Poker has had a resurgence in popularity during the last decade with pretty much everyone having a bash at Texas Hold ‘Em, even if it’s just a friendly match for no cash. The internet spun the gambling world on its head by opening up the competition to anyone who is smart, tenacious, and lucky enough to win their way into a face-to-face tournament.
For those who can’t quite stomach the risk of losing their hard earned money in a poker game, there are loads of films to choose from to give them a fix. Casinos, poker, Vegas – they’re always going to conjure an image of over the top glamour and a feeling that anything could happen. Unsurprisingly, Hollywood latched onto poker as a theme for many films.
Poker’s psychological gameplay and element of blind luck are conducive to films with a tense atmosphere and high stakes. With many actors themselves poker players – including Tobey Maguire (most famous for playing Spider-Man, Tobey is rumored to have won over $10 million in home games), Jennifer Tilly (Oscar nominated actress) and Ben Affleck (who won the California State Poker Championship Sunday) – it’s no wonder films and poker go hand in hand.
Check out our picks for the five best poker films to grace the silver screen over the years:
1. Casino Royale (2006)
The first Bond film to stat Daniel Craig as James Bond, it’s based on Fleming’s first book and set at the start of Bond’s MI6 career. At its core is a high stakes Texas Hold ‘Em tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro.
James is entered into the tournament and various Bond-esque adventures ensue, including [SPOILER ALERT] the sad demise of Vesper – his one true love. Uber stylish and fabulously fun, it actually helps to understand how to play when you watch it.
2. The Cincinnati Kid (1964)
Steve McQueen is Eric Stoner (the Kid) battling to prove himself as a poker player to contend with against the Man (Edward G Robinson). The film is popular among poker fans and players as it uses the game itself as the centre for all the action.
Robinson is widely regarded as the star of the film, despite McQueen’s trademark swagger and as he says: “You’re good, Kid. But as long as I’m around, you’re second best. And you might as well learn to live with it.”
3. Rounders (1998)
Matt Damon and Ed Norton star in a film that kick-started many a player’s interest in poker. They play a couple of card sharks who use their winnings differently.
Damon’s character reforms and goes to law school, while Norton’s lands in jail. They still owe the bad guy (played by John Malkovich) and soon end up going back to the tables.
4. The Gambler (1980)
A made-for-TV movie that was massively successful and spawned a load of sequels, The Gambler starred Kenny Rogers and also spawned the song that everyone knows: “You’ve got to know when to hold them/Know when to fold ‘em…”.
Brady Hawkes is the gambler of the title and we follow his fortunes as he goes to meet the son he never knew he had.
5. Maverick (1994)
A Western comedy starring Mel Gibson as Bret Maverick, a poker player and con artist. It’s based on the 50s TV series and inherits a lot of its light-hearted rollicking charm, while looking properly excellent with some great costume and set design.
Jodie Foster plays his female counterpart and together they get up to all sorts of card related high jinks.