Memorable scenes can make or break a movie whether they’re good or bad. We love to see a clash of the titans, going at it head to head, but sometimes it doesn’t make sense for two characters to fight in a scene. So there has to be an alternative, and that is poker.
Poker is a great way to have two characters fight without having to actually hit each other. The drama is in the tense moment, deep in the heat of the action. Two characters are sizing each other up in a civilized manner. We the audience get to see who’s the biggest and the baddest.
Today, we’d like to go over what we think are the best poker scenes in cinema history and also answer whether what they’re doing is accurate; as well as list out any fun facts if there are any.
- The poker scene is one of the most intense and memorable scenes in the film.
- Incredibly accurate about the game and terminology used.
- Details are unique to the setting that they’re in.
The poker scene between James Bond and Le Chiffre in the 2006 film Casino Royale is one of the best in all of cinema. It is such an intense scene.
So James Bond has assigned to stop the terrorist financier Le Chiffre and he plans on doing this by completely bankrupting him in a high stakes No Limit Texas Hold’em tournament. Apparently, Le Chiffre is a bit of a gambling addict and ends up losing all of his money in a tense showdown. Mads Mikkelsen is a great actor as this face of pure anger washes over him when his character loses.
How Accurate Is It?
As I mentioned briefly earlier, the version of poker that the men are playing is No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em, which, arguably is the most elite version of poker you can possibly play. Le Chiffre is actually trying to make a ton of money quickly so he devised this poker tournament to do so.
No Limit Texas Hold’em basically means players can bet as much money as they possibly want and can be extremely stressful for people. In different variations of poker, there are set limits to the amount of money that can be bet. These are games that involve millions of dollars and are incredibly high stakes. Also, the casino plaques used in the scene are accurate to the ones used in European casinos. They’re typically used for high amounts of money, in lieu of having a mountain of chips on the table.
There are some inaccuracies in the scene. One inaccuracy in particular is when the dealer takes the player’s cards, then flips them over and adds them to the board. This can cause problems because things can get really confusing. A guest can lie and say that wasn’t their hand. Also, the dealer talks way too much when he confirms the other players’ checks. The dealer’s actions in that scene are unorthodox.
- Cult classic movie that went on to inspire a generation of poker players.
- Shows the mysterious and seedy underbelly of undergound casinos.
- Details are top notch.
Rounders is an indie film that was released in 1998. It stars Matt Damon and Edward Norton. This movie is often pointed to as a catalyst for the poker boom that happened in the early 2000’s, alongside the introduction of the first online poker site, Planet Poker.
The movie is about two friends, Mike and his friend Worm, are traveling from city to city looking for high-stakes poker games to win at. Their goal is to win as much money as possible in order to pay off a large debt to some Russian monsters. The movie had some mixed reviews when it came out; according to some critics, it’s not a great movie. However, the performances by the actors are top notch and the noir atmosphere gives the film a cool tone. The movie feels slick and and sharp; tons of smart moments.
Despite a weak box office performance, Rounders became a cult classic and is a favorite among poker enthusiasts. It even inspired many famous poker players to get them into the game such as Brian Rast and Gavin Griffin. Poker star Vanessa Rousso said that the movie “captures the energy and tension in the game”. She called it the best poker movie ever made.
How Accurate Is It?
Some consider this movie to be the ultimate poker movie. It does a fantastic job of describing the world of the competitive poker player and what it’s like to compete. Casino Royale was an exaggeration, but Rounders is true to life.
The film shows what it is like to face off with a bunch of skilled players: it’s not only about the cards. Matt Damon’s character Mike McDermott has to figure out if his opponents have a good hand or not as well as figuring out his chances of winning. You get to have an intimate look at poker strategy in action and actual poker terms.
In one particular scene, McDermott mentions that he got “top two pair on the flop”. The flop are the three community cards on the board. Another term used is “flush draw” which means a player who has a draw with the possibility with creating a flush hand.
One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is when the main character loses. The loss is such a crippling blow, because during that game, McDermott was so confident that he was going to win that he even bet all of his money, However, in one big cooler, his opponent KGB, played by John Malkovich, gets the better of him and wins. It’s not as crazy as the Casino Royale scene, but more realistic.
The most inaccurate part is when McDermott deals the cards to his opponent while he’s playing. There’s no way another player would be allowed to deal cards to his opponent in a high stakes games even if the game was held in an underground casino. That player could easily cheat.
- Based on a true story of an underground gambling ring
- Shows the ugly side of gambling addict and how it destroys lives
- Phenomenal acting and a new classic for the crime drama genre
The next movie is Molly’s Game which was released in 2017 and stars actress Jessica Chastain as the titular Molly. It’s based on a true story and adapted from the 2014 memoir of the same title. It’s a successful movie and considered to be one of the best performances Chastain has done in her career.
Molly Bloom led an interesting life. She originally trained for years to become an Olympic mogul skier, but was seriously injured trying to qualify which ended her career. Soon after, she moved to Los Angeles where she started working as a bartender at The Viper Room. Her boss brought her in to manage an underground poker game in the club’s basement that catered to the wealthy. Eventually, she started her own event company hosting poker tournaments for the rich and famous.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Ashley Olsen were said to be frequent players at her games.
The 2008 recession made business difficult for her and relocated to New York City to continue her business. However, Bloom resorted to more underhanded tactics and get herself tied up with scammers and money laundering. Eventually, she was arrested in April 2013 and charged with money laundering and running an illegal gambling operation. She pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to one-year probation and 200 hours of community service.
How Accurate Is It?
Molly’s Game shows accurate depictions of poker games, but the scenes themselves are exaggerated. The movie isn’t an exact replica of the events that happened, but a dramatization of the events. Some creative liberties were taken, but the film does show the mentality of players.
Any poker player has, at some point, seen someone go on full tilt, meaning go completely off the rails. Sometimes a player would lose so hard and so much money that they start losing it and it’s terrifying. It’s scary to see someone who is normally so cool and calm have a meltdown.
In Molly’s Game, you have the character Harlan Eustice who is a card shark and an addict. In one particular scene, he loses to an unskilled player “Bad Brad” who makes a risky play of going all in. Harlan read that move as him having a big hand, but in reality, Brad didn’t know what he was doing and won a ton because of his confusing play.
Harlan proceeds to play recklessly and loses a ton of money. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are thrown down the gutter as Harlan loses his composure. Molly worries about him as she sees this man have a total mental breakdown at her poker game. However, she does nothing to reign in Harlan as he suffers heavy losses.
The movie as a whole has been dramatized for the sake of the story, but it’s not too far off from the real thing.
- One of the best poker/gambling movies of all time.
- Shows another perspective of the gambling life and all of the ups and down.
- Amazing acting in this underdog story
Arguably the best movie of these four, Mississippi Grind stars Ryan Reynolds as Curtis Vaughn and Ben Mendelsohn as his friend Gerry. It’s a drama movie about two gamblers who are hunting down a big payday as they travel up and down the Mississippi River scoring big.
The movie didn’t do all that great and it’s a shame that it didn’t. It’s only made a little over $420,000 at the box office and had a budget of $7.1 million. It has since gained a lot of attraction in recent years as people slowly discover just how good of a movie it is.
The poker scenes, like all the others on this list, are accurate and dramatic, but the thing we liked most about them is what they represented. The scenes are about two losers down on their luck, trying to making it to the top as quickly as possible, and that’s an attitude that a lot of people can relate to. You want these guys to scam and rob the casinos. It does a great job at making you root for them.
How Accurate Is It?
Similar to Molly’s Game, Mississippi Grind shows the rougher side of things. The movie shows just how ugly things can get for career gamblers/addicts. It uses gambling as a plot device to explore the characters, their personalities, and their pasts.
It also takes the time to show other games as well, from roulette to craps to even blackjack. But the film also has great poker scenes in it and shows the genius of the characters. These guys are highly skilled players so much so that it’s scary. And the performances by all the actors, supporting cast and extras included, are fantastic and bring the movie to life.
There’s a scene midway through the movie where Gerry is on a riverboat casino playing poker with a group. There’s one other player staring daggers at him. It’s a strangely unnerving scene despite it being pretty milquetoast objectively speaking. Gerry stares back, not intimidated by this thousand-yard stare, and breaks this guy. Without saying a word and relying totally on acting and camera shots, the audience figures out this guy has nothing. He has a losing hand. This stranger was all bark and no bite.
So those were some of the best poker films in all of cinema history. For the sake of brevity, we couldn’t mention every single great movie, but we do want to shout out a few.
- The Cincinnati Kid from 1965 stars Steve McQueen as “The Kid”, a cocky player who gets hit with a dose reality and releases he isn’t the greatest.
- Casino from 1995 stars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci as mobsters who run a casino in the heart of Las Vegas and shows the criminal underworld in a brutal fashion.
- Uncut Gems from 2019 stars Adam Sandler as Howard, a hopeless gambling addict who can’t stop until he self destructs.
I hope you check out all these classic movies. Let us know what you think, and let us know if you have other recommendations!