Best Poker Movies

Steve McQueen in Cincinatti Kid

Poker has played a vital role in some of Hollywood’s finest movies. Over recent years, as the most popular card game has worked its way into the public domain, it has become deemed a cool aspect of cinema with its heart pounding set plays and riveting climaxes. Here are just some of the best films that have seen poker used to create an intense moment or classic scene. 

Maverick (1994) 

The 1994 film starring Mel Gibson ends with an epic poker hand where the Commodore and Maverick’s nemesis enter an all in scenario with Maverick for a prize pot of roughly $500,000. The Commodore hits four of a kind, Maverick’s nemesis gets a straight flush but Maverick hits a royal flush with the final card that is an ace. In gripping slow motion he tosses the last card into the centre of the table to reveal his hand that earns him victory. A gun fight soon ensues to add to the intensity. 

Rounders (1998) 

Some people claim this film ignited the early days of the 21st century poker boom but the film itself is far from a classic. The card game scenes verge on the unrealistic but it is great entertainment nonetheless and a perfect example of how Hollywood can take this game and turn it into a real tension building attribute. 

Cool Hand Luke (1967) 

A Paul Newman film which shows how poker is more than a game of luck. In the card game scene, Newman’s character goes head-to-head in a big hand with a fellow prisoner. They swap calls before Newman bets big. His calm and composed approach gives the impression he has nothing to lose and insinuates he might have a stronger hand. His opponent bottles the final call gifting the pot to Newman who reveals that he has nothing and had bluffed the entire hand. This offers a realistic scenario portraying the game as more than just a game of cards and more a game of psychology. 

Casino Royale (2006) 

The 2006 blockbuster that revitalized the James Bond series saw Daniel Craig play the part of the hero himself. The film was based around a card game plot line where Bond takes on the film’s villain in a high stakes Texas Hold’em game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. The film was released during the poker boom of the 21st century and even though the card game has unbelievable stakes and buy-ins that exceed millions of dollars, the game itself creates a great moment of intensity and anxiety that no other game in the world could recreate. 

The Cincinnati Kid (1965) 

A film that was defined by its final poker scene has, over time, become recognized as the greatest poker film ever. Hollywood legend Steve McQueen plays the main character Eric ‘The Kid’ Stoner and ends up in a climactic cards game with Lancey ‘The Man’ Howard. In a change to the usual Hollywood endings, it is not smooth sailing for the lead character and an unexpected twist reveals the more frustrating side of the game. The film shows how sometimes you can do everything right but the game can still knock you off your stride with one ‘bad beat’. 

The Sting (1973) 

Paul Newman stars as the man who can hustle the cheaters. His character takes on a hustler in a poker game on a train. The film showed how this card game is all about the sub text as well as what is going on during the actual game. It showed the underlying emotion and analysis involved. 

All of these films are Hollywood classics and the movie industry will forever be in love with this card game because it offers the emotion and thrills that no other game in the world can offer. There is so much depth and so many possibilities in this game that no scenario can be deemed too unbelievable because even the most bizarre of climaxes have been witnessed at the poker table. It is the intensity and sheer unpredictability of poker that makes it such a great element to include in a film.

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