Whether you are a movie buff or not, the fact that there have been so many movies made centred around the subject of gambling – ranging from average to absolutely great ones – may surprise you. It is hard to pick a top ten from this huge list, but the following gambling movies list that ranges from the Sixties till today is bound to give you a great time in the coming weekends if you have not watched them yet.
The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
Adapted from Richard Jessup’s novel and directed by Norman Jewison, this masterpiece tells the tale of a young stud poker player, Eric Stoner (Steve McQueen), also known as the Cincinnati Kid. He wants to beat an old champion, Lancey Howard (Edward G Robinson) to let his reputation soar high. After arranging the game, Eric finds out that the game was in fact fixed against Lancey by someone out of revenge. Eric decides against this as he believes that he can win it by his own merit.
Set in New Orleans during the 1930s, the time of the Great Depression, the film is said to bear some similarity to the famous ‘The Hustler’, in theme and characterization. The movie garnered a rating of 85% from Rotten Tomatoes critic review.
The Gambler (1974)
This Karel Reisz film from the seventies is about an obsessive gambler literature professor who is always in debt. Though he never cared about losing in the game, at last he became desperate when everyone other than the people to whom he owes money starts leaving him. As the lead character James Caan (cast as Axel Freed) put it, “It’s not easy to make people care about a guy who steals from his mother to pay gambling debts,” and he succeeded in doing just that and more, with the viewers empathizing with him at every moment.
Written by James Toback, this crime drama is another movie that received a 4 out of 4 rating from Roger Ebert. Rotten Tomatoes critics gave it a score of 86%.
House of Games (1987)
David Mamet’s Golden Globe nominated film gives the viewers a glimpse into the world of gambling through the eyes of the psychiatrist, Margaret Ford, who becomes entangled in this world while visiting a bar-owner, Mike, to convince him to let one of her patients out of his gambling debt. She herself agreed to help Mike in looking for “tells” in one of the games in return for his favor.
It is interesting to note that this highly acclaimed movie stars no big names, rather the director’s wife and some old friends in the lead roles. With Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna in two of the chief roles, this movie accrued a whopping 96% from Rotten Tomatoes critic review. Roger Ebert gave it 4 out of 4 with a remark that “‘House of Games’ never steps wrong from beginning to end, and it is one of this year’s best films.”
Rain Man (1988)
This Oscar-winning drama film by Barry Levinson, starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, needs no introduction. Though the movie does not centre on gambling, it has every right to win a place in this list. Here Charles Sanford Babbit, or Charlie (Cruise) is an automobile salesman whose estranged father leaves him no cash in his will while giving $3 million to someone he does not even know. Charlie goes on to find that person and discovers that he is in fact Charlie’s unknown, severely autistic brother living in an institute. The two brothers take a cross-country road-trip and as Charlie discovers Raymond’s (Dustin Hoffman) rare card-counting talents, he takes him to Las Vegas to beat the casinos at their own game.
‘Rain Man’ has received 90% rating from Rotten Tomatoes critic review and Roger Ebert gave it a 3.5 out of 4.
God of Gamblers (1989)
God of Gamblers (Chinese ‘Du Shen’) is an end-of-nineties action comedy-drama film by Jing Wong. The film is about one master gambler, Do San (Yun-Fat Chow), who is known as the God of Gamblers due to his success at the games by dint of some supernatural ability. He loses his memory in an accident and is taken care of by a hustler friend of his, Knife (Andy Lau) and Knife’s girlfriend Jane (Joey Wang), but is later found to retain his previous charisma in gambling.
This epic thriller gained so much popularity that it was followed by a number of independent sequels and spin-offs, besides its own sequel and prequel.
This Oscar-nominated gambling movie of Martin Scorsese is set in Las Vegas during the early seventies, starring Robert De Niro as the smart gambler Sam “Ace” Rothstein who works for the Italian Mafia for operating a casino. The movie is based on Nicholas Pileggi’s book by the same name that is inspired by a true story. Ace meets the call girl Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone) and marries him, and his childhood friend, the thief and killer Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) enters the scene – two events which set the film’s pace. Scorsese’s characteristic portrayal of small details has made this movie all the more interesting. The movie is pretty lengthy though, running for a little over three hours.
Roger Ebert said that this movie stands out among other Mafia movies of Scorsese: “Unlike his other Mafia movies (“Mean Streets” and “GoodFellas”), Scorsese’s “Casino” is as concerned with history as with plot and character,” granting it a 4 out of 4. The movie garnered 80% rating from Rotten Tomatoes critic review.
Hard Eight (1996)
Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut film that brought out the best from its cast is surely going to keep you hooked to the screen. This neo-noir crime thriller has this gripping character of Phillip Baker Hall as Sydney, the veteran gambler with a shady past, who meets the penniless John (John C Reilly) and shows him all the tricks of the game, besides taking care for him as a son. John later soars to be an expert gambler and falls in love with the cocktail waitress Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrew). The film takes a turn when John’s new friend Jimmy (Samuel L Jackson) enters the show. The film was titled ‘Sydney’ originally.
The movie received a rating of 83% from Rotten Tomatoes critic review. Master reviewer Roger Ebert praised this movie highly, giving it a 3.5 out of 4; he wrote, “Movies like “Hard Eight” remind me of what original, compelling characters the movies can sometimes give us.”
This crime drama by Mike Hodges revolves around the life of a struggling writer who starts working as a croupier at a casino for money, rather unwillingly. Set in London, it stars Clive Owen as the lead character Jack Manfred, who gets entangled in the dark alley of gambling world that takes over his life. Together with a gambler, Jack takes up the risk of cheating the casino besides continuing to write his semi-autobiographical novel.
Roger Ebert commented, “This isn’t an unconvincing movie casino (even though it was built on a set in Germany), but a convincing portrayal of one of those smaller London operations where the plush and the gilt and the tuxedos on the gorillas at the door don’t quite cover the tarnish.” The film received a huge 98% rating from Rotten Tomatoes critic review.
Casino Royale (2006)
Casino Royale is probably the most stand-out one among all the James Bond movies. Based on the novel by Ian Fleming, Martin Campbell directed one of the best action movies ever starring Daniel Craig (as James Bond) along with Eva Green (as Vesper Lynd). Here Bond embarks on a journey to defeat Le Chiffre, the weapons dealer, in a game of poker to stop him from winning a hefty sum of money that would otherwise go to finance terrorism.
The movie has received a 4 out of 4 from Roger Ebert and a whopping 95% from the critics of Rotten Tomatoes.
The Gambler (2014)
You can watch this movie if you are a fan of the original 1974 version of ‘The Gambler’ and want to get an impression about how the remake turned out, which perhaps is not going to be great all the more so because you cannot help comparing it to the early classic. The film is not an exact repetition of the earlier plot though. This Rupert Wyatt (director of ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’) movie stars Mark Wahlberg in the character of Jim Bennett, the literature professor. While the original film’s major strength was in making the viewers empathize with a not-so-likable character, the newer version fails just at that with its predictable plot and weak characterization.
The movie received a shocking 46% in Rotten Tomatoes critic review. But the reason may be explained by this critic opinion, “Well-paced and reasonably entertaining in its own right, The Gambler still suffers from comparisons to the James Caan classic that inspired it.” This movie may not have the right to make a place in this list, however, you may enjoy it in case you have not watched the Karel Reisz film yet.