The 26 Best Movies About Gambling and Poker, Ranked

This text initially ran in 2020 and is being republished forward of the discharge of Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter.

Films about playing have an inherent drama as a result of, by definition, they’re about danger. It’s not enjoyable to observe somebody be prudent and cautious, however to see somebody continually placing his well-being on the road in determined, irrational hope for that One Massive Rating … nicely, gamblers in playing films are in some ways similar to that veteran cop who takes One Final Case earlier than retirement. They normally don’t find yourself with a peaceful dwelling life upstate, counting their winnings.

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So, with the discharge of Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter, we determined to have a look again at a few of the greatest films about playing. A be aware on methodology: We tried to verify we emphasised the playing over the film. Few would argue that Rounders is healthier than On line casino, however On line casino is much less concerning the playing and extra concerning the world during which that playing takes place; Rounders is unquestionably concerning the playing. We veered extra towards films concerning the playing. Fortunately, a complete lot of them occur to be nice films all on their very own.

26. Vegas Trip (1997)

All proper, so we all know this isn’t an excellent film: It’s in all probability the worst Trip film, with the potential exception of that horrible reboot with Ed Helms. However you’ll have to simply indulge us on this one, as a result of it has maybe the only funniest, dumbest on line casino joke of all time. Principally, Clark Griswold develops an dependancy to playing and is plagued by a card-dealer named Marty performed — awesomely — by Wallace Shawn. Clark is so dangerous at playing that, at one level at a “low cost” on line casino, he forks over $20 to play a recreation known as “Choose a Quantity Between 1 and 10?” He guesses “4.” The supplier says “nope, 7,” and … simply takes his cash. Clark storms away, grumbling to himself. The concept that such a recreation would exist mainly sums up Las Vegas, and playing basically. It’s perhaps probably the most trustworthy potential card recreation.

25. Fortunate You (2007)

Made within the warmth of the now-mercifully-cooled World Collection of Poker craze, the late Curtis Hanson put an instantaneous halt to his terrific L.A. Confidential/Marvel Boys/8 Mile/In Her Footwear run with this largely hackneyed story of a famous person poker participant (Eric Bana) with an advanced relationship along with his even larger famous person poker-player father (Robert Duvall). We now have seen that story 1,000,000 occasions in 1,000,000 higher sports activities films — this even has a Massive Sport on the finish — however each Bana and Duvall discover some fact of their characters regardless. This film was a catastrophe on the field workplace, and Hanson’s scorching streak was over.

24. 21 (2008)

Primarily based on the true (if embellished by writer Ben Mezrich) story of the MIT Blackjack Staff that beat the home for practically a decade, 21 turns an attention-grabbing math and enterprise story right into a form of dumb heist film that includes a variety of younger, good-looking actors (Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, Jacob Pitts, and even Josh Gad) attempting to tug one over on Kevin Spacey. Spacey is especially checked-out right here, and the film was criticized for “whitewashing” in its casting, turning the largely Asian-American real-life gamers into generic white folks. However for a short second, earlier than Spacey is being kidnapped and crushed in a lodge room, it’s an attention-grabbing take a look at the science behind good playing. However just for a second.

23. Let It Trip (1989)

An odd little comedy a few perpetual loser playing addict (Richard Dreyfuss) who, for at some point, hits on each single guess on the horse races. This simply evokes him to push more durable and maintain it going, and whereas this would possibly change into a catastrophe in a film like, say, Uncut Gems, right here, it’s only a wacky ’80s comedy. Let It Trip nonetheless will get a variety of comedic mileage out of Dreyfuss’s mania and goes a good distance on some very enjoyable supporting performances from Teri Garr, Jennifer Tilly, and David Johansen. However let’s simply say they don’t present this one at Gamblers Nameless conferences.

22. Maverick (1994)

There was a time that Mel Gibson was thought of such a lightweight and energetic main man {that a} big-budget studio film might coast on his attraction as a card shark and con man. Primarily based on the favored ’50s tv sequence (and co-starring that present’s lead, James Garner), Maverick is a little bit of a bloated contraption, too lengthy and too overstuffed with would-be-epic-and-probably-unnecessary Western scope by Richard Donner. However the movie nonetheless has its pleasures, not least of which is Gibson’s pal Jodie Foster, who has a blast taking part in the form of damsel-in-distress feminine sidekick position she’d in any other case spent most of her profession avoiding. It’s a gasoline to observe her so giddy.

21. The Cooler (2003)

This likable indie’s highest quality is its premise: Meet Bernie (William H. Macy), knowledgeable loser whose job it’s to spoil any high-roller’s scorching streak just by taking part in on the identical craps desk. The Cooler begins off as a tragic, humorous character examine of a recovering playing addict who’s nonetheless in large debt to Alec Baldwin’s tough-guy on line casino boss — he’s working off what he owes by being the man’s go-to “cooler” — however the love of girl (Maria Bello’s weary cocktail waitress) would possibly simply change his luck. Realism takes a backseat to romance and crowd-pleasing sentiment in Wayne Kramer’s directorial debut, and the followthrough isn’t as entertaining because the setup. However Macy was born to play this form of hangdog failure who hasn’t stopped betting on himself.

20. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Usually, film characters who gamble are offered as sobering cautionary tales. No one advised Steven Soderbergh, who turned his remake of the creaky Rat Pack caper right into a jazzy, fleet-footed blast. From the early scene the place George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s ultra-cool characters sq. off on the card desk, it’s clear that this Ocean’s Eleven will exude the glossy, cocky spirit of recent Vegas, which is all upscale grownup pleasures and little or no precise degenerate habits. Soderbergh’s ensemble is impeccably dressed and by no means fussed, sporting the swagger that actual gamblers want they’d. The filmmaker isn’t within the intricacies of playing, and he additionally thinks the video games’ metaphors are equally foolish — as demonstrated by one of many movie’s greatest moments:

19. Molly’s Sport (2017)

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In case you chafe at Aaron Sorkin’s showy, know-it-all angle in his screenplays, then be warned: His directorial debut is the Oscar-winner at his Sorkin-iest. Molly’s Sport is predicated on the memoir of Molly Bloom, a former champion skier who shifts careers after a horrible accident, turning her consideration to the world of underground poker. Jessica Chastain is coiled-cobra cocky as Molly, strolling us by this unlawful however extremely addictive and profitable ecosystem as she turns into the queen of organizing high-stakes video games. This thriller is much too happy with its personal cleverness — a continual Sorkin shortcoming — however you are feeling Molly’s rush, and also you meet some actually heartbreaking characters, together with Invoice Camp’s hopeless gambler. It’s horrifying to observe him drown in sluggish movement.

18. On line casino (1995)

“In Vegas, everyone’s gotta watch everyone else.” In 1973, Robert De Niro performed the harmful, unpredictable hothead reverse Harvey Keitel’s wise mobster in Imply Streets — a pair a long time later, it was De Niro as the person with the burden of obligations bearing down on him. In On line casino, he’s Ace, a gangster working a mobbed-up on line casino who’s attempting to do issues “the correct means,” solely to be undercut by his hotheaded pal (Joe Pesci) and an formidable girl (Sharon Stone) he shouldn’t belief. Wish to perceive the inside workings of Vegas playing? Martin Scorsese’s intricate drama is for you, chronicling Sin Metropolis’s evolution from seedy to sanitized over the span of a number of years. As he did beforehand with GoodFellas, Scorsese understands how American enterprise works within the legal underworld — and in addition how people get trampled on alongside the way in which.

17. The Hustler (1961)

When you think about the parameters of our playing film rankings, we should say, The Hustler isn’t nearly as good a playing film as its sequel, The Shade of Cash, (which you will see that afterward this record) … however it in all probability is a greater film general. The 1961 authentic is much less involved with a swaggering Tom Cruise-Paul Newman movie-star face-off and extra targeted on loyalty and integrity and ambition. Newman’s Quick Eddie Felson is sort of a extra attention-grabbing model of Cruise’s character, and his battle to take down Jackie Gleason’s Minnesota Fat follows a extra human, soulful narrative than a typical sports-movie arc. It’s higher the much less it’s concerning the pool hustling … which is nice, however retains it decrease on this record.

16. Bugsy (1991)

An origin story of Las Vegas, Bugsy is principally a examine of Bugsy Siegel, a gangster who travels to the desert, satisfied he’s seen the mob’s future. Lavish, stylish, and good, director Barry Levinson’s Oscar-winning drama follows Siegel in his seemingly quixotic dream of making a mecca of playing and casinos, and Warren Beatty keenly performs him as a person of passions however maybe not sufficient motive. Bugsy is much less about playing — though Siegel certainly takes some huge probabilities — than it’s about Sin Metropolis’s messy start, which proves fascinating, even when the film’s glitzy, prestige-picture trappings are a bit limiting.

15. Atlantic Metropolis (1980)

At the moment, the legalization of playing has change into a Hail Mary last-ditch effort for a lot of financially eroding city areas like Detroit, St. Louis, and others — however Atlantic Metropolis did this primary. Louis Malle’s heartbreaking however nonetheless charming, even regal Atlantic Metropolis captures each the blight of Atlantic Metropolis — which led to the legalization of playing there within the first place — and the hope among the many poor dreamers nonetheless hanging round its edges. With a screenplay written by John Guare, the movie options an trustworthy, old-school movie-star efficiency from Burt Lancaster and a riveting flip from a younger Susan Sarandon as a on line casino waitress with goals of being a supplier however an ex-husband she will be able to’t shake. The film feels each dated and timeless, capturing a particular second that has the facility of folklore.

14. Eight Males Out (1988)

John Sayles’s historic drama concerning the Black Sox scandal of 1919, when members of the Chicago White Sox (together with legend Shoeless Joe Jackson) threw the World Collection to gamblers, is especially instructive at the moment, when skilled sports activities have embraced playing revenues wholeheartedly, ignoring the teachings of the previous. The story of Eight Males Out is much less about corruption from the gamers than it’s a labor-management battle: The gamers repair the sequence not out of greed however out of desperation when their proprietor refuses to reward them for an unimaginable season. Playing’s corrosive affect on sports activities has largely been forgotten within the latest years, however Eight Males Out reminds us of its perils.

13. The Shade of Cash (1986)

Paul Newman gained his solely Oscar for The Shade of Cash, revisiting the character of Quick Eddie Felson, whom he performed in 1961’s The Hustler. The sequel is a film about an growing old pool shark at a crossroads. “He needed to cease playing,” Scorsese mentioned in Conversations With Scorsese. “He had change into a special sort of hustler in a means, promoting liquor. However he couldn’t resist the enjoyment of the sport. I imply, not simply pool, however livening up the sport of life, which is the actual gamble.” That quote undersells the movie’s cautionary tone — the way it portrays its characters, together with Tom Cruise’s upstart pool participant Vincent, as people who’ve thrown away their lives on a recreation that doesn’t love them again. This isn’t one in every of Scorsese’s greatest films — and as we mentioned earlier, The Hustler is the higher general movie — however it’s strong and despairing. Like with Scorsese’s mobsters, these are people who find themselves magnetic however not ones you’d need to spend time with in actual life.

12. The Sting (1973)

Who says playing can’t be actually enjoyable? This Finest Image winner exudes pure pleasure … nicely, except you run afoul of Shaw (Paul Newman) and Kelly (Robert Redford), that’s. These two con males resolve to take down a no-good mobster (Robert Shaw), and their elaborate grift includes card video games and horse racing. Understanding the machinations of Shaw and Kelly’s plan doesn’t matter — it’s only a delight to observe the characters (and director George Roy Hill) flip The Sting into one huge, electrical narrative sport. These are some winners who’re simple to root for.

11. Proudly owning Mahowny (2003)

Once you strip away all of the supposed glamour and glitz of playing and concentrate on the crippling, oppressive dependancy, you get Proudly owning Mahowny, the true story of a Canadian financial institution supervisor (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who stole cash from his financial institution and used it to make a sequence of more and more harmful bets in Atlantic Metropolis. Hoffman, as you would possibly anticipate, is sensible within the position, elusive and pathetic in equal measure, a person who’s helpless to regulate himself however does his greatest to hold on so long as he can regardless. The film is so tuned in to Hoffman’s frequency that it’s virtually too distant to the viewer: His Mahowny is so locked in his personal head that there’s no means for us to get in. However that is in all probability as near the phobia of what it’s really prefer to have a playing dependancy as a film can in all probability get.

10. Rounders (1998)

We are saying this each time we write about Rounders, however it stays true: “It’s mainly Citizen Kane for playing addicts and … completely superb for everyone else.” That places it larger on this record than it might be on virtually another, however it does do a superb job of capturing the swaggering, dopey masculinity of being knowledgeable poker participant. (Or no less than of being one within the late ’90s.) We’re glad Matt Damon finally grew out of those roles, however a supporting solid like this (John Malkovich! John Turturro! Martin Landau! Famke Janssen! Even Invoice Camp!) can’t assist however populate this with individuals who make a largely synthetic world really feel actual and lived-in. Nonetheless: See The Cincinnati Child, folks. (That’ll be arising on this record shortly.)

9. The Card Counter (2021)

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Paul Schrader’s glossy, moody, anguished drama a few skilled card participant (a improbable Oscar Isaac) who travels from on line casino to on line casino as a strategy to have some quiet management over his life and conceal from the guilt in his previous is extra enjoyable, however not much less intense, than Schrader normally has: He clearly loves this explicit milieu and delights in detailing its intricacies and nuances. The playing scenes generally sit uneasily alongside Schrader’s traditional tone of guilt and ache, however in addition they enliven and energize each him and the movie. And for all of the completely different examples of Cool Film Gamblers on this record, Isaac’s could be very close to the highest: We aren’t gamblers, but when we had been, he does it the way in which we prefer to faux we might: good, cautious … and all the time in management.

8. Mississippi Grind (2015)

Earlier than they jumped aboard the Marvel bandwagon, Half Nelson filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck crafted this lovingly retro two-hander about a few inveterate gamblers driving down south to a New Orleans poker recreation with doubtlessly huge payoffs. This may be Ryan Reynolds’s greatest efficiency: He’s terrific because the backslapping Curtis who befriends the troubled Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn). Habit, melancholy, and remorse are the hallmarks of Mississippi Grind, which doesn’t attempt to disguise its money owed to Nineteen Seventies Hollywood — particularly, a sure Robert Altman movie that can seem later in these rankings. However that cinematic referencing does nothing to blunt the fabric’s determined, melancholy pull. Mississippi Grind virtually reeks of stale cigarettes and half-drunk cans of beer: It’s a portrait of nonstop playing as one unhappy grind.

7. Croupier (1998)

Clive Owen has been such a well-recognized, considerably disappointing, presence in movies for the final twenty years that it’s now onerous to recollect what a lightning bolt his arrival was. So return and rewatch Croupier, the place all that promise was laid out pretty magnificently. He’s Jack, an aspiring novelist determined for cash — quickly, he’s a croupier attending to know the world of on line casino playing. Pitched like a hard-boiler noir — Jack has the blasé seen-it-all vibe of a non-public dick — Croupier explores the sweaty nervousness and crippling disappointment of those that have thrown their lives (and cash) away on the tables. If the plot issues aren’t all the time satisfying, the movie’s vivid recreation of dingy on line casino life is completely intoxicating. It’s a disgrace that Owen has not often discovered a movie since that’s so magnetic.

6. The Cincinnati Child (1965)

Thought of a little bit of a knockoff of The Hustler on the time, this film, which concentrates on poker somewhat than pool hustling, holds up simply in addition to that movie, and perhaps even higher, if simply because folks do much more poker-playing than pool-hustling anymore. It additionally has a basic Steve McQueen efficiency as “the Child,” a cocky participant who learns he’s perhaps not as nice as he thinks he’s. The film feels present and taut and related. Put it this fashion: All of the bros who assume Rounders is one of the best film ever clearly haven’t seen this.

5. Tricheurs (1984)

One of the best playing film you’ve by no means heard of. Proper earlier than Barbet Schroeder gave us Barfly, Reversal of Fortune, and Single White Feminine, he made this mad, irresistible little thriller a few charming man (performed by French rock star Jacques Dutronc) with such a determined dependancy to playing that he in the end doesn’t actually care if he wins or loses. That turns into a fair larger drawback when he meets up with a person who enlists him in an advanced dishonest scheme that simply raises the stakes to an unmanageable stage. Tricheurs isn’t judgmental of those gamblers and cheaters: It simply follows them alongside to their inevitable doom. Not that the journey isn’t a depraved, darkish blast regardless.

4. Onerous Eight (1996)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s first movie, an growth of a brief movie he made known as Espresso & Cigarettes (and starring a personality known as Sydney that Philip Baker Corridor beforehand performed in Midnight Run), was a serious ache for the neophyte filmmaker, a film he practically misplaced the rights to (and whose title he famously hates). And whereas it could’t stand as much as PTA’s masterworks, it’s a outstanding debut, a examine of a tragic, lonely man who has discovered to outlive within the underworld of Las Vegas by being quiet and unassuming till he meets individuals who would possibly really want his assist. It’s much less showy than you’d anticipate from Anderson’s first movie — he was saving his actually bravura stuff for Boogie Nights — however it’s deeply transferring: The film appears to know Las Vegas, and the lads you by no means discover if you’re there, on an virtually transcendent stage. And Philip Seymour Hoffman’s one scene is immortal:

3. Uncut Gems (2019)

Each time we see the “That is how I win” meme on social media, we are able to’t assist however assume … , that second in Uncut Gems is basically heartbreaking. For all of the well-deserved dialogue about the truth that Josh and Benny Safdie’s thriller is extremely intense, what will get disregarded is exactly why it’s so nerve-wracking. And that’s as a result of Howard, splendidly performed by Adam Sandler, is a hopeless playing addict who can’t cease till he destroys himself completely. The brilliance of Uncut Gems is in Howard’s potential to get us sucked into his illness, making us assume, even for a second, that, sure, he would possibly have the ability to pull off this crazed caper he’s concocted — sure, perhaps that is how he wins. By no means as soon as moralizing about their doomed protagonist, the Safdies inject his mania instantly into our veins, using alongside on his crazed rush. But right here’s the craziest half: After seeing the movie’s tragic finale, chances are you’ll need to get proper again on the experience instantly. Habit is form of like that.

2. The Gambler (1974)

James Toback, who has since been hit with allegations of every kind of problematic habits, based mostly his screenplay on his personal playing dependancy, however what’s nice about The Gambler — the 1974 James Caan model, clearly, not the 2014 Mark Wahlberg one — is that the title character is much less obsessive about playing than he’s with hazard, even self-destruction. His Axel makes bets merely to dig himself deeper and deeper into hassle, even arguing that, for him, the enjoyable of betting is dropping. That’s a dangerous state of affairs for a gambler, to say the least, however Caan sells us on Axel’s determined chase for the subsequent rush. Axel isn’t betting on basketball: He’s taking part in Russian roulette.

1. California Cut up (1974)

The story goes that Robert Altman despatched Elliot Gould the screenplay to California Cut up, hoping he’d play Charlie, a gambler who befriends fellow gambler Invoice (George Segal). “I’ve all the time needed to play this man,” Gould advised the director, to which Altman replied, “You might be this man.” Hopefully not — Charlie’s dependancy is fairly extreme — however the actor exuded his laid-back attraction to fantastic impact whereas working with Segal, who wasn’t that excited about playing. And but the 2 males’s rakish attraction, in one of many excessive watermarks of ’70s hangout cinema, makes this not only a nice buddy film however an attractive exploration of boys-will-be-boys friendship. And, in fact, there’s a complete lot of playing, which Altman movies with informal mastery, letting us snoop on the bizarre characters and harmful oddballs who populate that world. California Cut up stays maybe the director’s most underrated basic — and its gut-punch ending is so muted, but so good.

Grierson & Leitch write concerning the films recurrently and host a podcast on movie. Observe them on Twitter or go to their web site.

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