Poker was often portrayed in the movies as a game involving hustlers and criminals. When gambling was prohibited in the United States during the great depression, many mobsters and gangland bosses made their money from illegal gambling, giving filmmakers a seedy but exciting backdrop to many early poker centric based movies.
Nowadays, poker is played by millions around the world, not just among friends at home or in casinos. More and more players are getting involved in online poker, drawn largely by technology such as growing numbers of poker sites and cool mobile apps. While currently the majority of enthusiasts play poker online, it has very different beginnings.
If ever you want to learn about the history and evolution of the game, a good place to start is to enjoy popular cultures depiction of poker, with the help of Hollywood greats such as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Robert Redford and James Caan!
Here is a shortlist of the best landmark poker movies:
The Cincinnati Kid – 1965
A young poker player, the ‘Kid’ gets carried away with wanting to prove himself as the greatest player in the town. He challenges the current holder of this reputation, a brilliant and experienced poker player, known as the ‘Man’ to a high stake poker game. The Man, ruthless and regal accepts the challenge, leading to a movie full of suspense starring a cast of great names such as Edward Robinson and the legend that is Steve McQueen. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059037/)
A Big Hand for the Little Lady – 1966
Released in the UK with the title ‘Big Deal at Dodge city’ this comedy western is one of the few famous poker movies to star a female as the main character. Mary finds herself embroiled in a huge stake poker game when her husband, who has just gambled everything they own at the poker table, has a heart attack and dies. Determined to not lose all she has in the world and with her child to care for, Mary uses her beauty and cunning to outdo her skeptical opponents.
Joanna Woodward plays Mary with Peter Fonda as her unfortunately short-lived husband. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060165/)
The Sting – 1973
Set during the depression era, Johnny Hooker’s best friend and mentor is killed by gambling racketeer Doyle Lonnegan. Determined to avenge his friend’s murder, this Chicago con man enlists the help of the greatest con artist in town and a motley crew of Lonnegan’s enemies. With the police moving in fast on one side and Lonnegan on the other, this classic comedy drama earns its place as one of the best poker movies ever made. With Robert Redford, Robert Shaw and Paul Newman in the cast, this film was made to be a success. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070735/)
California Split – 1974
Magazine worker Bill Denny befriends wisecracking gambling addict Charlie Waters and gets sucked in to his friends high risk lifestyle, not that he minds! Together they travel to Reno to play a high stake poker game, which leads to a very unpredictable conclusion. George Segal and Elliot Gould star in this well executed look at the psychology of compulsive gamblers. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071269/)
House of Games – 1987
This engaging feature by David Mamet, features an affluent female psychiatrist tries to help out a patient with his gambling debts but becomes embroiled in a plot to swindle her out of her cash. Used by the man her patient is in debt to, she finally and brutally takes her revenge. A psychological thriller, full of suspense and mystery. Main actors in this one are Lindsay Crouse, Joe Mantegna. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093223/)
Honeymoon in Vegas – 1992
This romantic comedy set in Vegas, tells the story of Jack Singer who after losing a game of poker agrees to allow his wife to be to spend a weekend with the man he owes money to, Tommy Korman. However nothing goes according to plan as his fiancé is rather taken with Tommy and Jack is eaten up by jealousy as he follows the couple to Hawaii and sets out to win back his woman’s love. Nicholas Cage and James Caan start in this Andrew Bergman film. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104438/)
Rounders – 1998
Exploring the clubs of New York which devote themselves to high stake poker games, the film is about two young men who have to find fifteen thousand dollars in five days, to pay off a gambling debt. During the five days they move from club to club to try and win the money before they land themselves in deep trouble. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0128442/)
Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – 1998
Incredibly popular film by Guy Ritchie, about a group of friends who due to a huge gamble at the poker table, try to raise the money to repay their debt with some hare-brained schemes that leads them to involvement with heavies from the porn industry and some rich kid drug dealers. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120735/)