There have been a surprising number of movies made about blackjack over the past 40 years or so, and even more about the casino and gambling in general.
So much so that there are a few we haven’t included in the list simply because the article would be too long.
Blackjack is certainly a game with a lot of suspense, but it isn’t necessarily full of dramatic action – after all it is played sitting down – so the fact that successful movies have been made using blackjack as an important element is impressive.
The list we have compiled below is in no particular order and is not extensive either, but it contains ten of what we think are the biggest blackjack movies of all time, or the biggest movies in which the game has played a significant role.
The latest of them was released over a decade ago too, which might just mean that we a due another blackjack movie or two in the not too distant future.
While we wait, how many of these have you seen?
No prizes for guessing how they came up with the name.
We are starting with the movie 21 because it is based on the story of the MIT Blackjack Team, so this movie really is about the game of blackjack, whereas many of the others on the list just have blackjack scenes.
It is a Hollywood version of the story rather than a 100% accurate retelling, so there are some overly dramatized scenes such as a beating in a back room by the pit boss, but nevertheless it does a great job of being all at once entertaining and educational when it comes to the tricks of the blackjack trade.
The basics of the story are a college lecturer training a team of students to beat the game of blackjack using card counting and covert signals, before sending them to the casinos to win money.
You can read more about the real MIT Blackjack Team here.
It stars the disgraced Kevin Spacey as Micky Rosa, the college professor, as well as Jim Sturgess as the lead student and Laurence Fishbourne as part of the casino’s head of security.
Rain Man (1988)
If there is a blackjack film more famous than Rain Man then let us know because we have never heard of it.
A star studded cast includes a young Tom Cruise as the selfish wheeling dealing Charlie Babbitt, and Dustin Hoffman as his brother Raymond who is an autistic savant.
The pair are estranged and only come to know of each other’s existence after their wealthy father dies and leaves Raymond everything except a car and some rosebushes. Charlie initially tries to take custody of Raymond in order to get the inheritance, and fails, but soon recognises that he can make money at the casino from his brother’s mental abilities.
A very famous scene sees Raymond amassing a huge chip stack at the blackjack table as the casino management try to figure out how they are cheating, with one commenting that “you know there’s no one in the world who can count to a six deck shoe” – Rain Man can.
It’s not just a good movie about blackjack, it’s a good movie full stop, focussing on the growing relationship between the newly acquainted brothers and Charlie’s arc from being a self-centred semi conman to a caring sibling.
The movie has won far too many awards to count, but a few include the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Golden Globe for Best Drama. Dustin Hoffman also bagged a shelf full of Best Actor awards.
If you want a blackjack movie that is also a real work of art, this is it.
The movie stars Vince Vaugh and Jan Favreau, who also wrote it, so it’s full of laughs and did a lot for both of their careers. Vaugh plays Trent, a confident womaniser, and Favreau plays Mike, a stand up comedian who is off his game.
The movie itself isn’t really about blackjack in the first instance, or casinos for that matter, it’s about a couple of out of work actors, but one of the most famous scenes in the film is at the blackjack table.
Trent has dragged his friend Mike to Vegas in an attempt to get him over a relationship breakup, and the pair sit down at a blackjack table with a $100 minimum bet – which they really can’t afford.
However, after the dealer patronises them, their egos make them settle in to play with just 3 chips in their ‘stack’. They loudly order drinks and get ready for the deal.
They are dealt a hand of 11, and obviously should double down, but Mike is nervous about betting another of his 3 lonely chips and the pair bicker before doubling, and losing.
Cut to them sat between a hairy biker and a confused old lady at the small stakes table with what little they have left.
It really is a funny scene.
The interior casino scenes were shot at the Fremont Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, so it must have been as much of a riot working on this movie as it was to watch it.
License to Kill (1989)
The only film in which the famous spy plays blackjack is License to Kill, with Timothy Dalton in the lead role.
He only plays the game to get the attention of Franz Sanchez, the drug lord he is interested in and also the owner of the casino – and he certainly succeeds.
Bond requests a private table, with a bankroll of $250,000 (this was back in 1989 remember), and then asks to increase the limit to $5,000 per box, clearly intending to play several hands at once.
He loses the lot – on purpose of course, this is Bond we are talking about – and requests another $500,000 plus a no limit game, which is when the pit boss phones upstairs to get the permission of his boss, and Bond’s subject of interest.
Now Bond stops playing ‘like a real jerk off’, as the dealer previously described him, and turns it on. He plays well and ends up a quarter of a million in profit.
Franz sends his femme fatal to replace the dealer and find out more about this Englishman, and Bond knows he has got their attention.
The game changes to single deck and Bond’s luck runs out as this new dealer’s first hand is a natural.
A great, if fairly unrealistic blackjack scene in a very famous film.
Austin Powers (1997)
A silly addition and not really a movie about blackjack, but it does have a very funny blackjack scene towards the beginning of the film.
Austin Powers sits down next to Dr Evil’s henchman, Number 2, at a blackjack table with a $10,000 minimum bet.
Number 2 is using some sort of eye patch device to see the next card in the shoe and cheat his way to victory, hitting on a 17 despite the dealer’s advice because he knows a 4 is coming up next.
He tells the dealer, “I like to live dangerously”, and the music begins to intensify as he looks across to Austin Powers and the pair try to work each other out.
Powers is then dealt a total hand of 5, and the music intensifies further but then abruptly cuts out as he says, “I’ll stay. I also like to live dangerously”.
Needless to say, the dealer gets a 20 and Austin Powers loses before admitting that cards aren’t really his bag baby.
For anyone who knows the game it’s a hilarious moment, perfectly timed, especially because the dealer was showing a King as his up card.
Clive Owen stars as the cold emotionless Jack Manfred in this neo-noir film about a struggling writer who works in a casino to pay the bills, but soon gets sucked into the life and begins to really enjoy seeing gamblers lose money.
A lot of the story is told using inner monologues, where we hear the lead character’s thoughts, so we get to know Jack very well.
It’s also one of the rare stories where blackjack is seen from the dealer’s point of view rather than from the players. So often the dealer in a movie scene is a bit part role, but with Croupier the dealer is the main man.
In the end, Jack gets involved in a scam to rob the casino and his girlfriend ends up getting killed in a hit and run, while his work at the casino inspires him to write a different novel that becomes a best seller.
However, Jack decides to change nothing about his life after the book’s success, remaining at the casino as a croupier.
It’s a film a lot of people haven’t heard of, but is something of a cult classic especially among casino players, with many scenes of blackjack play and every sort of casino player you can imagine.
The Hangover (2009)
We all know that the Hangover is not a blackjack movie per se, but a lot of it is set in Vegas on a stag do 2 days before a wedding.
After a very heavy night during which the groom has gone missing and the others cannot remember anything, they retrace their steps and find out that they stole $80,000 of chips from a gangster named Chow.
He demands the money in return for their missing friend, and they decide they can make the money they need to pay him back by card counting, which leads to the blackjack scene in question.
In fact, the scene we are talking about is a homage to one of the other films on this list; Rainman.
Alan, the quirkiest character in ‘the wolfpack’, finds a book about playing blackjack, almost certainly supposed to be Edward O Thrope’s ‘Beat the Dealer’, and consumes it in a few hours.
They then go down to the casino and watch in amazement as this off beat bearded loner proceeds to win $84,000 with the help of another of the guys and his female friend acting as a distraction.
They cut and run just as the pit boss and security team are about to intervene.
It’s a silly scene really but the film was an absolute smash at the box office and this was a memorable part of it. They went on to make two more films in the franchise, but only the first featured blackjack.
The Last Casino (2004)
This is another that takes more than a little inspiration from the true story behind the MIT Blackjack Team. Not one of the most famous films on the list, but it certainly deserves to be.
It includes what has to be one of the tensest blackjack scenes in movie history, as 3 young students who have been taught to count cards by their tutor gamble $10,000 at a time while using the Martingale strategy.
More daunting still, they do so at a secret private game they have talked their way into.
The problem is, once they get to the casino and sit down, they realise the house is shuffling after every hand, thus making a count impossible.
They carry on regardless after one of the trio, Scott, puts pressure on the other two, and are quickly down $70,000 after 3 losing hands, before hitting a natural blackjack on the 4th with $80,000 on the table.
The camera work along with some brilliant performances make it a nail biting scene to watch for anyone who understands the game. Even if you weren’t sure of the relevance of the cards being turned over, the direction is good enough to set the stakes high.
The Gambler (2014)
Mark Wahlberg stars in an unconventional role as degenerate gambler, Jim Bennett. It’s a remake of the 1974 movie of the same name which itself is loosely based on Dostoevsky’s book, also of the same name.
It’s pretty heavy in terms of violence, with Jim owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to some very shady characters, and trying to pay his debts by borrowing more then gambling it to try and win.
Even worse, he gambles in underground casinos.
As we all know, chasing losses in the casino is probably the worst thing you can do, and it doesn’t work for Jim either.
As evidence of this, in one big scene at the blackjack table he very arrogantly bets large amounts and starts off well, doubling down on an 18 and being dealt a 3.
He then gets over confident and you can guess what happens next.
After a marathon session at the blackjack table he is left with nothing but even more debt, and a threat to his life from the men he owes money to.
Not exactly laugh a minute, but a great warning to all blackjack players about knowing your limits.
The Cooler (2003)
To end our list, what better film than The Cooler, also the name given to the casino employee who is sent in to end a winning player’s lucky streak?
To be clear, this isn’t a real job (that we know of!), but part of the highly improbable storyline.
The movie is all about good and bad luck, and the brilliant William H. Macy is the embodiment of that in The Cooler, playing Bernie, one of life’s losers.
An ex gambling addict, he is indebted to a casino owner Shelley (Alec Baldwin) and has agreed to work for him as a ‘cooler’ for 6 years to pay him back.
His job is to turn up at the table when someone is on a winning streak, sit down, and play alongside. The idea being that the very presence of the cooler, someone who has a history of being extremely unlucky, will stop the winning streak and therefore save the casino money.
It’s plain fantasy of course, but it makes for a good movie.
Things change when Bernie’s 6 years are up and Shelley employs Natalie to start dating him to keep him around.
She actually falls in love with him though, making him happy for the first time, which turns him into something of a lucky charm much to Shelley’s bemusement.
Things go on from there to become much darker, but it ultimately has a happy ending.
Ok, not exactly a ‘blackjack’ movie this one, but it’s such a good flick that we had to include it, and Bernie is seen at plenty of blackjack tables ruining other people’s hands.