Whether they’re exploring the idea of luck and superstition like they do in 2003’s The Cooler or are revealing the murky origins of Las Vegas as we know it in 1995’s Casino, filmmakers love introducing gambling when they need a good plot premise!
The Cooler, 2003
William H. Macy’s character in this Wayne Kramer movie is an unusual one. He’s the eponymous Cooler, a man with luck so terrible that casino owners pay him to stand at the table whenever gamblers start enjoying a hot streak. Invariably, as he approaches, their luck vanishes, and the house edge gets restored.
But when The Cooler’s fortunes take a turn for the better, he suddenly finds himself becoming every Vegas gambler’s lucky charm, much to the annoyance of his former employers.
This delightful premise is supported by a superb performance from the multi-award-winning Macy and offers a thoughtful insight into casino gambling superstitions and the idea of luck.
Probably one of the most famous films of all time and a sweeping classic from Martin Scorsese, Casino is the legendary tale of mob-controlled gambling in Sin City.
Robert De Niro takes one of his usual exceptional turns as casino overseer Sam Rothstein with ties to the mafia and Joe Pesci shines in his role as an ultra-violent enforcer whose increasingly unpredictable behaviours begins to threaten both their lives.
Throw in a seductive performance by Sharon Stone in a character based on the real-life Las Vegas model, showgirl, and socialite Geraldine McGee and towering support from actors of the calibre of Don Rickles, James Woods, and Alan King and you’ve got one of the greatest gambling films in history.
Casino Royale, 2006
There are two film versions of this tale by Ian Fleming, but the most accomplished of the pair is without a doubt Martin Campbell’s take, with Daniel Craig as the glamorous, cool-headed hero James Bond who loves to play mobile pokies.
Casino Royale’s breakneck speed recommends it as we follow Bond as he tries to thwart a poker-playing villain in the form of Le Chiffre, brought to life in all his torture-loving glory by a dedicated turn from Mads Mikkelsen.
The film’s most memorable scene is a showdown in which Baccarat, Bond’s usual preference, is replaced by Texas Hold’em Poker, and a nail-biting all-or-nothing-game commences.
The Cincinnati Kid, 1965
Another film with extraordinarily good performances to recommend it, Steve McQueen’s The Cincinnati Kid tells a rags-to-riches tale we can all get behind.
McQueen is the eponymous hero, an up-and-coming gambler eager to face off against Lancey Howard, or The Man, the high roller of the day. Edward G. Howard takes the role of the antagonist who eventually agrees to tackle The Kid at the Poker table, largely because the latter has only ever competed in backroom games, never really facing serious competition.
The Cincinnati Kid’s Poker game is hampered by a series of obstacles that threaten to topple his chances and the film culminates in a scene where both players up the ante and the one to come out on top is revealed!