11 Good Gambling Movies

Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 4:51 pm

If you’ve ever tried your hand at Texas Hold’em, blackjack, or craps, you’re likely to enjoy this list of 11 good gambling movies. The films listed below cover the entire spectrum of gambling, from horse racing and pool hustling to the little-known (at least in the U.S.) game of scopa. You won’t win any money from watching my selections, but I can also guarantee that you won’t wind up having money wired via Western Union for a plane ticket out of Vegas.

All of these films can be found on Netflix, and the online rental site also has another 100,000 or so movies to choose from. Becoming a Netflix member is easy, and there are never any late fees. Their closest competitor, Blockbuster, can’t make the same claim.

And if you’re really nuts about gambling films, be sure to check out Poker Movies.org. It’s got wall-to-wall reviews of any movie that involves gambling, and I’m talking everything from Nicolas Cage comedies to foreign films.

The Cincinnati Kid (1965) – The King of Cool, Steve McQueen, stars as a hungry poker player looking to establish himself as the best in Depression-era New Orleans. But to do so, he’ll have to overcome legendary Lancey “The Man” Howard (Edward G. Robinson) and a cast of shady characters looking to determine the outcome by less-than-honest means. Co-starring Ann-Margret, Karl Malden, Rip Torn, Joan Blondell, and Tuesday Weld. The first serious film from director Norman Jewison, it also features a theme song from Ray Charles. Considered one of the greatest poker movies ever made, despite the improbability of the film’s final hand.

Croupier (1998) – Mike Hodges, director of the original Get Carter, helms this neo-noir film that mostly got dumped onto television in the United States. Still, it exposed viewers to a young Clive Owen, and that’s never a bad thing. The handsome Brit plays an author-turned-croupier who falls for a beautiful customer and gets drawn into the dangerous web of a casino heist. If you’re a fan of Owen, or good casino movies in general, this is a great chance to see a star on the rise.

The Cooler (2003) – William H. Macy stars as Bernie Lootz, an individual whose luck is so bad that he’s employed by a casino to lend his misfortune to other players. Sick of his life, Bernie decides to leave Las Vegas and start over elsewhere. Then he meets casino waitress Natalie Belisario (Maria Bello), and his entire world begins to change. Meanwhile, the casino’s old-school head (Alec Baldwin in an Oscar-nominated role) must deal with corporate attempts to turn the property into a more family-friendly establishment. Great chemistry between Bello and Macy, and Baldwin is especially outstanding as a hardass with old-fashioned attitudes. Notable supporting roles include Ron Livingston and Paul Sorvino. A twisted little romance that’s perfect for fans of good gambling movies.

The Gambler (1974) – No, I’m not talking about the TV movie starring Kenny Rogers. I’m talking about the film starring James Caan as Axel Freed, an English professor with a gambling problem. As his debts begin to mount and loan sharks drop by his apartment, Axel is forced to resort to increasingly desperate measures. Paul Sorvino co-stars as his bookie, and Lauren Hutton is the love interest. Loosely based on the short story The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

The Hustler (1961) – Adapted from the 1959 novel by Walter Tevis, The Hustler is brimming with real man competing in a real man’s game (the noble art of pool). Paul Newman is spellbinding as “Fast” Eddie Felson, a young hustler who wants to prove his mastery of the game by defeating the legendary Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). Unsavory characters lurk around every corner, and Felson’s romance with a limping alcoholic (Piper Laurie) is doomed from the outset. Nominated for nine Oscars, the film also stars George C. Scott as a slimy poker player. And don’t forget about the sequel, The Color of Money, directed by Martin Scorsese and co-starring Tom Cruise.

Let It Ride (1989) – Every gambler has dreamed of a day like the one that Jay Trotter (Richard Dreyfuss) is having at the racetrack. No matter what horse he bets on, it always comes up a winner. Within a matter of hours, he’s a legend around the track, although there’s going to be hell to pay when his wife (Teri Garr) finds out. A good-natured comedy that co-stars David Johansen, Jennifer Tilly, Robbie Coltrane, and Cynthia Nixon.

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California Split (1974) – Robert Altman directs and George Segal and Elliott Gould star as a pair of pals who bond over their mutual love of gambling. While it’s definitely a comedy, the film is also firmly rooted in the character arcs of Segal and Gould. Fans of casino gambling should love it, as scenes involving blackjack, poker, roulette, and craps are all featured. Keep an eye out for Jeff Goldblum in only his second feature film role.

The Grand (2008) – Largely improvised, this comedy revolves around a Texas Hold’em tournament and the colorful gamblers who enter. Hands were played out unscripted, with the eventual winner unknown when the cameras started rolling. Standout entrants include “One Eyed” Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson), the sentimental favorite; the brother-sister duo of Lainie and Larry Schwartzman (Cheryl Hines and David Cross); the socially awkward genius (Chris Parnell); the old timer, Deuce Fairbanks (Dennis Farina); Richard Kind as the unknown; and Werner Herzog (yes, that Werner Herzog) as the intimidating German. Other cast members include Ray Romano, Michael McKean, Gabe Kaplan, Jason Alexander, and Hank Azaria.

Owning Mahowny (2003) – A look at the ups and down of gambling addiction, Owning Mahowny stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a bank employee who uses his position to skim funds in order to finance trips to Atlantic City. The character-driven look at one man’s obsession is bolstered by a fine supporting cast, including Minnie Driver as Mahowny’s girlfriend and fellow bank employee, and John Hurt as a casino manager with an unquenchable thirst for money. Based on a true story.

The Scientific Cardplayer (1972) – This Italian drama details the yearly showdown between a rich American widow (Bette Davis) and an impoverished Italian couple (Alberto Sordi and Silvana Mangano) over the card game scopa. The widow provides them with the stakes to play, as well as a chance to gain a small fortune. But she always wins, not returning until the same time the following year. It continues that way until Cleopatra (Antonella Demaggi), the couple’s daughter, steps in to gain a measure of revenge against the sadistic old woman. Before viewing, I’d suggest reading up on the game of scopa, as understanding it will make a big difference. Joseph Cotton co-stars.

Who’s Got the Action? (1962) – Steve Flood (Dean Martin) has a gambling problem. Wife Melanie Flood (Lana Turner) has a plan to break him of the habit. But the well-meaning scheme quickly gets out of hand, drawing in a pair of judges, a nightclub singer named Saturday Knight (Nita Talbot), and Walter Matthau as mobster Tony Gagoots. This rapid-fire comedy was directed by Daniel Mann (Butterfield 8, The Teahouse of the August Moon, and Our Man Flint).

Now that you’re familiar with these 11 good gambling movies, it’s time to run to your local video store and bring them home. What’s that? Your local Blockbuster doesn’t carry California Split or Croupier? Well, Netflix certainly does, and there’s no late fee if you decide to keep them for a few weeks (or a few months, for that matter). Click here to become a Netflix member. We do get a commission if you sign up, but I swear that none of the proceeds will be used to feed a gambling addiction.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 at 4:51 pm and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “11 Good Gambling Movies”

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September 3, 2010


These are some good classics. For the newer generation, 21 is really good.

January 17, 2011

Glenda Israelson

Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!


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