Poker in the Movies

Poker has a long tradition of being used in movies for dramatic effect.

When done right, these movies do a lot more than just showcase the game accurately. A great poker movie gives viewers a sense of poker subculture, and how it affects those who play it.

Loosely defined, there are probably hundreds of ‘poker movies’. Poker is, after all, now a global phenomenon. But here I’ll showcase and rank my top ten poker movie recommendations for your viewing pleasure.

Molly’s Game (2017)

Molly Bloom was an aspiring olympic skier until an accident crushed those dreams forever. Alone and with no direction in life, she finds she can make good money by organizing high stakes poker games.<.p>

At its core, Molly’s Game is about rebuilding yourself even when life insists on taking breaking down. Throughout the movie, Molly goes through rewarding highs and free falling lows, she never stays down long.

The Grand (2007)

During the height of the Poker Boom, a documentary crew follows several players as they enter ‘The Grand’, a winner-take-all poker tournament. Hilarity ensues.

I hesitated to add this to the list, but I actually love this bizarre movie. It’s a perfect reflection of the poker boom era, the most ridiculous time in poker’s history.

Had director Zak Penn pretended the boom was anything like real life, the movie would be a lie—it would have felt artificial, like ‘Lucky You’ or ‘The Deal’. Instead, it’s a veritable time capsule.

Mississippi Grind (2015)

Gerry, a losing poker player, meets Curtis, a traveling gambler. The two become fast friends until Gerry convinces Curtis to stake him in poker games as they road trip to New Orleans. Throughout the journey, Gerry shows himself to be a terrible investment but Curtis keeps him around for the sake of friendship.

The movie then applies the concept of expected value (EV) to relationships. Curtis is lonely, so he ignores every good instinct and takes a chance on Gerry. He knows Gerry is awful—he sees red flags throughout the movie—but he just won’t let go. He needs a friend.

Poker King (2009)

A man-child and online poker player will lose his inheritance if he can’t prove he’s mature enough to run his father’s company.

No, this is not an Adam Sandler movie that you missed. It‘s a Hong Kong movie set in Macau. While I see eye rolls every time I describe this movie’s plot, once people give it a chance they can’t help but get into it. It’s so relentlessly earnest and treats poker with such love and passion that some of it rubs off on you.

The execution is far superior to what the concept could ever hope to be. It’s simply an earnest love letter to poker from a culture that didn’t have access to it until recently, and which enjoys it with fresh eyes.

Finder’s Fee (2001)

A group of friends have a weekly home game where they all buy lottery tickets and the winner of their sit-and-go gets to keep them all. It stops being fun when one of them finds the winning ticket in a lost wallet, and its rightful owner is coming just in time for the game to start.

The only big names at Finder’s Fee’s time were James Earl Jones and Robert Foster, but it also features before-they-were-famous Ryan Reynolds, Dash Mihok, and Matthew Lillard.

At its core, Finder’s Fee is a gritty exploration of how greed poisons good people’s souls and turns them into monsters. Throughout the movie we see kind-hearted people devolve into scheming psychopaths who don’t care who gets hurt as long as they get paid.

Jeff Probst, better known as the host of Survivor, wrote and directed this movie, and his inexperience as a director shows despite a great script. Thankfully, the writing outweighs the directing in the end, and we are completely taken in with a poker game where $6 million and human decency are at stake.

This movie was completely ignored by audiences and critics alike, with only 5 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Well, here’s a sixth one: it’s good. If you can find it, go watch it.