If you enjoy watching movies and you enjoy gambling, then you might really enjoy watching gambling movies. So do we, and on this page we have listed a number of the best gambling movies around. We have started with our own favorites and then discussed a selection of films that didn’t quite make our top five. Finally, we’ve concluded with a list of other movies that are worth watching.
The following are our top five favorite gambling movies. There was plenty of debate about which movies should make this list, and in what order, but we got there eventually. We are quite certain that there are plenty of you that will disagree with our choices, but hopefully you’ll understand why these movies stand out for us.
1. The Hustler
This 1961 film easily stands the test of time and is at the top of our list for many reasons. It’s based on a novel of the same name (written by Walter Tevis) and was directed by Robert Rossen. Paul Newman is the star, playing pool hustler Fast Eddie Felson. Felson’s dream is to prove that he’s the best pool player in the country and to do that he has to beat the legendary player Minnesota Fats.
The two meet early on in the game, with the rest of the film building up to a later re-match. Although the core theme is about gambling on pool games, there’s much more to this movie. The story follows a journey of discovery for Felson and, as the director himself said, it’s “..really about the obstacles he encounters in attempting to fulfill himself as a human being.”
Despite minor criticism at the time regarding some aspects of the movie, it was largely very well received. It received nine Academy Award nominations, winning two. This is a very well written movie with some top class acting, and it fully deserves its reputation as a classic.
2. Cincinnati Kid
In our opinion this is the best poker movie ever made. Released in 1965 it tells the story of a young poker player, Eric “The Kid” Stoner, and his wish to establish himself as the player to beat. To earn his reputation as the best he has to beat Lancey “The Man” Howard, who happens to be in town. The role of Stoner is played brilliantly by Steve McQueen.
Much like The Hustler, there’s a great deal more to this film than the main theme. Indeed, many reviewers at the time of released compared it to The Hustler. It’s an excellent portrayal of what the high stakes poker and gambling culture was like during the Depression era, but it’s also a tale of friendship, ambition, and morals.
Some of the characters are a little clichéd and the final scene, though gripping, does seem a little unbelievable. However, minor criticisms aside, this is a great movie. Maybe there will be a better poker film made in the future, but for now The Cincinnati Kid cannot be beaten in our eyes.
3. Owning Mahowney
There are not many gambling movies that accurately portray the obsession of a compulsive gambler. In our opinion, there are none that do it as well as Owning Mahowney. Featuring a fabulous performance from Phillip Seymour-Hoffman and strong supporting roles from John Hurt and Minnie Driver, the 2003 movie is based on the true story of Brian Molony. Molony embezzled over $10 million from his employees and gambled it all away.
In the film, the central character is Dan Mahowny. Working for a bank in Toronto, Mahowny is promoted to assistant branch manager and trusted implicitly by his boss. His boss is unaware that Mahowny is a compulsive gambler who is stealing from accounts to fund his gambling habit and regular trips to the casinos in Atlantic City.
This isn’t a lighthearted movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it does a great job of showing the range of emotions Mahowny goes through and the far reaching effect that gambling has on his life and those around him.
If you enjoy crime drama movies and gambling movies, then Casino is pretty much the perfect film for you. It was certainly easy for us to find a place in our top five for this one. It was released in 1995, was directed by Martin Scorcese, and was loosely based on the on the non-fiction book of the same name. The cast includes Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Sharon Stone.
The plot revolves largely around Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a Mafia associate summoned to Las Vegas to run a casino on behalf of members of the Mob. Although successful, things don’t run too smoothly when enforcer Nicky Santoro is sent to protect the business. It’s a Scorcese film so, as you would imagine, there’s plenty of action and plenty of bad language. It’s also an absolute must see.
To find out more, read our review of “Casino” here.
5. Vegas Vacation
In many respects this 1997 movie isn’t even close to being in the same league as the four movies above. However, it is about gambling, it is great fun, and we love it. It’s from the National Lampoon series of vacation movies and stars Chevy Chase as the lovable, but hapless, Clark Griswold.
The premise of the movie is a simple one. Following receipt of a large bonus from work, Griswold takes the family on a vacation to Las Vegas. Much hilarity ensues, as is the signature of the National Lampoon films. This movie isn’t very serious; it’s really just a very light hearted look at what can happen on a trip to Vegas. If comedy is your thing, this is well worth a watch.
Below we have listed some of the gambling movies that very nearly made it into our top five, in no particular order. If there are any films on this list that you haven’t seen, we would definitely recommend giving them a go.
The Color of Money. This 1986 film is the sequel to our number 1 gambling movie The Hustler. It stars Paul Newman, reprising his role as Fast Eddie Felson, and Tom Cruise as a talented but undisciplined pool player called Vincent. Felson is now retired from the pool circuit, but gets back involved as a mentor to Vincent, teaching him how to hustle.
Rounders. Many poker players, particularly the younger ones, would consider this the best poker movie around. It’s certainly up there and a very enjoyable film. It tells the story of a student, played by Matt Damon, who has a natural talent for poker, but is trying to concentrate on law school. Things don’t quite go according to plan though, and he’s soon drawn into the world of underground poker games.
Casino Royale (2006). This James Bond movie was the first featuring Daniel Craig as the British spy. It’s a remake of the 1967 film of the same name and is pretty much what you would expect from a Bond movie. There’s plenty of action and plenty of suave behavior from Bond. In this particular film there’s also plenty of Texas Hold’em poker.
Hard Eight. Based mostly in Reno, this movie tells the story of an experienced gambler who takes a young man under his wing and teaches him the tricks of his trade. Plenty of twists and turns follow in this thriller, and it will keep you entertained all the way through.
The Gambler. This movie is a gripping portrayal of gambling addiction. The star is James Caan, who plays a university professor with a serious gambling problem: particularly with sports betting. It’s very intense at times, but serves as a powerful warning of the effects of compulsive gambling.
The Sting. Released in 1973, this was a phenomenally successful movie that was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won seven. The plot surrounds a group of hustlers trying to pull off a horse-racing betting con.
Oceans 11 (1960). Subsequently remade in 2001, this movie is about a group of thieves and a series of casino robberies in Las Vegas. It features a star studded cast, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.
The following movies are also worth viewing, and are all related to gambling in one way or another.