Poker might seem like it has been a mainstay of films for many years, but in truth, it has only recently become a popular and widespread plot device.
For instance, it is easy to associate Casino Royale with poker, but the original film, released in 1967, featured baccarat rather than poker. Poker was usually seen in Westerns, such as Trinity Is Still My Name, released in 1971, but was not often a feature in big releases. It took one period of time, the poker boom at the start of this century, to push the game into pop culture.
In 1998, a little-known film called Rounders was released, and it was not a huge hit at the box office. It might have slipped into obscurity, were it not for the fact it starred Matt Damon. Even with him in the cast, it took time to ferment in the minds of poker fans but began to gain traction five years later, thanks to Chris Moneymaker’s win at the World Series of Poker in 2003.
Moneymaker managed to qualify for the WSOP online, which led to a boom in players turning to their computers looking to emulate his success. The game grew in popularity and at the same time, a new generation of fans began to revisit Rounders. This period was called the poker boom, and it paved the way for the vibrant online poker industry we see today. In 2021, online poker is much safer than it once was, and a guide on how to play online by Poker.org outlines how it is now quick and easy to get into as well. That renewed accessibility has kept Rounders in the hearts of poker fans, but also led to plenty of recent scenes featuring poker, and even whole plots hanging on a game of cards.
So, we have picked some of the best scenes from films to feature poker for you to enjoy.
Casino Royale (2006)
The original film may well have used baccarat as the game of choice for Bond’s scene with Le Chiffre, but in 2006 it was Daniel Craig across the table from the versatile Mads Mikkelsen, and the game was poker. The pair were given lessons in how to play Texas Hold ‘Em, which included the correct way to hold and protect your cards, and would play with other cast members for hours after filming had finished.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
George Clooney and Brad Pitt star in a gaming fan’s dream of a film, featuring casinos, poker and of course, a huge heist. It came out before the poker boom, and maybe a few potential players were put off by Pitt’s early hustle of college students he was teaching to play poker. He manages to part them from their money in a later scene, a precursor to doing something much larger later in the flick.
Molly’s Game (2017)
Molly’s Game is not so much about a single scene, but instead, a story told around high stakes poker games. Based on real-life events, it could be described as a Rounders for a new generation, capturing the popularity of the current online poker boom as well as creating intrigue around the identities of some of the fictional characters. TheRinger.com suggests that Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio and Alex Rodriguez took part in the games, although they are not named on-screen.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Lock Stock, as it is affectionately known, might be 23 years old, but it still oozes charm and cool as if it were released yesterday. Featuring a strong British cast, an early scene sets the film’s events in motion, when Nick Moran loses a huge sum of money after backing a pair of sixes and being beaten by a pair of sevens. The scene ends with Moran leaving the club, head-spinning, an experience we share through wobbly camera work and a pounding soundtrack.
Have to include Newman’s 4 jacks over 4 9’s in The Sting, the last scene in Cincinnati Kid and Newman’s other great poker scene in Cool Hand Luke.