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Poker in Films

No other game is as popular in Hollywood movies as poker. From the marathon game of Texas Holdem in “Casino Royale” (2006) to the meticulously researched “Lucky You” (2007) (which recreates the poker room at the Bellagio circa 2003 down to the smallest detail), Hollywood is desperate to cash in on poker action taking place at well-known casinos of the world. And given that gambling is a subject every filmmaker knows about, or thinks he does, we can expect a lot more movies in near future. Although there are a lot of movies featuring poker game, below are a list of top 5 poker films of all time.

1. Casino (1995) – The film was directed by Martin Scoresese & stars Robert De Niro as Sam "Ace" Rothstein, a character based on Frank Rosenthal, who ran casinos in Las Vegas for the Mafia in the 70’s, most notably the Stardust casino. The Mafia is backing Rothstein while he secretly runs the casino and has to set up a false front while, because of his gambling charges back East. Nicky Santoro, played by Joe Pesci, is sent by the mob to look over Rothstein and protect him but he eventually runs his own operations. Sharon Stone plays Ginger McKenna, a former prostitute and Rothstein’s love interest, who remains in love with her pimp, Lester Diamond, portrayed by James Woods.

2. Croupier (1998) - Clive Owen stars as Jack Manfred, an uninspired writer who works as a croupier in a casino only to find out that his life would make a great novel. Tensions begin to emerge between Jack and his girlfriend, Marion, played by Gina McKee, when he finds himself succumbing to the temptations of the gambling world. Jack begins to realize that he is becoming the hero of his novel, the immoral Jake, and is, in fact, giving in to these temptations to provide him with subject matter that will make for a memorable work of fiction. This film portrays a thrilling profile of the life of a dealer and shows how real casinos operate, while telling a compelling story.

3. Rounders (1998) - Matt Damon is Mike McDermott, a New York law student who plays poker to finance his education. When he loses his savings in a $30,000 hand of poker he decides to quit the game completely until his old partner Worm, brilliantly played by Edward Norton, gets out of prison and drags him back to the game and into serious trouble. The film is an atmospheric character study of the world of gambling that leads to the unavoidable final game that determines the fate of both friends when they face the dreaded Teddy KGB (John Malkovich) in a thrilling poker dual. The film brought many people to the poker tables and is one of the main reason poker became such a popular game in the last ten years.

4. The Cincinnati Kid (1965) - Eric “The Kid” Stoner, played by Steve McQueen, is up against Lancey Howard, a veteran card shark, played by Edward G. Robinson. The two battle it out in five-card stud, with the straight-as-an-arrow dealer Shooter (Karl Malden) forced by Slade (Rip Thorn), a poker player who was bested by Howard, to cheat in order to help the kid and humiliate Howard. The movie has aged a bit but the epic game featured in the movie and the highly suspenseful final hand has since become a classic.

5. The Gambler (1974) - James Chan is Axel Freed, a professor in a New York City university that ironically also teaches Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler in his course. Despite his familiarity with casino gambling addiction and his use of Dostoyevsky to intellectualize his weakness into tragic compulsion he has a casino gaming addiction bordering on a tendency of self-destruction. The film presents a gritty realism to the world of casino bookies, loan sharks, and their violent enforcers. This intensive and realistic presentation of the life of a gambler on the path to self-destruction is both compelling and disturbing. Not many films before or since have managed to capture the thrill of gambling, the constant risk taking and living on the edge, as this film managed to do so well.

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