Gambling has long been one of Hollywood's favorite themes across the decades. No matter whether the movie is a heist caper, a gangster epic, a romantic chase or a moody character introspective - few vices provide such an interesting and wide base of potential material. That being said, even though gambling scenes have featured in countless movies, there are surprisingly fewer where gambling is the absolute focus. Still, selecting a top three (or must-see) selection of the best gambling movies is far from simple. Few movie fans and gamblers would argue with the merits for the following films being considered classics of gambling on the big screen.
Casino (1995, Martin Scorsese)
Unlike Euro Palace online casino with real money gambling where you can win big, Casino is at heart all about showing how bricks and mortar casinos are designed to maximize players losses. Obviously, there are expensive overheads to be paid with hundreds of staff, comped suites to 'Big Fish' players, and of course the huge number of bribes that must be paid out to the Vegas Gaming Commission. Throw in the pressure of having to deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars skimmed off the take to several mob bosses on a strictly monthly basis, and you need to be a heck of gambler yourself to make it a success.
Enter Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro) who following years of providing the bosses with gambling tips is entrusted with running The Tangiers. Despite not having any choice in relocating to Vegas, his acute attention to detail soon turns the casino into a huge cash cow. Finding love (or at least a very impressive simulation) with the glamorous former pit hustler Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone), everything seems perfect. Things rapidly deteriorate when the bosses decide to send down Sam's best friend - the psychopath Nicholas "Nicky" Santoro (Joe Pesci) to keep an eye on things.
Casino is a gambling classic because while it technically speaking a gangster flick, both the casino and gambling are absolutely central to the entire script. Raising themes such as greed, desperation, betrayal and with a selection of characters who are as dislikable as they are memorable, this is simply a must-see for anyone who likes their big screen gambling.
The Cincinnati Kid (1965, Norman Jewison)
Often compared to the classic pool movie 'The Hustler' because of the numerous shared themes across both movies, the fact is that this is a much less moody movie shot in a very different style. It is also a much richer and more complex movie - full of interlocking subplots that all add towards making this a true masterpiece that has been appreciated more in later decades than when initially released.
Eric 'The Kid' Stoner (Steve McQueen) is determined to be the best poker player/hustler in the world. Five card stud is the game, and The Kid knows that the only way he can become the best is working his way through the many other also-rans to gain a showdown with the mysterious, enigmatic Lancey 'The Man' Howard. Following some epic 30-hour sessions he is finally granted the opportunity to play the great man.
This final showdown eventually sees just The Kid and The Man left at the table. Obviously, we won't spoil it anymore, but the closing scenes are among the best in cinema history and certainly the most thrilling demonstration of high stakes poker.
The Gambler (1974, Karel Reisz)
Ignore the distinctively underwhelming 2013 remake, this is one of the all-time greats when it comes to compulsive gambling. On paper, Axel Freed (James Caan) enjoys a comfortable life. Despite coming from a wealthy background, he has followed his own course in life and is a respected English professor by day. At night, he is a highly indebted regular on the underground betting circuit under increasing pressure to start paying off his debts.
The storyline goes to immense effort to demonstrate Axel's Jekyll and Hyde personality. At time capable of affection and charm, elsewhere he is animalistic and dispassionate far beyond the boundaries of mere recklessness.
Beautifully directed and met by critical acclaim, Caan was the real star of the show and narrowly missed out on a Golden Globe for his performance. Anyone who has used good money to chase bad (and let's face it most gamblers will have at some time) will recognize the intrinsic flaws in doing so. The interesting thing is that The Gambler takes no moral dimension on the sometimes vulgar actions Axel gets involved in. Make no mistake - many consider this the 'purest' gambling movie ever made.