There’s something about poker and the movie industry. Whether it’s the allure of the game itself, the tension of a final hand, or the pure joy of watching the underdog win (they always win, right?) – the fact is we love poker in our movies.
And yes, there has been a lot of poker in cinema. From Bond right through to E.T., directors and the viewing public just can’t get enough of the game. Although we’re not convinced the new Bond 25
will have anything but action scenes in it. So, that weird scene at the beginning of E.T. aside, which are the most iconic poker scenes in the movie history? A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966)
Now, we’re going to start off with a movie that only the true film buffs will have heard of. This Henry Fonda classic is an unheralded gem of cinematic history, famed for its incredible twist at the end. Yeah, we hate it when people do that too, but seriously this article is all about scenes in films so there are going to be spoilers.
Anyway, back to business. The entire film is based on a game of high stakes poker and it’s essential watching for anyone with an interest in the game. The acting is superb throughout and there are multiple scenes to choose from, but we’re going with the one where the ‘little lady’ takes her dead husband’s place at a game of high stakes poker. He can’t take the strain of the game so, rather than lose everything he has gambled so far, his wife joins the game. It’s thrilling stuff and even if you’re not into poker it’s well worth a watch.
Rounders (1998) Caption – Damon is actually an accomplished poker player
If you haven’t seen Rounders yet then you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s a brilliant film with John Malkovich at his best. Matt Damon isn’t half bad in his role either. Mike (Damon) quits poker after Teddy (Malkovich) cleans him out at the table. If only he'd known what the danger hands were Texas Hold’em
. Well, actually he knew full well but it didn't stop him from making a huge mistake. That’s not the scene we’re talking about though.
Our choice of scene is not when Teddy takes Mike to the cleaners, but when Mike gets his chance to take revenge on Teddy. The final scene is pretty epic and as we said, it’s Malkovich being very John Malkovich (haven’t we heard something like that before?) Anyway, even if you’ve seen it, watch it again. It’s amazing stuff. Casino Royale (2006)
There was simply no way we could write about poker in cinema and not come to one of the greatest scenes in any Bond movie. You likely know this epic scene all too well, but we’ll go through it again.
The big blind in this game of Texas Hold’em is $1 million and that’s when you know it’s going to be special. Bond takes $40.5 million of Her Majesty’s money and goes all-in against the super villain Le Chiffre. The villain hesitates but follows 007 in going all-in. He thinks he has it won with a full house with the Ace of Clubs and the 6 of Hearts. There’s only one hand that can beat him and yep, Bond has it. The pot is over $100 million. Epic indeed. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
The name says it all. Luke (Paul Newman) is down for a two-year stretch and besides eating hard boiled eggs just for fun
, Luke likes to play a bit of poker. In the scene, the players are enjoying a game of five-card stud. The game comes down to two players; Koko and Luke.
Luke raises the bet each time it comes to him and Koko does the same until both he and his buddy Dragline become convinced that Luke has the better hand. Koko folds and Luke wins the pot. Dragline flips Luke’s cards to reveal that he had nothing and bluffed his way through the game, earning him the name Cool Hand Luke. It’s great fun to watch. The Gambler (1980)
Yes, it’s a TV movie and it’s pretty much a retelling of Kenny Rogers’ album of the same name
, but we have to say, it’s a fine piece of TV production. Kenny himself plays Brady Hawkes and in one scene he shows his opponent at the table, Doc, how to play real poker.
Doc is confident that Hawkes doesn’t really know what he’s doing and so toys with him. It soon becomes apparent that Hawkes is a fine player but despite the telltale signs, Doc continues to bet big. It’s great to watch the change in Doc’s emotions throughout the scene and even better to see his look of pure disbelief when Hawkes reveals a 10 of hearts for a straight flush. Not quite as good as Rounders but still a good watch. The Sting (1973)
And here we are with Paul Newman yet again. This time around it’s a bit more serious as his character Henry Gondorff (a con artist) pretends to be drunk during a game of poker.
The idea is to take the other players to the cleaners and he does it rather well for a few hands. Then one player, named Lonnegan, decides to take matters into his own hands. He rigs a deck in his own favor during a break and sets himself up to take all of Gondorff’s money. The hand plays out as it should with Lonnegan set to win, until Gondorff reveals a winning hand. Lonnegan knows that the only way that Gondorff could have that hand was if he cheated. Unfortunately for him, he can’t say anything as doing so would only reveal that he himself is also a cheat. It’s the old con and twist that works so well in this particular film.
It’s a question you probably never asked, but now you have your answer. These are without doubt the most iconic poker scenes in movie history. Now, where did we put that deck of cards?