List of the best poker movies you can never get enough of!
Poker has a lengthy history of being exploited as a dramatic effect in films.
When done correctly, these films do much more like how to play poker than simply portray the game authentically. A good poker film gives viewers an understanding of the poker subculture and how it affects people who participate in it.
There are probably hundreds of 'poker movies' loosely defined. After all, poker has become a worldwide phenomenon. But, for your viewing pleasure, here are the top poker movie choices.
Lucky You (2007)
The late Curtis Hanson put an end to his fantastic L.A. Confidential/Wonder Boys/8 Mile/In Her Shoes run with this mostly hackneyed story of a superstar poker player (Eric Bana) with a complicated relationship with his even bigger superstar poker-player father, made in the heat of the now-mercifully-cooled World Series of Poker craze (Robert Duvall). Even if we've seen that narrative a million times in a million better sports movies (this one even has a Big Game in the end), Bana and Duvall find some truth in their characters. The film was a box office flop, and Hanson's hot streak came to an end.
Based on the true (if embellished by author Ben Mezrich) story of the MIT Blackjack Team, which beat the house for nearly a decade, 21 transforms intriguing math and business story into a sort of dumb heist film starring a slew of young, attractive actors (Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, Jacob Pitts, and even Josh Gad) attempting to outsmart Kevin Spacey. Spacey is notably off-kilter here, and the film has been chastised for "whitewashing" in its casting, with the majority of the actors being Asian-Americans in real life. But it's an interesting look at the physics underlying clever gambling for a brief moment before Spacey is kidnapped and abused in a hotel room. But only for a split second.
Let It Ride (1989)
A strange little comedy about a habitual loser gambler (Richard Dreyfuss) who hits on every single wager at the horse races for one day. This only motivates him to work harder and keep going, and while this may be a disaster in a film like Uncut Gems, it's just a silly '80s comedy here. Let It Ride still pulls a lot of laughs out of Dreyfuss's craziness, thanks to Teri Garr, Jennifer Tilly, and David Johansen's excellent supporting performances. However, let's just say this one isn't shown at Gamblers Anonymous meetings.
Mel Gibson was once thought to be such a light and vivacious leading actor that a big-budget studio film could rely on his charisma as a card shark and con guy. Maverick is a bloated contraption, overly long and loaded with would-be-epic-and-probably-unnecessary Western perspective by Richard Donner, based on the popular '50s television series (and co-starring that show's protagonist, James Garner). However, the picture has its charms, not least of which is Gibson's chum Jodie Foster, who has a blast portraying the type of damsel-in-distress female sidekick character she'd previously avoided for the majority of her career. It's hilarious to see her so excited.
The Cooler (2003)
The best quality of this endearing indie is its premise: Meet Bernie (William H. Macy), a professional loser whose duty is to sabotage any high-winning roller's streak by merely playing at the same craps table. The Cooler begins as a sad, funny character study of a recovering gambler who is still in massive debt to Alec Baldwin's tough-guy casino boss — he's working off what he owes by being the guy's go-to "cooler" — but the love of a good woman (Maria Bello's weary cocktail waitress) might just change his luck. In Wayne Kramer's directorial debut, realism takes a backseat to romance and sentimentality, and the payoff isn't as enjoyable as the setup. Macy, on the other hand, was born to play a hangdog failure who hasn't given up on himself.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Characters that gamble in movies are frequently presented as depressing cautionary tales. Nobody told Steven Soderbergh, who transformed the sluggish Rat Pack caper into a jazzy, fast-paced romp. It's evident from the first shot, as George Clooney and Brad Pitt's ultra-cool characters square off at the card table, that this Ocean's Eleven would emanate the sleek, cocky ethos of modern Vegas, which is all premium adult pleasures and very little actual bad conduct. Soderbergh's cast is immaculately dressed and unfussy, exuding the swagger that professional gamblers aspire to. The director is uninterested in the complexities of gambling, and he considers the games' metaphors to be as ridiculous.
Characters that gamble in movies are frequently presented as depressing cautionary tales. Nobody told Steven Soderbergh, who transformed the sluggish Rat Pack caper into a jazzy, fast-paced romp. It's evident from the first shot, as George Clooney and Brad Pitt's ultra-cool characters square off at the card table, that this Ocean's Eleven would emanate the sleek, cocky ethos of modern Vegas, which is all premium adult pleasures and very little actual bad conduct. Soderbergh's cast is immaculately dressed and unfussy, exuding the swagger that professional gamblers aspire to. The director is uninterested in the complexities of gambling, and he considers the games' metaphors to be as ridiculous. Scorsese, as he demonstrated in GoodFellas, understands how American business operates in the criminal underworld – and how individuals are stomped along the way.
The Hustler (1961)
When it comes to our gambling movie rankings, we have to remark that The Hustler isn't quite as good as its sequel, The Color of Money (which you'll find later on our list).... However, it is most likely a better film altogether. 1961 original is more concerned with loyalty, ethics, and ambition than with a swaggering Tom Cruise–Paul Newman movie-star face-off. Fast Eddie Felson, played by Newman, is a more intriguing version of Cruise's character, and his fight against Jackie Gleason's Minnesota Fats has a more personal, emotional development than a conventional sports-movie storyline. The less about the pool hustling, the better, which is excellent, but keeps it lower on my list.
Bugsy is mostly a character study of Bugsy Siegel, a gangster who travels to the desert believing he has seen the mob's future. Director Barry Levinson's Oscar-winning drama follows Siegel as he pursues his seemingly irrational dream of creating a gambling and casino centre, and Warren Beatty brilliantly portrays him as a man of passions but perhaps not of reason. Bugsy is less about gambling — though Siegel does take some large risks — and more about Sin City's tumultuous origins, which is intriguing, even if the film's glossy, prestige-picture trappings are a little confining.
Atlantic City (1980)
Legalizing gambling is now a last-ditch effort for many financially ailing cities like Detroit, St. Louis, and others – but Atlantic City was the first to do so. The squalor of Atlantic City — which led to the legalisation of gambling there in the first place — and the hope among the poor dreamers still lingering around its borders are both captured in Louis Malle's tragic yet charming, even royal Atlantic City. With a screenplay by John Guare, the picture stars Burt Lancaster in an honest, old-school movie-star performance and a gripping performance from a teenage Susan Sarandon as a casino waitress with dreams of becoming a dealer but an ex-husband she can't get rid of. The film is both dated and ageless, capturing a specific moment with folkloric intensity.
Eight Men Out (1988)
The Black Sox scandal of 1919, in which members of the Chicago White Sox (including legend Shoeless Joe Jackson) tossed the World Series to gamblers, is especially relevant now when professional sports have fully embraced gambling profits, ignoring the lessons of the past. The story of Eight Men Out is more about a labour-management fight than it is about player corruption: the players fix the series out of desperation when their owner refuses to compensate them for a fantastic season. The negative impact of gambling on sports has mostly been ignored in recent years, but Eight Men Out reminds us of its dangers.
The Color of Money (1986)
Paul Newman earned his lone Academy Award for The Color of Money, in which he reprised his role as Fast Eddie Felson from 1961's The Hustler. The sequel is a film about an ageing pool shark who finds himself at a fork in the path. In his book Conversations With Scorsese, Scorsese noted, "He had to stop gambling." "In a manner, he'd evolved into a different kind of hustler, peddling liquor." But he couldn't stay away from the fun of the game. I don't mean only pool; I mean enlivening the game of life, which is the actual risk." The film's cautionary tone — how it presents its protagonists, especially Tom Cruise's young pool player Vincent, as individuals who have squandered their lives on a game that doesn't love them back — is understated by that phrase.
The Sting (1973)
Who said gambling couldn't be entertaining? If you don't run into Shaw (Paul Newman) and Kelly (Robert Redford), this Best Picture winner emanates sheer delight. These two con artists plan to take down a bad guy (Robert Shaw), and their sophisticated scheme incorporates card games and horse racing. It's a joy to watch the characters (and director George Roy Hill) turn The Sting into one big, electrifying narrative sport. These are some easy-to-support winners.
Owning Mahowny (2003)
Owning Mahowny is the actual story of a Canadian bank manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who stole money from his bank and used it to make a series of increasingly hazardous wagers in Atlantic City. Hoffman is superb in the character, enigmatic and tragic in equal measure, a man who is helpless to control himself but does his best to hold on for as long as he can. The film is so tuned in to Hoffman's wavelength that it feels almost too far away from the audience: We can't get into his Mahowny since he's so engrossed in his own thoughts. However, this is arguably the closest a film can come to capturing the fear of having a gambling addiction.
The Card Counter (2021)
Paul Schrader's elegant, melancholy, tortured drama about a professional card player (a magnificent Oscar Isaac) who goes from casino to casino to have somecontrol over his life escape from his previous guilt, is more enjoyable, but no less emotional, than Schrader's usual fare: He clearly adores this environment and takes great pleasure in describing its subtleties and nuances. The gambling scenes clash with Schrader's normal tone of guilt and pain at times, but they also enliven and revitalise him and the picture. And, of all the Cool Movie Gamblers on our list, Isaac's is right up there: We're not gamblers, but if we were, he'd do things the way we'd do them: clever, cautious... and I'm always in command.
Mississippi Grind (2015)
Half Nelson directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck crafted this wonderfully nostalgic two-hander about a couple of inveterate gamblers heading down south to a New Orleans poker rules tournament with potentially enormous payoffs before jumping on the Marvel bandwagon. Ryan Reynolds may have given his greatest effort yet: As the backslapping Curtis who befriends the troubled Gerry, he's fantastic (Ben Mendelsohn). Mississippi Grind is defined by addiction, depression, and remorse, and it makes no attempt to hide its obligations to 1970s Hollywood — notably, a certain Robert Altman film that will appear later in these rankings. However, the material's desperate, sad draw is not diminished by this cinematic allusion. Mississippi Grind smells like stale cigarettes and half-drunk beer cans: It's a depiction of continual gambling as a depressing slog.
For the past two decades, Clive Owen has been such a ubiquitous, though occasionally disappointing, presence in films that it's difficult to recall what a lightning bolt his arrival was. So go back and watch Croupier again, where all of that promise was beautifully laid up. He's Jack, an aspiring novelist in dire need of cash - before long, he'll be a croupier learning the ropes of casino gambling. Croupier is a hard-boiled noir that tackles the sweating tension and paralysing sadness of individuals who have thrown their lives (and money) away at the tables. Jack has the blasé seen-it-all aura of a private dick. The film's detailed portrayal of grimy casino life is wonderfully addictive, even if the plot intricacies aren't altogether gratifying. It's a shame Owen hasn't been able to find a film that captures his attention.
California Split (1974)
According to legend, Robert Altman sent the screenplay to California Split in the hopes that he would portray Charlie, a gambler who meets fellow gambler Bill (George Segal). Gould informed the director, "I've always wanted to play this guy," to which Altman answered, "You are this guy." Although Charlie's addiction is severe, the actor radiated his laid-back charm to great success when working with Segal, who was not interested in gambling. And yet, in one of the high watermarks of '70s hangout films, the two men's rakish charm makes this not just a fantastic buddy comedy, but a fascinating exploration of boys-will-be-boys camaraderie. There's also a lot of gambling, which Altman captures with ease, allowing us to listen in on the strange individuals and dangerous oddballs who occupy that society. California Split is one of the director's most underappreciated works, and its gut-punch ending is both subtle and exquisite.
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