The 5 Best Las Vegas Movies

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Five Movies Set In Casinos

Las Vegas is a city with a dark past and ties to the Mafia. In fact, Sin City devoted a museum, called the Mob Museum, to organized crime, as mafia activities are inextricably linked to the city’s history.  It was the Mafia who first dreamt of building large and luxurious hotels with casinos as an additional source of revenue. Throughout the years, Las Vegas attracted many wealthy people to invest in the city, including American aviator and business tycoon Howard Hughes, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie The Aviator.

Today, however, Vegas is primarily a big entertainment paradise and a party town that appeals to many people from all around the world. Due to its mysterious and luxurious nature, the city has also been the scene of many films. Here is a rundown of the best Las Vegas movies:

Ocean’s 11 (1960)

Ocean’s 11 might be the most famous Las Vegas movie. In this heist film, the famous Rat Pack aims to commit the impossible robbery: raiding five casinos simultaneously. Danny Ocean, a former paratrooper played by Frank Sinatra, teams up with his friends from World War II to carry out the daring raid.

The plan is to rob the Las Vegas casinos on New Year’s Eve, when everyone in every Vegas Casino is celebrating. They plant demolition charges on an electrical transmission tower and they secretly rewire the backup electrical systems in each casino so that the electrical systems will open the cashier cages instead of switching on the emergency lights. Although the robbery goes as planned, the movie ends rather ignominiously for Ocean and his crew.

The movie is an absolute classic and, ironically perhaps, brought lots of money to Las Vegas as this unpredictable film has attracted many tourists to the gambling capital of the world.

Casino (1995)

In this crime drama set in Las Vegas, Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) and Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) are two mafia associates who both play a major role in the Las Vegas underworld. The movie is based on real people who worked for Chicago Outfits and ran several major casinos.

Ace, a successful sports handicapper, is sent to Las Vegas by the mafia to run the fictional Tangiers Casino. He does his job rather well and manages to double the casino’s revenue. In addition, the mafia sends Nicky Santoro to Las Vegas in order to monitor Ace and protect him if necessary. However, Nicky’s vicious temper and reckless demeanour causes a lot of problems and results in the downfall of the Casino.

The film is directed by Martin Scorsese and interestingly, in order to make the movie as realistic as possible, Scorsese spoke to the very criminals the movie is based on and the FBI agents who arrested them. The movie not only depicts the golden age of mafia activities in Las Vegas, but also the beginning of its end.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a box failure but has since become a classic cult film. In the movie, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) has been commissioned to write for an unspecified magazine about the Mint 400 motorcycle race that takes place in Las Vegas. Together with his friend and lawyer dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), he rents a red convertible with a trunk filled with psychoactive drugs. In the movie, Gilliam shows us the Las Vegas of the 70s through the eyes of two young men hallucinating on drugs.

It took a rather long time to complete the movie as several famous actors such as Jack Nicholson, John Malkovich and John Cusack were supposed to play Duke. However, after Thompson met and befriended Johnny Depp, he was convinced that Depp was the only one who would be able to play Duke’s role.

The Cooler (2003)

Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) has a failed life: He lives in an old apartment in a smudgy motel near the Las Vegas Strip, he does not have a relationship, and he is indebted to Shangri-La Casino boss Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin). In order to pay off his debts, he works in Shelly’s casino as a cooler, a casino employee whose mere presence is believed to cause bad luck for the players.

As he is sick and tired of his job and the gambling industry, he decides to tell Shelly that he wants to quit and leave Las Vegas as soon as possible. Not long after that, however, he falls in love with cocktail waitress Natalie Belisario. Little does Bernie know that Shelly pays her to go out with him in order to prevent him from leaving Las Vegas. The story takes an unexpected turn when Natalie actually falls for the cooler and turning his misfortune into good luck.

It is not quite clear if so-called coolers are still being used in casinos nowadays, but when big money is involved people are inclined to become superstitious. In fact, many casino frequenters have declared that they have experienced an unusual amount of bad luck after a specific person came close. True or not, watching this movie, it is nearly impossible not to feel for the unlucky cooler!

The Hangover (2009)

Doug is getting married and the best place for his bachelor party is, of course, Las Vegas. The morning after the party, his three friends wake up to find that they have no memory of the previous night. Doug is nowhere to be found, there is a chicken in the living room, a baby in the closet and a tiger in the bathroom. The clock is ticking and they must quickly find Doug to get him back to LA in time for his wedding.

A Chinese gangster accuses the three friends of stealing $80K from him and he demands the money back; if they do not do what he says he threatens to kill Doug. In order to get the missing money back, they decide to try their luck at a blackjack table. Alan (Zach Galifianakis) successfully uses his knowledge of card counting to win. Even though you do not have to be a genius to do this, you do need basic math skills.

The hangover was a massive success, both critically and economically and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – musical or comedy in 2009.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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