12 Best Gambling Movies of All Time

July 28, 2018
8 min read

Gambling is a game of chance. You never what happens and this uncertainty of outcome makes it a very dangerous and addictive game that people get tend to get caught up with. Gambling often makes way for great stories that explore the dark, funny sides of human beings. And cinema has had many films that centre around gambling. Right from the 50s to the modern era, gambling has been the focus of numerous films in mainstream cinema. This article takes a look at the list of top gambling movies ever. You can watch some of these best gambling movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

12. The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

This Steve McQueen starrer tells the story of a Eric who longs to prove himself a champion in the poker game. His ambitions end up with him facing the best in the world as he fights out an epic battle with Lancey Howard who is regarded as the greatest of the game. On the surface, the plot might not seem original or compelling enough but ‘The Cincinnati Kid’ is a complex drama so full of life and breathing characters with raw tension and suspenseful build up that turn it into such a distinctively memorable cinematic experience.

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11. The Cooler (2003)

This Wayne Kramer romantic flick is about a sad casino employee who personifies the word “unlucky” for the players around him and is desperate to be with a woman. Life inside for him is utterly miserable and is dying to liberate himself when he meets a gorgeous cocktail waitress and falls in love with her. ‘Cooler’ does not break any new grounds but is highly entertaining, replete with some fine performances from its leads. Influenced by Scorsese’s ‘Casino’, the film takes place, for the most part, inside of the casino and tells quite an interesting story with well etched characters in a very unpretentious manner.

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10. The Sting (1973)

Set in 1936, ‘The Sting’ tells the story of a man seeking vengeance for his partner and teams up with a big shot to win a fortune from a criminal banker. The narrative is segregated into chapters with music playing a key role in storytelling. Parts of the film do not hold up well and may seem a bit dated now but the plot is quite cleverly tackled and gives a smart, funny picture into the world of poker games and what’s more interesting is that we end up rooting for the leads who are apparently criminals and have very few likeable qualities. Robert Redford and Paul Newman once again prove to be an unassailable duo in cinema.

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9. Rounders (1998)

‘Rounders’ tells the story of two friends who play poker as they are in dying need for some cash in order to pay off their debts. ‘Rounders’ surprisingly comes off as a highly underrated film despite having a star-studded cast as it failed to make any significant impact during its release and wasn’t a huge box office success either. However, over the years, the film managed to garner some sort of a cult following thanks to its storyline and the popularity of the poker games. The film has some of the most memorable poker sequences ever filmed on-screen. Easily one of the best gambling movies of all time.

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8. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Steven Soderbergh’s highly stylised heist drama tells the story of a group of eleven people and a gangster who are looking to rob three popular casinos in Las Vegas. The film is an extremely entertaining affair with some memorable moments of thrills. A remake of the 1960 film of the same name, Soderbergh’s version almost edges out the original with its flamboyance and clinical execution. The film features one of the most famous robbery sequences of all time and has appeared on several best of lists, including Empire magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time”.

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7. The Gambler (1974)

Starring the ever flamboyant James Caan, ‘The Gambler’ is a raw, intriguing character study exploring the darkest sides of human addiction. I came across this film as part of research for this article and it was just the kind of stuff that completely took me by surprise. The film, as its title implies, uses gambling and takes a disturbing look at what eventually consumes the human existence. Caan is electrifying and vulnerable as a despicable character with whom we end up sympathising despite lacking any redeeming qualities in him. ‘The Gamblers’ is a must watch for its honesty, realism and gritty nature of the filmmaking.

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6. Casino Royale (2006)

Part of the James Bond saga, ‘Casino Royale’ chronicles the beginning of Bond’s career as Agent 007 as he takes on a mission to pull back a mob banker from winning a high stakes poker game. ‘Casino Royale’ is one of the best James Bond flicks and features an iconic performance by Daniel Crag who took the Bond character to another level, portraying him as a tough yet vulnerable man. The film is gritty, entertaining and visually mesmerising and is just the kind of stuff to watch if you’re in the mood for some pure, classy, adrenaline pumping fun.

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5. Croupier (1998)

‘Croupier’ is a criminally underrated film that has sadly slipped down into the forgotten corners of cinema over the years. ‘Croupier’ depicts the life of a writer who takes up a job as a croupier in a casino and soon meets up a woman who teams up with him and plans to rob the entire casino. The film takes a very realistic look into the casino world and is highly stylised with utmost focus on characterisation and the setting. It takes the form of a dark thriller using noir influenced techniques and crafts a truly refreshing piece of cinema that deserves the stature of a classic.

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4. Hard Eight (1996)

Long before Paul Thomas Anderson became the modern master that he is today, he built an idea on telling a story about five people whose lives are connected through a 20$ bill. The idea culminated in his first short film venture, titled ‘Cigarrettes and Coffee’. This idea was further built up and expanded as it ended up being his debut feature film, ‘Hard Eight’; an outstanding neo-noir crime thriller that portrays the relationship between a professional gambler and his protege. ‘Hard Eight’ isn’t close to Anderson’s greatest works but this is just as exciting and inspiring a debut can ever get and features some of the most compelling characters ever written on-screen.

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3. California Split (1974)

Robert Altman’s eccentric satire is much more than being just another film about gambling. ‘California Split’ is perhaps one of Altman’s more overlooked films. It isn’t as accomplished as his masterworks like ‘Nashville’ or ‘MASH’ but ‘California Split’ is still an inspiring work from a master craftsman at the peak of his powers. The film explores the relationship between two gamblers who bond over their love for the game and takes on the bizarre madness encircling the world of gambling and consuming the people ensnared in it. ‘California Split’ has an almost brutal quality to it that makes it feel so real, nuanced and fascinating that it manages to hold up brilliantly with every viewing.

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2. Casino (1995)

Arguably the most popular film on this list, Martin Scorsese’s follow up to the iconic ‘Goodfellas’ was another tale of friendships, betrayal, greed, violence and morality only this time the setting shifted from the mean streets of New York to the infamous Casino world of Las Vegas. Scorsese has always been fascinated by the glamour world and exposing the dark sides of success and prosperity. ‘Casino’ does exactly that and has all the quintessential elements for a classic Scorsese flick. The film was widely criticised for its unrestrained use of violence and thematic resemblance to ‘Goodfellas’ but over the years, people have been more vocal in its praise and is now regarded as one of Scorsese’s better works.

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1. Bob Le Flambeur (1956)

French auteur Jean Pierre Melville was one of cinema’s finest filmmakers whose favorite arena was the crime thriller genre. Melville’s influence on the art of filmmaking is undeniable and his work has altered the dimensions of the neo-noir genre in cinema. ‘Bob Le Flambeur’ tells the story of an old, broke gambler who takes a chance and concocts a dangerous plan to rob the Deauville casino. Our protagonist is a desperate man for whom gambling wasn’t just a game but a part of himself. Melville’s approach is unsurprisingly quite minimalistic and subtle but manages to engage you on every level. The film is widely admired for its innovative, stylistic techniques including the pioneering use of handheld cameras and has widely influenced many American films on the same subject.

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