Great Poker Scenes in Movies
Poker has such a colourful history, so it’s no surprise that the card game has been an integral storyline in many movies and tv shows. But this list isn’t about movies based on poker; rather, it’s about some of the best poker scenes in movies regardless of the movie topic. Some of the scenes are from poker-related movies, but many aren’t.
Let’s kick this off, shall we?
The first poker scene on the menu is from Rounders (1998), starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton and John Malkovich. To be sure, this movie has a large focus on poker. The card game is featured in many scenes and is really the overall theme of the movie.
But let’s draw your attention to the final scene: A no-limit Texas Hold’em heads up game between Mike (Damon) and Teddy KGB (Malkovich), the Oreo-munching, tracksuit-clad Russian with no problem using violence to settle differences. Mike has discovered some of Teddy KGB’s tells and has grown the confidence to finally take him down at his own game. The scene is tense; the pressure is palpable. Every character in the scene contributes to the image that Mike has gone to a place he didn’t want to go.
The final scene shows how Mike’s confidence has grown and he’s not going to let fear or intimidations enter his thoughts. Cards are dealt. Flop is dealt. Mike checks then KGB bets. Mike calls. The turn sees Mike check again but KGB bets out. Mike again calls. On the river we see the same. Mike checks again so Teddy, in a dazzling show of confidence, goes all in. Mike calls and wins the game, showing he’d flopped the nut straight. Ah, classic Damon!
Next movie on our list is the House of Games, released in 1986, the year of the mullet. The poker game in question was between Mike (Joe Mantegna – the voice of Fat Tony in The Simpsons) and George (Ricky Jay), and was unique because the person losing wasn’t even playing.
Mike brings a psychiatrist with him to the game to analyze his opponent’s body language and expressions, and to try to get in his head. In the final hand, George raises $6,000; Mike and the psychiatrist huddle up to discuss the situation. She convinces him to stay in the hand.
What unfolds next is brilliance. Yes, Mike calls the bet but he doesn’t have all the funds needed. He tells the table his marker is good. Arguments ensue until the psychiatrist states she’ll cover the bet – if Mike loses she’ll cut a check.
Well, wouldn’t ya know it – Mike lost the hand. But earlier I said the person losing wasn’t even playing so what gives? Mike and George are buddies and they were conning the psychiatrist out of the money. Brilliance!
Lastly, we have Maverick (1994) starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and James Coburn to name a few of the all-star cast. The scene we’re referring to is fairly unrealistic but it fits the atmosphere of the movie. Bret Maverick (Gibson) is at the final table and wins the whole thing. It’s the presentation that is both memorable and laughable.
Indeed Maverick’s slowroll move was unrealistic - taking time and showing cards individually - he takes it all with a royal flush. Definitely a bizarre way to win the game but it made this scene one of the most popular ones for poker fans.
Poker always has, and always will, be a part of our pop culture. Whether it’s portrayed realistically or not, the better scenes are burned in our memories for years.
So that begs the question: which actor would play you in a poker-based movie?