The Evolution of Casinos in Cinema

Casinos are a goldmine for directors, a location brimful with various assaults on the senses. Their architecture is often stunning, while the games themselves are a visual treat. The bustle of a casino floor provides a wealth of different characters with different aspirations, and background characters feel immediately realized by the ensuing emotions that come with partaking in casino games. From the relentless noise to the diverse attractions on offer, it is no wonder that casinos are so frequently the location for unrelated cinematic events. The relationship between cinema and casinos have changed over the years. While in the past casinos tended to host suspenseful scenes in plots with stakes as high as those on the table, there has been a shift towards more comedic output as demonstrated by recent movie The House.

“Movies such as Casino Royale and Casino have set the benchmark for iconic casino scenes…”

Perhaps the growing popularity of the online casino, driven by live offerings from operators such as 32Red, has driven the shift towards a warmer perception of casinos; the world of gambling has been irrevocably changed by its exposure to the whole world through the medium of the internet, and the world of cinema is reacting to that shift by offering a different take on a classic setting. Of course, casinos have stories of their own to tell in a way that online gambling will never be able to replicate, predominantly because the setting can provide the narrative thrust. This is never more prevalent, unsurprisingly, than in movies that feature the word ‘casino’ in the title. Movies such as Casino Royale and Casino have set the benchmark for iconic casino scenes, and their much-heralded status as the pinnacle of casino movies is perhaps another reason why the location is now hosting more light-hearted affairs on the screen.

Casino Royale was recently voted as the best James Bond movie. With its cohesive theme married with the dazzling set pieces and suave delivery that one expects from Bond, what was anticipated as a rejuvenation of the character became one of his most defining outings. The gripping casino scenes that pit Bond against Le Chiffre are among the more grounded interactions between hero and villain in 007 movies, with audiences able to relate more with Bond than when he is flying into outer space, for example. In turn, online casinos are taking cues from Bond iconography, with sites such as Spin and Win and 32Red presenting live games with human dealers dressed suavely. Indeed, it’s surely only a matter of time before slot game operators such as Vegas Spins look to incorporate 007 thematically in one of its titles.

Martin Scorsese’s 1995 epic Casino brings together a sterling cast with a tense plot. Robert De Niro brings star power as the man who oversees casino operations at the behest of the Mob. The casinos gave a consistent setting to the traditional Mafia machinations that Scorsese refined in Goodfellas, with the dark narrative a contrast against the hustle and bustle of the casinos.

“…it is no wonder that casinos are so frequently the location for unrelated cinematic events.”

Ocean’s Eleven is the classic example of how casinos can host more light-hearted events, with the star-studded caper widely revered as among the leading movies in the genre. The movie established the popularity of heist films and marked the creation of an unlikely franchise. Two more movies rounded off the trilogy, while Ocean’s Eight and its all-female cast is currently in production. The tone of these movies diverges greatly from that of Casino and Casino Royale, although the action is no less rollicking. The House ventures even further into comedic territory, with Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell leading a cast that knows how to deliver laughs. Poehler and Ferrell portray a couple who resort to opening an underground casino as a result of the exorbitant fees of their daughter’s tuition. The movie is unable to shake the natural ties between casinos and the Mob that Scorsese established, with Jeremy Renner appearing as a Mafia boss. Yet the tone overall is understandably far lighter than Casino, which is probably a result of not featuring Joe Pesci as a typically unhinged gangster.

The House owes a debt of gratitude to The Hangover, another pure comedic outing that relied heavily on the aesthetics of casinos. The Hangover was an unprecedented hit and has been extremely influential in shaping comedy movies in this decade. However, most things in life are cyclical, so it would not be a surprise if gritty casino movies become in vogue once again in the next few years. While movie directors may seek to utilize casinos in different ways, their richness as a setting is unlikely to ever change.

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