Top 10 gambling and casino movies

31 August 2018 by Lauri Ronkainen

Gambling has inspired writers and movie makers for a long time. The chance to win life-changing fortunes is a powerful theme and an interesting psychological phenomenon. In casino-themed movies, people aren't just playing with what they can afford to lose. They risk it all.

This list of the best gambling movies is a varied bunch. Ranging from more serious movies like Casino Royale and Croupier to comedies such as Ocean's Eleven and Maverick, there's something to suit every taste.

There are both old classics and more recent gambling movies included. When it comes to good gambling movies on Netflix, the selection is a bit limited and depends on your region. You'll need to rent or buy some of the titles from Amazon, Google or Apple stores online.

We try not to include spoilers or give away too much of the plot. Since this is a list of movies about gambling, the reviews concentrate on the casino culture and gambling mindset.

Without further ado, here's the list of top 10 gambling movies:

1. Casino Royale (2006, IMDB 8.0)

The origin story of James Bond: gorgeous ladies, brutal violence and high-stakes poker.

After gaining his "00" status and the license to kill, MI6 agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) is sent to Montenegro. Attending a high-stakes poker game organized by the cash-starved terrorist banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), Bond's objective is to beat his notorious host and force him to seek asylum in the UK.

On his expedition to the poker table, 007 is accompanied by a treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). During the epic Texas Hold'em tournament culminating in a pot of $115,000,000, Bond also gets a little help from CIA's Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright).

The name's Bond... James Bond.

As an occasional gambler and life-long Bond fan, I dearly love Casino Royale. Compared to the disappointment caused Pierce Brosnan's last two Bond movies, rebooting the whole saga with a new face and an original Fleming story was a breath of fresh air.

Published in 1953, Casino Royale was Ian Fleming's very first Bond novel. Considering the 53 years between the book and the movie, the big screen adaptation is fairly loyal to the original story. Except for baccarat making way for more fashionable Texas Hold'em, it's pretty much all there, down to the legendarily nasty torture scene.

The gambling scenes in Casino Royale are intense. Even viewers who aren't poker experts can follow the game and taste the desperation. Bond and Le Chiffre battle it out on the green felt, all disguises dropped. In the old movies, you'd see 007 use some clever trickery to best his foe. In Casino Royale, it's all down to the last card.

Casino Royale is James Bond's origin story. Even though the first movie version was released back 1967, this Peter Sellers flick was never a part of the official canon, being closer to Pink Panther than Bond.

In 2007, the production company Columbia Pictures used its opportunity well. They went back to the roots to rethink the character and the world of international espionage. Whereas Brosnan's Bond was playful and boyish, Daniel Craig's serious, cold-blooded and brooding tough-guy closely resembles Fleming's portrayal of Her Majesty's hired gun.

Casino Royale is one of the great gambling movies of our time. Every gambler has probably seen it already. If not, it's about time!

2. Ocean's Eleven (2001, IMDB 7.8)

The casino heist of the century.

A con-man Danny Ocean (George Clooney) gets paroled. He gathers a crew of old acquaintances and new talent to join him on an epic heist, targeting three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously.

The Bellagio, the MGM Grand and the Mirage are bursting with players and money in anticipation of the big boxing match. As if the $160,000,000 take wasn't enough, Ocean has an ulterior motive to also win back his ex-wife (Julia Roberts) in one big swoop.

All right, you proved your point. You broke into my vault. Congratulations, you're a dead man.
Terry

Directed by an Academy Award winner Steven Soderbergh, Ocean's Eleven features some of the biggest Hollywood names of the era. In addition to George Clooney and Julia Roberts, the cast also includes Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. Andy Garcia plays the casino boss Terry Benedict with an icy touch.

Ocean's Eleven certainly has all the ingredients for a fun, surprising and fast-paced movie. Both the dialogue and the cinematic storytelling flow with ease and two hours go by in a flash.

For a casino movie, there's not much gambling in Ocean's Eleven. However, you'll get to take a peek inside the Las Vegas casinos of the early noughties.

After its 2001 release, Ocean's Eleven has already spawned three sequels: Ocean's Twelve, Ocean's Thirteen and Ocean's Eight. Although they all feature elaborate heists, only Ocean's Thirteen and Eleven are casino robbery movies.

Ocean's Eleven is a remake of a 1960 Rat Pack movie Ocean's 11. In this mother of all casino robbery movies, a group of World War II veterans goes after the top casinos of the era: Sahara, Riviera, Desert Inn, Sands, and the Flamingo.

Starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, the original Ocean's 11 is packed with nostalgia value and old time Vegas feel.

3. Croupier (1998, IMDB 7.2)

A cynical author and dealer bites the hand that feeds him.

A failing novelist Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) decides to return to the casino industry and write about the world of gambling. Working as a dealer in a London casino, he gets tangled up in a plan for a heist.

Gambling's not about money... Gambling's about not facing reality, ignoring the odds.
Jack

Those looking for good casino movies that don't glorify gambling, look no further. Even though Croupier doesn't explore the world of addiction and frustration from the players' perspective, the detached coolness of Croupier is a change most welcome. It also underscores the difference between the cinematic traditions of the UK and the US.

Jack is an interesting character that doesn't reveal too much of himself. Even though the audience hears his internal voice narrating and commenting on the events, we don't get the complete picture of him. One thing we do know, though: Jack despises the players and enjoys seeing them lose in the classic casino table games.

With a polite smile on his face and an air of professionalism and competence surrounding him, Jack is callous enough to be every casino manager's dream employee. Clive Owen's portrayal of a cold, calculating and detached croupier is solid. Even though the inner dialogue might occasionally sound a bit pretentious, it fits the style of Croupier perfectly.

Gina McKee, Kate Hardie and Alex Kingston do a great job playing the very different women in Jack's life. The female characters are familiar archetypes: we see McKee as the straight-laced girlfriend, Hardie as the tough-exterior co-worker and Kingston as the femme fatale. In the end, though, these ladies shape the direction of the movie more actively than self-distancing Jack.

Apart from Casino Royale, Croupier is the only UK casino movie on this list. Taking place in the mid-nineties London, it's an interesting depiction of the contemporary gambling scene. Well worth 90 minutes of your time.

4. Casino (1995, IMDB 8.2)

The true story of Las Vegas' criminal past.

Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert DeNiro) is sent to Las Vegas to manage the Tangiers casino and oversee the interests of Kansas City mob families. While turning a slow skimming operation into a commercial success, he falls in love with a glamorous hustler Ginger (Sharon Stone).

The business is booming and everybody is happy, although not for long. When Sam's unpredictable childhood friend Nicky (Joe Pesci) starts to rock the boat, Sam is having a hard time juggling the mob bosses, local authorities, the friendship with Nicky and his crumbling marriage.

Back home, they would have put me in jail for what I'm doing. Here, they're giving me awards.
Sam Rothstein

Casino is one of the best-known casino mob movies. However, it is not a gambling movie. Like Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, Casino uses the world of organised crime as a stage for something more universal. Even though the movie is adapted from real events in Vegas history, it's essentially a story about friendship, ambition, marriage and betrayal.

The main character Sam Rothstein is modeled after Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, who ran four Las Vegas casinos (Stardust, Fremont, Hacienda and Marina) in the seventies and eighties. Nicky, Ginger and many other characters, too have their real-life counterparts. Some of the most gruesome details, including torturing of the trigger-happy Irish mobster, really did happen.

Casino strikes a note with the nostalgics pining after the good old days when La Cosa Nostra ran Las Vegas. Starting with Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel in 1946, the mafia had the city in a strong grip for decades. Yet, from the sixties onwards, corporate ownership and increased governmental oversight were changing the game in Nevada.

The cast in Casino comprises of Hollywood royalty of the age. The acting is top-notch - Sharon Stone even won the best actress Golden Globe for her role as Ginger. However, the characters are one-dimensional archetypes. Being mainly told from the point of view of the embittered casino manager Sam, the story reeks of thinly veiled misogyny.

Sitting down for this 3-hour classic shouldn't be a chore, though. The dialogue is smart but honest; the violence brutal and nasty, devoid of any Tarantino-style flair. Different narrating voices and cinematographic techniques propel the story forward without making Casino feel gimmicky.

5. Rain Man (1988, IMDB 8.0)

One of the most iconic casino scenes in movie history.

Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is a selfish yuppie whose sportscar business is quickly sinking in debt. When his estranged father dies and leaves him practically without inheritance, furious Charlie finds out he has an autistic savant brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman).

During a kidnapping turning into an epic road trip across the USA, the two brothers bond. After discovering Raymond's astonishing talent with numbers, they also end up in Las Vegas counting cards in live blackjack tables.

Now casinos have house rules: they don't like to lose. So you never show that you're counting cards. That is THE cardinal sin, Ray.
Charlie

Usually, I'd include the movie trailer, but this seems like the perfect time to make an exception. After all, this is a list of gambling movies and strictly speaking, Rain Man isn't one.

However, the blackjack scene in Rain Man is an integral part of popular culture, a story every gambler should know. With all of the gambling distilled into 7 minutes of pure gold, go ahead and take what you came for.

If you appreciate a heart-warming, well-made eighties movie, you'll probably want to watch the whole thing, though. Rain Man did win 4 Oscars 1989, including Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Hoffman), so it's well worth your time.

Rain Man is also one of the first movies that made autism understandable for a wider audience. Having been institutionalised for most of his life, Raymond encounters the complexities of the world outside with varying reactions. The camera subtly captures how he experiences the strange new surroundings.

Cruise and Hoffman play their roles expertly; Valeria Golino charms as Charlie's kind-hearted girlfriend Susanna. The characters feel real and their timing is perfect. Even though this is not a comedy, there are plenty of hilarious moments.

6. Maverick (1994, IMDB 7.0)

A side-splitting quest for poker fortune and fame.

A card hustler Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) is just $3,000 short of the buy-in for All Rivers Poker Championship. Joining forces with a faux southern belle Annabelle Bransford (Jodie Foster) and an upright lawman Marshal Zane Cooper (James Garner), they hurry towards the tournament.

Trying to get to the game in time and come up with some capital, our trio has to make it's way past bloodthirsty bandits, sneaky indians and pitiful settlers. With a grand total of $500,000 in the pot, winning the championship is much more than a game of chance.

It's just a pair of sixes. If you can beat that you got me licked, and that's not a totally unpleasant prospect.
Maverick

Starring Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster - both some of the hottest names in Hollywood back then - Maverick is a perfect example of the movie industry playing it safe. Blending some clever buddy movie dialogue with a theme-park style wild west setting and zany characters, Maverick is aimed squarely at the mass market of nineties moviegoers.

This doesn't make it a bad movie, though. Maverick is a light, harmless comedy that will make you laugh. Although there are enough cliches to fill a beach with facepalm trees, you will be entertained. Mel Gibson in 1994 was just "so damn likable".

For a movie centered around a half a million dollar poker tournament, there could be even more gambling. Playing five card draw poker, Bret Maverick reads his opponents expertly and also gives Mrs. Bransford some useful tips on tells.

Mid-nineties was the heyday of western comedies and Maverick proudly continues the tradition. Made with a proper $75,000,000 budget and starring some big-name actors, Maverick stands head and shoulders above many of its contemporaries.

7. Rounders (1998, IMDB: 7.3)

Gambling destiny fulfilled.

A promising law student Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) gets tired of grinding away at the low-stakes poker tables. He goes all-in against a Russian mobster Teddy KGB (John Malkovich) and loses his life savings. After the colossal defeat, our protagonist decides to focus on his studies and vows never to play again.

Mike's resolve starts to crack when his childhood buddy Worm (Edward Norton) gets out of prison and plans on building up his bankroll at the card tables. Trying his best to save Worm from a loan shark, Mike soon finds himself neglecting his studies and his girlfriend Jo (Gretchen Mol).

If you can't spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.
Mike McDermott

The story-telling works well. Even though the events are somewhat predictable, you will enjoy the ride just the same. Especially the chemistry between Damon and Norton makes their scenes entertaining.

Rounders is a typical nineties movie. The tug-of-war between conservatism and fulfilling one's destiny takes place on the well-trodden path of the familiar movie plots. Combining the gambling theme and the road to self-discovery results in setting that's somewhat hilarious to the modern viewer.

Rounders also illustrates the nineties gambling scene and mindset. Even though the movie is "only" 20 years old, from the gambling industry's perspective it's from a completely different age. Internet poker boom was just around the corner, online casinos were taking their first baby-steps and no-one had even heard of responsible gaming.

After 20 years, underground poker games, illegal casinos and a regular pilgrimage to Atlantic City aren't the norms anymore. The gaming industry has changed their pitch, too. In the old days, casinos were selling the dream of spectacular, life-changing wins. With the advent of responsible gaming, the official mantra of new online casinos is all about entertainment and thrills.

Rounders is an entertaining story starring some quality actors. Even though the premise is a bit cheesy, it's interesting to take a look at the nineties underground poker scene.

8. The Gambler (2014, IMDB 6.0)

A privileged brat with a death wish wants to feel alive.

Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is a failed novelist who teaches literature at a Los Angeles university. With a sharp mind, wealthy background, existential pain and bad gambling habit, Jim soon finds himself in a hole he insists on digging deeper.

Already owing loan sharks hundreds of thousands of dollars, he keeps on borrowing more, trying to turn the tables around. Eventually, he agrees to coax a promising student-athlete to shave points of his basketball game and keep the Shylocks at bay.

If I give you this money and you don't pay me back, there are no rules. Do you understand the gravity of your situation?
Frank

It seems that no matter how much the casino industry repeats the responsible gaming mantra, making smart decisions and acting like an adult don't offer saucy material for an interesting movie. Hence, Hollywood prefers to show us self-destructive idiots going out of their way to make bad situations worse.

Jim Bennett is just the kind of character the viewer wants to end up on the bottom of an empty swimming pool with a bag over his head and a couple of brothers ready to beat the living hell out of him. With every advantage in life handed to him on a silver platter, he actively aims to make dog's breakfast out of it. Somehow, though, Jim starts to grow on you, if only a bit.

Naturally, there's plenty of gambling. Jim's go-to game is blackjack and he plays it with a risky reverse martingale strategy. Check out our guide to roulette strategies for a detailed description of this and other betting systems.

There's also the sports betting aspect in the Gambler, although it's not one of the best sports gambling movies. We'll include some of those in the updated edition later on.

The cast of The Gambler is top-notch. Mark Wahlberg does an excellent job of portraying a guy you just love to hate. Alvin Ing, Michael Kenneth Williams and John Goodman play a trio of world-wise loan sharks. Goodman's fatherly pep talk on what it means to have "fuck you money" is single-handedly the best scene of The Gambler.

9. 21 (2008, IMDB 6.8)

The true-ish story of the legendary MIT card counting team.

Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is a young math genius with great aspirations. Soon to graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he has been accepted into Harvard Medical School. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the $300,000 to pay for his studies.

MIT math professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) recognises Ben's obvious talent with numbers and recruits him into his blackjack team. Using card counting, signalling and team play, they successfully milk the Las Vegas casinos dry on their weekend forays. However, big egos collide and jeopardise the whole enterprise.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
Ben

Based on the book Bringing Down the House, 21 tells the story of MIT gamblers who gain an edge over the casinos. Both the book and the subsequent movie take plenty of artistic license; the plot and characters are mostly products of imagination.

Yet, the basic setting of academics counting cards, playing as a team and using outside investors to finance big bets is certainly true.

Instead of being a single professors ego-trip and using a couple of students to trick Las Vegas casinos, the real story of the MIT Blackjack Team astonishes in its sheer scale. Playing from 1979 to 2000, the team employed over 70 people as card counters, big players and controllers.

At its heyday in mid-eighties, there were over 35 active members and $350,000 in invested capital. The whole operation was run as a business with corporate structure, accurately calculated return on investment and strict rules governing the tactics and strategies.

The real MIT Blackjack Team didn't limit its intake to MIT only. New players were recruited from campuses all over the States. Before being admitted, they had to endure a trial by fire: playing through eight 6-deck shoes with minimal error.

Although 21 sacrifices accuracy for Hollywood suspense, it describes the counting technique and different roles in the team fairly well. The blackjack team's success depended on flying under the radar. They had to keep track of the count, signal for the big player to step in when the odds were in their favour and make it out of the casino with the cash - all without drawing attention to themselves.

21 is certainly an entertaining movie and well worth your time. If you prefer a more accurate account of the 21 years of successful card counting, you may also want to check out History Channel's Breaking Vegas Documentary: The True Story of The MIT Blackjack Team. Granted, the American documentary style of the early 2000s may appear comical in its over-dramatisation but the story is educational.

10. Win It All (2017, IMDB 6.2)

A degenerate gambler babysits a duffel-bag full of money. What could go wrong?

Eddie Garrett (Jake Johnson) isn't a poker prodigy. In fact, he's a gambling addict on a bad losing streak.

A loan shark Michael (José Antonio García) makes Eddie a tempting offer: look after a mysterious duffel bag while he's in prison and collect $10,000 dollars when he gets out.

Would you be able to not take a peek? Eddie sure isn't. After discovering a fortune hidden away under miscellaneous junk, he starts borrowing some gambling capital with the best intentions of paying back.

While celebrating his initial success, Eddie falls in love with a single-mom called Eva (Aislinn Derbez). The rest of the movie is a balancing act between building a new relationship and trying to resist the temptation of the money bag.

The fact that you're even thinking about this plan means that that bag is gonna be devoid of money in less than three weeks.
Gene

Win It All is one of the few gambling movies that doesn't show a single game round played from start to finish. More than a traditional gambling movie, it's a story about addiction, bad decisions and their social consequences.

Eddie's one-time sponsor Gene (Keegan-Michael Key) is the sound of reason and down-to-earth cynicism throughout the movie. He's the kind of friend everybody needs, although sometimes his advice is a bitter pill to swallow.

Without glorifying or gorifying gambling itself, Win It All paints a vivid picture of the emotions accompanying both the highs and lows of the game. From a party celebrating a minor win to the frustration and desperation of big losses, Johnson manages to capture what goes on in the head of many players.

More gambling in film

There are plenty of movies about casino gambling, sports betting poker out there. 

If you have some favourite movies on gambling that we missed, let us know in the comments. We want to keep this list fresh with your suggestions!

PS: Here you go, finnishgambler:

About the author

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Lauri Ronkainen

A history buff, bon vivant and live casino aficionado who's still really bad at blackjack.

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finnishgambler said
This is sick. I was stunned that there was no "Con Air" in it. We all know the final scene where Steve Buscemi was asked that "Does new shooter feel lucky, well does he? - Yes, Yes he does" :D

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