From gangsters to spies and everything in between, filmmakers have always been fascinated with what happens behind the velvet curtain in casinos. Perhaps that is why almost 43 million people visit Las Vegas alone every year – to search for that feeling they fell in love with on the silver screen.
Here are the top three casino movies that have left a lasting impact on modern cinematic culture.
Ocean’s Eleven – 2001
Serving as the first film in a trilogy, Ocean’s Eleven sets itself apart from other films of its kind by introducing a little levity to the seedy world of criminal activity. The main heist, cooked up by newly released convicted swindler Danny Ocean, proposes a simultaneous robbing of three of the most influential casino establishments in Las Vegas: The Bellagio, The Mirage and the MGM Grand. By recruiting a team of ten misfit colleagues and criminal specialists – one of which is an accomplished acrobat – Frank sets out to get the “last score” of his career which will set him up for life. Things don’t necessarily go according to the plan, as is often the case in situations where so much is on the line. In the end, the crooks take the day, but more importantly the money.
Casino – 1995
Considered by some to be the greatest casino movie of all time, this film shines a light on the greed, power and deception that go into a gangster’s rise to the head of the pack in 1970’s Las Vegas. As a sports handicapper, Sam “Ace” Rothstein impressed his mafia bosses so much that they entrusted their Teamsters Union-funded Tangiers Casino to him. Sam doubles the casino’s profits, which are skimmed by the mafia prior to them being reported to the tax agencies. After allegations that counters are illegally draining the coffers of the casino, however, the mafia is forced to bring in a specialist to oversee all transactions. While Artie Piscano is unable to find the parties responsible, he does keep a detailed account of everything that happens in Las Vegas in a private notebook. Rumors surrounding this notebook are instrumental in the FBI’s increasing interest in alleged mafia casino ties, prompting an investigation. After many graphic incidences of betrayal, including a car bomb targeting Sam, the mafia succeeds in covering up their tracks by wiping out all the people who were involved in the illegal dealings. Casino is a true masterpiece of film depicting the “Old Vegas.”
Casino Royale – 2006
As the 21st installment of the wildly popular James Bond film series, the remake of the 1967 edition brought with it a new standard for modern spy-thrillers. We find our villain, the mysterious terrorist financier, Le Chiffre, set up a high stakes poker game to recoup his losses after failing to succeed in a plot to destroy a Skyfleet Airliner. By conning his way into the Texas Hold’em poker game at the incomparable Casino Royale in Montenegro, 007 discovers this isn’t going to be an open and shut case. During a particularly tense round of the game, he is poisoned by a spiked martini – shaken not stirred. After recovering from this ordeal, James returns for the final hand of the tournament – the culminated winnings of which number $150 million. While Le Chiffre presents the highest hand to beat the rest of the remaining players, Bond gambles like a pro, winning the day with a straight flush. It just goes to show that with the right hand, anything is possible – even saving the world from terrorism.