If you are a major cinephile, chances are you have seen some famous poker movies and scenes. Some films attempt to showcase the skill element of poker compared to other gambling games, while others choose to show some unrealistic hands that perhaps make poker seem like more luck. We take a look at some of the most iconic poker movies ever made below, starting with arguably the most famous poker flick ever made.
If “Supersystem” is considered the bible of poker books, then Rounders would easily be considered the Citizen Kane of poker movies. The 90’s classic stars Matt Damon and Edward Norton as two young gamblers who try to work their way out of debts and problems with the wrong people by grinding poker games. This 90’s classic is certainly the most quoted poker movie of all time, with the most quotes coming from the finale of the movie, where Matt Damon’s character, Mike McDermott, takes on John Malkovich, aka Teddy KGB, in a rematch of the game that starts the movie. As famously said by Malkovich, Damon’s character has “alligator blood”. The film was released five years before the poker boom of 2003, but it still helped to bring new palyers into the game. In 1998, the WSOP Main Event had 350 players. In 2000, it had 512, more than a 30% increase.
Gambling and casino games have often been featured as side stories in James Bond movies, but Casino Royale took it to a whole different level, featuring poker throughout the movie as one of the key plot points. In fact, the second act of the film revolves fully around a high-stakes winner take all poker game, featuring Bond and the film's main villain, Le Chiffre, played by Mads Mikkelsen. Going back to the unrealistic cooler hands that are often shown in poker movies, the final hand is quite a doozy, with Bond scoring a triple knockout to end the game with a straight flush, besting the flush and two full houses held by his opponents. This movie was released at the start of the poker boom and is often talked about hand-in-hand with Rounders when it comes to the top poker films.
The most recent submission on this list, Molly’s Game focuses on the stress and rigors of running high-stakes private poker games. The film tells the true story of Molly Bloom, a former Olympic-class skier who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker game, before being targeted by the FBI. Jessica Chastain plays the lead character, and while the game of poker itself is only shown for a few scenes, it does give a nice background view of what life is like for high-stakes poker pros. The movie also gets bonus points for making the hands realistic, and using authentic strategy points used by real life pros. The film was based off the real life story of Bloom, as well as a 2014 book written with the same title, and the film also received a 2018 Academy Award nomination in the category Best Adapted Screenplay.
While poker is more of a backstory and a smaller portion of some of the movies on this list, poker is the driving plot point of Lucky You, a movie where Eric Bana plays the lead character, a struggling poker pro who is trying to fight off debts to get into the upcoming WSOP Main Event. Bana’s father, played by Robert Duvall, is a highly successful poker pro, one whose shadow Bana seems to be constantly living in. The movie also explores the rigors and stress of dating a poker player, as Bana struggles with an on-again-off-again relationship with Drew Barrymore’s character. While not as critically acclaimed as the movies above on this list, Lucky You should get credit for having some of the best and most realistic poker hands on the screen, showing believable bluffs, hero calls, and bad beats. The film also features real life poker Tournament Director Matt Savage, who has made it a funny tradition to share his residual checks of the movie with his Twitter followers.
This 90’s classic differs a bit from the rest of the list, in that it doesn’t feature Texas Hold’em Poker. Rather, Maverick features Mel Gibson as a gambler who is doing all he can to get a seat on a riverboat cruise, where a huge five-card draw poker tournament is being played. Gibson’s character goes through some wild adventures, including getting taken hostage by a tribe of Native Americans, and surviving a snake pit, before ultimately making his way into the poker tournament. There, the finale scene shows yet another…unrealistic final hand, where quads and a straight flush are no good, as Mel Gibson makes a royal flush, showing the ace of spades in style in what is arguably the most famous shot from a poker movie.
The Cincinnati Kid
As always, we pay respect to our elders, or in this case, an older classic film, ending our list with The Cincinnati Kid. Released in 1965, the film revolves around Eric "The Kid" Stoner, played by Steve McQueen, as an up-and-coming poker player, as he seeks to work his way up the proverbial ranks to become the best. Eventually, it leads him to challenge Lancey "The Man" Howard, the player widely considered to be the best, culminating in a climactic clash between the two. Many say that Rounders drew some inspiration from this movie, given that some of the overarching themes and plot lines are the same.
Did these movies inspire you to hone your poker skills? If so, head on over to 888poker or Pokerstars in order to improve your game, and maybe you will play a hand as wild as some that were played in the movies above.