Top ten gambling films of all time

10 Gambling Films

There have been hundreds of gambling flicks released over the past 50 years, but here are our favourites.

The gambling and casino industries have long been the subject of blockbuster films and indie flicks. From mob power struggles to audacious heists, some of the best movies ever made feature slots machines and poker tables.

Picking the ten best is a tall order, and there are several films that came close but didn’t quite make the cut; the likes of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Revolver, Cool Hand Luke, The Cooler and Croupier.

While totally subjective, the below is a rundown of our favourites here at Jackpot.co.uk. A mix of old-school classics and future hits, there is something for everyone – whether a casual slots player, poker pro or blackjack master.

So when you are done reading, fire up your streaming service, put the popcorn in the microwave and get watching.

21

Release date: 28th March 2008
Budget: $35m
Box office: $158m
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth
IMDb: 6.8/10

Inspired by the true-to-life book “Bringing Down the House”, 21 tells the story of six M.I.T. math wizards who learn the dark art of card counting and take several US casinos for millions of dollars.

The story follows lead character Ben Campbell, a highly intelligent student who dreams of transferring to Harvard Medical School to train as a doctor. But given his working-class background, he cannot afford the tuition fees.

One evening Ben is introduced to unorthodox math teacher Micky Rosa, who runs a secretive card counting club with five other students. Seduced by the opportunity to win big bucks, Ben joins their ranks.

The team embark on weekend jaunts to Las Vegas, where they deploy their card counting skills alongside code talk and hand signals to strike while tables are hot.

For a short while they enjoy all the trappings of the high-roller lifestyle, but over time they succumb to greed and become victims of their own success.

Casino Royale

Release date: 16th November 2006
Budget: $150m
Box office: $559
Stars: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench
IMDb: 8/10

Armed with a licence to kill, Casino Royale is James Bond’s first mission as a 00 agent. His task is to take on terrorist financier Le Chiffre in a game of high-stakes poker and prevent him from winning at all costs.

The $10m buy-in is enough to unnerve even the most hardened professional, but Bond and Le Chiffre don their best poker faces and put their skills to the test in an intense game that also features a strangling and a poisoning.

The game culminates with a $115m hand in which Bond, Le Chiffre and the remaining players go all in. Le Chiffre trumps the others, but Bond claims victory with a straight flush.

Casino Royale, and the poker game scenes, marked a change in direction for Bond films, moving away from gadgets and gizmos to more gritty and intelligent narratives.

Ocean’s Eleven

Release date: 15th February 2002
Budget: $85m
Box office: $450m
Stars: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon
IMDb: 7.8/10

Danny Ocean wants to score the largest casino heist in history, and just hours after being released on parole he sets about assembling his team. Their target? The Bellagio, the Mirage and the MGM Grand; all owned by casino mogul Terry Benedict.

Danny gets word that during a boxing match between Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitshko there will be $150million held in a state-of-the-art safe 70 feet below the Las Vegas Strip.

To break into the vault, Ocean assembles his eleven, which include a card magician, a thief, a pickpocket, a card dealer, a surveillance man, a Chinese acrobat, an explosives expert, two front men, a stooge and a bitter gambling baron.

Their plan is audacious and flamboyant, and Benedict is none the wiser. Or is he? Throw a love triangle into the mix and things become even more explosive.

Word has is that while filming Ocean’s Eleven, the cast did so much real-life gambling that George Clooney lost 25 hands of blackjack in a row.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Release date: 13th November 1998
Budget: $18.5m
Box office: $13.7m
Stars: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Torro
IMDb: 7.7/10

Oddball journalist Raoul Duke and his psychopathic lawyer Dr. Gonzo head to Las Vegas in search of the American Dream in the movie adaptation of the classic Hunter. S. Thompson novel of the same name.

Duke is sent to the City of Sin to cover a motorbike race taking place in the Nevada desert, but chaos ensues when they unlock the arsenal of drugs they have stashed in the boot of their convertible, known as the Red Shark.

As the drugs take hold, they encounter police, reporters, gamblers, racers and hitch-hikers on their quest to discover the undefinable notion of the American dream. But all they find is fear and loathing.

While not really a gambling movie as such, Fear and Loathing has taken on legendary status amongst slots and poker players.

The film includes some memorable gambling scenes, but it’s popularity is due to the way it exposes the ugly underbelly of Las Vegas and American society at the time.

The Cincinnati Kid

Release date: 15 October 1965
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A
Stars: Steve McQueen, Ann-Margret
IMDb: 7.3/10

Eric Stoner, played by McQueen, is an up and coming gambler. Known as the Cincinnati Kid in the circles he travels, Stoner goes from town to town in search of high stakes games and beautiful women.

Stoner arrives in New Orleans in the 1930s to take on Lance Howard, the best in the business when it comes to stud poker. A date for the showdown is set, but in the run up to the contest the Kid finds himself confronted with several distractions.

From his girlfriend wanting more commitment, to his friend’s wife letting it be known that she is willing to do the dirty with him, to the stakes for the game with Howard getting ever higher – the Kid is feeling the strain.

But when the game finally gets underway, it would appear Stoner has the upper hand, with Howard looking increasingly weak under the heat of the lights.

As the last hand is played, however, Howard reveals the ace up his sleeve, beating the Kid and maintaining his number one position.

The film is one for poker aficionados, accurately portraying the skill, intelligence and cunning required to master the game.

Owning Mahowny

Release date: 23rd January 2003
Budget: $10m
Box office: $1m
Stars: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, John Hurt
IMDb: 7.1/10

On the face of it, Dan Mahowny has a lot going for him. At the age of 24 he is the youngest assistant manager in the history of the Canadian Imperial Bank. He is a hard worker, with a loving girlfriend and a small circle of friends.

But he is also hiding a dark secret; a mighty gambling addiction that he is defrauding the bank to pay for. Such is the extent of his problem that he steals more than $10million over 18 months, the largest ever for a Canadian bank.

But even when he wins big, Mahowny seems to get little joy and continues to wager until he loses it all again. The story, based on true events, pulls back the curtain on gambling addiction, and the lengths people go to in order to get their fix.

Perhaps inevitably, Mahowny’s deception eventually catches up with him and he finds himself under arrest and later sent to jail.

Despite the dark and troubling nature of the story, it is thoroughly engaging and one that reminds us all for the need to control our levels of play.

Casino

Release date: 14th November 1995
Budget: $52m
Box office: $116m
Stars: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci
IMDb: 8.2/10

Casino is often considered the gold standard when it comes to gambling movies, even though it doesn’t show a lot of actual gambling. What it does do, however, is lift the lid on mob-era casinos.

The film goes into a lot of detail about the day to day running of a large casino, from operating sports books and table games to slots machines and poker via betting percentages, odds and more.

The story follows Ace Rothstein and Nicky Santoro, mobsters who move to Las Vegas to make their mark. Ace is the operator of the Tangiers Casino, while Nicky, his childhood friend, is a tough strongman who shakes down the locals.

But both have a major flaw; Ace falls in love with a hustler and Nicky finds himself on a downward spiral driven by drink and drugs.

Power, greed, deception, love; Casino has all the ingredients for a mobster classic, which is why it remains a must-watch for gamblers to this day.

Rounders

Release date: 25th August 1998
Budget: : $12m
Box office: $24m
Stars: Matt Damon, Edward Norton
IMDb: 7.4/10

Talented poker player Mike McDermott loses $30,000 in an illegal underground game to Russian mobster Teddy “KGB”. Shaken, he turns his back on the game in order to focus on law school.

Mike is true to his promise until childhood friend Lester “Worm” Murphy is released from prison and they reconnect. Worm is also a card player who owes an outstanding debt he racked up before his incarceration.

Mike soon finds himself playing poker again, and when Worm tells him he has just five days to pay off his debt they embark on a frantic race to win the money. Via several games played around New York City, they hit the $15,000 Worm owes.

But then they are caught cheating and lose their entire bankroll. It also transpires the debt is owed to Teddy “KGB”.

With a $10,000 loan from his school professor, Mike takes on Teddy in a no limit, heads-up game of Texas Hold’em – which he wins.

The film ends with Mike dropping out of law school and taking a flight to Las Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker, a dream come true for most rounders.

Maverick

Release date: 20th May 1994
Budget: : $75m
Box office: $183m
Stars: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster
IMDb: 7/10

Based on the 1950’s TV series, the film of the same name follows card playing con artist Bret Maverick as he tries to raise $25,000 to enter a winner takes all five-card draw poker tournament.

To raise the funds, he enters card games, collects a few debts and little bits of loot for reward. He joins forces with a woman gambler with a fake southern accent, but along the way they encounter all manner of capers and challenges.

Maverick eventually gets the money together, and makes it to the paddle-boat where the game is taking place in the nick of time. He makes it to the final round, and wins the $500,000 prize pot despite fixed hands and attempts to cheat.

The story doesn’t end there though, as Mavericks’ winnings are stolen. While he tracks down the thieves and gets his money back, further twists unravel.

Interestingly, the $500,000 prize pot would be the equivalent of around $12.5m in today’s money.

The Gambler

Release date: 10th November 2014
Budget: : $25m
Box office: $34m (USA)
Stars: Mark Walberg, Jessica Lange
IMDb: 6/10

Literary professor Jim Bennett is also a high-stakes gambler, and after a night at Mr Lee’s casino finds himself owing the proprietor and gangster Baraka a large amount of money. He is given one week to come up with the goods.

Bennett goes to his wealthy mother for the cash, but she refuses to give it to him knowing of his addiction. He then turns to loan shark Frank, who agrees to front him the cash at a later date.

Lamar, one of Jim’s students, is a rising basketball athlete but he is carrying an injury. Baraka forces Jim to reveal Lamar’s contact details so that he can make him fix his next game.

Jim goes to the game, armed with Frank’s money, and wins big when Lamar does as he is asked. He gives the money to Baraka to cover his debt. He then arranges to meet Frank at Mr Lee’s Casino.

Once there, he makes a double-or-nothing all-in bet on roulette. The bet pays off, and he splits the winnings equally between Frank and Mr Lee.