Gambling and the silver screen have often partnered to provide some of the film industry’s most enthralling storylines and characters. 007 delivers some classic Bond moments in casinos, Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman starred in the memorable Rain Man, and who can forget the all-star ensemble cast of Ocean’s Eleven?
But betting movies aren’t limited to table games like poker or blackjack. While not quite as famous as 21 or Casino Royale, there are several bonafide classics that focus on sports betting. These are our three favorites.
Eight Men Out
This 1988 critically acclaimed classic (86% on Rotten Tomatoes) features some powerhouse names from Hollywood. John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, and Christopher Lloyd star in the dramatization of one of the most infamous stories in baseball history. The fix of the 1919 World Series resulted in eight Chicago White Sox players being banned from the MLB for life.
What makes this story so interesting on a philosophical level is that it doesn’t outright condemn the players involved. The movie accurately reflects the complexity of each character. It nuances the scandal by reminding the viewer that players of this era were not the kind of millionaires fans are accustomed to today. It also emphasizes what happens when betting doesn’t happen through regulated establishments, resulting in the involvement of the mob and other unscrupulous individuals.
The movie is also enhanced by some standout performances, with John Cusack being particularly memorable as infielder Buck Weaver. Clifton James plays the role of White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey, while the supporting cast, consisting of John Sayles and Studs Terkel, amongst others, deliver strong performances as well.
This 1961 classic is one of the all-time classics, period. And we’re not even talking about sports betting movies. Perhaps Paul Newman’s seminal performance, The Hustler is a complex story that explores morality and redemption through the prism of pool (billiards).
The Hustler follows the story of “Fast Eddie” Felson, a pool hustler who has long operated on a small scale. He’s frustrated, fighting to join the big money, the high rollers and even higher stakes. Newman plays the part of the antihero perfectly, with the viewer torn by the questionable morality and the complex Felson. The movie was an instant classic, and many credit The Hustler with reviving the sport’s popularity in the country.
The movie unsurprisingly scores highly with critics across the board. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 98%, and it was also nominated for a number of Academy Awards. The movie is also famously remembered for George C. Scott’s turndown of an Oscar nomination.
Let It Ride
Our last entry isn’t a drama, but an unexpected comedy hit. It absolutely bombed at the box office on its initial release (with critics not exactly being kind with a 30% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), but it has since become a bit of a cult classic.
When you watch this movie, you’ll be instantly aware that it doesn’t offer the cinematic gravitas of The Hustler or Eight Men Out. Nevertheless, it has a likeability that results from strong performances from Richard Dreyfuss and Jennifer Tilly, a genuinely funny script, and a lighthearted plot that’s ideal for a chilled out Sunday afternoon of movie binging.
The story isn’t layered or complex, but it does explore issues such as habitual gambling, common superstitions, the common gambling idea (or perhaps myth?) of getting an ‘insider tip’, and the question of whether you should quit while you’re ahead. The movie doesn’t pretend to be a philosophical masterpiece, but it does raise interesting questions in the midst of laugh out loud comedy.
Coming up with a top-three was challenging, and we’ve left out others that could have easily made the list. Even Money, Two for the Money, Bookies, and Diggstown are also very much worth checking out also.
Missing a Blockbuster?
If there’s one thing you’ll notice about these movies is that none are true blockbuster performers at the box office. The Hustler was a hit, true, but not on the scale of a Casino Royale. Some are sleeper hits, others become cult classics, while movies like Eight Men Out garner a lot of praise from respected critics. But the dollar signs are generally missing.
We think this may shift as a result of changing views on sports gambling as a whole. As a result of a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, wagering on sporting events is on its way to becoming legal throughout most of the United States. Big teams, such as the Denver Broncos, are partnering up with betting companies. It is likely that studios will be more willing to explore scripts featuring sports gambling storylines, with the unfair stigma that has existed thus far slowly being eroded.