A few weeks after Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event, the Tennessee accountant appeared as a guest on a Late Night talk show. Though few might recall it now, this was the first time a WSOP champion had done so.
In the 90s, films like Rounders further romanticized poker’s seedy underbelly. These films helped usher the game into popular culture.
1. The Sting (1973)
Paul Newman and Robert Redford are just a couple of years removed from their Oscar-winning work in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when they reunited for George Roy Hill’s 1973 classic, The Sting. The film’s success would prove that the pair had something special together. It is a feather-light comedy, yet it delivers with true economy of story and action. The cast is ideal and Marvin Hamlisch’s ragtime soundtrack is the perfect match for this period piece.
The Sting is a story about con men ripping off nasty types who, audiences will agree, deserve what they get. It’s a morality tale with a twist and one that still rings true today. And it introduced many people to baccarat. The film was remastered in 2016 to make it look better than ever and is available on DVD and Ultra HD.
2. Ocean’s Eleven (1993)
A loose remake of the 1960 Sinatra-led Rat Pack film, George Clooney stars as Danny Ocean, fresh out of prison with a plan to rob a three-casino vault owned by his old nemesis Terry Benedict (who happens to be romantically involved with Danny’s ex-wife). The film’s competence porn is largely due to its talented cast—including Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia and even Al Pacino.
Philip Messina’s sets and real casino locations bind together seamlessly, while Soderbergh’s elegant camerawork allows viewers “backstage” to tour rooms, hallways, elevator shafts and passages. And David Holmes’ cool, jazzy score makes this Ocean’s Eleven feel hipper than Sinatra’s version.
3. Rounders (1998)
Many pro poker players have said that Rounders, a 1998 movie about high-stakes poker in the underground world, was what inspired them to pursue the game professionally. Directed by John Dahl, the film stars Matt Damon and Edward Norton.
The movie’s opening scenes show Mike McDermott going through his apartment, gathering money from various hiding spots. In his desk drawers, he finds an empty cigar box with three stacks of cash and poker books like Caro’s Pro Poker Tells and Doyle Brunson’s Super System.
From the sexy baccarat games in Ocean’s Eleven to the gruesome loan shark Grama in Rounders, casino movies add an intriguing and enthralling element to films that captivate audiences. And with new movies highlighting gambling culture and popular casino games, poker will continue to have a lasting impact on pop culture.
4. Casino Royale (2006)
Stubborn Hollywood producers can’t seem to accept that casino scenes are enough on their own. As a result, they tend to go overboard in an attempt to make them more exciting. Unfortunately, this often backfires and ends up making the scene less realistic.
The filmmakers reportedly chose Texas Hold’em over Baccarat as the central game of Casino Royale because the former had already gained in popularity in the decade preceding the film’s production. In addition, they viewed the change as fitting with the film’s theme of American influence and global capitalism in an age of neoliberalism.
Filming began in Prague on 6 October 2005, with additional locations in the Bahamas and at Pinewood Studios (in particular the 007 Stage). Martin Campbell had previously directed TV shows such as Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley.
5. 21 (2013)
The movie 21 was inspired by the incredible real-life story of MIT students who used card counting to beat the house at high-stakes blackjack. The film became a hit, and people who had never played the game before were suddenly hooked.
Baccarat has also made a big impression on pop culture through movies and books. Ian Fleming used the game in Casino Royal, and since then it has appeared in a number of action and spy movies.
In sitcoms like Friends, Doug McKenna plays poker with his friends as a way to have fun and hang out. Although it’s portrayed as a simple pastime, it helps to connect mainstream audiences with the history and legacy of poker. It also shows that poker is more than just a gambling game.