Many films involve a game of poker in one context or another, but the number of films that deserve to be called poker films is not so many. There are a few really good ones, though. Below are the top three poker films. All were done before the first poker sites opened their business on the internet. But one of them is modern, while the other two show a more traditional picture of poker.
Cincinnati Kid (1965)
A young poker gun called Cincinnati Kid (played by Steve McQueen) comes down to New Orleans to take on the undefeated champion and card-sharp Lancey Howard. The battle of the giants is played out as a game of five-card stud with very high stakes. On doubtful grounds, the Kid trusts that he can defeat “The Man” straight up in an honest game without cheating. It’s just that other people at the table are cheating, and the Kid is losing to the Man.
The Kid finds out about the cheating and manages to have the 96ace casino dealer replaced. With a clean deal, the game turns and the Kid starts winning back his money. But on the final hand, he loses a huge pot with a full house against Man’s royal flush. The film contains a lot of pretty darn realistic poker footage. Of course, it’s the old-school kind of poker played with cash on the table and players bringing more money to the table in the middle of a hand.
In the cult film of the poker boom in the early twentieth century, the five-card stud has been replaced by no-limit Holdem, the Cadillac of Poker.
Again we meet a young and brilliant card player (Mike McDermott, played by Matt Damon). At the beginning of the film, he loses everything to a man with “connections to the top of the Russian mob” (played by John Malkovich). After losing his tuition money, Mike McDermott is forced to sustain his laws studies by delivering groceries in the graveyard shift. Then his best pal, (Worm played by Edward Norton) comes out of prison and a crazy hunt for fast cash begins, the old friends using all the tricks in the poker book as well as some not so honest tricks from the book of card magic. Much against his will, Mike returns to the game he loves, and while his pal makes one final mistake and is forced to leave town and the film, Mike uses all his poker talent to pay back his friend’s debts and save his own life. Then he packs a bag and goes to Vegas for the big bucks, in the realization that the card table is where he’s supposed to be.
The Sting (1973)
As a poker aficionado you’ll be alarmed of learning that in this film too, the story revolves around the prospect of making money in poker by cheating. Maybe straight up, honest poker games are not exciting enough for the film industry. In any case, in this film, we follow two petty gangsters as they try to set up an elaborate scam against a big gangster, Doyle Lonnegan, without him even noticing the scam. After losing a lot of money in a high-stakes poker game where the cheating mobster is being outwitted by a better cheater, he jumps on the opportunity to con his foe, Lonnegan is lured into an even bigger scam set up against him. In the end, he loses an enormous amount of money in a scene where everybody from betting clerks to FBI agents is part of the scam. It’s often been said that watching poker is as fun as watching paint dry. There’s probably some truth to this if you’re not a true poker fanatic, and filmmakers dealing must handle this problem. These three film classics manage to balance realistic poker scenes and exciting stories.