Published on January 19th, 2018 | by Kira Browdy0
You’re Not Taking a Gamble Seeing The Top 10 Greatest Poker Films of All Time
Source: Ocean’s Eleven (2001) via Facebook Caption: A young Matt Damon stands awaiting our list.
If you thought our trivia about 21, the intense gambling flick, was interesting, chances are you’re a fan of the poker movie genre. And what’s not to like? There’s always a fair amount of drama, plenty of action and more high-stakes hands than you can shake a stick at. But if you had to rank these films from best to worst, would you be able to?
And, really, what constitutes a poker film? While there are movies that strictly stick to poker as its focus, we’ve found that the pool of movies was too limited if we judged in that manner. In 2018 more than ever, the popularity of poker online means that it’s not only the classic variant of Texas Hold’em that gets the spotlight – there are also several other variants available to play (and feature in films) including Omaha, 7 Card Stud, Razz, SNAP poker and more. So we’ve broadened our parameters to all movies that feature gambling at one point or another in their narrative. With that in mind, let’s get to the nitty-gritty and start off with the number 10 spot on the list.
Source: Cinespia via Facebook Caption: Nicolas Case and Sarah Jessica Parker during their Las Vegas wedding.
10. Honeymoon In Vegas
If there’s one thing that most of these films can teach us about gambling, it’s that we should always know when to fold ’em and know when to hold ’em. In the case of Nicolas Cage’s character in Honeymoon In Vegas, he should know when to hold on to his fiancée in the movie as he agrees to let a fellow gambler take her out for the weekend when he accrues a large debt to the man after a hand of poker goes horribly wrong(don’t always trust a straight flush!). Unfortunately, the poker rival plans to marry Cage’s wife and takes her to Hawaii.
The movie is filled with plenty of memorable laughs and even features Cage’s character skydiving to meet back up with his soon-to-be-wife. The 1992 movie managed to earn more than $35 million in domestic sales and was ranked the highest-grossing title for two weeks in a row according to Box Office Mojo. And who doesn’t love a movie with Karate Kid legend Pat Morita as a taxi driver?
9. The Sting
This one grabs a spot on this list for the sheer amount of betting it has in it. While the acting is top-notch and the film won seven academy awards, it’s all the games that take place throughout the film that really makes it stand out for us. Mix that with the mob connections in the film and the tough Midwestern setting and you have a poker classic for the ages. And there’s just something about watching Robert Redford play poker that feels so right, especially to those who have spent hours playing poker in its 21-century incarnation, online – no matter the variant of choice. The film takes measures to emulate the feel that poker players get when they sit down at the table to play Texas Hold’em, Omaha or 7 Card Stud, some of the most variants currently popular at online casinos and poker rooms worldwide, and those little details add to the overall genuine atmosphere of the movie. Apparently, the Academy felt the same way as Redford was nominated for best actor for his performance. And for those of you out there fond of horse racing, this is one you can’t miss as the ponies make up a huge part of the plot.
8. The Grand
Where The Sting was praised for the huge amount of games throughout its duration, 2007’s The Grand is praised for the amount of professional poker players that it showcased. Poker icons Daniel Negreanu, Phil Helmuth Jr., Doyle Brunson, Phil Laak, Antonio Esfandiari and Phil Gordon all made an appearance in the film and grounded the otherwise star-studded movie in the poker world.
Woody Harrelson expertly plays a recovering drug addict with style and grace, but also adds a sort of humour to his performance that makes the rest of the cast shine. If you like all of the table banter while watching your favourite players face off, this is a film you can’t miss.
Source: The 10th Box Cinema via Facebook Caption: A movie poster for California Split that showcases Bill and Charlie sitting on a poker table.
7. California Split
Here’s another ’70s gambling film that made the cut. However, California Split trades action for comedy and drama as the film explores the hobby of gambling as a whole. The dialogue between the story’s two main characters, Bill and Charlie, is golden throughout and shows how close two human beings can become. However, where the two find common ground and build a friendship in gambling, the merger falls apart when Bill decides to leave the gambling life behind after the two split $82,000. Not only is it a nice commentary on the gambling lifestyle, but also the sometimes fragile nature of friendship. This one also gets a special mention for giving viewers a ton of variety with poker, blackjack, roulette and craps.
Source: Keep It Cult via Facebook Caption: Two antique shotguns in the movie that end up being quite valuable.
6. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
British comedy at its finest and acting at its most believable. Complex even put this one at number 23 on the top 25 list of best British film comedies and for good reason. The plot is set in motion after a huge gambling loss in three card brag has four friends scrambling to scrounge up enough money to appease a mob boss. A few robberies later the whole story is flipped on its head. If you’ve seen Trainspotting, you know the type of laughs to expect as some of the humour is quite dark. But that’s why we love it. Life isn’t always sunshine and butterflies, and this movie showcases the funny side of that darkness.
Set in the wild west, Maverick is a little bit different than much of what we’ve had on the list thus far. However, the 1994 film does maintain the comedy aspect that many of the best poker movies seem to have. Mel Gibson stars in this one and plays a smart-mouthed poker shark that starts the film looking to buy his way into a high-stakes poker tournament. The tournament is the main focus of the movie, but you can bet when the west is also part of the story, there’s bound to be some shootouts involved. The five-card draw tournament ends with Maverick (Gibson) claiming he is being cheated and the dealer is bottom dealing the cards. When Maverick and his opponent go all in on a conditional “dealt-off-the-top” bargain, the cocky protagonist is dealt the ace of spades and wins with a royal flush. Maybe it’s not the most realistic outcome, but it’s thrilling nonetheless.
4. Lucky You
Who would have thought we’d see the little girl from E.T. in a poker movie? Drew Barrymore plays the love interest of Eric Bana’s character who’s a gifted poker player. Unlike most of this list, Lucky You relies on the drama created by a relationship affected by gambling and how a big the hope of winning big can change a person’s life. Poker not only runs Bana’s character’s life, but the life of people involved with him as his father is a professional player. By the end of the film a few realizations are made and because of that, another few relationships are saved. If you’re looking for a poker film that might make you shed a few tears, look no further. This one’s really an underrated flick, though, as Rotten Tomatoes only has it at a mere 29%.
Source: Familiar Faces via Facebook Caption: Steve McQueen looking down stoically like the badass that he is.
3. Cincinnati Kid
“He’ll take on anyone at anything, anytime.” With quite possibly one of the coolest catchphrases of all time, and it comes from this film. The Cincinnati Kid sets up audiences for an all-out card brawl, which is fitting considering Steve McQueen is one of the toughest men to ever walk the planet. Lauded as one of the best McQueen movies of all time, it’s no shock that this one made it on the list, but it just goes to show that the good guy doesn’t always win. However, it’s how a loss is handled that makes the man. There are a lot of heated moments in the film and cool lines to take in. So although much of the film might be taken as hokey, the movie is an undeniable thrill ride lead by one of the men best known to thrill audiences.
2. Casino Royale
For a movie so high on this list, there isn’t as much poker playing as one might expect. However, this is the title that put a new spin on James Bond, one of the most well-known gamblers ever. Not only was the grittier take on Bond appreciated, but the movie as a whole took the box office by storm as it made just shy of $600 million worldwide, a number that earned it the 14th highest spy film ever. And even if the poker was lacking, the scenes where it was present did seem to shine as the ups and downs of a poker tournament built anticipation throughout. We were taught that even 007 gets unlucky from time to time when he has to get bought back into a texas hold ’em tournament by an unlikely ally.
Source: Rounders via Facebook Caption: Matt Damon realizing he not only won the hand but top spot on this list.
Rounders is funny, intelligent, poignant at times and gripping at others. Above all else, it is THE best poker movie of all time for the remarkable performances given by the cast Damon and Edward Norton alone carry this movie with such ease, but with additions like John Turturro and John Malkovich, it’s easy to get caught up in the inspired acting. The final poker scene isn’t just deserving of one of the best poker scenes of all time, but one of the most tense performances on a film screen. It also captures the volatile nature of heads up expertly as it showcases how finding a player’s tells can change everything in a game. Matt Damon in Interstellar was pointed, but in Rounders, he’s smooth as silk and a hell of a poker player.
So what do you think? Did we do poker flicks justice? Which ones are on your top ten list? Are you sad that some more obscure games like omega high/low didn’t make an appearance? Let us know in the comments below.