Three Times Hollywood Got Gambling Right


Hollywood has a strained relationship with gambling. Movies love high stakes and a fast pace, but Tinseltown rarely manages to give gambling its due and treat it seriously. These three movies buck that trend with aplomb. Make sure these three films are on your watchlist if you enjoy a hand of poker or a spin of a slot yourself.

Casino (1995)

One must-watch film is “Casino” (1995), directed by Martin Scorsese, offering an immersive glimpse into the life of a Las Vegas casino. With stunning cinematography and exceptional performances from the talented cast, including the remarkable Robert De Niro, this movie takes viewers behind the scenes of a glamorous era in Vegas. If you’re feeling inspired to try your luck online, you can explore reviews of top-rated online casinos without Swedish license and discover exciting offers at Online Casino Reviews.

Though nearly three hours long, it never feels its length, rippling along at a steady pace that covers decades of the De Niro’s protagonist’s story. The highlight is probably a scene that literally follows the money in signature Scorsese style, with a long one-shot showing how a gambler’s cash becomes chips, which the house wins, and then gets turned back into hard cash.

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Rounders (1998)

This excellent and somewhat unknown movie shows a different side of the gambling scene. Though low budget, it has an amazing cast headed by a young and upcoming Matt Damon. His performance is very impressive when you consider how young and fresh he was back in the late nineties. He plays a reformed poker player who had turned his back on the tables but needs to pick up the cards once again to help his friend pay off a sizeable gambling debt owed to a Russian mobster. 

All of his games take place in ‘behind-closed-doors’ poker games, letting viewers see a side of poker playing that few players talk about or ever get to see in real life. The reformed but talented player has to run around town, hustling high stake games to quickly build up a bankroll to pay off the gangster, played by the always impressive John Malkovich, before the interest on the debt grows too high. The high stakes of the games and the fast pace of the film help make this movie an edge-of-the-seat thriller.

Every drama needs a tense climax, and this film has it in spades. Damon’s final game is against Malkovich himself, and the beginning of the film establishes that they have a personal history before this drama began. As the hands are dealt, the tension builds. No spoilers, but like in all good stories the hero prevails. It is how he prevails that makes this film an excellent poker movie, and one of the few times Hollywood got gambling right.

Croupier (1998)

Not heard of this one? This movie gives a fresh perspective on the world of gambling, by showing the games from a croupier’s side of the table. Not Hollywood, strictly speaking, as it comes from across the pond. This film is the best of British, with Mike Hodges directing and a then nearly unknown Clive Owen taking the starring role. This thriller twists and turns like a poker game as Owen’s croupier gets entangled in a game without any rules.

The titular Croupier, Jack, is an aspiring writer struggling to make ends meet. His estranged hustler father suggests he gets a job as a croupier at a casino he used to frequent. With no other option for income, Jack takes the job, and his life slowly unravels. The film does an excellent job of showing the types of characters that inhabit a casino, on both sides of the table. Before he knows it, Jack becomes embroiled in schemes and trusts beyond his control and wrestles with the idea, he is a pawn in someone else’s game.

Though a slow starter, punctuated by narration from Clive Owen’s Jack, the film steadily builds and keeps the viewer, and Jack, guessing all the way through. Look out for stellar performances from Alex Kingston and Nicholas Ball, two veterans of British television who relish the opportunity to get stuck into bigger roles on a larger stage.

Need a movie night? Pick any one of these films, or all three if you need a gambling movie binge. Each one is a classic. The total run time for a triple-bill is six-and-a-half hours, so maybe split them up over a weekend.