Gambling seems to be as old as anything else in human culture, and it has made for great stories since the beginning too. In Ancient Greek mythology, Zeus, Hades and Poseidon were said to have divided the very universe with a game of dice!
As casinos became more formalised, they’ve been a great mirror for the best and worst in society and continue to provide great material for storytellers of all kinds. Cinema in particular does a great job of portraying the gritty realities of the world of casino players and operators, and its historic ties to organised crime.
Which example of casinos and gambling depicted in the seventh art is your favourite? Is it a fictional tale or based on real events? We’ve put a list of 5 of the best-loved classics, with some star turns by Hollywood legends, together for you here.
1. The Sting
This 1973 classic stars Paul Newman and a very fresh-faced Robert Redford, and is set in the Chicago of the 1930s. A young man seeks revenge for his partner who was murdered, and teams up with a seasoned con master to swindle a fortune away from a criminal banker.
Casino is based on true-life events, and is directed by Martin Scorsese. He is not the only Hollywood legend involved; the film stars Robert De Nero, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone. It follows the rise and fall of a powerful casino empire, and the last days of the mafia’s stronghold on Vegas.
Edward Norton and Matt Damon head up the star-studded cast of Rounders, which also includes John Malkovich and Gretchen Mol. Damon is well-cast as a gifted Poker player who decides to reform and focus on law school. His best friend, played by Norton, draws him back into the lifestyle when he gets out of prison.
Maverick is a great movie that deserves a mention on this list anyway, but the fact that it is a comedy crime caper when most gambling movies are so serious makes this doubly true. It follows the adventures of a Wild West Poker player portrayed by Mel Gibson as he tries to get to a major tournament. Jodie Foster is brilliant as a con artist diva.
5. Runner Runner
As online and mobile casinos become more ubiquitous, we may see some interesting films based on this form of gambling too. The first major movie about poker sites, Runner Runner, was released in 2013. Starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, it is about a young gambler (Timberlake) who confronts a Poker site owner (Affleck) when he loses and believes he has been swindled. It’s a modern cautionary tale, told many times but still important, not to get caught up in the world of power and money when you’re gambling.