In the parlance of strange and passionate people and their strange and passionate affairs, gambling films always seem to gather "cult followings" - which generally means their success in the box office is mediocre, but they're still seen as popular films with niche audiences. Indeed, the basic themes presented in these films - risk, reward, getting into and sometimes out of trouble, and hedonistic atmospheres - are certainly appealing windows into a more gratifying form of entertainment. The attraction, an instinctual desire to test the limits of your personal success, is not too hard to understand after all.
But have you ever noticed that nearly every popular gambling film portrays gambling as not only risky, but flat out dangerous? Consider the following examples:
- Rounders - A pantheon gambling film and many people's favorite, "Rounders" is essentially about the dangers of high stakes, underground poker. Ed Norton's character, Worm, is portrayed as a self-destructive, troublemaking addict who can't help but ruin himself through gambling, and Matt Damon's Mike can clearly only succeed in life when he distances himself from the tables. It's entertaining, but really pretty bleak.
- 21 - Blackjack, baby! It's a sexy and actually fairly intelligent thriller based on the true story of a group of M.I.T. students who organized a card-counting operation in Vegas on weekends. Yet the film's main character, Ben (Jim Sturgess), nearly loses his money, education, shot at a future, and life in one fell swoop. Yikes!
- Heat - The 1986 film - not the 90's action thriller - depicts Burt Reynolds as a skilled and enjoyable bodyguard/gun for hire who yearns to leave Vegas and start a new life abroad. But, alas, an unwieldy gambling addiction keeps him from achieving this dream. Incidentally, Screenrant tells us a remake with Jason Statham is on the way.
Just a few examples, but you get the idea. "Casino Royale," noted for a particularly memorable sequence, is a prominent exception, as it makes gambling - at least in Daniel Craig's capable hands - look sexy, thrilling, and fruitful. But generally speaking, I'm always struck by how thoroughly the film industry's portrayal of gambling and the actual modern hobby of casino activity seem to clash.
Of course, there is always risk in gambling, and addiction is a very real problem. But for the most part today, we view gambling as entertainment more than as a harmful vice. For example, playing poker at Betfair online, an Internet casino user might simply be honing his game, gambling relatively small amounts of cash in live tournaments or video poker rooms simply for entertainment value. At the same site, a user can enjoy cartoonish arcade games and slot machine options, to the point that it almost seems more like an arcade gaming site than a casino!
Again, gambling and risk can never be separated. But options like Internet casinos, in addition to basic entertainment - watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN, downloading silly poker and blackjack apps, etc. - have led to a lighter, simpler perception of gambling for the average person. And, ultimately, this may have something to do with why those old school gambling films teeming with trouble just don't seem relatable anymore.