G-S-T Quick 5 – Favorite Casino Heist Films

Among the many established or iconic locales famous for gambling, the Las Vegas Strip has been a very popular cinematic setting over the years. From films like Warren Beatty’s Bugsy (1991), the Joe Pesci/Robert De Niro classic Casino (1995), hell even Chevy Chase’s Vegas Vacation (1997), there’s something undeniably cool and edgy about “The Strip” (except maybe that National Lampoon one). Yet in the city of sin, or wherever you try and find Lady Luck, when you pony up to the tables sometimes you’re putting more than just some colorful chips on the line. Unfortunately, as one Danny Ocean astutely comments, the underlying rule is that “the house always wins“, but it’s not always the case as a few films have shown us.

So whether you’ve lost a few bucks (or more) to the dealers or one-arm bandits, and in anticipation of the magician heist film Now You See Me hitting theaters next year, here’s a few films that attempt to redress the balance in favor of the little guy…although results, highly fictitious and dangerous though they may be, will vary. Behold, our latest Quick 5 – Go,See,Talk’s Favorite Casino Heist Films.

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Ocean’s 11 – The quintessential “how-to” of casino heist movies in terms of budget, A-List star power, box-office takings and sheer irresistible suavity, has to be 2001’s Ocean’s 11. Riffing on the classic “one last job” yarn, Danny Ocean (Clooney), assembles, with the help of trusted friend Rusty, (Pitt), a gang of eleven eclectics to help him take down not one, not two, but three casinos, in the same night. Everyone is gorgeous, every wit is sharp, the casinos are places of fascinating elegance, and even the bad guys are good guys at heart. The heist itself is both impressively simple and fiendishly complicated, and it’s possible to credit Ocean’s 11 for sparking a mini Vegas renaissance, as a faintly magical, cocktail-drenched place, where you and your friends could come to gaze into the swirling fountains outside the Bellagio, and dream of pulling off the big one.

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2121 – Before you begin to put up hands and tell us that this really isn’t a heist movie, this entry allows for a little latitude…and actually it is heist film; an intellectual one. After all, any time the house doesn’t win it’s like you’re robbing the casino wouldn’t ya say? Their game of choice isn’t Roulette or Craps, it is, as the title implies, 21. These ivy leaguers got very good at counting cards, under the tutelage of MIT Professor Kevin Spacey, and this gang of statistical whizzkids descended on the blackjack tables of Las Vegas, to prove the old adage incorrect, that the house always wins. All it takes is simple math equation to give the players the win. Based on a true story, it’s a fascinating portrayal of how greed corrupts, and the buzz of winning big in Sin City.

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3000 Miles to Graceland – In 3000 Miles to Graceland, there’s no such subtlety; dressed as Elvis-impersonators, Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell simply burst in, all guns blazing, and hope for the best, which, unsurprisingly, they don’t get. The concept of a bunch of criminals dressed up like Elvis and wrecking havoc on Las Vegas, but that’s not really what this movie is about. In fact, most of the Elvis gangsters are killed off at the beginning of the film, leaving only Costner and Russell behind to duke it out for the loot, at which point the film seems to lose its focus. With no moral compass to follow, the motivations behind the character’s actions remain a mystery, and as a result 3000 Miles to Graceland becomes a movie about a bunch of morally bankrupt people the audience just can’t care about.

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Rain Man  – In Rain Man, counting cards is once again the ticket to instant wealth. Again, not a wham bam heist film but a sly way of beating the house. Tom Cruise’s unscrupulous and selfish, Charlie Babbitt, takes his autistic genius brother, Raymond, to count cards at the Vegas blackjack tables until the casinos are begging for mercy. Unlike other heist film, this one successfully creates an emotional connection with the audience, making Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt, one of the most iconic characters of the eighties, and perhaps one of the most memorable and complex characters ever created. More than a heist thriller, Rain Man becomes a road drama about family, love and finding ones way in the world. The film opened to box office success and won four Oscars at the 61st Academy awards including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Actor in a leading role for Hoffman, making it the most successful heist film from both a critical and popular standpoint.

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Seven Thieves – Released just before the original Ocean’s Eleven (and taking place in Monte Carlo as opposed to Vegas) this black and white nod to the noir style, Seven Thieves stars Edward G. Robinson, as Theo Wilkins, an expatriate American professor, and Rod Steiger as his young protégé, Paul Mason. Joan Collins rounds out the team of thieves, playing Melanie, an exotic dancer and later Steiger’s love interest. The attraction between Melanie and Mason proves genuine and as a result the two emerge as the only true winners in the end, proving that sometimes love really does conquer all, at least that’s what Hollywood would like the audience to believe.

Comments

  1. Bob Le Flambeur! While most of your picks are fine, not including that and putting in a mediocre film like 21 is a strange choice. Even the remake The Good Thief is worth including. Mmm…

    • RidgeRacer4 says

      There aren’t a great may titles to chose from (I was had pressed to come up with 4, nice work here Jess) but I think what made the list work is the diversity. You don’t have to rob the entire casino to be considered a heist flick…but it’d be a lot cooler if it was, dontcha think?:P