You can argue back and forth all day in a review of casino scenes in movies. What was the most iconic? The most realistic? The highest stakes? You want to put yourself in these places, kind of even when you’re just at home playing online casino games.
While the specific scenes are up for debate on which are the best, there are definitely certain factors that make these clips unforgettable – and here they are:
Most movies will use stock external footage of the Strip, especially the Fountain of Bellagio but iconic casino movie scenes need to match that electricity with their interior shots.
It can be challenging for production studios to shoot actually on the casino floor for a variety of reasons – including that they don’t want to be shut down to the public and lose money – but movie magic can make it feel like we’re at the Blackjack table with these famous actors.
Keeping guests satisfied is the #1 priority for casinos because the guests have the money. Even though it might be cool to a lot of people to see a movie being filmed, it could also just as easily be seen as a nuisance to others. There’s nothing more annoying than chasing losses on a slot machine and being told you have to move as the director sets up the next shot for his film.
Of course, a few movies have been shot at actual casinos, which adds to the reality for the viewer. Fremont Casino signs can be seen in the background when you “always double down on 11” in Swingers, and that’s the actual Caesar’s Palace escalator that Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman coast down in Rain Man.
The Swingers scene where Jon Favreau doubles down on 11 and gets a seven while the dealer flops into a 21 is very realistic because anybody who has ever gone to a casino has lost. You have to suspend disbelief in any movie, but especially casino films.
Characters going on ‘heaters’ and winning thousands of dollars on a hot streak are crucial to the plot point, although it’s much more realistic that Hoffman can use his autism to count cards – even in a six-deck stack – compared to Alan from the Hangover. Alan winning $80,000 in a scene that was an homage to Rain Man was still very entertaining.
Nick Papagiorgio, aka Rusty Griswold, winning four cars on single-pull slot jackpots is also unrealistic but funny to the plot of Vegas Vacation. Comedies can get away with more in terms of leniency when it comes to realism, in the opposite direction as well when Clark Griswold goes absolutely cold playing “Pick a Number,” “War,” and “Rock, Paper, Scissors” at Cousin Eddie’s favorite casino.
The Rain Man card counting scene was one of the best, but at the same time, what do we ultimately care if Tom Cruise’s character is thousands in debt to creditors – welcome to America.
What really makes for a great casino scene is when the stakes are the highest. In the case of The Hangover, even though it’s a fun bit with Alan counting cards, they still absolutely need the money to get their friend Doug and get him back to his wedding.
High-stakes situations where we know the character doesn’t have the money if he or she loses are the greatest. For example, Matt Damon’s Mike McDermott may have lost his life had he not beaten Teddy KGB (John Malkovich) at the end of Rounders, so there are no higher stakes than that.
One-roll scenes are perfect for building up maximum excitement during a casino scene. A character has a ton of money on a craps number or a red/black at the roulette wheel, and the audience knows that the fate will be determined in one single roll, not an hour-long session. There’s nothing like it.