The Top 5 Poker Movies

Anyone who knows me knows that I like to gamble every now and then. There’s not much better then the thrill of knowing that your money relies on a pass, a shot, or when you can control it, a hand of poker. Poker is my go-to game, and it has blown up since Chris Moneymaker made his run in the main event of the WSOP in 2003.

Several movies have used No Limit Texas Holdem since then, but there were still a few movies that profiled gambling before this boom. Here’s my top 5 list of poker movies. It should be noted that I haven’t seen a lot of the older films, so if you feel I missed one deserving of a slot on the list please share in the comments. Let’s take a look at them.

5. Lucky You– I feel like this movie got a bad rap. I’m not saying its a fantastic film by any means, but I will say that it’s a really good portrayal of the average poker player, who has to struggle to get money to play. Eric Bana goes through several swings in this movie, grinding lower stakes before making a “Hollywood” like run to the final table with his father. I won’t spoil the ending, but I would suggest checking it out if you want a look at what the regular poker pro goes through.

4. Casino Royale– This is a great flick. It’s a James Bond movie so how could it not be great? There’s great action in it, along with a game of Texas Hold’em poker that drives the main conflict in the movie. However, while the action in the movie is great, the poker is, well, terrible. Its just not at all believable. Two big hands come to mind. First is the hand where Bond goes broke with Ace King to pocket Jacks on a baord of Jack, King, Ace, Jack, King. Bond calls him because he shows his “tell” and when the villian shows quads, he says “you must have thought I was bluffing.” Yeah that, or the fact that only two hands can beat him in that spot. If he was calling with say a straight, or just a jack, maybe that’s thinking he’s bluffing. But with AK, I mean, come on man! And of course thats not the worst of it. There’s the last hand, where the four remaining players all get in the action in monster hands. I mean, coolers happen in poker,  but to have flush, under full house, under a better full house, under straight flush?! I mean, really!? At least make the hand more believable if you are going to make that the final hand of the tournament. It just shows how you can easily end a poker tournament, but how difficult it is to pull a realistic end to it. You can see the ridiculous hand below.


3. High Roller: The Stu Unger Story: I had never heard of this movie until I caught it on TNT one night a few years ago, and I was immediately interested. As a young poker player, I started to hear whispers of this Stu Unger guy, but hadn’t seen the full story of him. Cliff notes on Unger’s career: he was a young sensation in the early 80’s who won back to back WSOP main events, and quickly became a millionaire. The only thing quicker then how he got his money was how he lost it, in a constant cycle of sports betting, drugs, and health issues that tragically ended far too early when he was found dead in his hotel room in 1998. The movie is very good, showing his life growing up, and the struggles he endured after his success. Michael Imperioli also deserves kudos for a great performance.

2. Maverick: This was my first introduction to gambling in the movies while growing up, and it was instantly one of my favorites flicks. Not necessarily because of the poker, which was 5-card draw, but just for the simple fact that it was a good movie. Mel Gibson plays the main character, and much like other gamblimg movies, it portrays his journey to try to conjure up enough money, in this instance for a big river boat gambling tournament. Once you get on the boat, the gambling scenes are fantastic, believable yet still entertaining. Until the final scene of course, which as per usual, is a ridiculous ending: four-of-a-kind to straight flush to royal flush. But at least it built the suspense well. Overall, really great movie. Check it out.

1. Rounders: Was there ever a doubt that this would be #1? If Texas Hold’em is the Cadillac of poker, then Rounders is the Cadillac of poker movies. For many, this was their introduction to Texas Hold’em, a game that had gone largely unnoticed by the general population. Matt Damon plays a struggling pro, who is trying to work his way out of a debt he owes to John Malkovich. The movie effortlessly intertwines poker scenes with real life scenes, and ends in an awesome, yet believable (shocking I know) way. It’s just the perfect poker movie. If you haven’t seen it by now, go buy it. You won’t regret it.

What’s your favorite poker or gambling focused movie?

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The Author

Kevin Taylor

Kevin Taylor

I grew up in the south, raised watching TV, Movies, and Sports. Entertainment is my life, and I can't imagine what my life would be like without it. I'm a USC grad, and proud to be a Trojan for life! Some of my favorite shows include South Park, Always Sunny, Dexter, and How I Met Your Mother, which I write a weekly recap of here. I also play and report on poker for a living. Its a hard way to make an easy living!