With the 2012 World Series of Poker currently running, hardcore poker fans are glued to their TVs for two hours a week watching pros and amateurs trying win it big in the world’s biggest poker tournament. So, what’s a poker fan to do with the rest of the 166 hours in the week? Fear not, Hollywood has a long loving relationship with the game of poker. Here are five great poker-themed films that will entertain any poker playing fan.
“Rounders” is widely considered to be one of the reasons for the big poker boom of the early 2000s. Not only did Chris Moneymaker cite the film as his inspiration for winning the World Series, countless other amateurs who try their luck in the biggest poker tournament around say “Rounders” started them on their journey.
The film follows Mike, a law student played by Matt Damon, who has promised his girlfriend he’s done with poker. All of that changes when his old buddy Worm, played by Edward Norton, shows up. Suddenly, Mike finds himself owing a Russian mobster, played by John Malkovich, a whole lot of money in a very short amount of time.
Of all the poker movies, “Rounders” is probably the truest to the game itself. You won’t see any royal flushes or people unable to match the pot so they have to forfeit.
If “Rounders” is a true-to-life poker movie, “Maverick” is full-fledged escapism. Yes, there are royal flushes, and other insanely improbable things that happen, but this movie never tries to be serious so as audience members we’ll gladly overlook such shortcomings. Based on the 1950’s TV show, “Maverick” follows Bret Maverick, played by Mel Gibson, as he tries to scrounge up some cash so he can enter a winner-take-all poker tournament. It has everything a western-themed poker film needs: guns, booze, women, and a Mississippi riverboat.
Breaking Vegas: Prince of Poker
While technically not a “film” this History Channel documentary recounts the true tale of Jim McManus, a broke writer with four kids who made a play at the 2000 World Series of Poker. The documentary takes some liberties, and also has horrible reenactment scenes, but poker players will appreciate the McManus rags-to-riches story that so many players dream about.
The film follows McManus as he accepts a freelance writing gig covering the World Series of Poker. When McManus gets his advance money he decides to use it to enter a satellite for a spot in the World Series. While probably not the best financial decision in the world (I mean the guy has four kids to feed), McManus ends up getting his seat and going pretty deep in the Series.
“Lucky You” is a romantic comedy that centers on Huck Cheever (Eric Bana). Huck lives life in the shadow of his father LC Cheever (Robert Duvall), a professional poker player well-known in the circles, and also gets involved with a local girl played by Drew Barrymore. While certainly not the best poker movie, it’s really a romance played against the backdrop of the poker world, fans will enjoy the cameos by some of the best pro poker players out there.
“Shade” takes us deep into the world of hustlers, cheaters, and scoundrels as we follow a crew trying to take down the best card mechanic out there-The Dean. (Sylvester Stallone). Much like “Rounders,” the card hands are all within reason, and the cheating methods are believable. As an amateur magician myself, I can attest that the card cheating used in the film is legit. In fact, there was only one scene in the film that used a special effect involving the cards (and that was only done because the actor’s hands couldn’t perform the slight, not because it’s an impossible move). Like any good con game movie, the audience gets it in the end, too.