Gambling and casinos have always been a popular theme for movies because they naturally provoke curiosity and intrigue in most viewers. But for this reason, movies can be inundated with the same characters and stereotypes we’ve all seen before. Here are the movies that widen the boundaries for what gambling movies can be.
Uncut Gems (2019)
If you notice, an overwhelming number of gambling movies focus on card games like poker because they are more familiar to the public and casinos make for visually appealing set pieces. Uncut Gems deviate from this norm by delving into sports betting instead.
What makes Uncut Gems a tier above most gambling movies is its ultra-realistic portrayal of a bettor who’s in too deep. The audience gets to follow Howard, the main protagonist played by Adam Sandler, almost from an arm’s length so that we can feel the thrill when he wins and the tilt when he comes very close to.
The film ultimately sees Howard’s addiction to gambling set his life on a downward trajectory to self-destruction. But the film still makes you believe for a moment that he might actually pull off a final bet that would reverse everything. For that reason, watching Uncut Gems feels like risking it all on a bet: pure adrenaline.
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If you haven’t already guessed by the name, 21 is all about blackjack. In fact, it will interest many gamblers to know that the movie is about card counting and strategies. An MIT student joins his professor’s blackjack team to make money for his Harvard tuition: quite a unique premise.
21 is based on a true story so most of the card counting in the film does work. Even the film’s writers were afraid that Vegas casinos would not help them with filming since card counting hurts their profits. As it turns out, MGM Studios offered to finance the film on the belief that it will attract many newbies who try to card count but fail at their casinos.
Molly’s Game (2017)
Molly’s Game is based on the true story of Molly Bloom, a professional skier turning into a ‘poker princess’ who organized high-stakes underground poker games in which many celebrities like Matt Damon and Leonardo Dicaprio had joined. The film opens the door to a secret world of high society that most people would never have the chance to observe.
True to the characteristics of Aaron Sorkin’s film, everyone in Molly’s Game talks like they have a 200 IQ. It’s not the most realistic but if you’re into smart characters outsmarting each other, you’re in for a treat.
There are some memorable poker scenes in the film, both highlighting the horrible behaviors in poker and life-wrecking losses that you might recognize at your own table. But the truly special thing about Molly’s Game is how it shows us the dangerous and stress-inducing nature of hosting these illegal gambling rings.
99 out of 100 gambling movies will embody the perspective of the gamblers, Croupier is the other 1. This movie is about an aspiring writer, Jack, who takes the croupier job in a casino to make ends meet. But before he knows it, his job slowly takes over his identity.
An interesting plot device in Croupier is that Jack narrates throughout the whole movie in the third person as if writing a novel about himself. The audience gets to eardrop into his thoughts about all the gamblers archetypes he sees in his job. The film offers a nice glimpse into the lives of the people you see working in casinos but perhaps never truly notice.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Ocean’s Eleven is what many gamblers secretly wish they could do: pulling a heist on 3 casinos. The film’s charm lies in the fact that the characters are not helpless addicts but well-dressed, slick people full of swag. Its story opts for straight fun instead of a sob story about overcoming addiction since there are already many of those.
The heist in Ocean’s Eleven is full of complex details; it’s like an update from the original film of the same name featuring the Rat Pack. The ensemble for Ocean’s Eleven is also even crazier, with names like Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, and Casey Affleck.
Hard Eight (1996)
This is the debut movie for the now revered writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. Because of how monumental his later films are, few people actually know about this gem. In Hard Eight, a veteran gambler teaches a young man tips and tricks of the casino to help him pay off his mother’s debt.
Hard Eight is not flashy but instead, emotionally moving as some tracking shots cover dozens of typical gamblers you would see in your casino, all induced with a deep sense of loneliness. The characters are original, unorthodox and they capture the spirit of the ordinary people in Las Vegas, not the big-shot millionaires in other Hollywood movies.