Filmmakers often use casinos as a backdrop for scenes, or even as a central setting for the entire film. Viewers envision glamour, intrigue and risk when they see a casino setting and filmmakers find it easy to convey that message with a background that features gambling action and the atmosphere that surrounds that type of activity.
Some of Hollywood’s most successful films have used casino gambling as the primary setting for the drama that takes place in the movie. Since you're already here using your Vegas slots login, let's take the time to look at the best of these movie greats.
The granddaddy of casino movies is, many film buffs agree, The Sting, a 1974 film whose plot revolves around 1930s small-time con-man Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) who is marked for death by powerful mobster Doyle Lonnegan and a crooked police lieutenant William Snyder.
Lonnegan and Snyder kill Hooker’s friend and partner and go looking for Hooker. To extract revenge and get them off his tail, Hooker teams up with veteran conman Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman). With the help of Gondorff’s cronies, an elaborate con is devised that will not only earn them a significant payoff but will allow them to escape without the targets of the con ever learning that they’d been conned.
The con – setting up a fake underground betting station and persuading Lonnegan to place a huge sum of money on a “sure bet” -- is elaborate and convoluted but in the end, the good guys get their satisfaction. The Sting won 7 Oscars in 1974 including for the year’s Best Film, Best Screenplay and Best Director.
Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12 & Ocean’s 13
The Ocean’s franchise started with Ocean’s Eleven and then moved on to Ocean’s 12 and Ocean’s 13. The main character in all 3 films is Daniel Ocean who starts out by planning a way to outsmart nemesis Terry Benedict by targeting his Las Vegas casinos.
He gathers together a team including an electronics expert, a safecracker, a Chinese acrobat artist, a weapons expert, a professional card dealer and others to steal $150 million in cash from the casino’s safe.
Ocean’s 11 ends with the successful completion of the heist but Benedict tracks the members of the group down and in Ocean’s 12 the team meets again to figure out how to return the money and avoid Benedict’s revenge. In Ocean 13 the group members again team up, this time with the goal of outwitting tycoon Willy Bank who took control of his Ocean’s friend’s Vegas casino project.
The Hustler & Color of Money
The Hustler is a 1961 film that follows Fast Eddie Felson, a young upstart who challenges pool-legend Minnesota Fats to a tournament. Eddie loses but acquires a new manager, Bert Gordon who tries to teach Eddie that, in order to beat the pool legend, he has to play ruthlessly.
As he prepares for a rematch Eddie must decide whether it’s worth it to ignore his core beliefs to follow Bert’s ruthless strategies.
In 1986 Newman reprised his role as Fast Eddie, now in his 50s, who attempts to teach Vincent (Tom Cruise) how to become a pool hustler. Eddie has, for the most part, left the world of pool halls but he tries to show Vincent how he can make money by playing below his true abilities to inflate the odds which irks Vincent.
Vincent moves on to play on his own but meets Eddie in Atlantic City for a match between the old champ and the upstart.
Cincinnati Kid was such an iconic poker film that, till today, successful poker pros are often referred to as a “Cincinnati Kid.”
Clint Eastwood, Edward G. Robinson and Ann-Margaret starred in this 1965 film about the 1930s world of high-stakes poker games. Eric Stoner is “the Cincinnati Kid who prepares to take on poker pro Lancy Howard. A game is scheduled but The Kid discovers a plan to rig the game which causes sparks to fly.
The Gambler tells the story of high-stakes poker player Jim Bennett. Bennett takes out a loan from the mob and can’t repay it, threatening his career as an English professor and and his life. Bennett ends up risking everything as he pits the loan shark in a game where he plays the owner of a gambling ring.
Between 1979 and 1994 Bill Kaplan, a graduate of Harvard’s Business School, recruited and ran a team of blackjack players who could count cards. Most of his recruits were from MIT and over the years they won millions of dollars playing blackjack in Las Vegas casinos through the use of statistical analysis as part of strategic card counting.
In 2003 Ben Mezrich wrote a book, Bringing Down the House, about the team and in 2008 the movie, which starred Kevin Spacey as Kaplan, came out. The film covered Kaplan’s choice of team members, the training that the team members relieved, the relationships among team members and the efforts of the casinos to exclude the card counters.
Team members experienced threats from casino “security” and plenty of suspense and intrigue as they sought to maximize wins and minimize losses through the art of card counting as applied mathematically.