There’s a reason Hollywood loves a good casino scene. The drama of winning it all, or maybe even losing it all, is an ideal climatic moment for film. And the glamour of casinos — the expensive clothing, the clicking of ice in drinks glasses, the flash of cash and the general ambiance — looks, and sounds, great on the big screen. It’s the perfect setting for thrillers, heist films, romances — and everything in between.
Having expertise in a casino game is also a great quality point for any character. Sure, you know their back stories, their favourite drink, their strengths and weaknesses. But what’s their favourite casino game to play?
Here, we’ve listed the top characters in movies, ranked by their ability to play casino games.
- Ocean’s Eleven
At number six, we’ve got the 2001 American heist film, Ocean’s Eleven. The iconic poker scene happens early on in the film, and features Rusty Ryan, played by Brad Pitt, teaching some of Hollywood’s young stars how to play poker. It’s a dream team of film’s biggest young heart throbs, including That 70’s Show’s Topher Grace, Dawson’s Creek’s Joshua Jackson, A Walk to Remember’s Shane West, Charmed’s Holly Marie Combs and 7th Heaven’s Barry Watson.
The scene begins by Rusty trying to teach these actors how to play poker — a funny situation in and of itself. Unfortunately, this motley crew of actors aren’t taking it as seriously as they should be — West says ‘hit me’ as if he’s playing Blackjack, and Rusty quickly corrects him. Later in the scene, we see Danny Ocean, played by George Clooney, join the game. It’s here that Rusty shows his poker-playing expertise and teaches the group how to draw out a bluff as Danny keeps placing higher bets to get the group to fold. It’s a fantastic start to the scene — and really illustrates the importance of strategy while playing poker.
The number five spot goes to Swingers. The 1996 comedy-drama is a noughties classic, and stars Jon Favreau (also the film’s writer) as Mike Peters alongside Vince Vaughn who plays womanizer Trent as two unemployed actors. Trent is trying to help Peters get over a bad break-up and in doing so takes Mike on a trip to gambling capital Las Vegas. The pair end up at a blackjack table, where Mike decides to act like a high roller and buys in at $300 at a minimum $100 bet. It’s a hilarious scene with Trent convincing Mike to always “double down” on the number 11.
It’s not great blackjack playing (it’s impossible to card count at a live casino) but it’s still an iconic casino scene in film.
- Molly’s Game
Molly’s Game, the 2017 biographical drama about underground poker leader Molly Bloom, is a fantastic choice for those who love watching poker-themed films. The film, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, stars Jessica Chastain as Molly — and follows the story of her underground poker empire’s rise, and later, fall after she is arrested by the FBI for getting mixed up in illegal gambling with the mafia.
There are some incredible poker scenes, especially when they involve Player X who keeps raising the stakes. But the film is mostly about the atmosphere of poker, than the games themselves. The intensity of the game, while based on real stories, is created for the film’s dramatic ambiance — as opposed to the actual state of play.
- The Hangover
Another well-known casino scene comes from the 2009 smash-hit comedy, The Hangover. Like Swingers, it’s also set in the capital of casinos, Las Vegas, and features four friends off on a bachelor weekend. Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifinakis, the trouble starts when they lose the groom-to-be, Doug Billings (played by Justin Bartha) after a big night out. Antics ensue, and the three groomsman find themselves 80K in debt to a gangster.
Alan, played by Galifinakas, has been reading a book about counting cards and heads to a blackjack table to win it back. Watching the cards closely, Alan plays big bets until he wins the 80K they need back. Of course, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible to count cards in Las Vegas like Alan — it’s an entirely fictional scene and there’s very unlikely that you could win that kind of money through card counting. It’s also very easy for casino personnel to detect, and while not illegal, you could get kicked off the table if a dealer thinks you’re working it to your advantage.
- Dr. No
At a number 2 ranking is the 1962 James Bond classic, Dr. No. The first scene in the film actually opens up at a casino table, at a swanky location in Monte Carlo. It’s here that we learn about Bond’s love for baccarat, also known as Chemin-de-fer — a popular card game at both land-based and online casinos.
It’s during this scene that we’re first introduced to Bond. Following a raising of the stakes, he opens his cigarette case to offer a woman, Sylvia Trench, a cigarette — and says the iconic line: “Bond, James Bond”. Baccarat is one of the classic casino games associated with Bond; he is also featured playing it in Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and GoldenEye.
- Casino Royale
The number one ranking casino scene in a film goes to James Bond too. But who can blame us? It’s the 2006 hit, Casino Royale. Starring Daniel Craig as Bond, the also features Mads Mikklesen as terrorist financer and villanLe Chiffre as they play an intense game of No Limit Texas Hold’em.
It’s a high-drama scene, as Bond loses several of the initial games, before discovering Le Chiffre’s ‘tell’ — a twitch of his hands. The stand-off between Le Chiffre and Bond is one of the best casino scenes of all time — and proves Bond to be an incredible player of one of the world’s most classic casino games.