With the rise of online casinos, classic table games and slots are more popular than ever before. But there is one crucial area where virtual casinos pale in comparison to their real life counterparts – and that’s inspiring some of the most iconic movies of all time.
From James Bond taking part in high stakes poker games, to Danny Ocean’s masterplan for a Las Vegas heist, casinos are the perfect setting for an edge of your seat movie. There’s a reason filmmakers keep choosing the classic casino setting for their films, even as more players are opting to stay at home than ever before.
Everybody knows the most famous casino movies, from James Bond’s most suave adventures to Martin Scorsese’s crime classic Casino. Go to online-casinos.com for the definitive list of classics.
But there are more classic casino films than you may initially realise – so we’ve taken a look back through cinema history to pick out some of the most underrated films in the genre.
California Split (1974)
Praised as the greatest film ever made about gambling by Vulture, director Robert Altman’s hangout movie is light on plot but heavy on character, depicting a blossoming friendship between two gamblers. Bill (George Segal) and Charlie (Elliot Gould) first meet at a roulette table when another player accuses them of colluding.
From here, the pair become close friends, determined to put money together to fund a trip to Reno for a high stakes casino tour. One of the best films from the 1970’s, and one of the all time great depictions of male friendship in cinema, California Split is much more profound than your average gambling movie.
Years after his death, Robert Altman remains one of the most feted directors in the history of American cinema. This unassuming, laidback tale is quietly one of his greatest films.
Atlantic City (1980)
Can a film be considered underrated if it received a Best Picture nomination? Maybe not, but director Louis Malle’s film has been forgotten over time, and deserves to capture the attention of a new generation.
Set in New Jersey after gambling was legalised, this romantic crime film follows Sally (Susan Sarandon), a waitress who dreams of becoming a blackjack dealer. Her dreams are put into jeopardy by her estranged husband’s criminal lifestyle.
Heartbreaking but not without its light touches, Atlantic City deserves to have been more of an enduring classic than it became.
Hard Eight (1996)
Ask any cinephile who the greatest living director is, and chances are they’ll tell you about Paul Thomas Anderson. From Boogie Nights to There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread, he has so far proved incapable of making a bad film.
His directorial debut, 1996’s Hard Eight, is often overlooked, despite being one of the best screen portrayals of authentic Las Vegas life. Experienced gambler Sydney (Phillip Baker Hall) meets young drifter John (John C. Reilly) at a diner, with John insisting the clearly wealthy man pay for his mother’s funeral – he instead insists they should go to Vegas, and he’ll be taught the tricks of the trade.
John wins, and becomes Sydney’s protege, but things take a turn for the worse as John ends up falling into a life of crime. In the midst of all this high stakes drama, we’re introduced to characters we often see at a roulette table but rarely meet in real life – a cameo by Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a drunken gambler absolutely steals the show.
Clive Owen’s breakthrough role came in this film noir inspired tale of a struggling writer who takes a job as a (you guessed it) croupier to make ends meet. Styled like a gritty detective story, it offers a fresh angle on the classic casino format.
Despite being a British film, it ended up making more waves in America than it did in its home country. Critics hailed Clive Owen’s star making performance, although the film was disqualified from winning any Oscars after the Academy discovered the film went straight to TV in The Netherlands.
For this reason, this small, independent film never managed to find the wide audience it deserved.
Mississippi Grind (2015)
Heavily inspired by the aforementioned California Split, this laidback effort from directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who most recently directed Captain Marvel) is one of the best modern casino movies. Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn star as Curtis and Gerry, two men who become friends after meeting at an Iowa casino.
As Gerry is in over his head and deep in debts, he proposes a trip to New Orleans for a poker game with a $25,000 buy in. The film excellently depicts the high stakes nature of gambling – but it’s the characters who make the trip worthwhile.
There are countless more underrated gems we could have included here, but these five films are the ones most deserving of your time.