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Top 10 Movies Featuring Gambling

23 November 2012 | Features, Film Lists, Guest Posts | by David Zou

Gambling and every subject related to gambling have held a fascination for the film industry, going as far back as the time of silent movies.

Fritz Lang’s 1922 brilliant four hour film Dr. Mabuse the Gambler is one of the earliest examples of a film where a criminal mastermind uses illegal means to win at cards.

Meanwhile Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake will appear in a new film, Runner, Runner (2013) which will be about an online gaming operation.

This post looks at a number of top films, where gambling plays a central role. So without further ado let’s spin the roulette wheel to see the choice of films.

Rounders (1998) 


While Rounders was hardly a box office hit, it is regarded by professional poker players as the one film that truly captures the energy and tension in the game; with more than a few pro players crediting this film for getting them into poker.

The story centres on Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) a New York law student, who plays poker to finance his studies.

When McDermott loses his savings playing poker, he decides to quit the game; but when friend and gambling partner Worm (Edward Norton) is released from prison, McDermott once again finds himself going from game to game (rounding).

With both in debt, the film builds up to a tense, final scene with McDermott having one final chance to pay off his debts playing poker against his adversary, Russian mobster, Teddy “KGB” (John Malkovich).

Great acting, excellent card-shark dialogue make this a must see movie, especially for poker players.


Croupier (1998)


Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) is an aspiring writer whose attempts to complete a first novel have landed him in debt. Against his better judgement he takes a job as a croupier.

While Manfred is no gambler, he is a talented croupier and soon realises that his new job provides him with great material for a new novel and gradually he is sucked into the world of gambling.

His girlfriend Marion (Gina McKee) is upset that his new job is taking him away from his writing; he has a fling with fellow colleague Bella (Kate Hardie) against the rules of the casino and then is seduced by one of his customers Jani (Alex Kingston) who is after much more than just sex.

Jack’s voiceover is used throughout this riveting and dramatic neo-noir film, which shows him tell of his plans to turn his casino experience into a best-selling novel.

Thanks to Mike Hodges’s subtle direction, a superb acting performance from Owen and an expertly written storyline, this film is the most realistic depiction of life inside a casino.


Casino (1995)


Scorsese’s film is based on real-life character Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and has Robert De Niro playing Sam “Ace” Rothstein who runs casinos in Las Vegas for the Mafia during the 1970s.

Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) is sent by the Mafia to protect Rothstein, but eventually runs his own operations.  Meanwhile Rothstein is also involved in a love triangle with his wife and former prostitute Ginger (Sharon Stone), who is still in love with her pimp, Lester (James Woods).

The film tells the story of how the Mafia gained and then lost control of Las Vegas gambling, with the first hour intricately detailing the inner workings of Las Vegas casinos.

As usual Scorcese doesn’t disappoint in this behind the scenes look at the mob’s control of Vegas in the 70s. Outstanding acting performances, especially from Stone who is at her brilliant best.


Ocean’s Eleven (2001)


Based on, but very different to the original 1960 film, the remake has a star studded cast that includes George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia and Julia Roberts.

Clooney plays ex-con Danny Ocean, who together with a group of thieves, plan to rob several Las Vegas casinos, the Bellagio, The Mirage, and the MGM Grand, owned by the ruthless gambling mogul Terry Benedict (Andy García) of more than $150 million, by bypassing the sophisticated security systems.

Ocean doesn’t reveal to the team that another reason he is coordinating the robbery is that his ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts) is dating Benedict.

A fast-moving film about a casino heist, with enough suspense to keep the audience entertained from beginning to end.

Whatever you do, don’t miss Soderbergh’s fast paced, highly enjoyable and stylish film with some of Hollywood’s biggest names.  Ocean’s Eleven provides entertainment from beginning to end and is probably better than the original 1960s version.


Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)


In Guy Ritchie’s film directing debut, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a group of friends decide that they want to make big money, so decide that their good friend Eddy (Nick Moran) will play poker against crime boss Harry the Hatchet (P. H. Moriarty).

However Harry is aware that Eddy is an expert at cards and fixes the game to ensure that Eddy cannot win.

When Eddy loses, Harry demands that the friends pay off their £500,000 within a week, leaving the friends desperate to find a way to pay off their debt, including a plot to rob some drug dealing neighbours.

London’s underworld finely portrayed in this fast paced mix of action, drama and comedy.  There is no shortage of witty dialogue and great acting and with its many twists and turns, this film it will have you on the edge of your seat.


The Cooler (2003)


Bernie Lootz (William Macy) has been a loser all of his life and his bad luck is contagious.  So the owner of a Las Vegas casino, Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) hires Bernie to act as a “cooler” to gamblers who are on a winning streak and this helps bring the casino a fortune.

Everything is going well until Bernie falls in love with a Natalie (Maria Bello) a cocktail waitress. Natalie brings Bernie luck and this jeopardizes his role as a cooler.

Shelly is infuriated at this turn of events and tries to end the relationship.

This unusual, compelling and sometimes violent love story, will keep you entertained.   There are wonderful performances from William H. Macy and Maria Bello and a truly stunning performance from Alec Baldwin for which he received an Oscar nomination.


The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

Cincinnati Kid

Eric Stoner, known as the “Kid” (Steve McQueen) is a young, up and coming stud poker player in 1930s New Orleans.

Hearing that veteran poker player Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson) “The Man”, is coming to town, the Kid decides to challenge him.

Another gambling pro, the Shooter (Karl Malden), arranges a game between the Kid and the Man, with the Shooter dealing. But Slade (Rip Torn), an adversary of the Man tries to persuade the Shooter to fix the outcome of the game in the Kid’s favour.

The Kid discovers this and tells Slade that he prefers winning fairly as the game between the two builds up into a tense final hand.

Outstanding acting performances with Steve McQueen personifying Mr Cool throughout. Even if you don’t understand the game of poker, you will be on the edge of your seat for that final hand.


21 (2008)


Based on a true story, 21 is about a group of brilliant MIT students in the 1990s who devise a complex card counting technique and strategy to beat casinos at blackjack.

The film focuses on one student Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), who has earned a place at Harvard Medical School, but doesn’t have the $300,000 needed to pay for tuition.

Ben’s brilliance with numbers is noticed by one of his professors, Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey), who recruits him to his card group.

The group makes regular visits to a casino in Vegas, where they use a complex system of signals to avoid suspicion.

Meanwhile the casino’s security chief Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne) is constantly monitoring the blackjack team and Ben in particular.

Hardly the greatest casino film ever, but explains the rules of the card-counting scam and with some exciting blackjack scenes will keep you entertained for a couple of hours.


Owning Mahowny (2003)


Owning Mahowny is based on the true story of a Toronto bank employee who embezzled more than $10 million from his bank in 18 months to support his gambling habit.

Whilst apparently living a normal life, Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a compulsive gambler who has run up enormous debts and spends increasing amounts of time in a casino in Atlantic City.

His good work at the bank leads to promotion to assistant manager allowing him to authorize loans. He starts approving loans to non-existent customers, transferring this money out of the bank.

Meanwhile Victor Foss (John Hurt), boss of the casino, realizing that Mahowny is a compulsive gambler and lavishes him with all sorts of luxuries.

As the debts continue to grow, Mahowny is in denial that he has a gambling problem.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s powerful performance shows the obsessive force of one man’s gambling addiction; while John Hurt is excellent as the evil, uncaring casino boss who is all too happy to take Mahowny’s money and not care where it came from.


Run, Lola, Run (1998)


In this German crime thriller, Lola (Franka Potenta) receives a phone call from her desperate criminal boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), who has has lost100,000 Marks that he was supposed to pay to his criminal boss. He has 20 minutes to pay this money or suffer the consequences.

The main part of the film features Lola in three different runs, each starting at the same time and place and each ending with a very different outcome.

In the final run Lola runs into a casino where she buys a 100 Mark chip and finds a roulette table where she attempts to win enough money to save her boyfriend.

A masterpiece from German director and writer Tom Tykwer on how life is made up of a series of incidents and coincidences. This fast moving, stylish film with its many clever jump cuts and effects will leave you breathless.



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  • Steven Flores

    I’ve seen some of these films though 21 I think is just terrible in all counts, particularly as it reveals some bad digital photography. Pointers for The Cooler which I do love.

    • David Zou

      I’m glad I’ve never seen 21 before,and will avoid it for the rest of my life,The Cooler looks interesting to me.

  • basuperstar

    I work for an online gambling company so this list and the upcoming ben affleck film make me very excited as gambling movies rank among some of my favs. I’ve seen most of these, 21 was pretty average; the cooler, rounders and lock stock are my favs from this list. The Hustler, The Sting and The Pope of Greenwich Village are 3 of my all time favourite films and all include gambling as a major part of the plot

  • basuperstar

    Also I haven’t seen it yet but all the guys i work with say ‘Poolhall Junkies’ is one of the best gambling movies they’ve seen