There is something special about movies about gambling, be they thrilling casino heist dramas or melancholic neo-noir thrillers. 2020 was not the best year for those who love games of chance. Sure, we still got to enjoy casino games to play online, but the excitement of visiting an actual land-based casino was off the table. If you find yourself missing real-life poker or blackjack, try watching one of these gambling-centered movies. They will make you feel all the feels.
The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
Yes, The Cincinnati Kid is not a new one, but it is well worth your attention, even if you are not much of an old cinema fan. The initial reviews The Cincinnati Kid received were not particularly praising, but it aged like a good wine. This Norman Jewison’s movie is set in the Great Depression era and focuses on the fortunes and misfortunes of a cocky, up-and-coming poker player known as “The Kid” who wants to beat the biggest fish in the game. Perhaps, the best thing about The Cincinnati Kid (aside from the poker scenes, obviously) is performances – both Steve McQueen, who portrays the protagonist, and supporting actors are very accurate. Also, unlike many other movies focused on gambling, The Cincinnati Kid is not moralistic in the slightest.
21 is something you do not typically expect from a gambling-focused movie – it is almost a comfort watch (as much as a heist drama can be a comfort watch). As you can probably guess from the title, 21 is about blackjack. The protagonist, Ben, attends MIT and dreams of entering Harvard Medical School. His grades are perfect, but he cannot afford the enormous tuition – and this is how he ends up on his professor’s blackjack team alongside other brilliant students. Heart-stopping shenanigans ensue. 21 was criticized for how it handled minority representation and tons of unnecessary melodrama. However, when it comes to portraying gambling, it is great, albeit a little unrealistic.
Croupier is arguably one of Clive Owen’s best performances and deserves attention even from people who know nothing about gambling. You should definitely watch it if you are into neo-noir – it is almost as good as Polanski’s Chinatown. Unlike 21, Croupier is anything but a comfort watch; it explores some of the darkest parts of the human mind. Still, if you are looking for something with more or less realistic portrayal of the insides of a casino, do check it out. Croupier has everything, from cheating players to disillusionment in the flashy gambling world. Best enjoyed with a glass of whiskey.
Mississippi Grind (2015)
If you are questioning whether or not Ryan Reynolds can actually act, try Mississippi Grind, his best performance by far. The movie is sad, to say the least, and pays an obvious homage to the 1974 California Split, but it does not need to be very original to be good. Mississippi Grind’s story focuses on two gamblers who are as fed up as they are unable to quit. It features great poker scenes and a lot of dry yet poetic dialogue. While Mississippi Grind may well be the least joyful movie on this list, it is also the best one, largely because of how well it captures the unique Southern vibe of New Orleans. The critical acclaim it received is well-deserved.
Lucky You (2007)
Lucky You is different from the rest of the movies on this list because it is as much a romantic drama as it is focused on gambling. Despite Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore’s convincing performances (and Robert Downey Jr. as one of the supporting characters), it is not for everyone. However, if you are interested in high-stakes poker, namely, the World Series of Poker, Lucky You is worth your time. It is not always accurate, but it is hard not to be drawn to its endless poker scenes. Almost obligatory for every poker lover.