Whenever gathered around the water cooler at work, talk often comes to movies. What are your favorite comedies? What are your favorite sports movies? Despite being super famous, has Angelina Jolie ever been in a movie that doesn’t suck (the answer is no)?
Since I write for this website, I’m often asked about my favorite gambling movies. For the record, my favorite gambling movie of all time is The Sting, with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. When it comes to blackjack movies, there are a lot of great choices.
The most recent blackjack movie I can think of is 21, starring the always-interesting Kevin Spacey as the MIT math professor who takes his class to Vegas to do some card counting. Though dramatized, this film is based on true events. Though it isn’t entirely accurate about card counting, it gives a good idea of both how it’s done and the consequences of getting caught (Hint: the pit boss wasn’t happy). Both Spacey and Jim Sturgess turn in excellent performances that make this film a must-see for blackjack fans.
The classic Rain Man, though not about gambling, has one of the most famous gambling scenes in cinema, when Tom Cruise’s character, Charlie, takes his savant brother, Raymond, to count cards. This is the scene that brought awareness of card counting to mainstream America. The scene works on two levels. On one hand, there are some good laughs, such as when Charlie tells Raymond “you took my Queen,” when Raymond unwisely hit an 18 and was dealt a Queen that would have helped Charlie. In response, Raymond slides the Queen over to Charlie and is told by the croupier not to touch the cards. The scene also works on a more dramatic level, where the two brothers bond for the first time. It is an iconic movie scene, though it may have had the adverse effect of causing people to attempt card counting but don’t know what they’re doing.
That iconic scene was later lifted in last year’s hit comedy The Hangover. In that movie, Alan, played by the hilarious Zach Galifianakis, reads a book on blackjack and then decides to hit the blackjack tables to make some easy money. This funny scene plays on people’s ignorance about card counting, with Alan even saying that “it’s not gambling when you know you’re going to win.” His friend then says that you have to be really smart to count cards (which is a myth). Alan responds that they should “tell that to Rain Man, because he practically bankrupted the casino and he’s a re-tard.” This is funny because, like most things Alan says, it is very wrong. First of all, no player can count cards well enough to break a casino. Secondly, Rain Man wasn’t retarded. He was autistic and just so happened to be a savant at math, including counting, which means he would be much better at counting cards than your average person. Once at the casino, they count cards in the most obvious way possible and of course are noticed, which serves as another cautionary tale about card counting.
One of the most overlooked blackjack movies out there is one of my personal favorites – Croupier, starring Clive Owen as a struggling author who takes a job as a croupier to make ends meet and ends up being seduced by power, greed, gambling, and of course women. Perhaps the best blackjack scene is when Owen’s character is interviewing for the job and has to show off his skills at counting, stacking chips, dealing and keeping track of the count.
Those are my favorite blackjack movies. What are yours?
Tags: 21, A Word On, blackjack, blackjack films, blackjack movies, blackjack scenes, card counting, Clive Owen, counting cards, Croupier, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, Paul Newman, Rain Man, Robert Redford, The Hangover, The Sting, Tom Cruise, Zach Galifianakis