Ever walked out of a feel-good film at the cinema and fancied replicating some of the best scenes? For some reason, poker movies have this effect on plenty of viewers, with the escapism and thrills portrayed on the screen creating a genre that inspires and excites.
The game of poker is pretty exciting to begin with, without the help of Hollywood glitz and glamour. Requiring plenty of skill and more often than not a generous helping of luck, poker has an advantage over other casinos games in that players are in charge of their own destiny. Instead of relying on the draw of the deck to determine winnings, players can fold or raise at their leisure, bringing a whole new element.
There’s also the fact that players are up against competition too, with the other people around the table out to take as much money off you as they can. This competitiveness adds yet another layer of excitement, especially when skilled players go head to head. Having a good poker face or being able to bully someone into folding (or raising) is yet another facet of poker which makes things exciting, and of course lends itself greatly to the movie industry.
Just look at Rounders. The modestly-performing 1998 movie has gone on to become a cult favourite amongst poker players, being released at a time when televised poker and online poker were just taking off. Matt Damon plays an intelligent law student who is looking to pay off a debt, getting embroiled in the world of underground poker as he uses his brainpower to try and win some cash. In a classic David vs. Goliath battle, Damon ends off facing against the terrifying Teddy KGB, a Russian Mobster played by John Malkovich. With plenty of heart-in-mouth moments, the movie is a great example of what can happen if you go up against a player better than you, and with a bit of skill and a touch of luck take away the pot. A happy ending which definitely happens in millions of online poker games every day (trust us, we’ve been on the receiving end of these happy-go-lucky chancers…)
The danger of losing everything may absolutely terrify some players, and of course they’ll limit what they can actually lose, but where’s the fun in that? Molly’s Game, a movie based on the real life story of Molly Bloom, a former Olympic skier who worked her way to the top of the underground poker scene in the US. The movie focuses on Bloom’s early life all the way to the court cases brought against the illegal gambling activities she was involved in, portraying the hard and fast lifestyle of poker. Although elements of the story have definitely had the Hollywood treatment, there are plenty of real life stories, including the appearance of Player X, an amalgamation of Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire and other famous Hollywood celebs who would frequent Bloom’s games. The real excitement with this one is the associated lifestyle that gambling can bring. All of the players certainly aren’t short of cash, and even Bloom herself rakes it in from charging fees and offering credit. If sports cars, expensive clothes and a 24-hour party lifestyle aren’t motivation to give poker a go, then we don’t know what else is.
The Cincinnati Kid
For some people, the technical aspects of the game are enough to make them want to play as soon as they’ve watched a good poker movie. The Cincinnati Kid, which is now defined as a classic, is a prime example of just how exciting a particular play of the hands can be. The final hand of the movie is frequently cited as the best moment in poker history, and is one for the proper poker appreciators out there who don’t need violence, criminals or character development to sell a good game of poker to them.
For those that want a bit of violence, death threats, and a marathon game of poker where life and death is on the table, then Casino Royale is the movie that can offer it. The movie that rebooted the James Bond franchise and dragged it back from the brink after those awful Pearce Brosnan flicks, Casino Royale sees James go up against Le Chiffre, a master poker player who bets on the stock market, before turning investments of millions into billions thanks to his skills at the green baize. James, as the best poker player in MI6, is naturally dispatched to a major tournament where he goes head to head with Le Chiffre. The poker play is pretty good, but it’s the murder attempts, car chases, and even poisonings that take place during comfort breaks that make the game all the more exciting.
The glamorous locations and vast sums of money are also a great motivator for Bond fans to give poker a whirl for themselves. Another factor that made the film cool was what the players wore at the poker table. We’re pretty sure James wouldn’t have performed so well if he wasn’t oozing confidence in his Tuxedo and pristine white shirt, and the way we look can have a huge effect in both performance and how others react to our actions around the table.
In reality, if you’re going to a casino or logging on to get the same on-screen thrills, you’ll probably be disappointed to find that nobody is going to try and shoot you or threaten your life if you beat them like in Casino Royale and Rounders. However, you can definitely enjoy the excitement of winning and getting close to the multi-millionaire lifestyles enjoyed by some of the stars in these films.