There are few things more exciting than playing games at a casino. Whether you’re most likely to be found at the poker table, the roulette wheel, or spinning the slot machines at Wildz Casino, the prospect of striking it lucky can keep us on the edge of our seats for hours.
As a result, casinos and movies are a match made in heaven. Some of the most iconic film scenes in the last thirty years have been set against the backdrop of gambling houses and table games, with the outcomes of games dictating the plot of the movie.
If you’re looking to experience the thrill of the casino on the Big Screen, read on. We’ve put together a complete list of the top 7 must-see casino movies. How many have you got to watch before you can claim a full house?
1. Casino Royale (2006)
No list of casino movies would be complete without this masterpiece of on-screen suspense! The 2006 movie Casino Royal was the third adaptation of Ian Fleming’s James Bond thriller – but thanks to the nail-biting scenes which were set at a Texas hold’em tournament, it’s easily the most exciting.
The final showdown scene, in which Daniel Craig’s Bond attempts to bankrupt a terrorist financier named Le Chiffre, has a claim as one of the most iconic casino scenes in movie history. With the camera alternating between close-ups of the player’s faces and wide-screen shots of the entire table, it perfectly captured the thrill of a high-stakes poker game.
2. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
This 2001 movie might be a remake of an original from 1960, but it’s got plenty to warrant its place on this list. Starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, and Matt Damon, Ocean’s Eleven follows two friends (Danny Ocean played by Clooney and Rusty Ryan played by Pitt) as they attempt a heist of $160 million from a casino owner, who they later learn is the boyfriend of Ocean’s ex-wife.
Ocean’s Eleven was the fifth highest-grossing film the year of its release. It proved so popular that it’s since sparked further spin-offs of its own, including Ocean’s Twelve (2004), Ocean’s Thirteen (2007), and Ocean’s 8 (2018).
3. 21 (2008)
This 2008 American heist drama is one of the few movies on this list to be based on a true story. For over 30 years, the MIT Blackjack Team – a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – developed a range of card-counting strategies and other techniques to beat casinos at blackjack around the world. 21 follows a fictionalized version of these events, starring Kevin Spacey, Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, and Aaron Yoo, among others.
Although the movie received mixed reviews, it’s still a definite must-see for anyone who’s interested in the notorious MIT Blackjack Team, the maths behind the house edge, and the way people have managed to beat casinos.
4. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)
Adapted from the 1971 novel of the same name by the writer Hunter S. Thompson, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998) was directed by the Monty Python member Terry Gilliam. The movie stars a young Johnny Depp as the character Raoul Duke, as well as Benicio del Toro as Dr. Gonzo.
Duke and Dr. Gonzo are travelling through Nevada to reach Las Vegas, where Duke is meant to be covering the Mint 400 motorcycle race for a magazine. High on LSD and a cocktail of other hallucinogens, they visit the Bazooko Circus Casino – a hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip.
The scenes set at the Bazooko Circus are all the more exciting when you explore the making of the movie. The casino insisted that the team was only allowed to film between 2 and 6 in the morning, while all the extras in the scene really had to gamble!
5. The Hangover (2009)
The Hangover, which was released in 2009, is the first installment of what would become the cult Hangover Trilogy. Starring Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis, the movie follows four men on a bachelor party in Las Vegas. When they wake up in Caesars Palace casino to find groom-to-be Doug (Bartha) missing, they must piece together the previous night’s events and find him before his wedding.
The Hangover was the tenth highest-grossing film in 2009 and the second highest-grossing American R-rated comedy. Like 21, it was also partially based on a true story, after the producer Tripp Vinson went missing from his own bachelor party in Las Vegas!
6. Bugsy (1991)
If you prefer your casino movies to be slow-burning rather than delivering quick-fire thrills, Bugsy (1991) is the perfect choice for you. This biographical film stars Warren Beatty as the American mobster Bugsy Siegel, who helped to develop the iconic Las Vegas Strip. It mainly follows the relationship between Siegel and Virginia Hill (played by Annette Bening), a wannabe Hollywood actress who turned to a life of organised crime.
Shaped by tragedy, Bugsy isn’t exactly light entertainment – but it does provide a fascinating insight into the history of the world famous ‘Sin City’.
7. The Cooler (2003)
Unveiled at the Sundance Film Festival and directed by Wayne Cramer, The Cooler takes its name from casino slang. A ‘cooler’ is a casino employee who supposedly has such bad luck that it can rub off on fellow players at the gambling table.
Bernie Lootz (played by William H. Macy) is one such cooler working at the Shangri-La casino. Lootz soon falls in love with a cocktail waitress called Natalie, but fears his bad luck will ruin his chances with her. The movie follows Lootz as he attempts to change his fortune and shake off his unlucky reputation.
Whether you’re looking for high-stakes suspense or a romantic thriller, there’s something for everyone on our list of the top seven casino movies. Why take a chance on a bad movie when you could watch these sure-fire winners and hit the entertainment jackpot?