Stu, and Alan wake up to find that their friend Doug, the man due to be married, is nowhere to be found. They do have a chicken, a tiger, a baby, and a missing tooth, though…
Together, the gang must backtrack and figure out what the heck happened. It’s a wild ride that’s still filled with classic casino games amidst all the comedy scenes. These, combined, really might make you feel like you’re left out of the fun – which is why finding games in this legal casino online that much more satisfying for its convenience. Notably, there’s a great scene involving a rigged blackjack game.
5. Casino Royale (2006)
The name’s Bond…James Bond. Casino Royale is a wholly satisfying spy thriller that puts the Daniel Craig James Bond on a mission to take down the terrorist financier Le Chiffre. See, Le Chiffre is bankrupt, and he loves to gamble, so Bond’s mission is to play him in a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro.
Of course, in typical Bond fashion, he ends up falling in love with treasury employee Vesper Lynd along the way, played by the seductive Eva Green. The film also stars the excellent Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre and Judi Dench as M. The movie ended up being one of the most critically acclaimed of the newer Bond movies, earning itself a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Even folks who aren’t super big James Bond fans will find something to like here.
4. Casino (1995)
This epic Martin Scorsese movie is fantastic. It’s based on a true story that was chronicled in the book, Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. It chronicles the rivalry between a mafia-made man and a casino executive as they try to run a gambling empire.
The cast here is excellent. We have celebrity heavy-hitters like Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, and Don Rickles. Stone even won a Golden Globe and a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role. If you’re into gambling and crime, you have to check this one out. The performances are fantastic, and you can’t go wrong with a Scorsese movie.
3. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
This heist comedy film follows Danny Ocean, who has just been released from prison and has no intentions of following his parole. He gathers up a team of professional thieves and sets up a scheme to rob three Las Vegas casinos – the MGM Grand, the Bellagio, and The Mirage. It’s an action-packed movie that you can’t help but love.
The cast alone makes this movie worth watching – it stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Julia Roberts, Bernie Mac, and Andy García. It has a sequel in Ocean’s Thirteen, which has most of the same cast, and the recent Ocean’s Eight, which isn’t quite as good as the first two movies but is still fun.
2. Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)
How do we even begin to describe the drug-filled adventure that is this movie? Based on the Hunter S. Thompson novel, this movie is filled with cameos from stars like Christopher Meloni, Harry Dean Stanton, and Debbie Reynolds. Johnny Depp plays Raoul Duke and Benicio del Toro plays Dr. Gonzo, a pair of eccentric druggies who are road-tripping through Nevada. By the time they get to Vegas, they’re already tripping and hallucinating big time, seeing lizards and eels everywhere. It’s a visual feast that presents the most psychedelic view of Las Vegas possible.
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas is one of the best casino movies of all time. Sure, it’s over twenty years old, but it truly is timeless. Funnily enough, the movie was a commercial flop and even critics weren’t super big on it. But over time, the movie has become a cult classic and is considered one of the best Johnny Depp movies.
Truth be told, a top ten list doesn’t even come close to covering the world of the casino movie. So here are a few honourable mentions before we give away our number one.
Based on the true story of the MIT Blackjack Team, this movie stars Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, and Kevin Spacey. It operates primarily as a heist movie, but it also gives a bit of insight into the psychology behind blackjack.
This one’s older than most of the movies mentioned, but this Old Western-style film is still pretty dang great. It stars Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner.
Casino Jack (2010)
Kevin Spacey stars in yet another casino flick. This movie is based on the true story of Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who was convicted of fraud and tax evasion. It’s a story of corruption that has a whole lot of partying in it.
1. Uncut Gems (2019)
Not only was Uncut Gems an amazing casino movie, but it might also just be one of the best movies of the past five years. Adam Sandler turns out a shockingly good performance as Howard Ratner, a Jewish jeweller, and a giant gambling addict. This whole movie will have you holding your breath as Howard makes bad decisions after bad decisions, from pawning off Kevin Garnett’s NBA Championship ring to beating up R&B singer The Weeknd.
Everything in the movie hinges on Howard winning a bet on a basketball, and the events leading up to the big game are insane. The Safdie brothers directed this movie, and they did an incredible job of portraying all the best qualities of a gambling movie.
There are dashes of glitz and glamour, but also a ton of anxiety-inducing high-stakes situations that reveal the truth about how devastating gambling addiction can be on the psyche. If you haven’t seen Uncut Gems yet, what are you waiting for?
Since a lot of the casinos still have limited capacity due to social distancing requirements, these movies will help you feel the thrill of Las Vegas from home. Sure, you can always load up a slot machine app or play some online casino apps with no deposit bonuses, but they don’t quite have the same thrill as the real thing. These movies should help fill the void when you can’t get out into the city yourself.
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