You may have seen a stranger struck by luck near the one-armed bandit in a remote and forgotten town of your childhood.
An alarm-like ringing would start to pour, and right there on the spot, the machine spat dozens of silver coins to the delight of the winner.
We haven’t seen such a magnificent scene but heard many good stories that could go well in a movie, just like the one above. Movie directors have adopted the motif of gambling and spun it to their needs, often depicting spectacular Roulette sprees or poker geniuses. But just as luck has two faces, their unfortunate counterparts appear in movies as well in spine-chilling stories of downfall.
Grab the popcorn because we’re about to present you with 15 of the best ever-made movies that center around or feature the theme of gambling. We’ll try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible.
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story
Based on actual events, this movie is likely to keep you hooked with its thrilling and, at times, disturbing rendition of famed poker player Stu Ungar’s life. The plot covers the development of a promising young man that becomes addicted to high-stakes gambling, but critics and laypeople alike despise the character being too diluted.
Still, a low-budget film made by a director with no credentials could not have made claims for cult-level greatness.
Widely regarded as one of Martin Scorsese’s masterpieces, Casino blends gangster action, the Italian Mafia and criminal psychology, making you feel like you’re snooping into secret affairs. The whole script is masterfully written, portrayed events are packed with suspense, and the actors handle their roles beautifully. There you have it: the ingredients that are sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
Gangsters make their return in this action-jammed film directed by Steven Soderbergh. George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s characters team up to orchestrate the largest and most complex casino heist the world has ever seen. Thrilling till the end, Ocean’s Eleven will demand your intuition as the plot often evolves in surprising ways.
Widely acclaimed for its high-class acting, Owning Mahowny is a movie that doesn’t leave your mind weeks after you’ve seen it. The plot is masterfully adapted from a 1987 bestseller. Set in 80’s Toronto, it speaks about the struggles and dangers faced by a high-rolling gambler who goes deeper and deeper into debt. If you watch the movie, you’ll understand why every critic review hails the authentic empathy exercise the film subjects us to.
The Gambler was initially released in 1974, starring James Caan, and it became an instant classic. It captures the shortcomings of human nature marvellously through the story of a literature professor that slips into the underworld and develops a bad gambling addiction. If you prefer modern image quality and style of directing, the 2014 Hollywood update will be for you. Still, we think you should see the original.
21 tells the real story of a group of MIT students and their teacher. They devise a mathematical strategy to win at Blackjack consistently. If you’re not an advanced card-counting master, this movie will prove entertaining. But if you’re a casino enthusiast yourself, the way the director has chosen to depict the card-counting strategies and signals between players may seem too obvious.
Bookies is somehow similar to 21 in that the protagonists are four college friends, but this movie tells a different story. It’s a story of success, greed, and sports betting brightness. The film is exciting to watch. As the plot progresses, the action gets more intense, mainly when the Mob gets involved. Overall, excellent acting, and you can’t miss the 2000’s feel of it.
At the outset, we referred to the counterparts of million-dollar gambling stories – this story of downfall will raise the hair on the back of your neck. You must see this movie if you want to see a poker genius skillfully played by Matt Damon in one of his good days. The film is a must-watch, even if you’re not familiar with poker slang. Expert screenwriters have combined everything in a way that makes you feel you’ve been playing for years yourself.
Most remember Adam Sandler from his funny and not-so-funny comedies, but in Uncut Gems, his acting abilities shine. He portrays Howard Ratner, a gambler turned neurotic who swings from extreme confidence in his own luck to despair in the nick of time. This indie meditation on human nature radiates vibes of authenticity, and the psychological drama is captivating.
The Cincinnati Kid
This 1960’s classic about American stud poker play is only for those who love to play poker themselves and who love old movies. Modern viewers may not have the patience required by this movie. Still, the story beautifully reflects the high-stakes and thrill of the American gambler in that epoch. It is filled with stud poker duels, characters jinxed by fate and nostalgic shots of 60s New Orleans. This one’s for the connoisseurs.
It seems like the Mafia tends to return like a pattern in gambling-themed movies. It’s the case here, too, in the suspense-filled Dinner Rush. If you were to compare it with Scorsese’s Casino, you’d find certain similarities, but there are slightly different nuances, especially in the rapid-paced rhythm of Dinner Rush.
Bugsy was released in 1991. Its story is set in 1941, so viewers who want a 4K image and modern Hollywood acting won’t be satisfied. Still, it is a good biographical crime thriller, and the story is engaging to say the least. After all, million-dollar debts and a gangster establishing his own casino can’t be boring.
In this captivating, albeit sometimes watered down, story, the main character is Jim, played by Mark Wahlberg. The fascinating thing is that he is an anti-gambler. He does not want to win. On the contrary, he wants and orchestrates events only to lose everything. Why watered down? At times, the story is not very credible, and efforts to sustain such a strange personality don’t seem to lead anywhere.
French-speaking viewers will be delighted with the psychological finesse of this 1984 flick directed by Barbet Schroeder. Rather than telling the gambler’s story from a moral point of view, this film is built with a detached perspective that aims to preserve the characters’ authenticity. A must watch if you want to explore the sublime irrationality of the gambler’s mind.
Another fine observation of human psychology through original and compelling characters is found in Hard Eight. Here you are transported into the world of gambling through the perspective of an older gentleman who teaches a young and desperate man who’s lost everything how to survive with $150 in the casino. While it might not be such an up-to-date guide for gambling, it sure is an entertaining story.