Hollywood has long had a fascination with casino gambling. Blackjack and other casino games have made an appearance in films starring Tom Cruise, William H. Macy, and may other prominent actors. Some films only mention blackjack in passing while others make the game a focus of the film. Counting Edge has compiled a list of the Top 10 Blackjack Movies You Must See.
10 – Casino (1995)
Any blackjack player will love this story about how Las Vegas grew to be the gambling capital of the world. Based on the true story of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, Casino includes many memorable blackjack scenes. One of them involves a pair of blackjack cheaters who believe they have figured out a foolproof way to beat the house’s edge. The pair is caught, of course, and one of the cheats is given a choice: leave with his body intact or his leave with his blackjack winnings. He chooses to bid Las Vegas a farewell.
The most famous blackjack scene in the film, however, involves Joe Pesci who plays a role based on a real-life Vegas mobster. In the scene, Pesci has a bad run at the blackjack table. He tries to use his clout to get casino credit while Robert DeNiro, the film’s star, attempts to smooth things over. It doesn’t go well, and Pesci’s portrayal of a player on a losing streak is spot on.
9 – Vegas Vacation (1997)
Hilarity is certain to ensue whenever the iconic Griswold family takes a family vacation. This time, dad Clark decides to take the crew to Las Vegas. It’s a fun film that shows what can happen when someone gets a little too carried away with gambling. Clark is addicted as soon as he sees the bright lights.
The highlight of the film is a series of sequences that involves Clark playing blackjack. He keeps encountering the same dealer, a sourpuss who enjoys seeing players lose. As Clark loses session after session and drains the family nest egg, the dealer laughs and even offers Clark an alternative. He says that Clark should just pay him a portion of the money he will lose and let the dealer kick him in the nuts! At the end of the film there is a happy resolution, but let this movie be a cautionary tale for anyone that has a gambling problem.
8 – Swingers (1996)
This film stars Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn as a pair of buddies who decide to solve their life’s problems by moving to Las Vegas and living like high rollers. Written by Favreau, the film has several scenes that involve blackjack. It also includes scenes with other games.
In one scene the two lead characters argue over whether or not players should always double down an 11. Basic blackjack strategy says that you should, of course, but the card counter will probably disagree. The fact is that doubling down on 11 in some cases when the deck is cold can actually lead to greater losses. Still, it’s a solid play for the novice player or the player that prefers online blackjack to the live version.
7 – The Gambler (2014)
Mark Wahlberg scored a hit with this 2014 film. It depicts Jim Bennett, a college professor who has a weakness for high-stakes blackjack. Bennett isn’t addicted to winning. He is addicted to losing. No matter how much money he makes, he lets it all ride on the next hand until he is broke and must turn to his wealthy family for a loan. Pretty soon things catch up with him and he becomes indebted to the wrong people. Bennett is forced to go to even worse people to get enough money to pay his debts.
When Bennett receives the money, he makes his way once more to a high stakes game. This time he will either get even and walk away or lose everything that means anything to him, and maybe even his life. The Gambler is a dark film that truly depicts the madness that some people feel when they have a gambling addiction.
6 – The Hot Shoe (2004)
If you want to know the real inner workings of a Las Vegas casino, and you also want to know the life most card counters lead, this is a film you will love. The documentary follows professional card counters as they attempt to evade detection by the casino. It also features interviews with casino managers who are tasked with catching card counters and banning them from the casino.
What you will notice in this documentary is that card counting is like a cat and mouse game played with the casino. The counters are always trying to come up with better methods to remain undetected, and the casino is likewise trying to build a better mousetrap. Any card counter that has an idea to try out their skills in a real casino would do themselves a big favor by watching this movie first.
5 – The Cooler (2003)
Have you ever sat down to lay blackjack in a live casino and started having an amazing run of luck? Perhaps everyone at the table is winning. Then, a player joins the table and things go south. This black cloud is splitting tens, taking the dealer’s bust card, and making every mistake in the book. Even worse, they seem unconcerned that they are causing the whole table to lose. You may have just been visited by a shill, or cooler. These are individuals hired by the casino to “cool off” hot players.
This film stars Alec Baldwin and William H. Macy. Macy is the cooler, and the casino brings him in every time that a player begins to get an edge and win money. But what the casino doesn’t know is that the cooler may be getting ideas of his own. Will he eventually realize that he could probably make more money by defying the casino and striking out on his own?
4 – License to Kill (1989)
This list just wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t have at least one James Bond picture in the mix. License to Kill is from the era when Timothy Dalton was tasked with playing the British spy. It has a scene in which Bond participates in a high-stakes blackjack game because, well, he’s James Bond. The scene is one of the best in the film, and of course it leads to a huge action sequence.
You can find some type of gambling in many James Bond films. Sometimes the action is so realistic that it will make the compulsive gambler’s mouth water. The aura of the gambling life is also something that comes across in the Bond films. It portrays gambling as an exotic lifestyle to lead. Once rarely sees a destitute gambler in a Jame Bond movie.
3 – The Last Casino (2004)
This is the first of two films to make our list that is based on the exploits of the famous MIT blackjack team. The Last Casino actually inspired the number one film we’ll mention soon. In this movie, a college professor recruits three intelligent students to become card counters. He provides their training and turns them loose on the casino. Along the way the team has to battle various conflicts that threaten to get them all banned from gambling.
This Canadian film didn’t quite manage the popularity that was achieved by its successor, but it still serves to give one an idea of how card counting became a part of the mainstream culture. Those involved were making some serious money before it all came crumbling down.
2 – Rain Man (1988)
Yes, it only has one blackjack segment in it. This group of scenes, though, has become iconic. The lead character of the film is Charlie Babbitt, portrayed by Tom Cruise. Babbitt’s brother Raymond, played brilliantly by Dustin Hoffman, is an autistic savant. When Raymond inherits the family fortune, Charlie intends to remove him from the care facility where he lives so that he can get his hands on the money.
The brothers bond over a game of blackjack in Las Vegas. Charlie finds out that Raymond has an uncanny ability to remember every card that has been played from a shoe of card decks. Raymond counts and Charlie bets until they are discovered and banned from the casino.
1 – 21 (2008)
It would be very difficult to put 21 at any spot other than number one on this list. The film is based on the true story of the MIT card counting team that terrorized casinos from coast to coast. Leading the team of counters is a professor played by Kevin Spacey. The professor has determined to enlist the help of his most talented students to take the casinos for millions.
One of the students chosen for the team is Ben Campbell. Campbell reluctantly agrees to join the team on the condition that he will leave when he has earned enough money for medical school. Before he can reach that point, the young student becomes bit by the card counting bug and gets caught. He then has to find a way to recoup all of the money he lost so that his mother will not be disappointed when he is unable to pursue his education.