Though Poker has always had a strong following, it would be fair to say that as an industry, it’s really taken off over the past decade or two. It’s a pastime played by millions, be it for fun with friends or at the high stakes tables in casinos worldwide and online it’s proving a real success also.

Across the US, as each state passed the relevant legislation, you can now enjoy table games in online casinos where you are. 

Whether it’s playing poker online in Michigan or doing likewise in New Jersey, the online version of the game (either with live dealers or in other forms) is hugely enjoyable and helps to recreate the excitement you get when playing in person.

The sport of poker has also made an impact in the world of cinema, and as a cultural activity, it’s one that many of us can identify with as we watch stars on the big screen suffering the agony of the wrong card being turned on the river or as they get the final draw they need to secure a lucrative flush. 

Here are five movies where card games, including poker, were front and center. 


Definitely one of the best poker movies ever made and an exercise in calculated risk-taking in order to take the pot. It’s a dark comedy that sees Matt Damon dealing with the ups and downs of a small-time poker player. 

He wisely chooses to cash in his chips and buckle down to earn his law degree, that is, until his best friend gets out of the joint. The moment Edward Norton appears on screen, you know that things aren’t going to turn out well.

Worm (Norton) sets off a spiral of events that leads Mike (Damon) in hock to some very dodgy individuals, and the film’s finale, which is addictive viewing (even when you know what’s about to happen), sees him take KGB (John Malkovich) to the cleaners. In doing so, he clears his and Worm’s debts and sets off to Las Vegas, where he wants to join the high rollers at the World Series of Poker event in Las Vegas.

The film shows you some tricks of the trade, and as far as being a lesson to poker players, perhaps the key takeaway is not to get yourself in debt to mafia types.

The Sting

This classic centers around a couple of con-men seeking to complete a long con on Robert Shaw, who has killed a friend of both Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Much of the film is focused on an elaborate sting related to horse racing, and it was a great vehicle for the leading pair who, of course, appeared together in a number of great films, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. 

One truly memorable scene sees Paul Newman take on Shaw in a feisty poker game on a train; here, we see the con artists go head to head, attempting to con each other out of their stake money. 

It’s all expertly done and acts as a catalyst for what follows, namely the ultimate payoff by the movie’s conclusion. 

The moral of this movie’s poker scene? Don’t try to out-con a con. 

Mississippi Grind

This is a great and lesser-known movie centered around a pair of gamblers. One being a wizened loser and the other being a young upstart. It’s refreshing to see Ryan Reynolds put in a performance that is quite unlike his usual roles, and he plays opposite the always excellent Ben Mendelsohn in this triumphant indie flick.

Gerry (Mendlesohn) is perennially seeking to win a card game to cover his never-ending debts. Curtis (Reynolds) is seemingly into gambling on anything, just for the rush. 

The pair create something of an odd couple vibe, and the interaction between the two works well, and the film does a good job of not sugar-coating either character’s obvious flaws. 

The whole film is a very bittersweet experience, and it’s superbly understated. The lesson for poker players here? Only bet what you can afford to lose.


21 is effectively a heist movie, but its root is blackjack. Kevin Spacey plays a professor who decides to use a star student as the means for a series of card counting and signaling tricks to win big at a series of casinos.

The film is based on actual events and is a very entertaining ride. Jim Sturgess plays the genius youngster (Ben Campbell) who leads a crew of fellow students, doing as Micky Rosa (Spacey) outlines. 

It all then gets complicated as Ben starts to see his grades falling, and a head of security beats him up at a casino that is wise to their plans. The movie has a nice payoff that sees Rosa get his reward for using the students for his own ends, and Ben Campbell, somewhat predictably, gets away with it all and gets the girl (Kate Bosworth)

It’s a fun ride. The lesson here? Don’t try to count cards; we can’t all be Raymond from Rainman. 

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

This was the debut film of Guy Ritchie and is based around the antics of a group of small-time crooks who seek to make a killing. The film starts with an excellently conceived and filmed poker game that goes horribly wrong for Nick Moran (Eddie), who ends up owing a vast sum to some local mobsters, hence the need to pull off the big caper to pay him back.

The manner in which the poker scene is filmed really helped to put Ritchie on the map; it’s very visceral and groundbreaking in its conception. It’s a superb scene in an overall mini-masterpiece of a movie.

Here the lesson most definitely, don’t let emotions get in the way of your hand. 


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