Lighthearted movies featuring gambling are certainly a small subset of all the films Hollywood produces. The audience is limited for these gambling films and that diminishes the possibility of a significant return on investment for producers and investors, so they can be hard to find.
However, if you are a fan of the genre, they are worth searching for, whether it be on the internet or the discount DVD bin. So the next time you are traveling and you want to load a movie on to the iPad or laptop for a little diversion, eschew the new big budget CGI blockbuster for one of these lesser known gambling films.
I readily acknowledge that they are by no means spectacular productions, nor did they necessarily get favorable reviews when released, but if you are interested in the gambling genre, I believe you will enjoy these. Each of these films relates to some aspect of gambling, including poker, the lottery, pool hustling, horse racing and sports betting.
Five That You Probably Haven’t Seen
#1 A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966)
Cast: Henry Fonda, Joanne Woodward, Burgess Meredith, Jason Robards
The old west is the setting for the story of a recovering gambling addict, (Henry Fonda) who becomes involved in a high stakes poker game as he passes through the town of Laredo with his wife (Joanne Woodward) and young son.
The family’s life savings as well as their entire future are on the line as he competes against the richest men in the territory. The suspense builds throughout, with many twists and turns.
One note though: don’t be too quick to power down the laptop, because just when you think the movie is over, there is an additional scene which is worth waiting for.
#2 Double Down (Also released as Zig’s) 2001
Cast: Jason Priestly and character actor Richard Portnow
This movie gets mixed reviews online but if you are a fan of the gambling genre and gambling films with quirky characters, you will enjoy the film. Four friends with big dreams and empty pockets look to gambling to raise money to open a sports bar. There are great gambling scenes and some comedic moments.
#3 29th Street (1991) – Gambling Films
Cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Danny Aiello, Lainie Kazan, Frank Pesce
I love this movie because it features so many oddball characters, very much like the ones I knew growing up in NYC. Loosely based on a true story, it tells the story of Frank Pesce, a finalist in the first big New York State multi-million dollar lottery in 1976.
#4 Poolhall Junkies (2002)
Cast: Chazz Palminteri, Mars Callahan, Christopher Walken, Rod Stieger
This small budget independent film, surprisingly features several “A-List” actors. It was far from a hit when released but it later gained a cult like following. The movie tells the story of a talented pool shooter (Mars Callahan), who is taken in by his shady manager (Chazz Palminteri). The film provides a glimpse of the shadowy world of high stakes pool.
#5 Let it Ride (1989) – Gambling Films
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Jennifer Tilly, Terri Garr, Cynthia Nixon, David Johansan.
Richard Dreyfuss plays a perpetually losing, horse player, who goes on an incredible winning streak after promising his wife that he is giving up gambling to save his marriage. His luck continues when he meets the sexy Jennifer Tilly and she shows an instant attraction to him. The question of whether his luck will continue lingers throughout the film. The movie has an entertaining premise with some very comical scenes.
[Updated January 2020]