16 Best Poker Movies for Winners
Jeff, TV analyst for WatchTVAbroad hails from Pennsylvania, United States and after growing up disinterested in sport found his sport calling in his late teenage years. Now he loves nothing more than streaming boxing, MMA and other combat sports.
If there is one thing that has not changed in our society for centuries, it’s our love for gambling. Everyone loves a good poker game every now and then, which is why the casino business is so successful.
Playing poker in casinos, at home, or even playing online poker are all extremely popular ways to pass the time, have some fun, win some (or lose some) money, and, generally speaking, enjoy yourself.
Naturally, that also means that poker movies also tend to be quite popular. Over the last century or so, countless poker films were made, and some of them even became extremely popular and well-known.
I recently saw quite a few of them, and I decided to make a list of the 16 best poker movies that I could find. That way, even if you can’t make a trip to Las Vegas, at least you can get a good film and a fun experience out of it.
The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
The first on our list of the best poker movies of all time is The Cincinnati Kid. It is also one of the oldest poker movies, although not the oldest one on this list.
The Cincinnati Kid features Steve McQueen and Edward G. Robinson, and it is essentially Rounders from before Rounders.
It is a movie about a young man who has the goal of proving that he is the best poker player around. Eventually, he reaches Lancey Howard, the best player there is.
The two play a round of the Five Card Stud, a variant of poker that has not been popular for a long time now.
Back in the days of The Cincinnati Kid, poker games were rarely played with table stakes. Not to mention that there were no fixed rules, instead, players would agree to certain terms and just play accordingly.
Even so, The Cincinnati Kid is one of the greatest poker movies out there, and I definitely recommend watching it.
The film stars Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Ann-Margaret, Karl Malden, Tuesday Weld, and others.
Molly’s Game (2017)
When it comes to poker movies, there are two types out there, those that focus on being as impressive as possible, and those that focus on being as realistic as possible.
When it comes to Molly’s Game, this poker movie has chosen to focus on the latter.
The film is based on the true story of Molly Bloom, popularly known as the Poker Queen, who used to run private high-stakes games with some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities, businessmen, and even a professional poker player or two.
The film shows Hollywood’s take on her life, from a young age when she was an Olympic-class skier to the eventual drop into illegal, underground poker.
If you are a true poker fan and you like realistic gambling movies, Molly’s Game is a must-watch.
The film stars Jessica Chastain, Michael Cera, Idris Elba, Samantha Isler, Kevin Costner, Jeremy Strong, and others.
Casino Royale (2006)
Of all the poker movies on and off this list, Casino Royale is undoubtedly the most famous one.
This is not surprising, given that this is a film belonging to the legendary James Bond series, with the same name as the book on which it was based.
While the popular card game is secondary in the film, and the James Bond adventure is the main plot, poker is still an extremely important part of the story.
In the film, 007 has to play poker in order to stop terrorists from winning the money to finance their operations. The easiest way to do so is to enter the winner takes all poker tournament.
The poker tournament is only one of the challenges in this film, although, as you can imagine, Bond is a professional everything, including poker player, so he has little trouble coming out on top.
The Guardian said that this version of Bond is “ridiculously enjoyable, because the smirking and the quips and the gadgets have been cut back – and the emotion and wholesome sado-masochism have been pumped up.”
The movie stars Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Caterina Murino, Michael G. Wilson, Judi Dench, and others.
Moving on to our fourth entry, we have Maverick, which differs from other movies on this list by being a lighthearted comedy. Even so, it still revolves around poker, making it worthy of the list of the best poker movies.
The film follows Bret Maverick, who finds himself in need of money. $3,000, to be exact, which he needs to enter the upcoming poker tournament.
Since gambling is all he knows, he turns to high-stakes poker games to win some cash, and along the way, he teams up with Annabelle Bransford.
Over the next few days, his quest to win enough money to enter the tournament leads to a number of situations, some funny, some dangerous. Still, the movie remains light and relaxed for the entirety of its plot.
The film has a good balance of poker and other interesting plot points, which is why it usually makes it to every list about the best poker movies.
The film stars Mel Gibson, James Garner, Jodie Foster, James Coburn, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Lewis, and others.
California Split (1974)
If you want proof that a single poker game can change your entire life, then California Split might be just the film for you to watch.
California Split takes place in the 1970s, and it starts when the two leads, Bill Denny (George Segal) and Charlie Waters (Elliott Gould) meet in a poker game.
The two quickly click and become best friends. Each has a dream of being a professional poker player, and so they set off to achieve their goals.
Of course, a life of a gambler is anything but easy, and California Split also shows that very well.
It is a life that can quickly become quite a nightmare, and rather suddenly, too.
Simply put, most poker movies do not bother to show the downsides of the life of a gambler, but California Split does, and it wants you to rethink your choices if you find yourself on that path.
The film stars George Segal, Eliott Gould, Joseph Walsh, Gwen Welles, Ann Prentiss, Jeff Goldblum, and others,
High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story (2003)
Another movie based on an extraordinary true story is High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story.
This is a film about Stu “The Kid” Ungar, who was a legend of the poker world until his death at the age of 45. At that point, he won the WSOP main event five times.
The movie tells the story about his life, both his rise and fall, which often comes with such a lifestyle. The film is full of professional poker scenes, as he goes from one high stakes poker game to the next.
However, this is not the only reason to watch the movie. It is also worth viewing to learn about the career, as well as the demons of one of the best poker players in history.
The film stars Michael Imperioli, A.W. Vidmer, Steve Schirripa, Renee Faia, Michael Nouri, and others.
The Rounders (1998)
The Rounders has an interesting reputation that of the best poker movie ever, despite not being a box office hit.
The film certainly has the cast that would suggest so, starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Malkovich, and similar massive names from the movie industry.
It was also the first big poker movie that seriously referenced Texas Hold’em, which blew up during the poker boom era that followed.
The story of this poker movie is fairly simple. It follows a young man, Mike McDermott, who dreams of becoming a pro player, and trying his luck in Las Vegas.
While Mike McDermott has talent, he lacks the skills of bankroll management. After playing an underground poker game, he loses his entire role, which leads him to a decision to quit card games for good.
The plan fails after his friend, who just got out of jail, finds himself in dire need of some cash.
The film stars Matt Damon, Edward Norton, John Malkovich, Gretchen Mol, John Turturro, Famke Janssen, and others.
Smart Money (1931)
Halfway through our list of the best poker films, we have Smart Money, which is actually the oldest film on the list, coming out in 1931.
It is a film that showed that not even the Great Depression managed to snuff out the American Dream, at least when it comes to poker players.
The film revolves around Nick the Barber, who worked his way up to being the best at any poker table in his hometown. After this achievement, he decides to try out the big city, only to get cleaned by shady professionals.
Refusing to break, he goes through a poker-playing sequence that allows him to build up a serious bankroll.
Instead of wasting it again, however, he opened a number of underground casinos, where commoners and the elites were equally welcome, with a fair chance to win.
However, problems start when the campaigning district attorney decides to move against the young gambling kingpin.
The film stars Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Evalyn Knapp, Noel Francis, Boris Karloff, and others.
Five Card Stud (1968)
Moving on, we have another great poker movie, Five Card Stud. It is a film about a card shark who gets caught cheating, only to be severely punished by the drunkards he was playing against.
The mob lynched him, and went their own separate way. However, soon after that, all of the men who were responsible start being murdered, each of them dead by hanging.
The film is quite mysterious for the most part, as no one seems to know who is doing the killing. One of the participants who is trying to cover up what the group did by eliminating witnesses, or maybe a new, mysterious arrival, Rev Jonathan Rudd?
I will not spoil what happens, but I definitely recommend watching this film. It is not just poker, but it is still a gambling movie, so do give it a go.
Roger Ebert commented that “Five Card Stud” has the elements of an action Western: lots of gun battles, fist fights, stranglings, barroom brawls, fires, and lady barbers with hearts of gold.”
The film stars Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Inger Stevens, Roddy McDowall, Katherine Justice, and others.
All In: The Poker Movie (2009)
Another film that is not a typical poker film like the rest on this list is All In: The Poker Movie.
This one is actually a documentary created by Douglas Tirola. The movie goes through the history of poker, and all the factors that made this card playing game as popular as it is.
The film is quite interesting, and it tells the story of how poker rose in America as one of its oldest games, only to see a sharp decline.
However, instead of disappearing like many other games, it suddenly saw a renaissance that brought it back from the brink. These days, you can hardly find a person who is not familiar with the game, at least to an extent.
It is definitely a fun watch for poker fans, which is why I added it to the list.
The film stars Matt Damon, Chris Moneymaker, Phil Hellmuth, Howard Lederer, Annie Duke, Daniel Negreanu, and others.
Luna’s Game (2001)
Luna’s Game aka Juego de Luna is a story about a girl who follows in her father’s footsteps, wishing to become a professional poker player. However, she also follows the negative part of his path, which led him to death by a loan shark.
Luna lost everything to underground poker, but she cannot stop playing the game. It is not something that she can control, as poker is in her blood, and she feels incomplete without it.
It is another interesting film about the impact that gambling has on the mental state of a person, and one of the best movies for those who wish to start playing, or for any reformed gambler who might be considering getting back to the poker table.
The film stars Ana Torrent, Ernesto Alterio, Jose Pedro Carrion, Manuel Moron, Antonio Dechent, and others
Lucky You (2007)
Poker-playing films sometimes end up met with mixed feelings from the viewers, and especially from the fans and players. This was the story with Lucky You.
While the film was a box office disaster, generally speaking, this is still a fairly amusing film that shows the game being played numerous times as the movie progresses. This is what most poker fans want from a poker film.
However, it also tells the story of Huck Cheever and his father, LC Cheever.
Huck’s dream is to succeed in the world of poker, but he cannot get out of his father’s shadow, as he has won WSOP two times in the past.
Huck also never forgave his father for leaving his mother, and so the two have a rather uneasy relationship.
However, when the two arrive at Las Vegas to compete in the same tournament during the World Series of Poker, poker takes on the role of a medium that could help an estranged father and son connect, while it also offers an opportunity for Huck to finally make it in the gambling world.
The film stars Eric Bana, Drew Barrymore, Debra Messing, and others.
The Grand (2007)
The Grand is an interesting film from the era of poker boom for several reasons.
It is a gambling movie whose script was left open-ended, meaning that the actors were given some basic directions about their characters, and the rest was left to them and their improv skills.
One thing that the script is insistent of, however, is that they play poker, and so they did.
The actors played real poker on the set, and the game went as it did in reality. The script did not say which of the players is going to win, so it is entirely based on the luck and skill of the actors.
The lead is Jack Faro, a recovering drug addict, a serial husband, and a mismanaging casino owner. He and the rest of them gather up to play in a 10,000,000 poker tournament at the Golden Nugget.
I understand that this film might not be for everyone, and the mixed criticism definitely suggests as much, but I would still recommend giving it a chance.
The film stars Woody Harrelson, Jason Alexander, Doyle Brunson, David Cross, Gabe Kaplan, Werner Herzog, Cheryl Hines, and others.
Mississippi Grind (2015)
Mississippi Grind is an interesting film about a pair of gamblers on their way to New Orleans, with the intention of joining a poker game with potentially major payoffs.
Some consider Mississippi Grind to be one of Ryan Reynolds’ best performances.
The film tackles a lot, including depression, addiction, regret, and more. It also has a number of cinematic references to 1970s Hollywood.
In Mississippi Grind, Reynolds’ character, a gambling addict, believes that his new friend is a good-luck charm, his winning ticket to wealth and he is determined to use it to its full extent at a gambling table.
Whether the plan will work or not is something that you need to see for yourself.
The film stars Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn, Sienna Miller, Lio Tipton, Robin Weigert, Alfre Woodard, and others.
Finder’s Fee (2001)
Nearing the end of the list, we have Finder’s Fee, a film where a group of friends who regularly organize a poker night for themselves decides to buy lottery tickets, with their sit-and-go being in charge of keeping them all.
However, one of them ends up finding the winning ticket in a lost wallet, just at the time when the rightful owner of the wallet returned, immediately before the start of the game.
The film deserves its place on the list of the best poker movies of all time because it shows how gambling and greed tend to poison good people’s souls, and turn them into monsters.
This theme was strongly emphasized throughout the movie, as kind-hearted people keep sinking deeper and deeper as greed takes hold of them.
The film stars Ryan Reynolds, James Earl Jones, Matthew Lillard, Dash Mihok, Robert Foster, and others.
The last on the list is Shade, a film where a group of hustlers set up a high stakes poker game, only to have mob enforcers go after them trying to retrieve their money, after things went wrong.
It is a good film in pretty much all of its aspects, even including pretty good poker scenes.
It was all done surprisingly well, and it also includes several plot twists, which are not that predictable.
At the end of the day, it is an intense poker movie that will keep you at the edge of your seat, especially if you are a fan of poker, thanks to highly realistic scenes involving the popular game.
The film stars Sylvester Stallone, Jamie Foxx, Stuart Townsend, Gabriel Byrne, Melanie Griffith, Thandiwe Newton, and others.
Do you have a favourite Poker movie? Did it make my list? Let me know in the comments section below as I would be interested to find out.