Best Movies Filmed in Las Vegas
Hollywood makes hundreds of films a year, and a handful of them are set in Las Vegas, Nevada. That is hardly surprising, given it’s one of the most famous cities in not just America but the world. What also shouldn’t be surprising is that many of the movies set in Las Vegas were not actually shot there. After all, Sin City is one of the most expensive places in the world, and movie producers like to save money and cut corners whenever they can.
So, while a list of all the movies set there would be exceptionally long, let’s examine the best movies filmed in Las Vegas instead.
7. Casino (1995)
Casinos and Las Vegas, Las Vegas and casinos – one would struggle to find two things more synonymous with each other. Martin Scorsese’s 1995 hit Casino perfectly encapsulates that together with a heavy touch of classic 1970s mobster crime drama. Starring Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci, Casino isn’t often cited as Scorcese’s best movie, but it’s certainly one of his most underrated pieces. And looking back at the mob-dominated past of Sin City is a special experience.
6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is one of the most famous – or infamous, depending on your perspective – road trip movies ever made. Based on the famous 1971 novel by Hunter S. Thompson, the Terry Gilliam big-screen adaptation quickly became a cult classic. The movie features the infamous duo of Raoul Duke (played by Johnny Depp) and Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro) on their quest to get to Nevada and document the Mint 400 desert bike race for Sports Illustrated magazine. This movie, as well as the novel before it, is based on the “Gonzo journalism” style that Hunter S. Thompson was famous for.
5. Ocean’s 11 (1960 and 2001)
Many don’t know that Soderbergh’s trilogy about Danny Ocean and his crew was actually a remake. That’s right – long before George Clooney took on the role of Ocean, the 1960 Ocean’s 11 was seen as “the original Las Vegas movie.” It also starred some big names such as Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford.
The remake that came over four decades later had an even more star-studded cast and became even more successful, leading to two sequels and, later, an all-female reboot. It almost seems that audiences love fast-paced heist movies about robbing casinos – and perhaps intense casino movies in general.
4. Viva Las Vegas (1964)
We can’t have a list of Vegas movies without Viva Las Vegas. Featuring the fiery duo of Elvis Presley and Ann-Margaret, the 1964 movie has everything you’d want a rock star musical to have – numerous captivating musical numbers, the glamorous Vegas in the background, and a great car race sequence. Is it an Oscar-worthy drama? Of course not. It is a quintessentially Elvis movie, however, and it has a whole lot of Las Vegas charm in it.
3. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Surprisingly few James Bond movies were filmed or even just set in Las Vegas. One that stands out, however, is the 1971 Sean Connery classic Diamonds Are Forever. That’s the Bond movie that saw Connery return to the role after previously leaving the franchise. The movie also fascinatingly features the first two gay villains in the franchise – Mr. Wing and Mr. Kidd. What’s more, Diamonds Are Forever was also the Bond movie to reveal that Q was gay too.
2. Rocky IV (1985)
You probably didn’t expect a Rocky movie on this list, as such flicks rarely take place in casinos. One of the most infamous scenes of Rocky IV does, however, as the fight between Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago at the beginning of the film was shot in the MGM Grand. Even though the rest of the film doesn’t have much to do with Vegas, that scene alone was not only at the core of the movie but is also what spawned the Creed franchise decades later.
1. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
There are few actors more polarizing than Nicolas Cage, just as there are few cities in the world more polarizing than Las Vegas. This combination made Leaving Las Vegas especially memorable, courtesy of the excellent work of writer and director Mike Figgis. Cage even won an Oscar for his performance of Hollywood screenwriter Ben Sanderson, who goes to Vegas to drink himself to death but instead opens up a new chapter of his life by meeting sex worker Sera, played brilliantly by Elizabeth Shue.
A fascinating tidbit about Leaving Las Vegas is that Cage and Figgis didn’t get paid even a cent for their work on the movie. Apparently, the Lumiere Pictures studio (now defunct) paid $4 million for the movie’s production but didn’t pay the director and the Oscar-winning actor because the film never made a profit. Is there anything more Vegas than doing the work, winning the proverbial jackpot, and then still going home with empty pockets?
Casinos, pretty lights, late-night parties, Elvis impersonators, strip clubs, gangsters, and more – there are many things people associate with Las Vegas, whether rightfully or not. Over the years, Hollywood has certainly learned how to show us the best, the worst, and the most thrilling parts of this shining city. It almost makes one wonder what the next great movie to be shot in Las Vegas will be – and what other facet of the City of Sin it will bring to light.