Hollywood has long had a fascination with poker. Cerebral, timeless, and undeniably impressive, poker is a card game that’s practically been made for the big screen. Granted, while not all poker films have been worth betting on, movie studios have made some poker-centric films that movie buffs and card sharks alike will be happy to go all-in for. In no particular order, here are some of the best poker movies of all time:
1. MOLLY’S GAME (2017)
Molly’s Game is based on a 2014 memoir of the same name. The premise of Molly’s Game may seem fairly straightforward—a beautiful girl manipulates a group of men—except it’s anything but. Masterfully, Chastain plays Molly Bloom, a former athlete turned underground poker room manager. Molly starts off not really familiar with the poker world, but she soon learns the ropes, and in so doing educates the viewer, too. Soon enough, we see Molly creating her very own elite poker games.
Of course, poker is never really in your favor. By the end of the film, we find out that the real-life Molly Bloom was sentenced to community service, one-year probation, and a $200,000 fine. At times, Molly’s Game is too exaggerated. Recently released movie trivia explains that Molly didn’t quit her athletic career because of a single dramatic tumble, for instance. But, at the end of the day, it gets most of the poker gameplay and player psychology right.
2. ROUNDERS (1998)
Starring award-winners Matt Damon, Edward Norton, and John Malkovich, Rounders is thought by many to be the best poker film of all time. Throughout the film we watch friends Mike and Worm navigate their way through high-stakes poker games, take on mobsters, and play for a chance at the World Series of Poker. Rounders is arguably the first film to place poker front and center, and throws the viewers into the thick of the game. Throughout, poker terms like bankroll, blind, and fold are used, while also making sure that viewers are not spoon-fed the basic mechanics. This movie is widely believed to be responsible for making these terms popular in the mainstream. Even non-poker players know that fold means to back down, a bankroll refers to the money you use to game, and a blind is a forced bet that increases involvement.
Poker stars like Hevad Khan and Gavin Griffin even credited the film with getting them interested in poker. That said, Rounders isn’t a film that should be taken as a blueprint for poker success. Real-life poker is much harder to predict than the movie implies. As a movie, though, Rounders is a solid entry.
3. THE CARD COUNTER (2021)
Dark, brooding, and definitely not a comedy, The Card Counter shows viewers the grittier side of poker. Featuring top performances from Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Willem Defoe, and Tye Sheridan, this movie is essentially an ode to the slow burn that poker is all about. Much like most poker games that are far from fast-paced, The Card Counter isn’t afraid to take its time. In the movie, we see Isaac’s Tell bounce from casino to casino counting cards and making modest bets by day. By night, we see him silently live out his anguished life.
While the poker scenes in this movie are not as octane-driven as the others on this list, it more than makes up for it in nuance. Through every poker game, the control and caution Tell plays with creates a palpable buzz that will still surely keep you on the edge of your seat.
4. THE CINCINNATI KID (1965)
The Cincinnati Kid follows McQueen’s character Eric “The Kid” Stoner” as he fights to become the best Depression-era poker player. The Kid is naturally talented but soon forced to accept he’s not as great as he thinks. Unlike most Hollywood films that have to end on a high, though, The Cincinnati Kid keeps it realistic. After his full house loses to a queen-high straight flush in the final match, The Kid leaves broke. But this realism is also what makes The Cincinnati Kid a noteworthy film. By showing us The Kid’s loss, it grounds a movie that could’ve easily become too romanticized.
Granted, lead actor McQueen is known today as one of the most controversial stars. But taking this aside, to give credit where it’s due, he did create one of history’s most memorable poker films.
Regardless of whether you’re a poker aficionado yourself or not, poker films are undeniably engaging and make for good entertainment. Next time you’re having a poker night or a movie night, consider playing one of these titles.