With film blogs are currently buzzing about Martin Scorcese’s planned remake of The Gambler, we thought we’d take a moment to salute one of our favorite subgenres: the gambling movie. This isn’t about high-stakes games of skill like poker or pool; it’s just one blind chance after another, following the ebbs and flows of chaos. And maybe the occasional casino heist…


First off, check out the one that’s getting remade: James Caan’s The Gambler, based on the Dostoevsky novella of the same name. It’s vintage 70s New York, soaked with sleaze and desperation. Luckily, you’ve got a few years to check it out before Scorcese puts his stamp on it.


If that wasn’t bleak enough for you, try Bad Lieutenant. It’s the same scene in Dinkins-era New York, starring Harvey Keitel as a rock-bottom detective with two equally destructive vices: smoking crack and betting on the Mets. Be prepared to see some ugly stuff—including a naked Harvey Keitel. Nicolas Cage is still jealous.


Bob le Flambeur is the French new wave version, with a casino heist, a lucky streak and a whole lot of existential pondering. Also, everyone looks fantastic—even after they’ve been shot. Surprisingly enough, the Nick Nolte remake’s not bad either.


Croupier out-existentials the French. In his breakout role, Clive Owen’s so restrained he doesn’t even play. He just watches, and waits for all hell to break loose. (Spoiler: It does.) It’s from the same man who made Get Carter way back when, so the credentials here are nearly perfect.


And finally, our favorite. California Split’s a bit of a lost film, but it lands right in the middle of Elliot Gould and Robert Altman’s early 70s hitting streak. More than the other four laid out here, it captures what’s actually fun about gambling—the camaraderie, the mood swings, the comic madness of it all—along with being one of the best buddy movies ever made. Just don’t make us use the word “bromance.”

—R.B.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Russell Brandom