15 of the best poker films of all time

Published 9:00 pm Friday, June 24, 2022

Warner Bros.

15 of the best poker films of all time

The cinematic world of gambling is often depicted in extremes, from the dazzling casinos of Las Vegas to the disheveled apartment of an unlucky player who’s lost it all—and in many cases, both.

There are the high highs of winning a big pot and the low lows of loan shark threats. As a result, these types of movies are often full of suspense, action, and oftentimes, despair. However, some directors are able to find the playful side of this lifestyle, producing light-hearted comedies that make you smile and want to sit at the poker table during your next trip to Vegas.

PokerListings compiled a list of 15 of the best poker movies ever made. To qualify, poker had to be a significant part of the plot, and the film had to have at least a 7.0/10 on IMDb with at least 5,000 votes. This list includes everything from silent films and dark comedies to neo-noirs and Westerns. Some of these flicks are so highly regarded they’ve been added to the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

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Take a look below and check how many of these movies you’ve seen.

Károly Huszár and Rudolf Klein-Rogge in a scene from "Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler"

Uco-Film GmbH

Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922)

– Director: Fritz Lang
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 242 minutes

“Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler” is a German silent film that follows the misdeeds of criminal mastermind Dr. Mabuse. The villain often visits illegal casinos in various disguises and hypnotizes his opponents during card games in order to win big. Clocking in at four hours, the film was split into two parts. During its climax, Dr. Mabuse goes mad and begins hallucinating his victims, who demand he play cards with them, before he’s eventually caught by authorities.

Marlene Dietrich, James Stewart, and Edmund MacDonald in a scene from "Destry Rides Again"

Universal Pictures

Destry Rides Again (1939)

– Director: George Marshall
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 81
– Runtime: 95 minutes

James Stewart stars in “Destry Rides Again,” a Western film that begins with crooked saloon owner Kent ordering the murder of the town’s sheriff Keogh after he asks more questions than he should about a rigged poker game. When a new sheriff is appointed, he calls on the help of Stewart’s character, Thomas Jefferson “Tom” Destry Jr. As the new deputy, Destry restores lawfulness to the fictional town of Bottleneck and justice prevails.

Steve McQueen and Cab Calloway in a scene from "The Cincinnati Kid"

Filmways Pictures

The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

– Director: Norman Jewison
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 67
– Runtime: 102 minutes

“The Cincinnati Kid” stars Steve McQueen as Eric “The Kid” Stoner, a rising Depression-era poker opponent hailing from New Orleans who wears his hubris with pride. When Lancey “The Man” Howard (Edward G. Robinson) comes to town, Stoner sees it as a chance to dethrone him. They compete in a game of five-card stud that begins with six players and ends with a showdown between the Kid and the Man. The final hand is among the most famous and heavily debated scenes in poker cinema history.

Paul Newman at the table in a scene from "Cool Hand Luke"

Jalem Productions

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

– Director: Stuart Rosenberg
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: 92
– Runtime: 127 minutes

“Cool Hand Luke” may technically be a prison drama, but its title comes from a phrase Lucas “Luke” Jackson (Paul Newman) utters after winning a poker game by bluffing with a useless hand. “Sometimes, nothing can be a real cool hand,” he says slyly, encouraging his friend, Dragline (George Kennedy), to give him the nickname Cool Hand Luke. Newman was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in the film, while Kennedy earned the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Paul Newman and others around a poker table in a scene from "The Sting"

Universal Pictures

The Sting (1973)

– Director: George Roy Hill
– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Metascore: 83
– Runtime: 129 minutes

“The Sting” features a number of great cons from professional grifters Henry “Shaw” Gondorff (Paul Newman) and Johnny “Kelly” Hooker (Robert Redford). However, the most famous one might be when Shaw out-cheats a mob boss in a high-stakes game of poker. The film was a massive success, both critically and commercially, taking home seven Oscars at the 46th Academy Awards—including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. In fact, “The Sting” is so highly regarded that it was selected for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2005.

Elliott Gould and George Segal in a scene from "California Split"

Spelling Goldberg

California Split (1974)

– Director: Robert Altman
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Metascore: 84
– Runtime: 108 minutes

“California Split” isn’t just a poker film; it’s a movie about addiction, friendship, and the human condition. The picture stars Elliott Gould and George Segal as two gamblers who befriend each other. After a wild ride that begins with Bill Denny (Segal) winning big at poker, the pair split their hefty profits, and eventually go their separate ways.

Seymour Cassel in a scene from "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie"

Faces Distribution

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)

– Director: John Cassavetes
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 65
– Runtime: 135 minutes

“The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” is a neo-noir crime film at its core, but poker plays a significant part in its plot. Fresh from paying off his seven-year gambling debt, strip club owner Cosmo Vittelli (Ben Gazzara) immediately racks up $23,000 in poker debt and finds himself in a much direr situation. The film received mixed reviews after its initial 1976 release but has since gained a cult following.

Burt Lancaster at a poker table in a scene from "Atlantic City"

International Cinema Corporation (ICC)

Atlantic City (1980)

– Director: Louis Malle
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 85
– Runtime: 104 minutes

Susan Sarandon stars in “Atlantic City” as Sally, a casino waitress with dreams to be a blackjack dealer—but she has an estranged husband whose nefarious deeds haunt her. Though the movie is not specifically about poker, a scene that sets the action in motion takes place during an illegal poker game in a hotel room. The film was nominated for the “Big Five” Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay); however, it failed to take any Oscars home. Even so, it was eventually added to the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2003.

Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson in a scene from "Maverick"

Donner/Shuler-Donner Productions

Maverick (1994)

– Director: Richard Donner
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 62
– Runtime: 127 minutes

“Maverick” is an over-the-top Western comedy, and that’s exactly what makes it so lovable. The 1994 film—based on a ’50s television series of the same name—co-stars the show’s lead James Garner as Marshal Zane Cooper; Mel Gibson as card shark and con man Bret Maverick; and Jodie Foster as a young con artist named Annabelle Bransford. Though many adventures ensue, the movie’s main plotline focuses on a five-card draw poker tournament that Maverick and Bransford both want to win.

A car scene from "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels"

Summit Entertainment

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

– Director: Guy Ritchie
– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Metascore: 66
– Runtime: 107 minutes

“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” is a black comedy heist movie with a story set after small-time criminals and good friends Eddie, Tom, Soap, and Bacon amass £100,000 so Eddie (a card shark) can buy into a high-stakes three-card brag game. The game ends up being rigged; the friends end up owing £500,000 to “Hatchet” Harry Lonsdale—and that’s just the beginning. In addition to its commercial success, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” is also notable for being the feature film debut of both Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones.

Matt Damon and Edward Norton in a scene from "Rounders"


Rounders (1998)

– Director: John Dahl
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Metascore: 54
– Runtime: 121 minutes

Anyone who was a poker fan in the late ’90s has probably seen “Rounders.” The movie stars Matt Damon as a talented card player named Mike McDermott who aspires to win the World Series of Poker, but his path to the lauded tournament is not an easy one. The movie’s all-star cast includes Famke Janssen, Gretchen Mol, Edward Norton, Martin Landau, John Turturro, and John Malkovich. 

Alex Kingston and Clive Owen in a scene from "Croupier"

Channel Four Films

Croupier (1998)

– Director: Mike Hodges
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Metascore: 75
– Runtime: 94 minutes

Clive Owen stars as Jack Manfred, an unsuccessful writer who begrudgingly takes a job as a card dealer at a local casino, in “Croupier.” The British neo-noir finds just the right balance between action and atmosphere, paying homage to early detective noir films with interior monologues. It also helped launch Owen’s acting career in the United States.

Brad Pitt and George Clooney in a scene from "Ocean's Eleven"

Warner Bros.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

– Director: Steven Soderbergh
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 74
– Runtime: 116 minutes

Though poker may not be the focus of “Ocean’s Eleven,” gambling, heists, and casinos are at its forefront. The 2001 adaptation—a remake of the 1960 film of the same name—was a box office hit when it premiered. Its ensemble cast—consisting of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy García, Bernie Mac, and Julia Roberts—paired with its exceptional entertainment value gave Steven Soderbergh the opportunity to also helm ​​two sequels: 2004’s “Ocean’s Twelve” and 2007’s “Ocean’s Thirteen.” An equally star-studded, all-female spinoff arrived with 2018’s “Ocean’s 8,” which starred Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, Awkwafina, and others.

Daniel Craig at the poker table in a scene from "Casino Royale"

Columbia Pictures

Casino Royale (2006)

– Director: Martin Campbell
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: 80
– Runtime: 144 minutes

“Casino Royale” is the first James Bond film to star Daniel Craig. The movie—which takes place during the beginning of 007’s career—sees Bond assigned to financially ruin the terroristic financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in a high-stakes poker match at Montenegro’s Casino Royale. This installment led to four subsequent films featuring Craig as 007, concluding with 2021’s Oscar-winning “No Time to Die.”

Jessica Chastain in a scene from "Molly's Game"

STX Entertainment

Molly’s Game (2017)

– Director: Aaron Sorkin
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 140 minutes

Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom in “Molly’s Game,” a biographical crime drama based on the titular character’s memoir. After her Olympic skiing vocation comes to an end following a terrible accident, Bloom shifts careers and ends up building an underground poker empire that eventually gets exposed and becomes the focus of an FBI investigation. The 2017 film—which marked Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut—also stars Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner, and Jeremy Strong, among other performers.

This story originally appeared on PokerListings and was produced and
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