Film buffs know that a film with a gripping gambling scene is one worth watching over and over again. There are a huge number of films that feature gambling — either as a central theme or part of a character’s storyline. A gambling scene often adds gripping tension and drama to films, as well as the glamour that’s associated with some of the world’s biggest casinos.
Here’s a list of the top 5 thrilling gambling-themed scenes worth adding to your ‘ones to watch’ film list.
Noughties fan? You’ll love Swingers. This entertaining 1996 comedy-drama stars the film’s writer Jon Favreau alongside Vince Vaughn, who play two unemployed actors — Mike and Trent — living in Hollywood’s East Side. A trip to Vegas to lift Mike’s mood sees the pair try their luck at the blackjack table. Acting like a high roller, Mike buys in $300 at a minimum $100 bet. Trent convinces Mike to always double down on 11 in a scene that’s both gripping and hilarious.
Of course, today’s gambling industry looks a lot different. Blackjack is one of the many online casino games that are available to play anytime, anywhere, using any device. Some of the most unique online casinos are also themed in different ways. For example, did you know you could play American blackjack at an online casino which captures the glamour and charm of Vegas? Perhaps if Mike and Trent were alive today, they might at least try to get some practice in online before playing for such high stakes for real.
Swingers was a critical and commercial hit. The result of the film’s budget, a meagre $200,000 USD, was a movie that grossed $4.6 million at the box office — and the status of a classic.
There’s nothing like a good Bond film.
The 2006 spy film (the third adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel) stars Daniel Craig as the fictional M16 agent James Bond, Eva Green as love interest Vesper Lynd, Mads Mikkelsen as the villain Le Chiffre — and of course, the incomparable Judi Dench as the iconic M. The first film to star Craig as Bond (taking over the role from Pierce Brosnan), Casino Royale was filmed on location in the UK, Bahamas, Italy and Czech Republic with a budget of $150 million USD.
Casino Royale’s now-iconic gambling scene features Bond playing poker against the piercing-eyed Le Chiffre. The tension of the scene increases as Bond loses several hands to Le Chiffre, with both players trying to read each other’s body language and use the knowledge of their own tells against their opponent. Le Chiffre’s defeat comes through his misreading of Bond. But even now you know the result, it’s still a must-watch scene of gripping mind games between a much beloved character and his nemesis.
The film was a massive success. Its triple premiere between the Empire, the Odeon West and Odeon Leicester Square was attended by celebrities including the Queen and Prince Philip. The film grossed almost $6 million USD worldwide and received high praise from both critics and fans.
According to The Telegraph, the film was “Bond, but not as we’ve known it. The guns and action are there… the girls are certainly there… but the clonking double entendres of the old days are gone – in their place is a much more teasing, smartly written prospect.”
If you’re looking for a thrilling drama about high stakes poker there’s surely no better film than Rounders. The 1998 American film is now a cult hit, and follows the story of two friends, Mike McDermott and Lester “Worm” Murphy (played by Matt Damon and Edward Norton) who attempt to pay off debt by playing a series of high stakes games.
The final gambling scene comes in the form of a showdown with Mike against Russian Mobster Teddy “KGB” in a heads-up, No-Limit Texas Hold’em game with winner-take-all stakes. The game is won by Mike after he figures out KGB’s tell. The tension throughout the scene — as well as the depiction of the underground world of high stakes poker — makes the overall film worth the watch.
With a budget of $12 million USD, the film made $22.9 million USD at the box office and was received with mixed reviews.
Entertainment’s Owen Gleiberman wrote: “Norton’s performance never really goes anywhere, but that’s okay since the story is just an excuse to lead the characters from one poker table to the next.”
This 2001 American ensemble film is all about a big heist with an even bigger cast. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle and Andy Garcia all star in this box office success, which grossed $450.7 million USD with a budget of $85 million.
The gambling scene in this film has become an iconic one. Rusty Ryan, played by Brad Pitt, is shown at the beginning of the film teaching a group of Hollywood actors how to play poker. This includes Joshua Jackson, Topher Grace, Shane West and Holly Marie Combs. It’s a truly iconic — not to mention funny — scene which sets the tone for the rest of the film.
One of the best poker scenes of all time occurs onboard a 20th Century Limited Train. A 1973 caper film, The Sting stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford as two professional grifters — Henry Gondorff and Johnny Hooker — looking to con a mob boss (played by English actor Robert Shaw).
The infamous poker sequence takes place a third of the way into the film. Part of a scheme by Gondorff and Hooker to usurp the crime boss, Doyle Lonnegan, Gondorff (playing an act as a drunk bookie) plays poker against the game’s host Lonnegan in a train car. It’s a familiar story of cheating the cheater — but one a particularly gripping one.
With a budget of $5.5 million USD, The Sting raked in an astounding $159 million USD following its release. Hugely successful, it was nominated for 10 Oscars at the 46th Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Director, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.
Described by Roger Ebert as “one of the most stylish films of the year” The Sting remains a cinematic masterpiece and in 2005, was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry by the Library of Congress. It has since been adapted into stage musical, which premiered in Millburn, New Jersey in March 2018.
It’s definitely one to watch for poker fans and film buffs alike.
Watch any of these gambling scenes and they’ll no doubt leave you spellbound — such is the drama, tension and conflict they bring to these movies. That’s why we can expect casino games to play a role in movies for many years to come.