Poker is definitely one of the most popular gambling games in brick-and-mortar and online casinos alike. It involves both luck and skill. So, to become a professional poker player, you need to have a lot of practice and develop the best strategies. The main principle of poker is to make bets against other players based on the value of the poker hand they have. In land-based casinos, these bets are usually made with ceramic or plastic discs referred to as chips.
If you are a poker player yourself, or you aim at becoming one in the future, you may find it really enjoyable to watch a gambling movie starring famous actors. For this reason, we have prepared a comprehensive list of the best poker movies ever made (in chronological order). Check them all out!
The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
One of the best poker movies appeared over 50 years ago! It tells the story of an ambitious poker player Eric “The Kid” Stoner (played by unforgettable Steve McQueen), who wants to challenge the game’s master, Lancey “The Man” Howard. By winning a high-stakes poker game with him, he wants to become “The Man” himself, which can be understood metaphorically.
Some may argue that it is the least realistic depiction of the game itself, but here, it is more important to show the life of a poker player well. And it has an exciting plot with a very memorable final scene.
The Sting (1973)
This movie was a smashing hit of its time, as it got 7 Academy Awards in 1973, including one for Best Picture. With excellent actors such as Paul Newman and Robert Redford, you can be sure to see some great acting.
It is not exactly a poker movie, as it mostly speaks of the art of conning, but a poker game plays a significant role in the plot. The story is quite complex; it revolves around two professional grifters who try to deceive a mob boss.
California Split (1974)
The main protagonist of California Split, called Bill Denny, is fed up with his job – what he really likes to do is play poker. When he meets famous player Charlie Waters in a card room, he comes to a conclusion that he wants a similar life to his. Together, they enjoy the lives of professional poker players in the USA during the 70s.
This movie seems to ask questions like “Is a gambler’s life really what you want?” and “Can you handle living such a life?”, and it doesn’t judge the answers. However, its plot indicates that while such a lifestyle is super fun, it also requires a lot of energy to keep up. And caution, because otherwise, it can become dangerous!
Maverick is one of the few poker movies that doesn’t take itself that seriously – it’s actually a lighthearted action comedy film with many entertaining subplots. Starring Mel Gibson, James Garner, and Jodie Foster, it tells the story of a guy who needs to get three thousand dollars to take part in an upcoming high-stakes poker game championship. For this reason, he takes up the activity he is best at – gambling. His efforts to get the money for this poker tournament resulted in many exciting, funny, or even risky situations.
This film is often mentioned on lists with the best poker movies even though it is not focused on this game entirely, because it reaches a great balance between showing poker, other gambling games, and all the other adventures.
Rounders appears high on almost every list of the best poker movies, and that is not a coincidence! Starring Matt Damon, John Malkovich, Edward Norton, and Gretchen Mol, it refers to the Texas Hold’em poker variation that was about to become amazingly popular at that time.
The main character, Mike, is a talented poker player who is bad at managing his bankroll. As a result, he has to forfeit his position in underground high-stakes games. When that happens, he decides he will never play poker again. However, when his good friend is released from prison and needs to make money quickly, Mike returns to the poker table to help him pay off the loan sharks. Apart from the game itself, the movie talks about loyalty, friendship, and how important it is to be confident of your abilities.
The only disadvantage of this movie is that the writers didn’t pay enough attention to the bet sizes and other game-related aspects in the poker scenes. Nevertheless, since it is not a documentary or a poker course, these imperfections don’t spoil the pleasure of watching the film.
Luna’s Game (2001)
As the title suggests, the main protagonist of this movie is Luna – she is a professional poker player who has been surrounded by the world of gambling since the youngest years of her life. It is because her father was a poker player as well, and she is following in his footsteps.
However, this world has taken the only parent she had – her mom died during labor, and her dad was killed by a loan shark. At some point, she meets a man for whom she wants to change her life, but first, she will have to face her past.
In this crime thriller poker movie, we can see three con artists who are fed up with performing the same old crimes. At some point, they come up with an idea to defeat a legendary poker player called “The Dean” (played by Sylvester Stallone). In order to achieve this, they plan to use a “card mechanic” named Vernon (played by Stuart Townsend).
However, to challenge The Dean, they need to get enough money to pay for the seat. It is a cool-to-watch movie set in the world of poker cheaters and martini bars in Las Vegas.
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story (2003)
Even though this poker movie doesn’t feature any famous Hollywood stars, it is worth watching because it shows the life of a true legend – Stu Ungar. He started his gambling career as a teenager, and soon, he became a professional poker player. When he was 20 years old, he even had to run away from New York City because he had too many enemies there.
We can see Stu taking part in many high-stakes poker games – this movie revolves around this game to a large extent. Therefore, it is a great suggestion to everyone who is looking for poker movies that are focused almost entirely on that subject as it shows the actual history of gambling.
Casino Royale (2006)
The fact that there is a poker movie with James Bond is a no-brainer! After all, a casino is a perfect setting for an action-adventure film. This movie shows James Bond (played by Daniel Craig here) at the beginning of his career. Soon after getting his 00 status and a license to kill, he sets out on his first mission as the secret agent 007.
His aim is to participate in a high-stakes poker game to defeat a private banker who funds terrorists. The plot is set in the luxurious Casino Royale in Montenegro.
The Grand (2007)
The Grand is a very interesting project – an improv-oriented mockumentary featuring Woody Harrelson, Jason Alexander, Ray Romano, and Dennis Farina. It shows a group of players who are taking part in a 10,000,000 GTD poker tournament happening at the Golden Nugget.
In this movie, the actors were given the basic directions regarding their characters, and they were asked to play real poker games on the set. The writers didn’t specify who was supposed to win the tournament, so everything happened spontaneously.
It may not be a movie for everyone – it got very mixed reviews, but we consider it to be a funny comedy with an original concept and peculiar characters. For example, one of the characters, Jack Faro, who was played by Woody Harrelson, is a recovering drug addict who got divorced 74 times. Moreover, what is cool about this movie is that it shows how a single tournament can transform a person’s life and that anyone can be a winner.
Lucky You (2007)
This poker movie had mixed opinions from both the players of the game and the general public, but we think it is actually worth watching. Overall, it is a fun movie with heaps of scenes presenting the game, featuring Eric Bana, Robert Duvall, and Drew Barrymore. It tells the story of Huck Cheever, whose father is a renowned poker player, with two WSOP winnings. The protagonist can’t forgive his dad for leaving his mom, and he decides to compete against him in a tournament in Las Vegas.
Apart from being a poker movie, Lucky You shows difficult family relations, and also a love story, as Huck finds a girlfriend during the tournament.
In Deal, we can see a man who despite giving up on playing poker himself agrees to give poker lessons to a college student. As a result of these lessons, he is drawn to the world of gambling once again. When his protégé signs up for the upcoming tournament, he can’t resist taking part in it as well, despite his previous decision not to come back to it.
It turns out that his student is very talented, and he becomes his most difficult opponent. At one point, they will face each other in a high-stakes poker game. A classic story of a student who has surpassed the teacher!
Poker King (2009)
This is a Hong Kong movie set in Macau. The plot may seem kind of cliché – a young man who plays poker online risks losing his inheritance if he can’t show he is mature enough to take over his father’s business. Even if the concept sounds simple, the execution is really excellent, so the movie is good to watch.
What’s more, it is worth watching even for the pure love and passion for poker it shows. Keep in mind that it is a poker movie from the part of the world where gambling has been unavailable until recently, so it shows a really fresh perspective.
All In: The Poker Movie (2009)
This is definitely one of the best poker movies when it comes to documentaries. It covers basically the whole history of the game, from its origins, through the impressive Moneymaker’s win in the Main Event in 2003 to the infamous Black Friday scandal. In this film, you can see many poker player legends, such as Daniel Negreanu, Chris Ferguson, Moneymaker, Annie Duke, Phil Laak, and Antonio Esfandiari. It explains how poker has become one of the most popular card games in the USA and worldwide, and for some people, a way to chase the American Dream.
All In: The Poker Movie is a great history lesson, so if you have a lot to catch up on or you want to refresh your knowledge, it is definitely worth watching. It is so comprehensive that, even if you are an experienced player, you are likely to walk away with some new valuable insights about poker.
Mississippi Grind (2015)
In this movie, we have a losing poker player called Gerry who meets a traveling gambler named Curtis. They quickly become friends, and at some point, Gerry persuades Curtis into staking him in some poker games during their trip to New Orleans. It turns out it is a disastrous investment as Gerry keeps on losing, but for the sake of friendship, Curtis doesn’t stop supporting him.
We have a clear reference to the concept of EV (expected value) in relationships in this film. Even though Curtis sees that Gerry is terrible, he can’t let go. He is lonely and needs a friend, even if it means he will lose a lot of money because of that.
Molly’s Game (2017)
Based on a true story, this poker movie (starring Jessica Chastain and Kevin Costner) shows a former Olympic-class skier Molly Bloom who starts an exclusive high-stakes poker game club. It is visited by Hollywood celebrities, athletes, influential businessmen, etc. However, it works illegally, so it puts Molly at risk of having problems with the law.
It is one of the best poker movies with a female protagonist. In the movie, Molly is depicted as a smart, strong, and confident businesswoman who knows what she wants and how to achieve it. Importantly, despite being a very beautiful woman, she uses her wits instead of her sex appeal to reach her aims.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, there are many interesting movies about poker, and these are just a few chosen examples. Some of them are more serious and exciting, and some are lighthearted and funny, but all of them refer to one of the most popular card games in the world.
From classics with Steve McQueen or Robert Redford to more recent releases with Daniel Craig or Jessica Chastain, they succeed at showing the emotions that accompany poker and gambling overall. Choose the one you like best to watch this weekend!