Disclaimer: Remember, this is Hollywood – when it comes to real life, always play responsibly.
The lights dim. The music starts. Nearby, someone rustles a bag of popcorn. Cinema survives. Netflix, VHS, DVD, and TiVo have all tried to kick this 120-year-old medium into touch but the magic of the movies prevails. Like gambling, cinema is an entertainment; a chance to kick back, relax, and enjoy some widescreen eye candy. At the heart of every great film is a story. Special effects, glamorous stars, and jaw-dropping locations all add value, but it’s the characters and the plot that bring the entertainment bacon home.
The casino has often been a popular tool in the scriptwriter’s armoury. Life-changing wins, devastating losses, smooth operators, card sharks, conmen, organised crime, beautiful women, and the glamorous lifestyle of the high roller, all combine to deliver a stacked deck of potential plotlines, twists, and turns.
It would be easy to put together a list of films where the casino is at the heart of the action. Goodfellas, Swingers, Oceans 11, 12, and 13, The Cooler, Leaving Las Vegas, Croupier, Casino, and Rounders are just a tiny sample of films set in the rollercoaster world of the casino.
What’s more interesting are those films where a bet or wager has been critical to the development of the plot. Here are our top five movies where the action stood on the turn of a card, the roll of a dice, and the spin of a roulette wheel. Can you think of any more?
1. Rain Man
It won a clutch of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. The tale of selfish car dealer Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), and his autistic savant brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), was a smash hit when it was first released in 1988.
As the pair travel across America, their relationship develops. Initially, Charlie struggles with his older brother’s savant syndrome, as his business crashes around him. One of the quirks of Raymond’s condition is his ability to recall and calculate huge numbers in a second. As they approach Las Vegas, Charlie teaches his brother to count cards. The couple hit Vegas, Raymond memorises a six-deck shoe, and saves his brother’s business and reputation.
Without doubt, the blackjack scene in Rain Man is critical. The brothers bond and Raymond’s savant syndrome effectively saves the day for both of them. It’s the highlight of an outstanding film.“No one in the world can count a six-deck shoe”
2. The Sting
Paul Newman has starred in a handful of films that feature gambling, including the Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, and The Color of Money. But it’s the seven Academy Award winning 1973 masterpiece The Sting that features one of the greatest poker games to ever grace the silver screen.
The film tells the tale of two grifters who set out to con crime lord Doyle Lonnegan, played beautifully by Robert Shaw. As part of the elaborate con, Paul Newman’s character Henry Gondorff plays Lonnegan at poker, in a high stakes game, on board a train.
Both men cheat and the scene is laugh out loud funny. Shaw’s fury is palpable as a Lonnegan drunkenly outwits him. It’s a classic cinema poker scene that sets up the rest of the story. The best poker scene ever? Maybe…
3. Indecent Proposal
Like a piece of parmesan wedged behind the sofa, the cheese is strong with this one. Indecent Proposal is a cautionary tale starring Robert Redford, as billionaire John Gage, as well as Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore as a young married couple chasing a fortune in Las Vegas
An ill-considered game of roulette is the key to the film’s indecent proposal. The couple try to win their fortune playing roulette but end up blowing their savings. Gage seizes the opportunity and offers the couple a million pounds – but only if he can spend one night with newlywed wife Diana Murphy.
The film won the Razzie for worst picture, worst supporting actor, and worst screenplay. It was also panned by critics. Undeterred, the public loved it and watched it in droves“Suppose I were to offer you a million dollars for one night with your wife…”
4. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
Once again: it’s bad luck at the tables that establishes the story. This time, director Guy Ritchie set the cinematic world on fire with the brilliant LSATSB. Card shark Eddy and his mates bundle together £100,000 for a three-card brag game against “Hatchet” Harry Lonsdale.
Unfortunately for Eddy, the game is rigged and he ends up owing the London gangster £500,000. Cue many comedy capers to blag back the cash. The game is the driving force for the film.
“Cash it in and don’t come back”. Arguably one of the greatest films ever made, Casablanca is full of iconic scenes. Everyone knows the film’s climatic closing airport scene and the opening notes of As Time Goes By. However: it’s the roulette table scene that is the game changer.
Humphrey Bogart’s Rick is a damaged man; a mercenary, ruthless, selfish, only looking after number one. When his past love re-enters his life, Rick is morally reborn. The good of the man returns, and it is played out on the roulette table, when he helps a young Bulgarian couple, win by telling them to put it all on 22 and let it ride. The table is fixed and the couple escape. Rick’s redemption begins.
Well? Do you agree with these selections? Maybe you prefer Newman in Cool Hand Luke or Sharon Stone seducing De Niro at the craps table in Casino? Perhaps you prefer Clive Owens dark journey into the London gambling underworld in Croupier.
Fancy being the star of your own iconic casino-movie moment? Head over to the reels of Rocky and see if you have the Eye of the Tiger to score knock-out wins of 10,000x your stake.