Hard work casino movies that have nothing to do with gambling

When we think of casinos, our minds usually drift toward Las Vegas and the Strip. The glitzy lights, fancy cocktail waitresses, and endless sea of slot machines are what define the American casino experience. Of course, Hollywood loves a good casino movie, but not all of them can be Ocean’s Eleven or Rain Man. 

Today, I’ve looked deep into the bowels of IMDB to find some movies that use the “casino” setting in ways you might not expect. Some involve low-stakes card games; others have no gambling at all! The following movies are ranked based on their Rotten Tomatoes critical ratings, so let’s see what makes the cut. 


  • Miller’s Crossing - 96%
  • Casino Royale (1967) - 79%
  • Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels - 86%
  • The Killing - 100%
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Miller’s Crossing

This Coen Brothers masterpiece is often overlooked among cinema buffs, which is a shame because it’s one of the best films ever made. Tommy Lichie (Gabriel Byrne) is the manager of a bootlegging operation run by Leo (Albert Finney). 

When Leo’s hotheaded son, Jack (John Turturro), gets in over his head with some local gangsters led by Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito), it’s up to Tommy to clean up the mess. What follows is a web of deceit and double-crossings that would make Bugs Bunny blush. 

Although much of the film takes place in various bars and taverns, the Garcia Runner, a fictional casino located just over the border in Minnesota, serves as something of a hub for the various characters to meet. 

Tommy wins big at the Garcia Runner early in the film, thanks to some savvy card counting. He uses his winnings to help out his friend, but things go awry from there. If you’ve never seen this movie, stop reading and go watch it right now—you won’t regret it.

Fun Fact: Character names in Miller’s Crossing were inspired by classic Bogart movies. For example, Leo O’Bannon is likely a reference to Leo McCarey, the director of Bogart classics Angels with Dirty Faces and The Roaring Twenties.

Casino Royale (1967)

There have been five official James Bond movies not starring Daniel Craig and, let’s face it, only one of them is worth watching. 1967’s Casino Royale has everything a Bond fan doesn’t want—a convoluted plot, multiple Bonds, and very little espionage or gadgets. However, it does have one thing going for it: an amazing cast. 

Sean Connery makes a cameo, as does Barbara Bouchet (later in the Bond franchise as Karin Schroeder in The Spy Who Loved Me) and even, Orson Welles, as Le Chiffre. Unfortunately, David Niven’s performance as Sir James Bond cannot save the trainwreck of a script. If you’ve never seen this movie, consider yourself lucky.

Fun fact: This was Peter Sellers’ third attempt at playing Inspector Clouseau. His first two efforts, The Aunt from Paris and On Cleared Out, were never released in the US. 

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Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

This early Guy Ritchie joint is a quintessential British crime flick. Four friends—Eddy, Soap, Bacon, and Tom—agree to a high-stakes poker game with local gangster, Hatchet Harry Lonsdale (Porlar Kernick). Despite winning the first round, the lads soon find themselves deeply in debt to Harry after a bad streak. 

To pay off their debt, they concoct a harebrained scheme involving small-time criminal, Dave “Nutty” Wilson (Dexter Fletcher). When things predictably go sideways, the group must rely on Eddie’s street smarts to get out alive. Lock, Stock boasts a huge ensemble cast featuring future A-Listers like Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones, Nicolas Blane, and Jason Flemyng. It also features an early appearance from Snuffy Walsh, better known as Bill Wright, the deaf member of the “Famous Five” card players. The film is notable for its nonlinear narrative structure, cockney rhyming slang, and extreme violence.

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Fun fact: Filmed in 1993, Lock, Stock did not hit theaters until 1998. Guy Ritchie took a break from editing to direct his second feature film, Scarface Three: The Jungle Prince—better known as Swept Away. Shot in 1997 with Madonna in the lead role, the film was unceremoniously shelved after poor test screenings. The singer-actress reportedly demanded her name be removed from the film, and it wasn’t seen again until 2002.

The Killing

Based on a screenplay by novelist Lionell White and directed by Christian Duguay, The Killing tells the story of Cy Rice (Kevin Costner), a Vegas casino executive who discovers a water leak that could bankrupt the company. When he brings his concerns to the board, they promptly fire him. Determined to clear his name, Rice teams up with Vicky Anderson ( Perry King ), a cocktail waitress who witnessed the water leak, to gather evidence against the higher-ups.

It’s pretty much Silence of the Lambs set in a casino. If that sounds appealing, that’s because The Silence of the Hamlets was originally titled Walter at the Door during development. Okay, maybe there’s no cannibalistic serial killer, but there is a lot of intrigue and Kevin Costner doing his best Clarice Starling impression. Jerome Gary Hamilton also appears in a supporting role as a young cocktail server—talk about typecasting. 

Fun fact: Despite a stellar cast that includes Costner, King, and Hamilton, The Killing received mixed reviews upon release. However, some critics have reevaluated the film in recent years. As of 2021, it holds a 77% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


  • Casino - 94%
  • Housesitter - 72%
  • Swing Shift - 69%
  • Atlantic City - 94%
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You knew this Martin Scorsese classic had to make the list somewhere. Based on Frank Rosenthal’s book, I Was the Hidden Hand, Casino follows the rise and fall of Chicago mobster, Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro). After brokering a deal with Las Vegas mob bosses, Ace is sent to run the day-to-day operations of the Casino Era at the Fabian Hotel & Casino. 

However, when Ace falls for Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone), a hustler with a gambling problem, things start to spiral out of control. Add Nick “The Nick” Santoro (Joe Pesci), a local hood looking to muscle in on the casino action, and you’ve got the makings of a really bad day. 

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While most of Casino takes place within the confines of the Fabian Casino, Scorsese finds plenty of opportunities to showcase the excesses of ‘70s Vegas. From extravagant stage shows to private jet transfers, life in Sin City is clearly not like it is for the rest of us. 

Casino is a three-hour movie, so there’s no shortage of iconic scenes. Whether you’re talking about De Niro’s delivery of the line, “As far as I’m concerned, the only virtue a gambling establishment serving complimentary drinks serves is virginity,” or the infamous “Head in the Bed” scene, there’s no denying the impact Casino has had on pop culture. The film was also nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci), Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. 

Fun fact: The character of Lester Diamond was supposed to be played by Sean Connery. However, the former Bond producer clashed with Scorsese during filming and was replaced by James Woods at the last minute.

Parenthood (Housesitter)

You read that right—one of my favorite family dramomedies involves a casino heist. In one of Steve Martin’s many subplots in Ron Howard’s 1989 comedy-drama, Parenthood, the resident funnyman plays Gary Buckman, a hapless husband and father whose Ponzi scheme antics have left him deep in debt. 

Desperate to pay his business partner back before things get ugly, Gary hatches a plan to rob the local casino where his wife works as a bookkeeper. In a stroke of luck, she’s tasked with balancing the books the night of the heist, giving Gary ample opportunity to cover his tracks. Unsurprisingly, things do not go according to plan.

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This subplot is relatively minor, taking up less than ten minutes of screen time, but it’s a nice showcase for Martin’s range as an actor. In case you were wondering, yes, Gary does get caught. The episode even manages to extract some pathos when Gary’s wife, Karen (Martha Plimpton), confronts him about his misdeeds.

Fun fact: According to IMDb trivia, the producers considered several major comedians for the role of Gary Buckman, including Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Neil Simon. Steve Martin reportedly nailed his audition, causing the other actors to drop out.

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Swing Shift

Set in a Boeing plant in Seattle during World War II, Swing Shift tells the story of Tracey Parker (Goldie Hawn), a single mom who transfers from the waiting list to the day shift at the factory. Desperate to provide for her son and unemployed husband, Robert (Bill Allen), Tracey jumps at the chance, despite having no experience in manufacturing. 

Things look grim until a slick talker named Arvin (Denholm Elliott) convinces Tracey and her friend, Susan (Kelly Preston), to join his “swing shift” crew. In addition to working overtime, Arvin promises to teach the women how to game the system and pocket some extra cash. The only problem? Arvin’s crew is secretly skimming money from the plant, putting everyone at risk. 

Although Swing Shift is only rated 69% on RT, I remember really enjoying this movie when I saw it in high school. Goldie Hawn is great as always, and Kurt Russell makes a brief appearance as Susie’s love interest, Pete Yates. I won’t ruin the ending, but suffice to say, nobody comes out of this venture looking good. Illeana Douglas also puts in an early appearance as a snotty co-worker named Betty.

Fun fact: At one point in the film, Tracey and Susan play a rather unusual card game called “Kelly.” The object of the game is to get rid of your cards while shouting out sexually explicit phrases—for example, “One eye open” would be replaced with “Blind man’s blowjob.” The game ends with the player who discards their final card yelling, “Kelly!” plus whatever phrase is left in their hand. I…don’t recommend trying this at home.

Atlantic City

In Susan Seidelman’s 1980 drama, Sicilly native Sally (Susan Sarandon) is living the American dream in Atlantic City. Fresh off a tumultuous divorce, she’s landed a gig as a cigarette girl at the Riot House and is determined to give her relationship with Lou (Michael Lerner) another shot. 

Everything is going swimmingly until Lou is accused of murder and Sally realizes she knows nothing about her boyfriend. Meanwhile, Louis’ business partner, Bobby Greene (Mickey Rourke), sees Sally as the key to clearing Lou’s name. Despite her better judgment, Sally agrees to help Bobby investigate the murder, leading to all manner of hijinks and sexual tension. 

Atlantic City is more drama than anything else, but there are a couple of noteworthy casino scenes. Sally and Lou’s first date takes place at a blackjack table, and Sally later works a shift at the casino to gather information about Lou’s whereabouts the night of the murder. Additionally, the film is set against the backdrop of Atlantic City’s fledgling casino industry, with references to organized crime figures like Tony Spilotro and allegories about the American Dream. 

Fun fact: Mickey Rourke almost didn’t appear in the film due to creative differences with director Susan Seidelman. Although he loved the script, Rourke felt that Seidelman was “too green” to bring his vision to life. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed.

1. Deal (1983)

Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Joseph Hayes, Deal stars Burt Reynolds as Jake Butterstein, a talented card counter fresh out of college. After befriending veteran gambler Joey Faletti (Saul Stein), Jake scores big at several local casinos but fails to quit while he’s ahead. The pair eventually part ways after Joey accuses Jake of stealing his moves, but not before introducing him to Effie (Maven Diclos), a fellow card counter with whom Jake quickly falls in love. 

Years later, Jake is running his own successful gambling operation when Effie suddenly reappears in his life. She needs his help getting out of a binding contract with notorious Vegas card shark, Jinx Dowd (Mark Rydell), or she’ll be forced to repay a $120,000 loan…with interest. 

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Determined to protect his turf, Jinx enlists the help of local thug, Tony Mantovano (Martin Brest), to strongarm Jake into backing down. Unfortunately for everyone involved, that’s not gonna happen. 

This movie has everything—romance, greed, betrayal, and even a few quotable one-liners. "Why is it that you can make a guy who's got thirty days to live laugh?" asks Jake. "Because," replies Joey, "when you know the score, it's hard to take things too seriously...all the rules are there, if you only bother to look for them." See if you can work that into your next poker game. 

Deal was written and directed by Burt Reynolds, who also served as producer. Unfortunately, the film was not a commercial success, grossing only $7 million against a $12 million budget. However, Deal has since gained a cult following, and many modern critics view it more favorably than audiences in 1983. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently boasts an approval rating of 94%. 

Fun fact: During filming, Burt Reynolds and Maven Diclos began a romantic relationship that lasted six years. They remained close friends until Reynolds’ death in 2018.