Inspired by watching the late, great Sid Haig in “Dead Man’s Hand”, we put together a list of 13 other exceptional casino-based films.
Horror and film legend Sid Haig would have turned 83 on July 14th. Sadly, the icon passed away in 2019. But I chose to celebrate his storied career by checking out one of his films I had not yet seen. I decided to watch 2007’s The Haunted Casino, also known as Dead Man’s Hand: Casino of the Damned. The latter is the title you can find it under on Amazon Prime to rent or watch it for free here.
Directed by the legendary B-movie king of schlock, Charles Band, and released under the Full Moon banner, the story revolves around Matthew Dragna, who inherits an old casino from an uncle that recently passed away. After learning of his unexpected windfall, Matthew, his long-term girlfriend JJ, and some of his friends head to his new asset to check it out — finding it derelict and covered in layers of dust and cobwebs.
Soon they uncover newspaper articles that reveal that Matthew had inherited the casino on the anniversary of a massacre that had taken place there several years prior. This resulted in the deaths of five people, including a big-time mob boss called Roy “The Word” Donahue. They also learn that Matthew’s uncle was behind the gangster’s early demise and that Donahue’s ghost roamed the haunted casino, along with the others that died that night.
As you might expect, the ghost is out for revenge. And since Matthew is the only surviving relative of his uncle, he becomes the target for Donahue’s retribution.
Now, if you’re familiar with Full Moon’s catalog or the work of Charles Band, you probably know exactly what to expect from this film.
Though, in the pantheon of ultra-low budget, tawdry, direct-to-DVD flicks, this movie ups the ante considerably. If you’re not a Full Moon fan, Dead Man’s Hand is probably not going to win you over. And if you are a fan? Well, it’s a bit of a crapshoot (see what I did there?) if you’ll find enough so-bad-it’s-good charm in this one to make it worth your while.
Along with Sid Haig, the film also features another horror icon in the form of Michael Berryman. Though both sadly receive far too little screen time. This is far from Haig’s best role, and there’s a reason this movie is relatively unknown. But I still loved seeing Haig and Berryman sharing the screen — if only for a short time.
Dead Man’s Hand has been included in several IMDb lists celebrating serious stinkers, including “The worst movies I’ve ever seen”. It had a budget of just $200,000, and it shows.
But I’m not going to lie…I had fun with this one. It’s pretty bad in every conceivable way, but it’s cheesy enough to be entertaining and best viewed with some snarky friends and a few libations.
One thing this film does have going for it is a cool casino atmosphere in spades. So, if you love a good Vegas vibe, there’s a solid bet you’ll get a kick out of this one.
And the insane slot-machine spirit is a definite highlight.
If you are a fan of gambling films, here are 13 more casino films that are actually great. And though they might not be horror, there’s plenty of adrenaline-pumping, high-stakes action in a thrilling environment that most horror fans should enjoy.
And if you want to try your hand at winning big in real life, check out the free spins no deposit algorithm that enables you to win real money at online slot machines.
1. Croupier (1998)
This is one of the most popular British casino films, directed by Mike Hodges (Flash Gordon). From the perspective of a casino dealer, the film depicts life in the industry. But it also shows the darker side of this life, which differs significantly from the glitzy depictions found in Hollywood movies about gambling.
Jack Manfred is the center of the film. Jack decides to work as a croupier at a large casino to supplement his little income as a writer. In the gambling world, he finds inspiration for his work. However, it’s not only the casino that grabs him. He begins to view life as a game of chance. You’ll see in the film how tough it may be to escape a life of gambling for anyone.
Check out Croupier now on Netflix or Prime.
2. Casino Royale (2006)
The cast of the 2006 spy film, Casino Royale is legendary. This is the twenty-first in the James Bond series and the third screen adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel of the same name.
This was the first Bond movie to star Daniel Craig as the fictional MI6 agent. It takes place at the beginning of Bond’s career as Agent 007, as he is earning his license to kill.
When it comes to playing casino games, one scene in the film perfectly portrays the atmosphere. A bright, wicked genius named Le Chiffre (the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen) comes to challenge James Bond to a game of poker at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. An emotional exchange between the story’s two heroes keeps viewers glued to the screen for the whole scene. The film’s setting is one of the most visually striking parts of the finished product.
Watch it now on Netflix or Prime.
3. The Gambler (2014)
In this adaptation of a 1974 crime film, the incomparable James Caan, who recently passed away, stars as the main character. William Monahan worked with James Toback to modernize the play while staying true to the original screenplay’s concept.
Professor Jim Bennett teaches literature at a university but also has a sinister side. He is an avid gambler willing to borrow a considerable amount of money from local criminals to try his luck. His fortune is slowly but steadily eroding his chances of winning.
He deliberately places himself in an uncomfortable situation by mercilessly squandering the riches of others without a trace of guilt. Finally, he searches for one final opportunity and successfully finds it with Frank, the deadly green guy. But unfortunately, he participates in a match that jeopardizes his life.
Stream it on Hoopla or rent it on VOD.
4. Rain Man (1998)
Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman play brothers in this road comedy-drama directed by Barry Levinson.
Cruise plays Charlie Babbitt, a self-absorbed wheeler-dealer who discovers his estranged father has died and bequeathed his multimillion-dollar estate to his other son, Raymond. Hoffman plays the autistic savant Raymond, of whose existence Charlie was previously unaware. Charlie decides to attempt to gain custody of his brother in order to get control of the money.
The exciting part of the story starts when Tom Cruise decides to play blackjack to pay off his debts. Hoffman helps him emerge triumphant due to his extensive knowledge, casino tips, and experience in statistical analysis.
Watch it now on HBO Max.
5. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
This heist comedy directed by Steven Soderbergh revolves around Danny Ocean, known for his criminal activity. In order to pull off a heist from the Bellagio, the MGM Grand, and The Mirage in Las Vegas, Danny assembles a gang of eleven con artists. Terry Benedict, Danny’s romantic adversary, owns all three casinos.
The first installment of the Ocean‘s franchise, Ocean’s Eleven is a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack film of the same name.
This film’s star-studded cast is what sets it apart from the rest. It includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, Bernie Mac, and Julia Roberts. What makes it so much fun is its clever narrative and several comical scenes, and Soderbergh gives the whole madcap affair a nice touch of sparkle and refinement.
Watch it now on HBO Max or Peacock Premium.
6. 21 (2008)
Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde), one of the top film directors in the business, directs 21. Because it’s based on a true story, this film has a unique perspective.
It stars Kevin Spacey, a highly problematic but undeniably talented actor, as a Las Vegas casino card counter who teaches exceptional pupils at MIT how to count cards. Hedonism, deception, and betrayal follow in unexpected ways. (If you can look beyond reasonable objections to Spacey, the rest of the stellar cast is well worth tuning in for.)
The film was adapted from the 2003 best-selling book by Ben Mezrich, Bringing Down the House. Though the film received mixed reviews and faced controversy over its acting choices, it was a big box office success.
Watch it now on Netflix.
7. Casino (1995)
Martin Scorsese, widely regarded as one of the best directors of all time, helmed this film. It’s a masterwork that will stand the test of time, and it’s responsible for introducing the entire public to the sparkling culture of Las Vegas.
Roberto De Niro, who formerly led a life of crime, is now a law-abiding citizen who makes his fortune as the owner of a casino in Las Vegas. When an old friend of his who is a lynchpin in the mafia contacts him, his life takes an unexpected turn for the worst.
This epic crime film focuses heavily on deception, greed, and power struggles. Based on the 1995 nonfiction book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas by Nicholas Peggi (who co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese), the film’s primary characters are based on real people. Besides De Niro, Casino features an outstanding cast, including Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Don Rickles, Kevin Pollak, and James Woods.
Watch it now on Starz or rent it on VOD.
8. Runner Runner (2013)
Brad Furman’s epic crime drama stars Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake. The plot revolves around Richie Furst, a gifted student who pays for his school expenses by playing online poker. However, he was duped once and had to part with his money.
When Ritchie tries to find out who is behind the area in an attempt to recoup some of his losses, he meets the site’s owner, the dishonest gambler Ivan Block. Aside from agreeing to compensate him, Block also offers that he join his “business” to make even more money. Ritchie agrees, but things quickly go awry when the FBI gets involved.
Watch it now on HBO Max.
9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a black comedy adventure film adapted from Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 novel of the same name. It was co-written and directed by Terry Gilliam, and stars Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro. Depp is a journalist who visits Sin City with his lawyer (del Toro).
When they arrived in Vegas, they planned to cover a sporting event but instead spent all their money on narcotics. This begins their quest for the American Dream, a voyage that brings them in touch with many individuals, from police officers to drug traffickers to gamblers.
The film received mixed reviews from critics and was a financial failure, but has since become a cult classic among film fans.
Interestingly, many notable actors — including Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, John Malkovich, and even John Cusack — were once considered for the lead roles. However, after Hunter S. Thompson met with Johnny Depp, he became convinced that no one else could play him. In the spring of 1997, Depp moved into the basement of Thompson’s Owl Farm home and lived there for four months, doing research for the role as well as studying Thompson’s habits and mannerisms.
And for those who appreciate a bit of pop culture, Depp would once again star in a Hunter S. Thompson adaptation years later, the 2011 comedy-drama film Rum Diary. It’s on the set of this film that Depp met his future wife, Amber Heard. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Watch Fear and Loathing now on Starz or rent it on VOD.
10. Mississippi Grind (2015)
Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is an experienced but struggling player of the poker variant Texas Hold ’em. He meets an itinerant young gambler named Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) at a casino in Iowa. After a night of heavy drinking, they head to the dog track where the pair win big. But Gerry gambles it away. At a bar, they drunkenly attempt to bet $1,000 on a game of pool and are kicked out. Afterwards, Gerry is stabbed in an attempted mugging.
With his loan shark threatening him, Gerry proposes a gambling trip with Curtis down the Mississippi River, culminating in a high-stakes poker tournament in New Orleans.
A critically-acclaimed road movie and addiction drama, Missippi Grind is a sure bet when it comes to a winning movie night.
Check it out on Fubo, Showtime, or Kanopy (or rent on VOD).
11. Maverick (1994)
There’s nothing quite like mixing a classic love story with the atmosphere of the Wild West and the excitement of a significant gambling competition.
Not to be confused with the new Top Gun sequel, this Maverick is a 1994 humorous and light-hearted comedy, with riveting performances by Jody Foster and Mel Gibson (near the height of his popularity as a leading man). The two add a great deal to the overall quality of this superb western.
Based on the 1957–1962 television series of the same name created by Roy Huggins, the film stars Gibson as Bret Maverick, a card player and con artist who collects money in order to enter a high-stakes poker game. He is joined in his adventure by Annabelle Bransford (Foster), another con artist, and Marshal Zane Cooper (James Garner, who played the title character in the tv show), a lawman.
For this charming con man, it would seem like winning a poker tournament would be a straightforward and effortless achievement. But he’s not the only one at this table with a trick or two up his sleeve.
Watch it now on Starz or rent it on VOD.
12. High Roller: The Stu Ungar Story (2003)
One of the finest biographical gambling movies ever made, Stuey stars Michael Imperioli as Stu Ungar, the first and only professional poker player ever to win three WSOP main event tournaments, and it’s difficult not to be inspired by the performance.
Even though this A.W. Vidmer play isn’t a fantastic thriller, it portrays the narrative of a young guy who had and lost everything. As he recounts his joyous highs and tragic lows, he describes them in detail, including the time he lost almost all his money betting on horses.
As impressive as it is to see how quickly he rose to prominence, it is equally fascinating to see how fast he faded away.
The film features cameos from several figures from the world of professional sports and poker, including Vince Van Patten, Andy Glazer, and Al Bernstein.
High Roller is available to rent on VOD.
13. Hard Eight (1996)
Hard Eight is the first feature film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and it is widely regarded as one of the all-time best movies about gambling.
The events in his short film, Coffee & Cigarettes, which take place in a casino in Las Vegas, have been expanded upon for this feature. A lonesome man’s life is turned upside down when he meets some new people in Las Vegas, and he finds adjusting to his new circumstances difficult.
Watch this one now on Fubo or Showtime.