Top 5 most memorable movies set in Las Vegas

Simon Blish

Everyone praises the film director when he or she manages to create a successful depiction of a particular theme or genre on screen. Because of its reputation for glitz, glamour and gambling, Las Vegas has become a key setting for films that revolve around casinos and crime – or, in one case (below) one particular film that’s all about misbehaving. Perhaps thanks to the increase in popularity of Las Vegas as a holiday resort and online casinos in general, more of them are picking the (in)famous city as a setting.

In cinema, Las Vegas tends to be associated with white knuckle risk-taking, danger and glamour, leading to some genuinely iconic sequences. These are a handful of the very finest ones.

5. Rain Man (1988)

Everyone who has seen this 1987 movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise remembers the scene where they visit the casino in Las Vegas to use the autistic maths skills possessed by Raymond (Hoffman) to count the blackjack cards. Just watch it and see if you can stop yourself saying “we are counting cards” repeatedly afterwards.

There are a few interesting goofs maths geniuses will also spot. When Charlie plays blackjack, one of the casino security officers says that “no one can count through a six deck shoe”. But, of course, he’s totally wrong – it’s quite possible for someone with just basic math skills to do this using the “hi-lo” counting method and any security officer of any major casino would know this. Perhaps the producers hoped they could discourage cheats…

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Also in the blackjack scene, when the dealer pays the winning bet of $4000, he is actually one chip off – meaning the dealer was also a cheat, keeping $100 from Charlie.

4. 21 (2008)

This is another film where the key casino scenes revolve around blackjack card counting. 21 portrays the true story of a bunch of MIT maths students led into big money cheating by their charismatic professor, played by Kevin Spacey. The lead character is portrayed by Jim Sturgess, but there is no doubt that the Vegas casino action is what people remember about this 2008 film.

However, like Rain Man, the film isn’t without its own plot holes. The tension begins to mount when Mickey realises Cole Williams is pursuing him in the movie. But there’s actually no reason he’d continue to play in Las Vegas if the real life events had unfolded in the same way. The rules of the game, the cash up for grabs and the maths involved in card counting are the same in other casinos – such as those in Atlantic City and Reno – so he could easily have moved on to another city to continue his con. More likely, events were shuffled around, exaggerated and heightened to give the film a more dramatic narrative arc.

3. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

There are tons of great scenes in this 2001 remake of the old Rat Pack heist movie, but the one where Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) deliver lessons in poker while winning a game has to rank as one of the most iconic. You’d hate it happening to you in real life, but it’s fun to watch on screen.

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As you can see from these examples there have been some great gaming actions from various stars of Hollywood, but if these characters are to meet and face each other in a game of blackjack or poker who would you bet on?

2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Based on Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-soaked roman-à-clef, Johnny Depp’s Raoul Duke and his Samoan lawyer Dr Gonzo seek the American Dream in a road trip across the country. The film is set mostly in diners, hotels, bars and a casino, and is notable for its glitz and surreal decadence.

Duke and Dr Gonzo drive an iconic convertible, nicknamed The Red Shark, while chased by imaginary bats. They later encounter lizard men and women and convince a hotel maid they’re really undercover government agents.

Modelled closely after the Circus Circus Casino in Las Vegas, the Bazooko Circus Casino had to get creative after the Circus Circus refused to let them film inside. The film thus replaces the pinwheel held by the Circus Circus’ neon clown with a mallet, while the interior shots were filmed in the Boardwalk Casino. But with such overt references to drugs, drink and all manner of dubious behaviour, the casino could hardly be blamed for not wanting to be associated with Terry Gilliam’s psychedelic romp.

1. The Hangover (2009)

This film, although relatively recent, has proven its popularity already with two sequels. As three friends wake up, hungover (of course), after an epic stag do in Las Vegas, they’re left to piece together their memories of the previous night while travelling the city to find their friend before he misses his wedding.

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The film apparently had such an impact on popular culture that the Las Vegas Valley changed as a result. Now casinos have Hangover-themed slot machines, Caesars Palace sells Hangover-related souvenirs, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority gets regular inquiries from tourists wanting to recreate popular scenes from the movie – especially including tigers!

In 2013, Caesars Palace staff report that they regular get asked two lines from the film’s check-in scene: “Did Caesar live here?” and “Do you know if the hotel is pager friendly?”

About Simon Blish

Writing, drawing, editing - Simon loves it all.