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The Casino on the Silver Screen: A Golden Relationship

Penny December 29, 2023

Ever since Hollywood took off as the home of everything moving pictures, there has been a long list of genres and adaptations that have made their way to the big screen. However, often overlooked is the relationship that gambling and movies have had throughout the long, storied history of the silver screen. In fact, there’s a rich depth of movies, TV, and other media that plumb the depths of gaming to find inspiration and use it as a backdrop to drama, comedy, and more. With that established, it’s time to take a look at some of the greatest Hollywood entries to the casino and gambling industry.

Casinos in movies

Casino Royale

It’s in the title, to be fair. But, it’s easy to miss just what effect the James Bond reboot had on the pop culture of the early 2000s, even becoming The Guardian’s pick for best in the franchise. Daniel Craig brushed off any suggestions that he couldn’t be the numbered protagonist and made the role his own. Perhaps the biggest success of the movie, though, was its interpretation of 007’s tense battle with Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre. The fact that the movie hinges on a Texas hold ‘em tournament in Montenegro highlights its strong relationship with the pastime. It depicts the game as tense, passionate, and high stakes, conveying the drama of such an event but giving Bond free roam to be his usual violent self.


Ocean’s Eleven

We’ll touch on the George Clooney remake of the Rat Pack classic here. While both have their merits, it was the Hollywood heartthrob who helped bring the story to a post-millennium, youthful audience. The story of a real money casino heist with all its twists and turns might not be a gaming purist’s idea of a perfect movie but it uses the backdrop of Vegas perfectly to highlight both the glitz and dirt of the seedier side of the casino and crime. It’s a fast-paced glimpse behind the curtain that gives us a look at the logistics involved in running a casino and making sure that Danny Ocean and his band of wiley criminals don’t bring it to its knees.


Uncut Gems

This may not involve a casino per se, but it rightfully earns its place as a gambling movie with real pedigree. The Safdie brothers painted a rich picture of the more aggressive side of sports betting with Adam Sandler as a cocky business owner who believes that his luck will come in after placing a huge bet on the NBA amid an ongoing battle with his family and the criminals that he’s using to facilitate his gambling. The split between the ongoing sports drama and the stressful experience of Sandler’s character is sublime and shows exactly the tense lifestyle that he lives. According to The Times, its frantic nature saw Martin Scorcese praise it and give it his blessing as a drama.


Rat Race

This is a movie that many would say they hadn’t even heard of. In 2001, a star-studded cast produced comedy gold for Jerry Zucker as John Cleese’s eccentric casino tycoon rounded up all of his highest-spending guests and sent them on the chase for $2 million. As expected, it descends into chaos and the many stars battle their way from Vegas to New Mexico. With twists and turns along the way, it perfectly encapsulates the excitement and drama of casino gaming without spending much of its run time in a gaming venue. If anything, though, it shows the thinking behind the moguls that run these iconic casinos.


A Mixed Bag of Cinema

A long list of movies set or based around a casino shows us just how these venues work as a backdrop for all sorts of entertainment. It’s not just the high tension of 007’s battles at the poker table. There’s comedy to be derived from the drama that unfolds in these environments. Movies like Rat Race shine a light on the silliness of those who consistently seek their fortunes on the casino floor while handing their money over to someone who sees them as expendable. If nothing else, it displays just how versatile the pastime is as a setting for some of Hollywood’s greatest titles. Not only does it sell the glitz and glamor of cities like Vegas, but it also shows the seedier sides of the unregulated industry outside of the Mecca of gaming. Suffice to say, it doesn’t look as if the casino will disappear from our screens any time soon.

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