Film review: the best casino movies of all time

The casino has long been an iconic symbol in our culture, encapsulating a range of emotions and associations, including glamour, risk, danger and excitement.

These days, casinos are as likely to be found online as in the real world, and those who want to experience everything that a modern casino has to offer can click here, but the glamour of the physical casino remains part of our culture, thanks partly to the efforts of filmmakers. Here are some of the best movies based in or around casino culture:

Croupier (1998)

Croupier, directed by Mike Hodges, is one of the few gambling films to achieve cult classic status from the United Kingdom. The film follows Jack Manfred, a poor writer in London, who is portrayed by Clive Owen. Jack gets a job as a croupier to supplement his income, but the seedy gaming lifestyle eventually consumes him. He becomes embroiled in unlawful activities with a gambler, which quickly unravel and cause his professional and personal lives to fall apart. This movie shows us a different, grittier perspective on the old casino industry than you will find in many movies of this genre.

Rain Man (1988)

Rain Man is a must-see film that should be included in any list of these movies. Directed by Barry Levinson, it is one of the most well-known Vegas films of all time. Tom Cruise plays Charlie Babbit, a pompous and petulant individual, while Dustin Hoffman plays his older brother. Hoffman’s character is a gifted autistic man who the younger Babbit employs to count cards at the blackjack tables in Las Vegas.

While the movie has rightly been criticized for its depiction of autism, it is a powerful exploration of family life and on the hazy limits of what is legal in a casino city like Vegas.

Rounders (1998)

If poker is your game of choice, you’ve almost certainly watched Rounders, and if you haven’t, we strongly advise you to do so. This is one of the most well-known poker films ever, directed by John Dahl. Mike McDermott, portrayed by Matt Damon, is the primary character, a law student with an extraordinary skill for the game. He stops gambling after losing all his money to Teddy (John Malkovich), but everything changes when his boyhood pal is freed from jail. To assist his pal in paying off the money he owes to some unsavoury persons, he must return to gaming.

21 (2008)

This is a unique type of coming-of-age film that revolves around the allure of gambling. The film is directed by Robert Luketic and centres on Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a student in severe need of a scholarship to complete his education to become a doctor. His math professor (Kevin Spacey) recognises his financial need and skill with numbers and offers him the chance to join a hidden society of other gifted individuals who are heading to Las Vegas. However, the group’s selfishness and addiction to generating money starts to harm them, and they quickly find themselves mired in treachery and hedonism.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Ocean’s Eleven is one of the most well-known heist films of all time. Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is the primary character in Steven Soderbergh’s film, which follows a group of daring co-conspirators as they participate in the largest heist of all time. The targets are Las Vegas’ most exclusive institutions, and this suspenseful thriller is full of twists and turns. Oceans Thirteen (2007), which returns the action to Las Vegas, is also worth checking out.

Casino (1995)

One of the most well-known gambling films of all time, this is also one of Martin Scorsese’s greatest achievements. It depicts the two sides of the Vegas casino life: the money, fame and glitter, as well as the frequently vicious behind-the-scenes deals. The primary character, played by Robert De Niro, is a mob-connected gambler who is given the chance to operate a Vegas casino. However, the return of a pal, who is now a mafia linchpin, shatters his Vegas dream. The movie features deception, power, greed, money and murder, and is a compelling spectacle.

Casino Royale (2006)

This re-make of the original 1967 Bond film was directed by Martin Campbell. This time, Bond takes on the notorious villain Le Chiffre, who is a banker and confidante to some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. He attends a game of Texas Hold’em in Montenegro where he must earn money in order to protect his life from the hazardous client base he has created. To stop Le Chiffre from winning, Bond has to join in and win the game. All the finest elements of the Bond series are evident in this film: violence, class, riches, high stakes and witty language.

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