Throughout cinema history, there have been numerous blockbuster films centered around the incredible game of poker. The game is so true to the American spirit, and this theme is captured in many of the films made in the USA about the game. From Mel Gibson to Matt Damon, massive Hollywood actors have starred in incredible poker films and every few years there comes a new movie showing the poker lifestyle in a new light.
Luckily, for those that need their poker fix, there’s a growing library of great films on Netflix and Prime that will scratch your itch. There is a timeless narrative to these types of movies that never gets old; it’s the story of the underdog, and conquering the odds through dedicated play. With so many great poker films to choose from, it proved difficult to make a list but here are some of the best poker films of all time.
Cincinnati Kid (1965)
Starring the famous screen icon Steve McQueen, this classic movie takes a hard look at the lifestyle and wild swings of a poker player. It’s incredibly unromantic and uncompromising, a poker film that doesn’t glamorize the lifestyle. While the actual poker scenes may not be the most realistic, this is one of the most famous movies for poker due to its sheer grit and intensity. The film shows McQueen as “The Kid” facing off against Edward G. Robinson as “Lancey Howard” in a high stakes poker ending that is one of the most memorable scenes in poker film history.
Adapted from a 1950s television series, this western comedy stars Mel Gibson, the man that was everywhere throughout the 1990s, and Jodie Foster of Taxi Driver fame. True to the source material, the film is completely reminiscent of the 1950s with its simple comedy and romanticizing of the cowboy lifestyle. The film follows Gibson’s character as he tries to get the money needed to enter a high stakes poker game, and he does so by cheating, bluffing and scamming various characters along the way. Maverick was an international success, and brought a lot of attention back to poker.
California Split (1974)
This comedy-drama stars George Segal and Elliot Gould in a raunchy epic about a part-time card player who teams up with a professional and starts to envy and imitate his lifestyle. Bored of his regular 9-5 job, George Segal’s character Bill Denny starts to glamorize the lifestyle he sees his friend living and goes all in. After a wild run at a casino, Bill becomes disenfranchised by the experience and decides to give it up and go home. The film is considered by some to be the greatest film about poker and casino players there is, and the performances of the two main characters have so much heartfelt truth to them. It’s a film that all real poker players can identify with on some level.
Casino Royale (2006)
While the source material for the film may be old, Casino Royale, and indeed the entire James Bond series, are timeless classics. This film is beloved by James Bond fans and poker fans alike. Starring Daniel Craig as Bond, the secret agent travels to a Montenegro casino to compete in a high stakes poker game run by a private banker who is using the money to fund terrorist organizations. While the plot may not be the most relatable for the average poker fan, the film is certainly a classic and has been remade several times over the years, with this latest incarnation being one of the most thrilling yet. For fans of both poker and James Bond films, this one cannot be missed.
No list of great poker films would be complete without this stunning and classic tale of the quest for poker greatness starring 90s darling, Matt Damon. While some may argue that there are better choices, many fans of the film believe this to be the greatest poker movie of all time, and for good reason. The performances are incredible and endearing with stars like John Malkovich, Gretchen Mol, and John Turturro padding out the cast and providing intense drama for the film. Damon’s character Mike McDermott is on a quest to be the best, even when that path gets him tied up with dangerous characters along the way. In the end, we have a poker face off for the history books as Damon goes head to head with Malkovich in one of the most iconic and memorable scenes in film history. Overall, for all poker fans and up and coming players, Rounders is required viewing.