5 Poker Movies to Inspire Every Player
Set the scene: You’re psyched for a big poker tournament. You’ve played many practice rounds and you’re feeling pretty good about your chances. You’re sharp, focused, a little anxious but confident about your strategies, hungry for a win… there’s a lot at stake. Maybe you’ve set up some snacks and drinks. Gotta stay hydrated. Need to feel loose. Your mobile is fully charged. You’re excited but something’s missing: Inspiration.
We can get inspired by a variety of things. Some turn to music. Others take walks or go for a run. Meditation or a massage can help. Some watch videos of Vegas poker tournaments to get in the mood. Movies are perfect inspirations for gamblers. Hollywood has long loved portraying poker players as heroes up against all odds. The drama of playing to win enough money to save a loved one’s life. The tension of dealing with cheating opponents. The deadly serious life-threatening bet headed for a loss until a miracle comes at the last minute.
Poker is cinematic in a lot of ways. The bluffs, the cons, the dead eyes, the nervous shuffles, the nervous I’m-all-in calls, the betrayals, the clever cheats… it’s the fun escape for most, and a powerful source of inspiration for poker players.
Rounders – Trust everyone… but always cut the cards.
Explore New York’s private high-stakes poker clubs with law student Mike McDermott played by Matt Damon. He has lost his entire savings to Russian club owner Teddy KGB, a scary John Malkovich. Mike gives up the game to devote his attention to his law studies and girlfriend Jo, the stunning Gretchen Mol. When Mike’s former gambling partner Worm, Edward Norton, gets out of prison, Jo is alarmed. Worm instantly pulls Mike back to the poker table, so she moves out, and Mike drops his studies. Worm needs to pay a prison debt to the frightening Grama. Mike goes all in. He humors Worm, and gets involved with paying his debts. Grama gives Worm five days to come up with $15,000. Mike and Worm get into a non-stop, no-sleep binge of gambling that leads to a final battle with Teddy KGB.
A taught and tension-filled movie, Rounders presents poker with all its underworld malice as the two heroes play to survive. Incredibly focused from the first shot to the last line, the production is tight and aggressive, authentically capturing the emotional swings of no-limit poker games.
During production, Matt Damon and Edward Norton actually played in a no-limit $10,000 Texas Hold ‘Em championship at the World Series of Poker in Vegas. On the first day, Damon held pocket kings and was eliminated by poker legend Doyle Brunson’s pocket aces.
Molly’s Game – Deal with her.
This is the true story of Molly Bloom – played by Jessica Chastain – an Olympic skier who, for ten years, operated the most exclusive high-stakes poker game in the world until she was arrested by 17 FBI agents brandishing automatic weapons. Molly’s guest players came from Hollywood royalty, pro sports legends, business giants, and, to her dismay, the Russian mob. Her only supporter is Charlie Jaffey – the incomparable Idris Elba – her criminal defense lawyer, who found out that there was more to Molly than the press, or anyone, knows.
Writer Aaron Sorkin’s portrayal of those who succeed where others fail is a poker metaphor. Molly Bloom became a millionaire through determination, luck, street savvy, and a relentless desire to be the absolute best. A lesson to be learned by all poker players.
The real Molly Bloom once said that the biggest poker loss she’d ever witnessed was $100 million. It happened in one night and the loser settled his debt the very next day.
Casino Royale – Everyone has a past. Every legend has a beginning.
Le Chiffre is a banker serving global terrorist clients. In Montenegro, he plays in a poker game to win back lost money and stay safe from the terrorists’ threats. MI6 boss, “M” – played by the magnificent Dame Judi Dench – sends James Bond on his first double 0 mission to participate in this game and stop Le Chiffre from winning. With help from Felix Leiter and the spectacular Vesper Lynd as his partner, Bond plays the most dangerous poker game of his perilous career. What will happen if he defeats Le Chiffre?
After four decades of James Bond, Casino Royale returns to Bond’s beginnings. He doesn’t introduce himself with, “Bond. James Bond,” doesn’t care about shaken or stirred vodka martinis, and in place of Craps or Chemin-de-Fer, he plays poker.
Playing poker was common among cast and crew while on the set and even after production wrapped. Remarkably, this was nothing new for the 007 franchise. Former Bond, Roger Moore and producer Albert R. Broccoli often played during filming. In fact, the cast and crew of many James Bond movies took part in some astonishingly high-stakes games.
Maverick – The greatest gambler in the west finally meets his match.
Bret Maverick, played by the charismatic Mel Gibson, is a gambler. He’d prefer to con someone rather than fight them. His problem is that he needs $25,000 for a winner-take-all poker game starting in just a couple of days. He attempts to win part of it, tries to collect some debts, and recover a reward, all light heartedly unsuccessful. When he partners with gambler Annabelle Bransford – the incredible Jodie Foster – with a cool, fake, southern accent, they both try to enter the game.
This comedy portrays the daring way that Bret Maverick joins the region’s most rewarding poker tournament. It’s a funny story combining action and adventure, and a homage to poker’s dangerous history in the wild west.
In 19th century America, the $25,000 fee required to enter this poker tournament would be the equivalent of $800,000 today.
The Sting – All it takes is a little confidence.
Small time grifter Johnny Hooker, played by Robert Redford, unwittingly cons money from crime boss Doyle Lonnegan. Reparations must be paid. Hooker flees with the help of Henry Gondorff – the charming Paul Newman – a true master of the long con. Hooker wants to even the score by applying Gondorff’s expertise to con Lonnegan for an enormous amount of money, because he admits he “doesn’t know enough about killing to kill him.” Their complex scheme involves a gifted group of con artists looking for their share. The stakes are high and the heroes face Lonnegan’s murderous inclinations. To win, they need all their talents and enormous confidence.
Winner of seven Academy Awards®, including best picture, director, and screenplay, The Sting is the legendary film that followed Redford’s and Newman’s buddy comedy Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. What makes it work is the outstanding production and a charmingly clever plot chockfull of twists and turns. The pivotal poker scene is perhaps the most complicated and entertaining scene in movie poker history.
During the key poker scene, Paul Newman performs some extremely clever sleight of hand maneuvers that would have taken him forever to master. So, a technical advisor’s hands doubled for Newman’s. After several jaw-dropping card manipulations, the double’s hands go off screen and an invisible cut disguises the switch to Newman’s hands, after which the camera pans to his face.
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