Constantly putting your well-being on the line, desperately hoping to score big, is an irrational way to live, but it sure is fun to watch someone else do it. Gambling movies offer such inherent drama to enjoy from the prudent and cautious comfort of your screen.
The films take viewers on different journeys, from the dangerous world of mafias to calm suburban lives upstate that take comedic turns. Let’s count down ten of the best gambling cinematographic feats worth your interest.
Owning Mahowny is what you get when you strip away the glitz and glamour famously associated with gambling. You end up with a devastating view of how crippling obsessive addiction can be. What’s worse, or better, is that Owning Mahowny is based on the true story of a Canadian bank manager, Dan Mahowny (played by Philip Hoffman).
Mahowny stole from his bank and spent the amount in Atlantic City, placing increasingly dangerous stakes. Hoffman delivers the role brilliantly, serving the elusive and pathetic reality of pathological gambling. Watching Dan helpless to control himself and hanging on regardless is as close as any film comes to showing the terror of actual gambling addiction.
Owning Mahowny portrays gambling as a serious topic (which it is in most circumstances), but The House has a hilariously comedic take on the matter. Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler star as the seemingly ordinary American couple, the Johansens that loses their daughter’s college scholarship and need to get it back. They decide to convert their basement into an underground casino to make four years of tuition in one month. The duo and their foul-mouthed neighbour make money fast, and things get out of hand even faster. In the end, everyone learns a heartfelt lesson amid numerous laughs.
The Gambler first hit screens in 1974 with James Caan as the male lead and got a remake in 2014 with Mark Walberg on board. What is great about both versions is that the character is more obsessed with danger and self-destruction than gambling. In the 2014 version, Walberg plays a college professor that loses a $240,000 blackjack bet to dangerous individuals. Even in his desperate search for solutions, the title character cannot escape the urge to desperately chase the next rush, which often digs him deeper into trouble.
The film Casino is credited with popularizing the glamour and mystery of the Las Vegas lifestyle. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci take players through Sin City as Ace Rothstein and Nicky Santoro, delivering its glittering and glamorous lifestyle as well as its brutal, cruel one in equal measure.
The pair’s determination to make their mark in this paradoxical world reveals details about the actual mob involvement in casinos during the ’70s and ’80s. While Ace is Tangiers Casino’s smooth operator, his tragic flaw is his love for the hustler Ginger. On the other hand, Nicky digs himself deeper into a drug and violence spiral.
Fear and Loathing Las Vegas
This gambling movie is a psychedelic escapade following the adventures of the oddball journalist Hunter Thompson (Jonny Depp) and his psychopathic lawyer on a road trip across the Western USA in search of the American dream. The journey is largely fueled by the drugs and alcohol in their convertible, The Red Shark.
On their way, they encounter hitchhikers, police officers, drug dealers, and gamblers. The film does not present Vegas as a glamorous gem but a dark place with deranged and dangerous possibilities.
Danny Ocean (George Clooney) looks to score the biggest casino heist in history. He pulls together an eleven-member team targeting the MGM Grand, The Bellagio, and The Mirage. The plan is to sneak in and secretly out with a whopping $150 million, but it is not as easy as it sounds.
The comedic references added to the detailed and elegant plot make it far from your average thriller. The star-studded cast, including George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pit, and Matt Damon, add to the hype of the film’s crazed rush.
The Cincinnati Kid
This film may have been considered a knockoff of The Hustler when it first came out, but it has proven itself as worthy as its comparison. The Cincinnati Kid replaces pool hustling with poker and showcases Steve McQueen performing as “the Kid” in his classic era. The character is an arrogant poker player that eventually learns he may not be as legendary at the game as he thinks he is. The film may be a classic, but its message is current, taut, and relevant.
Charlie, a casual gambler with a pretty severe addiction, befriends Bill, a professional gambler, mirrors his life and sends them deeper into the dangerous gambling world as the stakes keep getting bigger. The film may be a cautionary tale, but the two characters exude a rakish charm that passes it for a great buddy film exploring friendship.
Adam Sandler plays the hopeless gambling addict Howard that invites players on a ride through his sickness. The piece’s brilliance is in its ability to get the audience to root for the lead even with odds stacked so high against his favor. The film gets a fitting tragic finale, but even then, it leaves viewers ready to chase the next high and gives an idea of what gambling addiction is sort of like.
Paul Newman’s The Hustler hit theatres in 1961 and holds up well to date. The film focuses on integrity, loyalty, and ambition and their application to the gambling world. The movie star plays Eddie Felson and his battle to defeat Minnesota Fats, played by Jackie Gleason. The film abandons the typical sports-movie arc and follows a more humane and soulful narrative.
These elements shine through more than the pool hustling, a fault corrected in the sequel, The Color of Money. This film sees Newman return as Eddie, and Tom Cruise joins him as the beginner pool player Vincent. It showcases two individuals’ obsession for a game that gives no love back.