Poker has a long history of being used by Hollywood as a theme in movies because poker is, by definition, about risk, and the whole reason why people watch movies about poker is to see someone incessantly put their well-being on the line in the desperate hope of winning that One Big Score. A good poker game is the seed of drama and can create a mood of suspense, thrill, and even humor. A great poker movie, when done correctly, does much more than simply give viewers an idea of high stakes poker and rivalries (play your opponent, not the cards) and the poker subculture. It also explores the social and thrilling nature of the game and how gambling affects all those absorbed in it. If you’re new, these movies about poker will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Top 10 Poker Movies
9 times out of ten, or maybe even all ten times, poker players will tell you that one of the best movies on poker in Hollywood history is Rounders. It’s that good. And Rounders is most definitely one of the greatest poker movies of all time, but it’s not the only great poker movie. So, we decided to compile a list of the top 10 poker movies of all time in cinematic history, including Rounders that is.
Deal is a 2008 poker drama film starring Burt Reynolds and Bret Harrison. It follows Tommy Vinson (Reynolds), a former cardsharp tutoring a younger Alex Stillman (Harrison). Tommy promises to pay Alex the expensive entry fees to major tournaments if he follows his instructions to the letter. As fate would have it, Tommy and Alex make the final table at the World Poker Tour championship. Will the kid make a name for himself, or will the master take down the richest title in poker and earn the respect that he never had in the past? This film wasn’t a box office hit and was not well-received critically either. However, it’s one of those movies with some of the better dramatic interpretations of poker.
Lucky you (2007)
“The money’s just a way of keeping score. Poker is competition in the purest sense. Doesn’t matter who you are or what you are; everybody’s equal at the table.” Late Director Curtis Hanson brings this largely cliched story of Huck Cheever, a superstar poker player (Eric Bana) who needs money to secure a seat in a competition, but he finds himself juggling between the demands of his personal and professional life. Set in LA, the movie follows Huck and his complicated relationship with father, L C Cheever (Robert Duvall), an even bigger superstar poker-player. And, yes, we’ve seen the story a million times in a million better sports movies, but both Bana and Duvall portray a warm-hearted and lasting depiction of life behind a poker face.
“I hardly ever bluff, and I never ever cheat.”Maverick is an excellent mid-90’s western comedy directed by Richard Donner and starring Mel Gibson, James Garner, and Jodie Foster. Bret Maverick (Mel Gibson) needs $3000 to enter an upcoming poker tournament. To make this money, Maverick turns to gambling and joins hands with Annabelle (Jodie). One of the most entertaining movies with poker as a theme, Maverick was both a critical and commercial success, having grossed over $183 million worldwide.
The Grand (2007)
“ If people played correctly, I would win every single hand, ever.” The Grand is an improv comedy film directed by Zak Penn with an ensemble cast including Ray Romano, Woody Harrelson, Chris Parnell, Dennis Farina, Cheryl Hines, and several real Las Vegas poker stars. Woody Harrelson plays Jack Faro, a recovering drug addict who has decided to move into a rehabilitation facility full-time after many relapses. A former poker champ and the grandson of a casino legend, Jack loses everything, including the casino he inherited, to liquor and alimony. In order to win back his casino, Jack must enter the upcoming World Championship of Poker played at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, where he faces tough competition from famous players like Deuce Fairbanks (Farina) and Lainie Schwartzman (Hines).
The film’s script did not specify the winner of the poker tournament, and the ending of the film was determined by the actual game played on set. According to Penn, the film is styled in the manner of Christopher Guest’s movies, where each actor is given direction concerning their character, and the actors are left to improvise each individual scene. The plot of The Grand was somewhat more open-ended than Guest’s work.
Casino Royale (2006)
“In poker, you never play your hand. You play the man across from you.” Casino Royale is a 2006 James Bond film. Casino Royale takes place at the beginning of Bond’s career as he is earning his license to kill. Although the movie has attracted plenty of criticism for the lack of realism in the final hand, the concept of a Bond film being centered around poker is entertaining. Bond is assigned to bankrupt terrorist financier Le Chiffre in a high-stakes poker game with a $10 million buy-in at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Some of the best scenes take place at the poker table, like Bond’s near-fatal cardiac arrest, Le Chiffre’s death at the hands of the men he was supposed to pay back with the winnings, and every moment involving Felix Leiter.
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story (2003)
“See, life is a people game, too. Only… the emphasis is just a little bit different.” High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story is a 2003 biopic on the rise and the fall of renowned American professional poker and gin player Stu Ungar otherwise known as “The Kid,”. It follows him from his early days playing gin rummy, transitioning to Texas Hold’em, and dominating the game for many years to his unfortunate demise. Stuey is the film’s alternate title.
Although some of the younger generation of players may not know about Stu “The Kid” Ungar, his name marked an era in the poker world. Considered by many to be one of the best players to have ever lived, Ungar’s ingenuity and incredible card reading skills made him one of the most dangerous players at the felt. However, his career as a poker player was cut short because of drug addiction and a series of unfortunate events leading up to his death at the age of 45, having won five WSOP bracelets up to that point.
Stuey stars Michael Imperioli as the titular character and features cameos from several poker personalities like Vince Van Patten, Andy Glazer, and Al Bernstein. Some have criticized this movie for “glorifying” degenerate behavior, and while there is no doubt Ungar’s personality was self-destructive and flawed, it takes nothing away from his poker greatness. A tragic story that ends with Stuey leaving a motel room with a stranger (a representation of the Grim Reaper), the movie has an IMDb rating of 6.1/10, although some argue it deserves more.
Stuey will remain one of the greatest poker legends, and his life from the time he was a teenage prodigy to superstardom in the gambling world is something worth every poker player’s time.
All In: The Poker Movie (2009)
All In is a documentary directed by Douglas Tirola on the renaissance of America’s oldest games and why, for so many, people in the US and across the globe, poker is the way to chase the American Dream. This film follows the beginnings of poker starting from Moneymaker’s Epic 2003 WSOP to the infamous Black Friday. The award-winning documentary features familiar faces like Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Esfandiar and many others. Whether you are a poker fan looking for the history that has made poker what it is today or if you simply enjoy a trip down the memory lane, All In: The Poker Movie is well worth watching since you’ll walk away with some new insights about the game.
Molly’s Game (2017)
“You know what makes you feel okay about losing? Winning.” Written by Aaron Sorkin and starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba and Kevin Costner, this notorious Hollywood movie about the in-crowd of celebrities who played “Molly’s Game”, is easily one of the better poker movies made in the last few years. Molly’s Game is based on the true story of Molly Bloom who ran private high-stakes games for businessmen, Hollywood celebrities, and professional players. Molly is an ambitious Olympics skier until she has a debilitating back injury in a qualifying event for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Instead of going to law school, she takes a year off, moves to Los Angeles, and gets a job waitressing at a club, but through her boss starts running underground games for the rich and famous. She then sets up her own games, taking the celebrity clientele with her. Things go bad, and she moves to New York where she sets up the same but is swiftly addicted to drugs, the Russian and Italian mafia are involved, the FBI, her father (Costner) re-emerges and finally the downfall. Throughout the movie, Molly goes through rewarding highs and free-falling lows. She never stays down long. Chastain’s narration combines with action to present a very well-written, nobly directed, and incredibly acted vehicle.
For any true poker fan out there, Molly’s Game is definitely on the must-watch list.
The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
“I don’t need marked cards to beat you, pal.” Can the kid become the man? Steve McQueen is on a mission to prove he can as he plays one of the most iconic roles in his illustrious career, the Cincinnati Kid of the movie’s title. Set in 1930’s New Orleans, McQueen plays Eric ‘The Kid’ Stoner, a young poker player who takes on Lancey ‘The Man’ Howard, an older man and the best player around, to become the man himself. McQueen is effortlessly entertaining as the Kid, providing a masterclass in the power of natural screen presence over dialogue.
“You find the games… and I’ll mop them up.” There have been lots of poker movies but no poker movie really captures the energy and tension of the game the way Rounders does. And that’s why it stands as the best poker movie ever made. With the online poker boom in the early 2000s, the film later became a cult hit. This film was released in 1998, starring Edward Norton, Matt Damon, John Malkovich and Gretchen Mol. The term “rounder” refers to a person traveling around from city to city seeking high-stakes card games. The story follows two friends who need to win at high-stakes poker to quickly pay off a large debt. Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is a gifted player but does not know anything about bankroll management and loses his entire role in 10 high-stakes games, which leads to a setback. A reformed gambler, Mike turns back to his old life when his friend, Worm, asks him to help pay a loan shark the money he owes him.
Mike and Worm taking on Teddy KGB in their bid to rescue the lost money from the opening scene is the very core of what makes poker and Rounders so special. Players will enjoy the underground scene and some insight into the World Series of Poker just before the online poker boom.
Rounders, is perhaps the only movie on our list that fully explores the game on so many levels as it does. On each level, from friendship to bankroll management and from the World Series of Poker to winning against Johnny Chan, Rounders is a timeless poker classic.
That’s it for our list of best poker movies of all time. So, which of these, in your opinion, is the Best Poker Movie of All Time? Let’s sit on the fence and celebrate them all. If you haven’t watched all of them, grab some popcorn and enjoy any one of these poker movies for a fun weekend afternoon!
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