Hollywood exaggerates everything, but what about poker? Poker is already a glamorous, high stakes, tense game, so how much does Hollywood really need to exaggerate?
In fact, many of the classic poker movies out there are based on true stories and real people but mixed up into something new altogether. Hollywood knows that poker can be dramatic gold, but it still needs just a little work.
Runner Runner (2013)
This American crime thriller is based, in part, on the real life story of Nat Arem and real events that were occurring in real online casinos. But how much was fact and how much was fiction?
We may never know. Nat Arem himself reported that it was “loosely based on his life,” but he hadn’t seen the film himself, and thus couldn’t report on what was fact and what was fiction.
The general verdict is: the character was based on a real person and the situation was based on a real situation. The plot? Maybe not.
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story (2003)
One would hope that this 2003 biopic would be relatively truthful, but some fans feel as though High Roller wasn’t sensationalized enough. High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story is based on the real life of the titular Stu Ungar.
The film follows Stu Ungar’s life in a set of flashbacks that, unfortunately, the audience didn’t feel extremely compelling. While the events of the movie were generally true, the movie left out large swathes of Stu Ungar’s life and reordered many of the events for a better telling.
Fans of Stu Ungar point out that the movie didn’t focus on Ungar’s clever character and quick wit, which were essential to his performance as a gambler.
And, while dark, the movie didn’t quite capture the level of obsession Ungar reached: he would gamble all day, morning to night, and go missing for days, something only touched upon in the film. This may be a rare case of a movie that actually didn’t go far enough!
One of the cult hits of poker movie fandom, Rounders may not be based on anything in particular but it still has its own elements of truth. Characters in Rounders were based on real people and the experiences were based on real events, essentially creating an amalgam of reality and fiction.
As an example, the character of John Turtorro was based on a real person named Joey Bagels. Of course, the actual plot and details of the movie are pure and extremely entertaining fiction.
The Sting (1973)
The Sting is an unforgettable classic, but is it real? The Sting was based on real life cons. Brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff had their exciting exploits documented in a book named The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man. However, like many of the other stories on this list, the movie was more based on the characters and possibilities.
The book is essentially used as a source book for The Sting rather than a plot outline: The Big Con is essentially an academic research book on different confidence schemes. So, the confidence tactics in The Sting may very well be real–but the characters and the plot are mostly fiction.
A comedy poker movie based on the television series of the same name, Maverick was applauded by many critics and audience members alike. This movie is unique in that it is historical: it is set in the American Old West.
Many of the original television show’s events were based on real events and real personalities, such as the “Copper King” F. Augustus Heinze. This creates an interestingly layered effect, as the movie is based on the television show and the television, in turn, is roughly based on reality.
Reality is only a jumping off point for Hollywood; Hollywood rarely attempts to make things true to life but instead takes a selection of facts, characters, places and events and tosses them into a blender. The poker movie genre is no exception. However, it is telling that the poker world has enough inventive, creative (and sometimes scandalous) characters that Hollywood occasionally lifts them from whole cloth and drops them into their big budget stories.