You don’t want to go to a movie with a gambler especially a poker player. They will carp forever about a movie getting the smallest detail wrong when movies either purposefully get things wrong or make mistakes left and right without worry.
After Molly’s Game came out, Twitter went crazy with complaints, but they had a professional advising Aaron Sorkin and Sorkin wanted everything exactly as he filmed it. He didn’t care about some silly poker rule being misapplied. He was making a movie to tell a story and say something.
The movie that is just comical though is Casino Royale, and not the one with Peter Sellers that was actually trying to be humorous.
The Daniel Craig version is awash with poker idiocy including the trope that ruins almost every poker scene throughout cinema history. You just don’t go into most poker games and have to pull out your checkbook or grab the pink slip to your car when the other guy makes a huge bet. If you did the guy with the most money at the beginning would always win. That only really happens most of the time in real life.
Craig looked badass but losing most of your chips at the beginning of a poker tournament is also chronically stupid, but he looked badass so who cares? If you want to argue that he did it to impress the African American guy from the United States that re-backed him? I’m not buying it. It’s a fun movie, but they either didn’t care or didn’t know anything about real poker. It’s possible to have a great gambling scene without five people having monster hands who all lose their money at the same time.
10. Maverick (1994)
Bret sits down at the table.
The Jodie Foster/Mel Gibson alliance still baffles me (Apparently, he was quite the merry prankster back in the day on the set, but I’m inviting George Clooney on my set instead. He’s nice to everybody even the crew.).
You are better off watching every episode of the original “Maverick” television show with James Garner than watching almost any movie for fun gambling scenes.
The ending poker scene from the movie Maverick is incredibly stupid but the beginning is fantastic. Roy Huggins and William Goldman are a really safe bet for gambling screenplays.
When I was covering the 2007 World Series of Poker the guy who was reporting for ESPN wouldn’t even comment about whether this was a poker movie because of Mel’s anti-Semitism. I was like, “Dude, I’m Jewish too, but I know you’ve seen it. Assessing whether it’s a poker movie is not going to get anyone killed.”
Gibson sits down at a poker table and tells his opponents that he will lose on purpose for a half hour or so then take all their money at the end. While he loses, he convinces them he’s a harmless coward (sort of – he’s pretty skilled as he shows how bad he is with a handgun), but by the end he shows that he’s no one to be trifled with via a staged gunfight.
The end is silly. If you know the other guy is cheating, then you don’t try to do a mental trick to try for the Royal Flush. You just wait for the next hand, but if it works … Well, if it works, you need to watch out for the real Bret Maverick.
9. Hard 8 (1996)
Sidney makes a “big time” bet.
Philip Baker Hall and Philip Seymour Hoffman were Paul Anderson’s go to guys from day one, and they don’t disappoint in his debut.
You will never see this cast again. John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson also have big roles. Well and sadly Hoffman is no longer alive.
Hoffman is in the film the least, but he steals every scene he’s in. He was funnier than anyone in Boogie Nights, and he barely had anything official to do. I feel bad now that I sort of joked that he was no longer with us because I miss him.
The craps scene between the two Philips is pretty epic. The young annoying dude with the mullet versus the old time gambler whose suit is perfect and would never for a second lose his cool. Only this time, the young guy is so annoying the professional finds his weak spot and makes an audacious $2,000 bet just to show the young kid who has the most balls.
Why have almost no people seen this movie? Maybe it’s because you can smoke Marlboro Reds at the craps table in this casino.
8. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
The elder McCartney shows some class.
It’s really just a well set up joke, but for pure comedy Wilfred Brambell as Paul McCartney’s other “clean” grandfather is endlessly amusing. The “well respected man” is actually a lunatic, perverted gadabout who steals Ringo’s invite to a fancy gambling hall and manages to win at Baccarat despite having no money or much of an idea how the game is played.
Grandfather likes well endowed blondes, but then again who doesn’t?
7. The Cooler (2003)
Alec Baldwin doesn’t believe you are pregnant.
Alec Baldwin and Shawn Hatosy played father and son in what is still the best film with the Farrelly’s names on it Outside Providence. They return here in a dark movie about an epic loser and how classic gangster Vegas went corporate.
Hatosy is William H. Macy’s stupid son this time, but after he tries to use his dice palming expertise Alec Baldwin sees if his wife can pass a vicious and extreme pregnancy test.
6. Rounders (1998)
Matt Damon shows he has balls.
This movie is fantastic, but every bit of it is a little absurd. Matt Damon has a gorgeous girlfriend and a future in law, but he also has a serious gambling problem, which makes it even more pathetic that he’s restrained compared to his friend Edward Norton. He has the same amount of money in the end as he had at the beginning, but somehow he goes to Vegas this time. Just go to Vegas dude, they are better than dealing with the Russian mob.
The final duel against Teddy KGB is very realistic heads up poker. Yeah, Malkovich’s Russian accent is absurd. It’s f*****g awesomely absurd! Make fun of Costner as Robin Hood all you want. Teddy KGB sounds exactly as he should.
5. California Split (1974)
Elliot Gould used to be a film star.
This is a great movie. It has Amarillo Slim in it, and it has a depressing final gambling scene, but honestly I’m not exactly sure what it was. It’s just obvious it was a hell of a lot better than Mark Wahlberg going double or nothing until he lost all of his money in that lame Gambler remake, and digging through a large collection of DVD’s to re-watch it seems like a bad use of time. It’s depressing. Most gamblers are losers and not just monetarily. If you want the truth, it won’t be fun.
4. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
Sometimes nothin’ is a real cool hand.
This list could just be all Paul Newman. Don’t bet against Paul Newman in a movie unless it’s in Nobody’s Fool, but you should see that too. Melanie Griffith flashes him, and there is a poker session with Bruce Willis’ mistress topless, and a guy who often bets his false leg at the table.
If you don’t know the scene by heart, than you need to reconsider your film vocabulary.
3. The Sting (1973)
If you are going to cheat, be the best at it.
William Goldman literally wrote the book on screenwriting. It’s called “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” and he was nice enough not to sue Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David for ripping off that haircut episode from the end of his book. Goldman was unstoppable. “Follow the money” is the answer to everything. He explains why sequels exist in his book too. Hint: Money
The battle of wits from The Princess Bride could be here if the Dread Pirate Roberts was ever really gambling. Wallace Shawn was history no matter what he did and the world is better for it.
Newman pretends to be an uncouth drunk (His character was actually more of a benign self-destructive drunk at the beginning of the movie) to set up a huge revenge sequence where no one will even look for the dead bodies. Effortless charm followed by sheer guts and will: Paul Newman.
2. Tombstone (1993)
Val Kilmer is everybody’s Huckleberry.
Nothing in cinematic history is funnier than Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp epic being completely ignored after Kurt Russell took charge of the less grand version and let Val Kilmer be cooler than anyone who ever existed in it.
If you want to know how to unite America, have everyone admit that they all think Kilmer’s Doc Holliday rules. You’re going to have a pretty hard time finding anyone who will carp about that. The greatest movie review of all time is a guy who was related to the bad guys in this movie saying something to the effect of “they slurred my family’s good name, but I have to admit that movie kicked all kinds of a*s.”
Beavis and Butthead really weren’t that different than the televised Ebert and Siskel.
The scene to see here is the one where Doc shows up Johnny Ringo at a Faro game the Earp’s are running by replicating every fancy move his rival makes with a gun, with his silver drinking cup while drunk of his a*s. Beside him Kurt aims a shotgun from under the table just in case. He doesn’t need it.
“I’m afraid the strain was more than he could bear. Oh, I wasn’t quite as sick as I made out.”
1. Stripes (1981)
C’mon, bluff me.
Stripes is the best movie ever made. If you want to disagree, you better come armed. It had key nudity in it during a key part of my life, and no one has ever been funnier than Bill Murray at any point in that movie. If Stanley Kubrick were still around, even he would agree because he stole the entire thing when he made Full Metal Jacket. Always go with Warren Oates.
No one else would have this scene here, but it totally deserves its place. Dewey Oxburger is not only a sort of “lean, mean, fighting, machine,” and a pin up, he’s also the smartest poker player of all time.
If you are going to play poker, do it against the stupidest person you can find. “If it were me I’d bet everything, but that’s me. I’m an aggressive gambler, Mr. Vegas!”
“Well you lose you see. If you would have had four fours you would have won! … You’re getting good at this! Isn’t this fun?”
Postmortem: Yeah Steve McQueen is a bad a*s but you haven’t seen that movie. It’s actually a little boring. Lists sort of make people argue when too many people are arguing. No need to rank. Rank is a negative thing from the slang ranking talk about your mother. Just enjoy and it’s always a good time to watch Stripes.
Author Brad Laidman
Brad Laidman has been writing since he was 4. He has been known to howl at the moon on occasion like Crash Davis; is incensed that anyone alive thinks Kevin Hart is anywhere near Eddie Murphy’s ballpark; and doesn’t particularly like where and when he lives right now. A collection of his previous Film Threat work and his other books can be found on Amazon in a book entitled The Key Largo Essays. His entire catalog can be found on Brad Laidman’s Author Page.