Poker on Film: Why Casinos Remain Appealing in Cinema

Have you ever wondered about the essence of casinos in cinema? Well, we decided to reflect on this subject in our little blog.

Poker on Film: Why Casinos Remain Appealing in Cinema

The casino industry in Las Vegas is picking back up from where it left off before the pandemic, as casinos statewide reaped $1.35 billion in revenue thanks to the big jump in new visitors. No doubt a huge part of Vegas' pull for people is its abundance of casinos, and for good reason. The glamorous world of casinos, gambling, and card games is alluring to many.

And nowhere is this appeal more obvious than on film. Just like apocalypse scenarios in cinema, casinos are a staple of film. From Scorsese's Casino to the Safdie brothers' Uncut Gems, moviegoers who have yet to set foot in a casino get pulled into the high-stakes scenarios these films present. Today, we'll try to explore some of the reasons that people love casinos and poker on film.


Disclaimer: our blog has no academic purpose behind it, because we are viewers just like you. Filmustage does not aim to educate, but to gather a close-knit film community around us. We can be wrong about certain statements - and that is fine. We are open to discussion and criticism. The main thing is to love cinema and talk about it.


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An good introduction to casino games

Cinema has been one of the driving reasons for poker’s popularity. Famously, the Matt Damon and Ed Norton film Rounders led to the beginning of the 2000s poker boom, with top players, like Chris Moneymaker, crediting the film for getting them into poker. Famous poker films, like "Rounders" (1998) and "Casino Royale" (2006), are also a good introduction for those who are just beginning to learn how to play poker, as they explain the rules and strategies in a clear and easy to follow manner. Both of the above films also introduce key poker concepts, such as going all in and bluffing, and make them part of the storyline. Filmmakers can also replicate the excitement and ups and downs of a casino game even better than live streams of actual games.

The Bond reboot with Daniel Craig presents the casino differently: the gambling acts not only contextually, but dramaturgically. By the finale, the viewer will be able to understand that the whole point of the new Bond coincides with poker: deceptive, measured and intellectual entertainment. It is noteworthy that the picture's finale is expressed in part precisely through the poker game between the two warring parties, thus as if to comment that the new Bondian era is not just an entertaining action film, but an interesting and partly aesthetic movie. It is true that subsequent films with Craig have nullified the revolutionary nature of Casino Royale, but this only underlines how important a role the casino has played in the emotional maturation of the franchise, both as an image of luxury and as a dramaturgical element.

An in-depth look on money matters

One aspect both casino films and real-life casinos share is the flow of money. Due to the high stakes of most casino films' plots, money is almost always involved. Even if moviegoers aren't all that familiar with casino games, they know the value of money enough to empathize with the threat of losing an all-in poker round, or the triumphant victories of underdog characters winning big by taking risks. It's funny how Steven Soderbergh changes the paradigm in the "Ocean's Eleven" (2001): his characters not gamble and cheat for money, but literally rob a casino. Thus, throughout the film, robbery is synonymous with gambling. Whether or not casino stories are relatable to a viewer, the money is real enough to sway viewers' response and emotions.

A peek at the luxury lifestyle

Ultimately, casino films endear audiences to the genre for its unabashed display of wealth. We see the glittering shots of luxurious casinos, hotels, fashion, and stacks of money that the characters have access to. This is important because the majority of filmgoers don't have access to this luxury lifestyle, and turn to films depicting casinos as a means of escapism and secondhand entertainment. Some films like "Ocean's Eleven" use the setting of the casino as its own character — an intricate final boss that their band of thieves must navigate and overcome to win — while films like "21" (2008) use the casino as the propeller of its characters' material wealth and increasingly luxurious lifestyle.

Due to economic events around the world money, as a means of material wealth, has always been a desirable object, so it's unsurprising that people may want to see onscreen depictions of luxury and wealth. After all, cinema represents magic, simulating reality, so it is impossible not to succumb to the desire to immerse ourselves in a world of dreams and desires, where each of us is James Bond or Danny Ocean. For this purpose, casino films are a great choice, as they showcase riches alongside tension-filled scenes and compelling character studies through psychological tension and intellectual games.

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