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TOP 10 Poker Films of all time – Poker Movies

January 26 Sandra Wong

You asked for TOP 10 Poker Films of all time – Poker Movies and now here it is.

Every film genre has a top 10 list and this also applies to poker movies.  This is my film compilation of what I feel had an impact on poker players world wide.  It’s essentially spanned two decades to compile.

10.) The Grand
This film was almost a mockumentary of sorts infused with improv comedy.  From what I read and know each of the actors were given some insight to their respective characters they’d portray.  From there they’d hit the felts and improvise along the way.  This grand experiment certainly had it’s moments with a full ensemble cast including Woody Harrelson, Ray Romano, Jason Alexander, Jason Alexander, Gabe Kaplan among numerous other poker celebrities.
9.) The Gambler 
No, not the apparent abomination that Mark Wahlberg starred in recently. We’re talking about the 1978 classic with Kenny Rogers whom he made famous with the song with lyrics, “you’ve got to know when to hold ’em. know when to fold ’em.”  You know the song I’m talking about.  Apparently there’s two other sequels, but I’m sure it’s not as memorable as the original. In fact Kenny Rogers and the movie helped shaped my original vision of what a poker player resembled.  When I think of poker I immediately imagine cowboys in saloons with ladies in bustle dresses and corsets drinking shots of Jack Daniels.
8.) High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story 
Michael Imperioli of Goodfellas and The Sopranos fame plays the prodigious prodigy known as an assassin in the poker world for his cut throat playing methods and ultra aggressive style.  I have no doubt he would have been able to compete with the current crops of online superstars.  He was backed by the Genovese Crime family and owned every gin rummy player in New York City.  He then made his way to Sin City and became a legend.  I had first heard of em in Doyle Brunson’s poker bible “Super System.”  He was probably one of the earliest prodigies of the game.
He is one of two people to have won the World Series of Poker Main Event three times (Johnny Moss also has three WSOP titles but his first was obtained by a vote of the players, not by winning a tournament). He is also the only person to win Amarillo Slim‘s Super Bowl of Poker three times, the world’s second most prestigious poker title during its time. He is one of three players to win consecutive titles in the WSOP Main Event, along with Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan.
7.)  Deal 
‘Deal’ is a poker drama starring Burt Reynolds and Bret Harrison revolving a mentor vs apprentice relationship dynamic.  It was fairly entertaining as it included American Pie sweetheart and real life poker celebrity Shannon Elizabeth.  Cameos include Mike Sexton, Vince Van Patten and Courtney Friel who play themselves.  A number of other professional poker players and poker -playing celebrities, including Jennifer Tilly, Phil Laak, Antonio Esfandiari, Greg Raymer, Chris Moneymaker and Isabelle Mercier are in the cast.
6.) Maverick  
Mel Gibson plays the titular character Bret Maverick who’s a wise cracking gambler set in the old mid west.  Also stars Jodie Foster and James Garner.
Mixed with adventure and comedy it was a runaway hit in the mid 90’s when Mel Gibson was at his peak with the Lethal Weapon series and war epic Braveheart.  Further perpetuating the Old America frontier imagery of poker it received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
5.) Lucky You 
This one has garnered mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it as it
depicts a regular rounder who’s constantly grinding to make way for his gambling habits.  He spurned friends and relationships along the way due to his gambling addiction.  It’s more realistic in it’s approach.  Not everybody has the ability to win in the big games consistently.  Ultimately the theme of the story was the relationship between father (standout performance by Robert Duvall) and son played by Eric Bana.   Although a fantastic actress, Drew Barrymore’s role was merely a sideline that lacked onscreen chemistry with Eric Bana’s character.  All that detracted from the main premise of the film which was about playing cards.
4.) Casino Royale 
Although it had a small segment of poker it was pivotal in the film.  The main setting was in a casino in Montenegro where Bond has an inevitable showdown against the high rollers and shadowy figures of terrorist organizations all seeking to fund their own evil machinations.
Of course in the finale we see Bond prevailing, holding a 5s 7s which made a straight flush vs the villain Le Chiffre’s Aces full of sixes.  This film came out in 2006 which coincided with the poker boom.  I think it had to do more with timing as the game of choice they played in the original Casino Royale was baccarat.  Overall it was a fantastic film and one of the best in the new 007 franchise.
3.) Shade 
Quite possibly one of the most under rated films about poker.  I was lucky enough to have a friend who actually started playing poker the same time as I did who recommended this gem of a film.  It had a great ensemble cast featuring Stuart Townsend, Gabriel Byrne, thandie Newton, Jamie Foxx, Roger Guenveur Smith, Melanie Griffith and Sylvester Stallone.
If you havn’t seen this film definitely check it out.
2.) Rounders 
Need we say more.  This film has been quoted in every single poker room on this planet.
One of the best cast that created a real film noir type feel.
Matt Damon, Edward Norton, Gretchen Mol, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Martin Landau, and Famke Jannsen all nailed their roles.
Surprised it’s not at the top of the list. You’ll see why.
1.) The Cincinnati Kid 
One of the original films about poker and gambling.
This is the godfather of poker films.  The way I see it without this film poker may not have boomed or ever spawned other films.  Off the strength of Steve McQueen’s performance as the title character it also created one of the greatest poker quotes by his adversary; “I made the wrong call at the right time.” Usually a precursor to bad beats.
Honourable Mention: If you havn’t heard by now “Molly’s Game” will be made into a feature film.
Hope you enjoyed the reviews.  Stay tuned for my reviews on the top five poker documentaries.
~ JJJ ~

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