Top 11 casino movies of all times

Giselle Adriene
February 9, 2023

The 11 Best Movies About Gambling

Do you like to go to the cinema? And do you prefer to watch gambling movies? If yes, then the following liens are exactly for you.

We have elaborated a selection of movies about casinos, blackjack and poker coming from different decades: from black-and white masterpieces to contemporary high-tech productions. There, playing never ends, days turn to nights around the tables either in fancy casinos or in dim rooms filled with suffocating smoke. If you are a skilful gambler, you will most probably get into trouble with the Mafia or the underground world. If you are lucky enough, you might become a millionaire and make your dreams come true. All these aspects of gambling are present in the list of films we’ve invented.

We can even divide the films into some sub-categories, depending on the originality of their plot:

  • Movies based on true stories – Molly’s Game, High Roller: the Stu Undgar Story, 21
  • Movies based on books – The Hustler, Casino
  • Movies with a screenplay written directly for the screen – Rain Man, the Rounders

Some of the following movies were produced in another era of cinema art, around the middle of the previous century, but they sound as relevant today as they did in those early years. Others, like, Molly’s Game and Uncut Gems, are new but dive into the same old topic about the disastrous consequences of gambling addiction.

Enjoy our selection, and if you happen to get so engrossed in watching some of the new releases or discover the charm of any of the old ones, you will make us happy with our work.

The Gambler (1974)

That’s an old crime drama masterpiece that settles a standard in casino movies. It depicts all phases of the fall a casino addict can live through. Starring James Caan, Lauren Hutton and Paul Sorvino, the film was widely praised upon its release and got Caan’s nomination for a Golden Globe.

Let us begin by quoting its central personage, Alex Freed: “I play to lose. That’s what gets my juice going.” Remember this while reading further.

Director Karen Reisz pictures the story of a New York literature professor who suffers a serious gambling addiction. In his classes, he analyses authors like Dostoevski and Anry Thoreau but he doesn’t really seem to talk about them. Rather, he digs into their works to find a justification for his own vice.

He gets into an enormous debt of $44 000 and draws himself into much trouble, even a killing threat. Trying the impossible and using any means to pay it, even the money and trust of his mother and his old grandfather, he finally manages to wrench out of the mud. Of course, there is also a dazzling woman around, Bille (Lauren Hutton, and we can admire the strong affection between them, above all burden.

Uncut Gems (2019)

Uncut Gems is the latest movie in our mini-classification. Released only 3 years ago, on Christmas 2019, it again deals with the “golden” theme of what gambling addiction can cause to a person. Adam Sandler plays the leading role, and his performance is truly formidable. His character Howard Ratner cannot give up the vicious game and never stops until he thoroughly ruins himself. The other cast includes celebrities like Lakeith StanfieldJulia FoxKevin GarnettIdina Menzel and Eric Bogosian.

Howard is a Jewish -American jeweller who needs to retrieve a precious gem from Ethiopia that he purchased in order to pay the debts he has accumulated from gambling. The action is thrilling and nerve-wracking; some critics even describe the film as “frantic”. Tension controls the screen until the tragic finale and then it seems the audience wants to have more of it.

The directors, the Safdie brothers (Joshua and Benjamin), got the idea for the film in 2009 and immediately contacted Adam Sandler for the leading role. Still, his manager rejected it even before the actor himself had the chance to read the script. Shooting started in May 2017, and it was not before the spring of 2018 that Adam Sandler finally joined the cast, replacing Jonah Hill. And that proved to be the milestone for making the production so viral and devastating.

The Safdie brothers have their Jewish origin and upbringing which defines the whole movie’s Jewish-like image. It’s good to know that the ancient Jewish concept of “learning through suffering” would influence Sandler’s character deeds over the film.

High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story (2003)

This one can be classified as a genunin movie about gambling from top to toe. It is a biographic drama that chronicles the life of the American professional poker, blackjack and gin rummy player Stu Ungar, directed and written by A.W.Vidmer. As you can suggest, the story is shocking: brilliant poker and gin playing goes hand in hand with cocaine, alcohol, parties, sleepless nights, and loose life in general.

Stu Ungar was born in 1953 and died at the young age of 45. He is alleged to be one of the best poker players of all time and the only man to have won the World Series of Poker Main Event three times. His story is worth knowing so that young and enthusiastic players realize that great talent and achievements in gambling might not always end up well.

A curious fact is that although the movie is entitled to Stu Ungar, it pictures some moments of the lives of several other professional poker players like Vince Van PattenAndy Glazer and Al Bernstein. That comes to prove again that gambling leaves similar marks on the destinies of its “worshippers”.

The plot of High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story is built on flashbacks. Stu (Michael Imperioli) recalls his life and talks about it to a stranger in a motel room. After the dramatic confession of all his vice, he calmly leaves the room with the strangers beside him, who obviously represents the Grim Reaper.

Another curious fact is that although the movie is entitled to Stu Ungar, it actually pictures some moments of the lives of several other professional poker players like Vince Van PattenAndy Glazer and Al Bernstein. That proves again that gambling leaves similar marks on the destinies of its “worshippers”.

Molly’s Game (2017)

This movie is the American playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin debut as a film director. However, it turned out to be a fantastic success bringing him quite a few nominations for screenplay at the Oscars, BAFTA Awards and Golden Globes.

Released in 2017, Molly’s Game is based on the autobiographic book of Molly Bloom herself (2014): a former sportswoman who dived into underground poker to become an FBI target in the end. It is one of the poker movies in cinema history that thrills with the wild tale about rise and fall when playing this “wicked game”.

Long story short: the excellent skier Molly Bloom (the brilliant Jessica Chastain) had a bad injury that deprived her of the opportunity to participate in the Olympic games. In 2001 she moved to Los Angeles to find a simple job for just one year while waiting to start law studies. She became an assistant in hosting weekly high-stakes poker games in a famous night club. Showing a bunch of talents, she moved up to games-runner earning up to $4 million per year while serving a mysterious high-roller – Player X (Michael Cera).

Then, Moly moved to New York where she got engaged with Mafia, which drove her to drug addiction, to court trials and eventually to a sentence of one year of probation, a fine of $200 000 and community service of 200 hours.  A life-story worth filming, ah?

Rounders (1998)

Rounders is one of the poker movies that became a cult hit during the poker boom of the early 2000s. High-stake poker lovers will adore it as it proves that poker is rather a skill-based game than just a matter of luck.

Directed by John Dahl and starring celebrities like Matt Damon, Edward Norton and John Malkovich, Rounders follows the life of Mike (Matt Damon). He studies law and is a zealous poker player who has a “beautiful” dream: to win the World Series of Poker. He gets into deep trouble with poker, loses $30 000 to a Russian mobster and is about to lose even his long-term relationship with Jo (Gretchen Mol).

Mike dives into a non-stop gambling bridge with even no sleep, and the film shows all the expertise a professional poker player should possess – what a pleasure for the audience! Not surprisingly, it is also saturated with poker terminology and card strategies that either liberate or ruin the lives of whoever advance in them.

You wonder what happened to Mike at the end? Well, he never quit poker! He got a series of wins at the table and managed to return all his debts and those of one of his friends. Then he left his law studies, gave up his love for Jo and…guess what! He went to Las Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker.

The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

This movie was released more than 50 years ago. Although the poker game has evolved a lot since then, its fundamental aspects remain unchanged, and the Cincinnati Kid concentrates precisely on them. It shows the classic poker playing in dim smoky rooms, which form the natural majesty of the games, something  you can never experience online today.

The movie’s story takes place in 1930s during the Depression Era. At that time, cocky young gambler Eric Stoner “The Kid” from New Orleans (Steve McQuuen) dreams of proving his talents in poker by beating Lancey Howard “The Man”, a master of poker from long ago and becoming that glorious himself.

As you can expect from classic poker movies, there comes the final scene when two brilliant players try to fake themselves out. In the case of The Cincinnati Kid the youngster loses, but what matters is that the movie shows the more psychological aspects of poker playing and the iron players should possess. Every touch of a thrilling game is there – pressure, a play of nerves, and a ceaseless day-and-night competition between the two.

What might also be curious about the film is that it was initially to be shot black-and-white to bring the audience closer to the atmosphere of the early 1930s. Meanwhile its director changed, and the new director Norman Jewison rejected this idea at first sight. However, he later decided to mute the colours so that black and red card colours could pop and shine when they appear. It also proved to be an excellent approach to evoke the era’s spirit.

21 (2008)

21 belongs to a sub-category of blackjack movies showing how people can luxuriate simply thanks to skilful blackjack card counting. It comes to prove that heroes can be born not only on the battlefield, but also around the playing tables in Vegas.

The movie was released in 2008, handled by the Australian director Robert Luketic. It is inspired by the novel “Bringing Down the House” (2002) written by Ben Mezrich. Both the film and the book combine fiction with some actual events.

The story goes around the so-called MIT Blackjack Team. It is a group of six first-level students in maths at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who conquered the best casinos in Las Vegas with their spectacular wins at the game of 21. Their inspirer and guide is their math professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacy). To make it more fascinating, the group’s leader, Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), has his own powerful dream that drives him to gamble: he wants to gather the absurd sum of $300 000 to study at Harvard Medical School…and does it.

Beautiful youngsters, sharp minds, crafted blackjack strategies and thrilling story – that’s 21, in short. Although it has no significant awards or nominations, the movie is worth every minute of its 2 hours. It really shows that there stands science behind blackjack mastery, and to excel in it you need to possess a set of characteristics: cold-bloodedness, unemotional reactions, and of course strategic thinking.

And let’s not forget that the money you win can make your dreams come true if you don’t go to extremes. Like Ben Campbell…

Rain Man (1988)

Rain Man can be referred to the category of blackjack movies, although the blackjack scenes appear almost at the end of the film. Directed by Barry Levinson, it is one of the few films in this top 11 casino movies list that is not based on a book. Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass excellently wrote the engrossing screenplay and, quite logically, it brought them two prestigious awards: an Oscar for Best original Screen Play – written directly for the Screen and Best Montion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globe Awards in 1988. Of course, countless other nominations and awards honoured this masterpiece of the 1980s.

How about the cast? It is really outstanding: the tandem of Dustin Hoffmann and Tom Cruise is  always a guarantee for enormous success. Here, the two celebrities engage their undeniable talents with a very moving story for human acceptance and growth of mind. Charlie Babitt  (Tom Cruise) is a selfish and unscrupulous young commercial schemer who unravels that his estranged father has died and left only a car and some rosebushes as a legacy for him. All his wealth is heired by Charlie’s mysterious brother.

Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), the brother, suffers from autism with a savant behaviour. However, he the strange abilities to remember any tiny details he has ever seen, to perform highly complex calculations fastly and to count numerous objects at once. At first, Charlie wants to get rid of his “crazy” elder brother, but as he gets to know him better, he resigns to accept him and even like him.

By the movie’s end, the two men decide to play blackjack and count cards in a Las Vegas casino in order to pay Charlie’s deep debts from the past. Guess what? They not only win $86 000 to cover the debts but also manage to build a warm and long-lasting relationship between them. That’s a plot that needs to be told and a movie worth watching even today, 34 years later.

The Hustler (1961)

This is a black-and-white film directed by Robert Rossen. It is a kind of sports drama about pool playing not the game for a typical movie about gambling but still it hides the spirit of competition with climactic wins and losses.

Some critics say that The Cincinnati Kid was its poker analogue as their plots are pretty similar. The Hustler tells again a story of a small-time pool hustler Eddie Felson (Paul Newman), who wishes to get into “the big league” of professional pool hustling by beating the famous and even legendary player Minessotta Fat (Jackie Gleason). He finally manages it, but the price is relatively high: he puts all his ambitions and energy and sinks into sleepless nights of playing with lots of alcohol and drugs. It seems that pool has defeated him despite his final win over Minessotta Fat.

The movie is an adapted version of Walter Trevis’s novel of 1959, also called “The Hustler”. Robert Rossen’s work was very well accepted by cinema critics and the audience of that time and was even distinguished as a reviver of the somewhat forgotten pool game. Moreover, some 30 years later, in 1997, the US National Film Registry honoured the production as “historically, culturally and aesthetically important”.

The Hustler fully deserved its nominations and awards as well: it won two Oscars at the 34th edition of the Academy Awards for Best Art Director Black-and-white (Harry Horner and Gene Callahan) and Best Cinematography – Black-and-white(Eugen Schüfftan). Paul Newman’s fascinating performance еchoed even across the Ocean with two awards at the British Academy Film Awards: Best Film and Best Foreign Actor.

Indeed, The Hustler deserves its place on the golden pages in the history of gambling movies.

The Sting (1973)

Released in the early 1970s, the film takes place at the time of the Big Depression in America (1936). It is not the typical movie about gambling, but its final scene undoubtedly remains one of the most thrilling poker scenes ever shot in cinema history.

It is crucial here to mention the cast, a genunin galaxy of stars – Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Robert Shaw. A curious fact is that with this movie, Robert Redford manages to somehow rekindle his carrier after several failures. His character Johnny Hooker is a small-time grifter who, together with his mentor Henry Gondorf (Paul Newman), con $11 000 from a never-suspecting victim who turned out to be the “wrong” one. According to the planned scheme, everything is so crafty that the victim shouldn’t even understand that he’s been cheated. Of course, their vicious deed is unfolded, but in the end Jonny Hooker’s poker skills help the bold duo and conquer the hearts of all the audience.

The Sting was a massive success for its time and a total hit at the Oscars (46th Ceremony of the Academy Awards): 10 nominations and 7 wins. How about it, ah? Here, you can have a look at just a few of its numerous other awards. Time won’t be enough to mention the countless nominations it had as well:

Academy AwardsBest Picture
Best Director (George Roy Hill)
Bets Original Screen Play (Davis S. Wards)
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Best Film Editing
Best Scoring: Original Song Score and Adaptation or Scoring: Adaptation
Directors Guild of America AwardsOutstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Picture
People’s Choice AwardFavourite Motion Picture

Casino (1995)

Casino movies have their king of all time: Casino. It meets all the expectations of a fascinating criminal drama about gambling and casino frauds. Its director is Martin Scorsese, who reveals his proven talents here – energy, focus to little details, unpredictability, and suspicion until the final scene.

The film was released in 1995 and is based on the nonfiction novel of Nicholas Plieggi “Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas”. The author becomes a co-writer of the screenplay, helping Scorsese to make the movie ever so impressive. However, we cannot underestimate the brilliant cast who make Casino a unique masterpiece. Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Sharon Stone shine like diamonds in the leading roles, and James Woods, Kevin Pollak and Don Rickles add their colouring contribution to the final product.

Before telling the story of the movie, let’s mention some of its numerous nominations and awards. Sharon Stone won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Motion-Picture Drama and a nomination for Oscar again for Best Actress. Nominations for Best Casting Ensemble at Curcuit Community Awards, Best Director for Chicago Critic Film Association Awards and many others followed.

Everything happens in the early 1970s when Chicago Outfit (an organized crime group, part of the Italian American Mafia) asks Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) to manage Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. He is a low-level handicapped mobster. At first, things go pretty well with his new job, but as time passes, Sam gets into exceeding danger with all those Mafia and even political involvements. The film also follows Sam’s complicated relations with his friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) and his wife Ginger (Sharon Stoen), a former topless dancer.

It is curious that some of the persona and events in the movie are inspired by real casino life in Vegas, showing how dependent it is on deception, affluence, political power and even killing.

Recommended Casino Sites

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About the author

Giselle Adriene

Giselle Adriene is a remarkable author who has transitioned from being an avid casino player to a highly skilled professional game analyzer. Giselle's journey began with a deep fascination for the thrilling world of casinos, where she honed her skills through countless hours of gameplay.

After experiencing the highs and lows of the casino floor, Giselle realized her passion extended beyond playing. She yearned to uncover the secrets behind successful strategies and delve into the intricacies of game design. Determined to explore this realm, she embarked on a new path as a game analyzer. With her keen eye for detail and analytical mindset, Giselle quickly established herself as a trusted authority in the field. Her ability to dissect games, identify patterns, and uncover hidden nuances allowed her to provide valuable insights to both players and casino operators.

Giselle's expertise and contributions to the gaming industry have not gone unnoticed. She has been recognized with multiple prestigious awards for her exceptional work. These accolades serve as a testament to her dedication and unwavering commitment to excellence in the field of game analysis.

With her exceptional skills, relentless pursuit of knowledge, and numerous accolades, Giselle Adriene stands as a respected figure in the gaming industry. Her passion for unraveling the intricacies of games and sharing her expertise has established her as a trusted source of guidance for enthusiasts and professionals alike. 2022 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.