Top 5 Casino Movies | Casinos in Cinema
For most people, the phrase “casino movies” brings to mind the Oceans trilogy. It’s fast, funny, glitzy and brings together a great cast. Who wouldn’t want to watch a movie that has Julia Roberts, Bernie Mac, Don Cheadle, Pacino, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and George Clooney? That it’s about a heist makes it even better.
You may have loved the Oceans movies, but there are so many other great casino films you should watch. To find them, let’s first go through what makes a good casino film.
We think three things are crucial. A good casino movie must have a great story; whatever it’s about, it should keep the viewer on the edge of their seat to the very end.
A good casino film is fast and edgy. The world of gambling is fast-paced, and only those who keep up make it. At the same time, the story should be simple enough that the pace doesn’t confuse viewers.
Lastly, a good casino movie brings together a great cast. They don’t have to be A-listers, but they should be great at their job.
Based on these criteria, we curated five casino movies that we think have been overlooked, and if you take the time to watch them, you’ll see why we think they are great.
It is fitting that we start with Casino, Martin Scorsese’s overlooked masterpiece.
It is a compelling true story about life in Vegas through the eyes of a gambling savant who is asked by the mob to oversee gambling operations in one of the biggest casinos on the Strip.
Robert de Niro is Sam Rothstein, the manager at the Tangiers Casino. The supporting cast includes Joe Pesci, who plays the role of Nicky Santoro, a mob enforcer who goes off the rails. De Niro’s wife is Ginger McKenna, played by Sharon Stone.
Have you ever wondered why the Italian mafia is no longer a prominent part of the Las Vegas scene? This movie is the answer. It’s about the fall of the mob in one of their biggest business locations, and it was all brought about by two men and one woman: Rothstein, Santoro and Ginger.
Although a gangster film through and through, it is also about the fallibility of human beings. Why does a man marry a woman he knows doesn’t love him? Why does he stay in the marriage even when he knows it will only end badly? These are fundamental questions about human nature, and there are no answers.
Rothstein is doing a wonderful job of running the Tangiers, and his mob bosses are happy. Not only do they skim off the top, but their legal profits also take an upward trajectory as soon as Rothstein takes over.
He then meets Ginger, a woman whose role in the casino is hard to place. Does she work on the casino floor? Is she a prostitute? The one thing about her that we know for sure is that she is beautiful and she is alluring, and casino management keeps her around.
Rothstein marries her, and that is the beginning of the end. Together with an out-of-control enforcer, her actions unwittingly expose the mob and its activities. The FBI, after some not-so-discreet surveillance, arrests everyone involved, and the Strip is never the same again.
Casino isn’t a linear story; it doesn’t move in a straight line, but it’s easy to follow, plenty of fun and anxiety-inducing. When it’s over, you sort of wish it was a little longer; you want to know what happens to everyone.
Viewers don’t get much casino floor action, but they get to see what a tough job it is to run a casino with all the moving pieces. It is one of the best casino movies if you want to get a glimpse behind the scenes.
Molly’s Game (2017)
You may have never heard of it, but this is one of the best casino films. Molly’s Game is a true story, but it is very different from the mob-packed, action-filled pace of Casino. It is, however, about gambling. If you know a little about poker, you may even learn a few tips.
Molly Bloom is played by Jessica Chastain, who does some to be her best work here. Molly comes from a middle-class American family, and her father insists on excellence in all things.
Her father introduces Molly to skiing as a young child, and she does so well that she is poised to make it onto the Olympics team. Unfortunately, she injures herself, and her dream to become an Olympian goes up in smoke.
As she tries to build a life for herself, she comes across the world of underground poker games, and true to her upbringing, she shines. She steals her first underground poker game from a Hollywood wannabe and is soon attracting some of the richest men to her games despite knowing nothing about poker.
However, LA proves to be tough; the underground poker game she stole is soon stolen from her but not before she pockets a few million dollars.
Determined to start over, she moves to New York, and just like in LA, she brings together some of the richest people to play high-stakes poker. What she doesn’t know is that some of them are criminals, and before long everything goes bad – again.
Despite never breaking any laws, the FBI arrests her and freezes her accounts. The DA is keen to see her get a custodial sentence. The only way she can get out of it is to rat out her players, but she doesn’t know anything about their criminal activities. She isn’t willing to divulge what little she knows because she is afraid of the hurt it will cause.
Molly’s Game is a movie about making it against all odds. It is also a film about sexism and what happens when a woman tries to make it in a world dominated by men.
Of course, it is also a movie about gambling and how you can use it to get rich if you are disciplined. It is a casino film about standing up to adversity and doing the right thing even when other options are easier.
Rain Man (1998)
Rain Man doesn’t immediately come to mind when one thinks of casino movies, but it was one of the first movies to be shot inside a casino. The movie is a classic and was a big hit in the US when it was released. For fans of older movies, it is must-see.
Rain Man is about greed and exploitation, and in the end, it is about doing the right thing.
It brings together two of the most talented actors of their time. Dustin Hoffman plays Raymond, an autistic man who has lived in a mental institution for most of his life. He relies on regimentation to keep himself going. Change even one little detail of his routine and you throw him out of whack.
His brother, Charlie Babbitt, is played by Tom Cruise. He is greedy and ready to do whatever it takes to succeed. When Charlie’s father dies and he realizes he didn’t inherit any money, he is determined to do whatever it takes to get a cut of his father’s estate. Babbitt Senior left it all to a brother (Raymond) that Charlie knew nothing about.
Charlie decides to move Raymond out of the mental institute, hoping that he can use that as grounds to inherit the money. However, Raymond is a lot to handle, and taking care of his daily needs isn’t easy.
Everything has to be done in a certain way. Raymond cannot fly in an airplane, and there are certain foods he won’t touch. He doesn’t communicate very well. He must watch his favorite TV shows and cannot miss them for any reason. He needs a 24/7 caretaker.
This is a lot for Charlie, who, apart from finding out he has a brother he knew nothing about, now has to take care of him so that he can get the inheritance.
Along the way, Charlie realizes that Raymond is a numbers savant. He can memorize cards. What better way to use him than to take him to Las Vegas? They come out $80,000 richer, but it leaves you thinking about what some people will do for a buck.
In the end, reason prevails. Charlie comes to genuinely care for Raymond, and they form a real bond. He decides that the inheritance isn’t as important as his brother’s well-being, and he lets him go back to his home at the institute.
Rain Man may not be widely considered a casino movie, but it shows you a glimpse of Vegas and how gambling works. Viewers are also introduced to a few card games and a little baccarat.
Rounders is about gambling and friendship. How far will you go for a friend who compromises himself again and again with gambling debts? Will you use your poker savvy to get him out of trouble even if it means you lose everything you care about?
Matt Damon plays Mike McDermott, and Edward Norton plays Lester Murphy. When Lester gets out of prison, he finds out that his best friend, Mike, has decided to go straight. He doesn’t play underground card games anymore despite having a brilliant mind for counting cards.
Lester needs to pay some debts, and Mike is forced to step in and help him, calling on his skills as a card counter to win underground games. It doesn’t go well, and Mike knows he has only one more chance to save his friend.
He plays in his riskiest game yet. If anything goes wrong, he could lose his life. It is a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat movie that leaves you holding your breath, waiting to see what happens next.
Damon demonstrates the same undercurrent of urgency we are familiar with in the Bourne movies, and it makes for a highly entertaining watch. In the end, it leaves you wondering how far you’d go to save a friend, especially one you don’t like so much anymore.
21 is a movie about what happens when people are backed into corners. What would you do if you followed all the rules, passed all your exams and did volunteer work, only to be told that you cannot enroll in your school of choice because you don’t have the money?
This movie is a true story about Ben Campbell (played by Jim Sturgess), a college student at MIT who has dreamed of going to Harvard Medical School all his life. He does everything that the system asks of him, but when he is accepted, he cannot afford the $300,000 tuition.
One of his professors at MIT, Micky Rosa, spots Ben’s talent for numbers and recruits him into a team of card counters. Micky takes them to Vegas every weekend where, with their combined talent, they win hundreds of thousands of dollars every weekend.
Ben is wracked with guilt. He knows what he is doing isn’t right but convinces himself that he is only doing it for medical school.
This film has an excellent twist at the end, and it leaves you asking fundamental questions about how fair our college entrance system is. Could it be driving young people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do?
While these are some of the best casino movies, there are many more. We chose them because they show the viewer what gambling is about. They depict the good and the bad, as well as the value of discipline for gamers.