For centuries we have competed within the rules and regulations of games (sometimes outside of according to that gold monopoly money stuffed in your back pocket) in the hope of triumphing over our fellow-man or woman and in the process walk away with our pockets filled with the spoils and our bellies brimming over with a comforting cocktail of pride and hubris.
However, when it comes to depictions of games on the big screen, there’s often a far greater prize on the line: the fate of the planet, the heart of a lover, the survival of you and your friends. The odds are stacked against you, the cards have been counted, and the dice are loaded, here are five of the best cinematic gaming moments.
Casino Royale: A Straight Flush
Throughout his many lives and guises upon page and screen, Bond… James Bond has always been renowned for his steely eyed poker face. As one of the many weapons in his gadget laden arsenal, Bond’s keen eye in the casino has resulted in many passive aggressive confrontations with dastardly villains, and though 2006’s Casino Royale may well have breathed new blonde haired life into Commander Bond in the form of Daniel Craig, hi flair for cards remained as intact as ever.
With a hundred million dollars resting in the pot, Mads Mikkelsen’s menacing super-villain Le Chiffre staring him down, and the added pressure of girls watching, specifically the beautiful Eva Green, Bond once again plays it cool as a cucumber throughout this high stakes game of Texas hold ‘em, suckering his competitors into relinquishing their chips, and in Le Chiffre’s case, his plans for world domination. The scene has rightly become remembered as a focus for the film.
Unfortunately, the menacing rogue would later take his frustrations out upon Bond’s favourite set of weaponry in a particularly harrowing yet mildly homoerotic torture scene, nevertheless for that moment, victory was his.
Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey: Wyld Stallyns Vs Death
Starring Keanu “I know Kung-Fu” Reeves in what many cinephiles believe to be his finest role (it’s actually Point Break), Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey saw Theodore “Ted” Logan and Bill S. Preston Esq once again engage in realm jumping hijinks as the pair rediscovered the pitfalls of time travel.
After being tossed of the side of a cliff by their robotic clones, the pair must challenge The Grim Reaper for their mortal souls – and what better way to compete against Death himself than with leisurely games of Battleship, Cluedo, and Twister. A scene indebted to Ingmar Bergman’s revelatory and iconic world cinema classic, The Seventh Seal, in which a medieval knight plays chess with the personification of Death – in the process highlighting the “silence of God” during the cataclysmic Black Death – it could be argued Bill and Ted’s confrontation is perhaps as equally potent.
Such suggestions would be wrong, but nevertheless the pair’s steadfast determination and most triumphant mastery of the family board game classics are to this day unparalleled. Bill and Ted’s victory was not just a defining moment in their own timelines but the history of cult ‘80’s cinema…and that bodacious fact is totally excellent dude.
The Thomas Crown Affair: Knight to Bishop Three
Sexually charged chess; three words that a rarely used in conjunction with one another. Though university halls and college dorms around the world may have a penchant for the odd game of strip poker and beer pong, such undertakings are a far cry from the classy and refined battle of wits between the unmistakable pairing of Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway in the 1968 classic, The Thomas Crown Affair.
Pitting the millionaire businessman and part-time master criminal, Crown, against insurance investigator Vicki Anderson, the picture’s plot is rife with suspicion, intrigue and underlying sexual tension – all factors which culminate within a brilliantly choreographed game of chess between the sparring protagonists. McQueen’s timeless sharp tailoring and Dunaway’s elegant style; the sultry, sweeping orchestral movements which underpin the action; the extreme close-ups of hands shifting chess pieces and bemused faces studying one another’s eyes and lips; the luxurious wood panelled surroundings illuminated by a crackling wood burning fire – all these elements coalesce and harmonise to produce an enduring and deeply memorable scene, and a permanent reminder of why McQueen and Dunaway will forever be not just actors but icons.
While the 1999 John McTiernan remake did away with the chess the sparks literally flew in a game of Renoir chicken.
The Deer Hunter: Three in the Chamber
Though not strictly your run-of-the-mill post-dinner game of Snakes and Ladders, Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken’s incredibly powerful depiction of two prisoners of war locked in a game of Russian roulette is perhaps just as nail-biting as being one roll away from that massive snake on the second to top row.
When the two hometown buddies are captured behind enemy lines in Vietnam and later forced to press a revolver against their temples until the click of an empty chamber turns to the bang of a deadly bullet wound, the stage was set for one of cinema’s defining moments. Gambling with their lives until they had enough bullets remaining to dispatch every guard in the room, the roulette scene is built upon a foundation of overwhelming tension and panic.
The maniacal laughter of the observing Viet Cong troops, the absolute fear in the eyes of Christopher Walken, and the pure unadulterated will to survive expressed on the part of De Niro are unparalleled in their craft and level of emotion. A perilous contest with everything on the line that is yet to be surpassed on the silver screen.
The Color of Money: Shooting Dirty Pool
Whether you love or hate him and his many alien worshipping eccentricities, it’s an undeniable fact that Tom Cruise is a Hollywood star in truest sense – he’s also a multi-talented individual to boot. He’s pretty hot behind the controls of a fighter-jet, handy with a samurai sword, he can rustle up a sweet Pina Colada, and he knows how to throw down in the pool hall.
Martin Scorsese’s The Color Money saw Cruise assume the role of Vincent Lauria, an obnoxious virtuoso with a cue in his hands. Guided by the scornful tutelage of Paul Newman’s ageing hustler, Eddie Felson (reprising his role from 1961’s The Hustler), Vincent tours America’s pool hall dives en route to a 9-ball tournament amidst the bright lights of Atlantic City. Though there are many accomplished sequences throughout, one scene midway through the picture is a standout moment.
Exhibiting off the chart levels of smarminess and bearing a tooth-filled grin throughout, Cruise sings, struts, and even spins his cue like Bruce Lee would a set nunchucks, on his way to perhaps the least gracious victory of all time.