The five best casino films of the 2000s
Casinos have been a popular film setting since the 1920s. They are exciting and evocative locations that are instantly recognizable and have a certain allure that is difficult to explain. Some would argue that the 1970s was the era of the casino film, with classics like The Gambler (1974), California Split (1974) and The Sting (1973), but the 2000s have had their share of great gambling movies too.
Based on a real-life scheme orchestrated to make a fortune by counting cards, 21 tells the story of a young man who gets drawn into a dangerous game. Card counting, though not technically cheating or illegal, is frowned upon by casinos because it increases the player’s chance of winning.
This movie does a great job of showing the youthful excitement and energy that success inspires, while also showing how quickly everything can change. Filmed on location at some of the most famous casinos in Las Vegas, 21 gives viewers a glimpse into life as a high roller. Critics might not have loved the movie, but audiences certainly did.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
A remake of the Rat Pack classic, Ocean’s Eleven had all the cool of the original, largely supplied by George Clooney and his ever-present devilish grin. The film tells the story of Danny Ocean’s plan to rob three Las Vegas casinos with the help of 10 accomplices. Part of the joy of the film is that the audience doesn’t fully understand the heist plans until the final reveal.
One of the most reassuring things about playing casino games online instead of at a traditional casino is that you know your money is safe. SkyCity Online Casino, for example, keeps all player funds in separate bank accounts to prevent any sort of hacking heist from occurring. Good thing we don’t have to worry about whether or not that would be enough to stop a tech savvy Ocean and his team!
Casino Royale (2006)
Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond in Casino Royale centers around using a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro to capture an arms dealer. Gambling in this film, especially poker, is shown as a glamorous and exciting but dangerous activity, as we see one desperate man lose his car as he tries to win back his money. Casino Royale made James Bond cool again.
The Brosnan-era Bond films are so gleefully over the top that even Pierce Brosnan’s debonair charm couldn’t counteract the goofy action. Casino Royale and Craig resurrected Bond as an icon of chic.
The Hangover (2009)
The Hangover is the ultimate “lost weekend” comedy. Set in Las Vegas, it tells the story of a bachelor party that got so out of control that they’ve lost the groom and must retrace their steps — which they can’t remember — to try to find him. It’s also another movie that features card counting as an important plot device.
Unlike 21 however, where counting cards is a skill, The Hangover shows Alan’s card counting as some sort of mystical ability. One of The Hangover’s strongest points is its ensemble cast; everyone in this movie has completely bought into the ridiculousness and sells it to the audience flawlessly.
This movie tells the story of the powers behind some of the underground London casinos of the 1960s. Legend is a biopic about the Kray twins, a pair of violent and unstable identical twins who ran illegal casinos in London, but whose criminal empire and lavish lifestyles were destroyed by their inability to restrain themselves from inflicting violence.
The film is carried by Tom Hardy, who impressively plays both Reggie and Ronnie Kray and is able to portray the nuances in each man’s character. With lavish costuming and sets, this film captures the glamour of the period without hiding the darkness that lay just beneath the surface.
Croupier (1998) is two years too old to be on this list, but it still deserves a mention. It is a thriller about a writer working in a casino who is drawn into an underworld that he is unprepared to deal with. This is the film that made Clive Owens’ career and it is easy to see why, his performance is magnetic.
These gambling movies capture the spirit and excitement of the casino, while also acknowledging that sometimes there is a dark side to the gambling industry. While some of them might not stack up as all-time great films, they are truly great casino films.