Ranking The Five Greatest Poker Movies

September 15, 2017
Ranking The Five Greatest Poker Movies


Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game, is performing well with critics since premiering at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month. Poker movies are in a recent slump and audiences will soon decide for themselves if Molly’s Game is a classic long to stick around. In the spirit of the film’s upcoming November release, I’m counting down my five greatest poker films of all-time.

5. Bet Raise Fold

The uprising of internet poker is captured eloquently here by those who lived through it. The downfall of the poker economy as we knew it through the late-2000s and early-2010s will never be back in the same way again and storytellers know that. Their subjects, for better or worse, know it all too well.

Danielle Anderson waiting tables in a suburban Minnesota sports bar is one of the saddest parts of any film I’ve ever watched. Through no fault of her own, the working mother had her job taken away from her by a force out of her control.

Tony Dunst has since moved from hosting World Poker Tour’s Raw Deal to being the new voice in the WPT booth after winning ungodly sums online.

Both their lives forever changed on Black Friday and there is no way to really know what their careers might have ended up like if not for that fateful day.

Somewhere, a crumpled $100 bill blows through the Full Tilt lobby like a tumbleweed.

4. Maverick

For all of his troubles away from the screen, Mel Gibson gets us to buy into whatever product he puts on in front of it. From a formulaic perspective, Maverick is perfect. The Western genre experienced a resurgence in the mid-90s, spearheaded by the massive success of Dances With Wolves a few years before.

Gibson’s Maverick is a closely related cousin to Han Solo and Jodie Foster’s Annabelle fell directly from the same tree as Princess Leia. It’s fine. Richard Donner fits the pieces together into a coherent mold and the film works as a result.

There isn’t a need to be creative when the blueprint has already been laid out for how to make a success.

If Maverick ever came on TNT, it’s doubtful our Sundays would stop to catch any scene. Watching Gibson’s Maverick try to get his money back though? That would be fun.

3. Casino Royale

It may not be a “poker movie” but Daniel Craig as the GTO-driven James Bond against the math whiz Le Chiffre is a cat-and-mouse match worthy of the screen time devoted to their battle on the felt.

Let’s get back to Bond for a second. How good does this guy run? The card distribution working in his favor is one thing but the superuser knowledge to deduce his opponent’s hand every time is unworldly.

And what does he get out of it? A car. The girl (almost). Another villain sent to the showers.

Daniel Craig makes 007 a believable card sharp because as an audience, we are already predisposed to believing there is nothing he can’t do.

In an era of made for TV poker hands, Casino Royale took that recipe and made a full-length movie out of it. It tasted delicious.

2. Mississippi Grind

Ben Mendelsohn has brought a new light to the shady characters he portrays in most of his roles.

The auto mechanic who robs banks. The junkie who waxes poetically about dog excrement. The ne’er do well brother who rips apart his family at the seams.

In what is a relatively light-hearted role for Mendelsohn, he fully embodies the degeneracy of Gerry, a (shocking) down on his luck gambler who thinks he’s met the match of his life in Curtis (Ryan Reynolds).

Mississippi Grind never treats Gerry with the respect he thinks he deserves and the film is better off served for it. Reynolds plays Curtis up to be Gerry’s guardian angel when he’s actually just a step above him on life’s totem pole.

The pair is convinced they can’t lose, though, and that drive powers their road trip through the center of America as they feed off each other to prevent themselves from starving.

1. Rounders

There’s a reason why after 20 years, Rounders remains the gold standard for all poker films. In the time since Rounders was released, the poker world has undergone multitudes of changes with different eras of players still saying the same thing: “let’s play some fucking cards.”

The characters are irreplaceable and literally, every scene is iconic in its own way. Think about all the lines you rhetorically think about every time you play or hear a rec imitate.

For all the talk about a potential sequel, it would defeat the purpose of the original. Knesh is still on his leather ass and Worm remains on the run. It’s perfect that way.

You can’t recreate a moment and that’s what Rounders is. A moment that persists now and will never die out from poker culture.

Rounders is a statue that stands in the park that reminds us why we play.

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