Top 5 : Casino Films

Lists of top films can cover pretty much any subject in the book. But every now and then it’s fun to boil things down to the basics and talk about some of the classic, timeless genres that have stood the test of time in cinema. And no, I’m not talking about Fast And The Furious (but yes, it is its own genre)… talk to me after five more films. But one genre that does come to mind is casino films, which have existed for just about as long as they’ve been making movies.

Because they build on a naturally intriguing set of games, tease audiences with narratives of fortune and loss, and often attract top-notch actors, casino films have always stood out. Just about every decade stretching back to the ’40s has a great casino film. But here I’m going to list what in my opinion are the best seven ever made. Apologies in advance to the wildly inaccurate 21, which starred the lifeless Jim Sturgess as a savant blackjack’er, and Runner Runner, which promised to deliver online poker to the big screen and instead gave us… um… Ben Affleck feeding alligators for some reason.

Honorable Mentions

Casino

A lot of people believe Casino is the best casino film ever made, and if you consider it a firmly established member of the genre, it’s hard to argue. The thing is, I don’t quite consider it as such. Casino is a mob movie, or didn’t you notice the leads are Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci? Still, it does revolve around a kind of casino empire (the title isn’t just random, after all), and De Niro’s feet off the table scene is one of the better ones we’ve seen on a casino floor. Ultimately it’s definitely one of the best movies even on this list – it’s just not enough of a pure casino film to merit a higher position.

Casino Royale

Casino Royale belongs on a lot of lists: best films of the 2000s, best action films of the century, etc. Reel Fanatics’ argument that it’s the best Bond film of all time makes some pretty legitimate arguments as well. However, this film is too frequently overlooked as a casino movie. Sure, it’s primarily a spy thriller and an addition to the Bond franchise, but the film involves some pretty kick-ass casino action also. Not only does Bond win a bad guy’s car at a hotel poker table on a tropical island (and then steal said guy’s wife effortlessly), but many of the film’s most climactic moments come during a high-stakes poker game at an elite Montenegro resort. Bond sits at the table gambling millions of dollars, staring down the antagonist for a tell, ordering drinks, and wearing the hell out of a tuxedo. The film exemplifies a lot of people’s ideal image of casino glamour.

That’s it for the honorable mentions, now on with the countdown!

5

The Gambler

Pretty much every film related to casino culture of gambling deals with the idea of addiction on one level or another. In fact, it’s part of what makes it so hard for just any old casino film to stand out among the pack; the bad ones are often drowned by clichés and tired themes. But The Gambler—the original, not the dull 2014 remake—pretty much set the standard for the addiction narrative. Sorry, Mark Wahlberg, but James Caan makes a much better degenerate gambler. Actually, that might be a compliment to Wahlberg. Either way, Cann’s ability to set the bar for problem gambler flicks is enough to give this film a spot on the list.

4

Ocean’s 11

If there’s ever been a film that was laughably smooth, it’s Ocean’s 11, and I mean that in a good way. Does it get any cooler than Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney in his freaking prime strutting around casino floors in suits and planning an intricate heist? The whole spectacle was so intriguing, and so attractively presented you kind of wanted to chuckle at it and join in at the same time. It’s far and away the best casino heist film ever made, and you know it because when you finished watching you wanted to try robbing a casino (aka suicide) yourself. Don’t deny it.

3

Croupier

In addition to being an underrated Clive Owen performance (aren’t they all?), Croupier is one of the most unique casino films ever made for a few reasons. One is that it takes place in London – where casinos are still cool, and not playgrounds for dudes having quarter-life crises – and another is that its protagonist is a struggling writer who almost uses casino culture as dramatic inspiration. But the most unique thing about it, and something that may make it intriguing from a modern perspective, is that the same protagonist is actually a dealer (or croupier). In today’s casino culture, we’ve all but made the dealer obsolete through digital poker and online casinos, and yet we’re now seeing the beginnings of a comeback of sorts. Gala Casino is now offering video feeds to live dealers for online players, and there’s been some talk that features like these could lead to the development of virtual reality-based online casinos. Basically, we’re seeing them embrace dealers as a means of becoming more realistic and embracing classic casino atmospheres—something Croupier can still demonstrate better than most films.

2

Rounders

I actually hesitated to put Rounders on this list. It may be the most popular casino-related film of all time, and it’s almost certainly the most impactful. For those who don’t know, Den of Geek rightfully notes that the film played a real role in the rise of amateur poker that led to the World Series Of Poker sensation in the early-2000s – you know, when had to watch a bunch of guys who looked like plumbers win million dollar pots on ESPN. However, it’s not really a casino film so much as a poker one. Nevertheless, the two are closely related, and Rounders is a terrific film. Featuring the starring trio of Matt Damon, Ed Norton, and John Malkovich in roles that catapulted all three to higher levels of stardom, it’s a memorable drama that simply makes you want to learn how to play the game. It also kind of makes you want to punch your best friend in the face, which is weird….

1

The Cincinnati Kid

Like Rounders, The Cincinnati Kid is more of a poker film than a casino one, in the traditional sense. However, we may never have seen a film that spoke more clearly to the competitive side of this culture. Sometimes, after all, gambling is about kicking someone’s ass, rather than making up a debt or satisfying an addiction, The Cincinnati Kid tells the story of an up-and-coming player who simply wants to take down the best. There’s something pure and satisfying about it, and even 50 years after its release, I’m not sure there’s been a better casino film. Plus, that trailer is hilarious.

At any rate, that’s my list. Which films would you rank in your top-five? Let us know in the comments below!

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