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Go 'All-In' with our top 10 poker movies of all time

Posted Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 1:00 PM Central
Last updated Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 6:28 PM Central

by John Couture

While Sunday’s sports landscape was certainly overshadowed by the drama at the Master’s golf tournament, I couldn’t help but be transfixed by the competition on a completely different green surface. NBC kicked off its coverage of the 2009 National Heads-Up Poker Championship and for two hours, I couldn’t get enough of the all-ins and courageous bluffs.

I’m sure the interest in said event stems from my own burgeoning interest in the most American of card games, poker. Like many of you reading this article, my interest was first piqued by the 1998 film Rounders and blew up when amateur accountant Chris Moneymaker took the poker world by storm when he won the 2003 World Series of Poker.

Now, a decade after Rounders came out, we are in the midst of a poker boom not only at casinos worldwide, but also megaplexes as the sheer number of poker related movies have gone through the roof. So, a couple weeks back, my poker buddies and I talked about our favorite poker movies at our regular game. From that discussion, I fashioned the following list of what we consider the ten best “poker” movies.

As you can imagine, the requirements for a “poker movie” were loose and fast, much like the game we all love so fast, but I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find fault with our list. But, if we missed one of your faves, please let us know.

And now allow me to go all-in with my list of the top 10 best poker movies.

10

Lucky You (2007)

In compiling this list, you’d be surprised at how many really bad poker movies there are out there. The top five are a notch above the rest. After that, we sort of came up with movies that we all felt needed to be on the list, but coming up with a definitive top 10 was impossible. This was a movie that many of us felt deserved to be on any top 10 list, but we couldn’t really justify it being any higher than 10. Sure, this film has its fair share of critics, but I’m not one. The poker is fast and furious with the ups and downs that many pros actually go through.

9

Casino Royale (2006)

This will go probably go down as the Bond movie that made the suave secret agent relevant for the new generation and a lot of Bond’s new street cred can be traced to his deft card playing antics. The poker match takes up a large percentage of its running time and for that reason alone, it deserves inclusion on the list. Some argue that the poker scenes actually take away from the film as a whole, but I would go the other way. The poker scenes help to add layers to the plot as well as provide key components between the main protagonist and antagonist in the movie.

8

The Grand (2008)

Zak Penn is one of those writers that is quietly taking Hollywood by storm. This movie may not go down in history as his finest endeavor, but there are moments of sheer brilliance. Filmed loosely with an almost mockumentary feel and an apparent desire for impromptu performances, they even went to the Final Table of the tournament with no real ending in mind. He basically asked his actors to play the Final Table as their characters would and they would see how things panned out. The end result was a lot of laughs and some of the best table action this side of Vegas.

7

Croupier (2000)

It’s funny, not a single one of us could remember if there was any actual poker being dealt in Croupier or not, but it’s safe to assume that there was. What we do remember is one of the best little indie movies ever set intside a casino. Looking back at is the cast is simply amazing and Clive Owen definitely gives his breakout performance. The crime caper element seemingly fits right into the poker theme and only adds to the mystique as we make our way to the top five.

6

Finder’s Fee (2003)

It’s almost sacrilege to include a movie written and directed by Survivor host Jeff Probst, but the reality is that he delivered a well-crafted thriller that keeps you guessing until the end. Unfortunately, too many people were immediately turned off by Probst’s involvement and dismissed it out of hand. That’s their loss as this movie is definitely one of the best ever crafted around poker and might even have landed higher had there been more people familiar with it. If you haven’t seen it and you’re looking for a good poker movie, I can’t recommend this movie highly enough.

5

Five Card Stud (1968)

This is another movie that is underappreciated and sadly hasn’t been seen by enough people. But, it kicks off our top five and starts what I’d like to refer to as our homage to the classics because let’s face it, poker was an institution in the Old West and western movies. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of older movies that have poker in it in some shape or form, but this is a list of the best. Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum lead the cast and the story about the vengeance of the fallout of a poker game makes for a tight suspenseful thriller by late 1960s’ standards. All in all, this is one flick that has to be seen.

4

A Big Hand For The Little Lady (1966)

This film continues our look at the classics and it’s interesting to note that three of our top five movies were made before I was even born. Some might rightfully argue that this is the best poker film and I’d be hard-pressed to say any differently. We debated our top five over and over and ultimately, this one came to rest at number four. With top notch performances from Joanne Woodward and Henry Fonda, this may easily be the best acted poker movie of all time. The compelling underdog storyline certainly helps and the focus on poker is something that can’t be beat.

3

Maverick (1994)

No other movie in our top five had more controversy than this one. Personally, I could see it in the top 10, but not this high. I think it’s just my natural disdain for Mel Gibson. The movie is fine, but personally I think it trades in on the schmaltz of the original TV series for too many laughs. The end result for me is less an homage to the TV series than a slap in the face of classic TV. The poker play is really put on display here and I suppose that alone is worthy for inclusion in the discussion, but had I been compiling this list by myself, it would have been much further down the list.

2

Rounders (1998)

The movie that set off the current poker boom with an explosion rivaled only by a 10 megaton nuclear bomb. The ripples of Rounders can still be seen in every poker tournament in every corner in the world. It literally reintroduced the world with the subversive culture that is poker. We do have a love affair with illicit activities and I can decidedly say that we wouldn’t have a regular game or even this list without this movie. Beautifully crafted and well-acted, it made stars out of its cast including back-to-back World Series champ Johnny Chan. So, why given all of this is it not our top movie? Well, that’s because in the realm of poker movies, much like poker itself, there is an undeniable champion and the rest simply compete for second place.

1

The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

While their was one lone dissenter who voiced his opinion that Rounders was the top poker movie ever made, this decision was pretty much unanimous. It basically became a discussion of, “Ok, The Cincinnati Kid is number 1, what are the rest of the movies?” Steve MeQueen delivers an amazing performance in one of his iconic roles. The movie just captures the very fabric of everything that poker is and strives to be so perfectly that there may never be another movie made about the game of poker that even comes close to challenging its superiority. Oh, and as for that guy who made the argument about Rounders being the best poker movie ever made, we immediately booted his butt to the street and told him that he was no longer welcome at our game. I think The Cincinnati Kid would be proud of our moxie.

Did I miss your favorite poker movie? Or did we screw up the order? Tell us what you think and let us know which ones we missed.