Art imitates life, and therefore it’s commonplace to see many of our hobbies, pastimes, and activities mirrored on the big screen. Card games, in particular, have had their fair share of screen time. Dramatic plays and endless possibilities make these favored plot devices among filmmakers across the globe. Sometimes, films are even avenues for product placement for gaming sites and services. The Academy Awards season is upon us, and while these movies may not have been deemed Oscar-worthy upon their release, they remain memorable and enjoyable all the same.
Here are some of the most iconic films based on card games:
Based on a true story, "21" follows the MIT Blackjack Team and their math professor as they train to become card-counting experts. While using probability techniques is not illegal, it’s frowned upon by casinos. Their quest for cash and desire to fulfill their dreams outweighs any risk, and they take on a covert trip to Las Vegas. The film also offers sound advice about what could happen if you take things further than planned––whether that be through gambling, deception, greed, or sudden ill-gotten wealth. Naturally, this lesson is only learned after various twists and turns to kick up the action and melodrama. Regardless of the fictional elements incorporated, it’s still a cautionary tale for any gambler out there.
A sleeper hit at its time, "Rounders" has become one of the most classic––some would even say definitive––poker movies of all time. It follows a young law student and former gambler who tries his luck in NYC’s underground poker scene in an attempt to help his friend pay off loan sharks. The popularity of "Rounders" certainly contributed to the poker boom in the early 2000s, and the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event
champion Chris Moneymaker commented that he began playing poker after watching it on loop. Lots of other high profile poker pros also attribute the rise of poker––in all its forms––to the film. The movie often comes up as a topic among pro poker players for its authenticity, as evident by PPPoker’s Twitter hashtag which shows that some clubs are actually named after the film. So it goes without saying the popularity and relevance of "Rounders" continues to this day.
In "Casino Royale," James Bond takes on a mission to take down a private banker known for supporting terrorists. The catch is that he must defeat him at a high-stakes poker game at the titular "Casino Royale" in Montenegro. It’s a battle of wits between the two characters and it’s packed with the action commonplace in all James Bond films. It originally wasn’t meant to feature poker, but the creative decision was made to accommodate the popularity of Texas Hold’em. This added to its fast-paced and exciting gambling scenes. While its portrayals of the game are inaccurate and even caricature-like, it still makes it an entertaining film nonetheless.
Love them or hate them––you can’t deny that these films made their dent on both pop culture and gambling. Many achieving cult status.