The casino motif is one that’s been used by movie directors for many years for a number of reasons. Aside from creating an air of glitz and glamour, casino backdrops offer a sense of anticipation, uncertainty and, in some cases, danger. When these dramatic elements are combined, it helps create a movie that’s both entertaining and engaging for audiences of all persuasions.
However, throughout history, the way in which casinos have appeared in movies has gradually changed. As the industry has evolved and major casinos shifted the way in which they offer services to players, directors have moved with the times and altered the way in which this motif is portrayed on screen.
From black and white products to modern marvels, the movie world has used casinos in a variety of ways and we’ve run through some of most interesting examples throughout history. Moving from the classic Rat Pack days of Las Vegas to future projections of how the casino world will look in a few years’ time, this list takes in many of the main major hits from the last 60 years.
Classy Casino Kings: Ocean’s 11
Back in the 1960s, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davies Jr. and Dean Martin were the kings of the Las Vegas strip. Offering a subtle blend of charm, charisma, style and singing talent, the Rat Pack members lit up the stages of Sin City on a nightly basis and came to embody the vibe of the casino culture at the time.
Wearing suits, smoking cigarettes and always having a way with the ladies, Sinatra, Davis Jr. and Martin were the obvious leads for Lewis Milestone’s 1960 hit movie, Ocean’s 11. Using the trio’s style and connection to Las Vegas, Milestone pounced on the popularity of casinos at the time with a classic heist movie.
The story of Ocean’s 11 centers around the lead, Danny Ocean, who is intent on producing the ultimate theft. After rounding up some of his World War II friends (11 in total), Ocean plans to rob five casinos in a single night by using a mixture of cunning, guile and luck. Featuring an inside look at Las Vegas during the 1960s, the film portrays casinos in a positive light. Everyone in the film is dressed to impress and gaming tables were a lot more sedate and refined than they are today.
Although Milestone’s film is about the robbery of five major casinos, it certainly captures the zeitgeist. When casino hubs such as Las Vegas first came to prominence in the 1960s, the overall theme was class and style. Sitting in contrast to the images of excess that are common today, classic casino images used to focus on sophisticated fun rather than crazy gambling.
A Culture of Excess: The Hangover
In more recent years, one of the most entertaining movies about gambling has been The Hangover. Sitting in complete contrast to Ocean’s 11, The Hangover replaced the old images of Vegas as a classy town where the slickest crooners of the day would hang out with a city without limits.
In sharp contrast, the four main characters get to see the crazy side of Las Vegas. Instead of taking to the gaming tables with a few drinks and a three-piece suit, the guys are crowded onto the gaming floor with overflowing drinks, flashy looking shirts and handfuls of cash.
The Hangover’s storyline then follows the protagonists as they try to piece together the events of the night before and find their friend, Doug, who is due to get married. As the haze of a hangover begins to fade, memories of each event begin to poke through and viewers are given a glimpse into the modern vision of Las Vegas.
One of the most iconic scenes from the film is the showdown between Alan and the casino. On a mission to win back the money his friend had lost, Alan takes to the tables, armed with a strategy that goes far beyond knowing the basic rules, and ends up crushing the casino for thousands. Aided by his friends, the group escapes from the casino unscathed and with a profit thanks to the somewhat dim-witted excellence of Alan.
While some like to criticize the modern view of Vegas, moreover the city’s portrayal in modern movies, the reality is that times have changed. Refined entertainment was the order of the day when Mr. Sinatra was on the strip as that was largely the culture across the world at the time.
Today, however, casino-goers want more. Because it’s now possible to ante-up from the comfort of your own home through an online casino operator, venues now need to offer a lot more in terms of entertainment to pique the interest of punters.
Because of this, bars, nightclubs, pool parties and shows are now an integral part of the casino scene in Las Vegas (and beyond) and these supplementary services have become even more pronounced in recent years because of online casinos.
Moving in the Future: James Bond
Another staple character of the casino genre and someone that’s served it well over the years is James Bond. From subtle nods to the casino world in classics such as Goldfinger to overt gambling motifs in Casino Royale, Bond has always had an affinity with the industry. However, with the industry now moving into the digital realm, could it mean an end to Bond and casino games? In a word: no. If there’s any movie character that could blend well with online and mobile casino gaming, it’s Mr. Bond.
As well as chasing girls, playing blackjack and killing bad guys, Bond is a lover of gadgets and that means he could easily become an online gambler. Today, mobile casinos are a huge part of the industry and in his next cinematic outing there’s no reason why Bond couldn’t be an avid user. With a little help from Q, the mobile device could easily be set up to reel in his enemies and track their movements in some sort of clever way.
Images of Casinos From Then to Now
As the casino world has evolved from a form of social interaction to an online endeavor, so too has the portrayal of the industry on screen. The casino motif is one that will always be a favorite for directors and as the industry continues to grow, that will mean new ways of representing it on screen. In the last few years Hollywood has tried to broach the online sphere with Runner Runner, a film with references to the online poker industry, but this certainly won’t be the last attempt to do so.
As online portals continue to proliferate and evolve, new storylines will open up and directors will be the first ones to jump on these themes and create something engaging and entertaining. As we’ve said, James Bond could easily slip into this new market and look completely natural and there are plenty more examples that could conceivably did the same. Overall, the casino genre is one that’s enlivened hundreds of films over the years and, even as the industry evolves, it’s likely to continue doing so for many more years to come.