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Top-10 gambling scenes from non-gambling movies

16 April 2012

The recent release of All-in: The Poker Movie had the Casino City editorial staff talking about the pantheon of great gambling movies last week. While the top gambling movies have been discussed ad nauseam, there are a bunch of great movies that aren't about gambling that have amazing gambling scenes. Here's my top-10 list of gambling scenes from non-gambling movies.

10. Toy Story 3 roulette
When I took my then three-year-old to watch this movie in the theater, I wasn't expecting to see a gambling scene. But Pixar surprised me with a brilliant scene that parents can get a huge kick out of while their kids watch a fun movie.

All the toys at the preschool are gathered together around a See 'N Say, betting on where the spinner will stop. The octopus wins when it lands on the duck, and in my favorite twist, the Mood Changing Chuck bumps his head to change his face from happy to mad.

9. Casino Royale poker hand
Okay, this movie sort of breaks one of my rules, as the poker tournament plays a fairly central role in the storyline. But it's a James Bond movie, so really the movie is about catching the bad guy, and gambling is just the vehicle by which it happens.

The final hand of the tournament may be one of the silliest gambling scenes I've seen in film. The quality of the hands (nut flush vs. full house vs. better full house vs. straight flush) is pretty ridiculous. And the slow reveal, where each player shows his cards in turn and takes 15 seconds to do so, is something you could have been shot for 40 years ago; it's slow roll after slow roll. But that type of silliness is what makes James Bond movies great. And it's done to perfection in the hand shown below.

8. Austin Powers blackjack
Mike Myers plays off the James Bond genre brilliantly in the Austin Powers series, and nowhere is it done better than in the original film's blackjack scene. Number Two, played by Robert Wagner, ignores the dealer's advice and hits on 17, knowing that he'll get 21 after seeing the next card through his eye patch x-ray vision.

"I like to live dangerously," he says to Powers more than to the dealer.

Powers responds by staying on 5, once again, against the dealer's suggestion, stating, "I also like to live dangerously." The dealer has 20, so Powers loses.

But the best part of this sequence for me is that there is almost no attempt for authenticity. The actor playing the dealer clearly never received any training (watch the clip to see how awkwardly he flips the cards over, and Number Two is asked if he wants to hit before Powers even receives his second card.

7. Ocean's Eleven poker scene
This one comes close to breaking my rule about being a movie about gambling, since the idea of robbing a casino is maybe the biggest gamble you can make. Just ask the Bellagio Bandit.

The poker scene with Brad Pitt and George Clooney at the beginning of the movie is so classic Hollywood, complete with the obligatory "I see your $500 and raise you $500" string bets. And its lines have been repeated at home game after home game. ("All reds!") I'm still waiting to get four nines with an ace so I can use Clooney's "I'm not sure what four nines does but the ace I think is pretty high" line.

6. Coupe de Ville dog track
I think I've seen this movie 100 times, and it never gets old. Maybe it's because I'm the youngest of three brothers, and the movie is about three brothers who have to drive a car from Detroit to Florida as a birthday gift to their mother from their father. The film has a ton of heart, as the brothers start out in a contentious relationship, but as they face tough times together on the trip, they grow closer together.

One of the best scenes in the film takes place at a dog track. The boys need money to fix the car (remember I said they ran into some tough times on the road), but only have $90 to do it. They get a tip from their uncle, who spends a lot of time at the track, on a long-shot greyhound named Silver Stu. When Marvin (played by Daniel Stern) sees the racing form, he starts having second thoughts and wants to put the money on Fly Boy. Bobby (played by Patrick Dempsey) urges him not to do it, then storms off. You can see what happens in the end, but (spoiler alert) this is the moment when we start to realize that Marvin (who is described by his brothers throughout the film as a tight-ass) actually does have a heart. (Note – there's an intervening scene between the dog track scenes; give it a minute.)

5. Hot Tub Time Machine prop bets
Word to the wise, there is some sexually suggestive language here, so you've been warned. But this scene, from a truly terrible movie, is actually very funny.

Lou, played by Rob Corddry, bets Rick, played by William Zabka, that John Elway will throw a touchdown pass with 37 seconds on the clock. And the stakes get, well, interesting. If you haven't seen the movie, watch the clip to see what happens, but only if you're not easily offended.

4. Swingers blackjack
Vegas, baby! When this movie came out, I'd never been to Las Vegas, and never played a hand of blackjack. And after watching this scene, I learned that you always double down on 11, and that sometimes it just doesn't work out.

Trent (played by Vince Vaughn) is trying to get Mike (played by Jon Favreau) out of a funk, so he takes him to Las Vegas. The ride there in itself is classic, as they start out full of energy and excited, but lag as time passes. When they see the lights of Vegas, they get rejuvenated, and Mike tries to act like a high-roller, buying in for $300 at the blackjack table. Turns out, though, it's a $100 minimum table and he's a little over his head.

3. Rain Man blackjack
Perhaps the best film on the list, the casino scene in Rain Man is also one of the best gambling scenes in film history. Once Charlie Babbitt (played by Tom Cruise) learns that his brother Raymond (played by Dustin Hoffman) is a savant who is capable of instantly counting cards, they head to Las Vegas and hit the blackjack tables.

While the winning streak is exciting, part of what makes this scene so great is the preparation of the duo, getting haircuts and new suits. And the scene is one of many important insights into the mind of Raymond Babbitt. You see how overwhelmed he is by the flashing lights and ringing slot machines, and at the end of the scene, while he and his brother are up tens of thousands of dollars, his face is completely blank and emotionless. It's a powerful, intoxicating scene.

2. The Hangover blackjack
The Hangover takes place in Las Vegas, but it's not really about gambling per se, so it passes my test. The blackjack scene in this comedy is a pure homage to Rain Man, especially the descent on the escalator wearing a gray suit .

My favorite part is how Phil (played by Bradley Cooper) yells out, "He can't lose!" and flips off the eye in the sky. Probably not a great idea when your buddy is counting cards. The scene is also a moment of redemption for Alan (played by Zach Galifianakis), who has his share of awkward moments during the trip.

1. Run Lola Run roulette
This German film is a little too complex to sum up in a paragraph or two, but let's just say that Lola (played by Franka Potente) needs money fast, or her boyfriend is going to be in a lot of trouble. After failing in her first two attempts to save him, Lola sees a casino and decides to put everything she's got on the roulette table, betting on 20 black. Potente does an amazing job of acting. I love how people react to the sweaty, red-haired girl walking into the posh German casino. And it's such a great scene that I really don't mind that the odds against her are 1,296-to-1.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.