Best 1980s Casino Movies

by Staff & Contributors on November 18, 2019

in The 80s

In the past couple of decades, there have been numerous movies that have paid tribute to the casino culture. From Martin Scorsese’s excellent Casino to Mark Wahlberg’s less than excellent The Gambler, it seems as though the silver screen can’t get enough of casinos.

Back in the 1980s land-based casinos were starting to get famous, and many movie directors immediately tried to catch the exciting atmosphere in action. There was something about the elegance, glitz and charm of the gambling world that made everyone enchanted. We can see how the appeal for casinos developed since there are many online casino sites available today. People can now easily enjoy playing legal in New Jersey and similar providers that have a licence to operate online. But in the 1980s going to land-based casinos was the only way that you could play classic table games like roulette and blackjack.

So let’s see what the1980s casino movies can tell us about the casino lifestyle of those times. Here are three of the best.

Atlantic City (1980)

This 1980s romantic crime movie isn’t just unusual for the fact that it stars a young Susan Sarandon, but it also gives us a very intriguing portrait of the New Jersey casino scene of the 1980s. The movie features the French director Louis Malle giving us a wonderfully shot picture of how casino culture used to look back in the day.

Sarandon plays a young waitress in an Atlantic City casino who wants to become a big-time blackjack dealer in Monte Carlo. Sarandon’s performance was so good that she even won an Academy Award for her efforts. Obviously, things don’t go quite to plan, and we also get to see Burt Lancaster popping up as a menacing gangster with a typically 1980s moustache for good measure.

This quality casino movie still has enough old-school charm to make it worth watching, mainly because it features a typically atmospheric score by the acclaimed composer Michel Legrand.

Never Say Never Again (1983)

OK, so this isn’t strictly a casino movie, and may not be among the best James Bond films. However, you still get to see Sean Connery playing 007 for the final time, and it has some wonderfully over-the-top casino scenes. It’s thanks to the skill of director Irvin Kirshner that this Bond movie gives is a glimpse of casino culture with a particularly 1980s twist.

We can see Bond heading to the casino hotspot of the French Riviera, but as it’s the 1980s, you don’t get to see him playing classic casino games like roulette. Instead, you get to see 007 caught up in a pretty weird 3D video game called Domination where the players try and win bets or receive electric shocks. It’s an interesting twist compared to the more recent Bond casino adventures such as Casino Royale that offered the perfect prestige of a high stakes casino card game.

Honourable mention must be made to James Bond’s other 1980s casino excursion – For Your Eyes Only. That saw a typically dapper Roger Moore playing a 007 who meets up with the tycoon Aris Kristatos in a casino in Corgu before getting into an argument with the wonderfully named Countess Lisl von Schlaf – partner of the notorious Greek smuggler Milos Columbo.

The Big Town (1987)

This movie may not have been a big hit at the box office, but it’s still one of Matt Dillon’s best films. It’s based on the excellent Clark Howard novel, The Arm, and features a farm boy who heads to the big city with dreams of becoming a professional gambler.

Once again, things don’t go according to plan as Dillon’s character gets romantically involved with two women. There are scenes where Dillon looks like he’s not even playing a role and has some natural harmony with the camera.

What makes this casino movie interesting is that it focuses on the game of craps which is pretty significantly different from the majority of casino films that tend to favour games like roulette, blackjack and poker. Plus it gives us another chance to see acclaimed thriller director Harold Becker show us why he is such a master of the genre. While The Big Town is not a masterpiece, it still another example of the fact that they don’t make movies like this anymore.



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