Hollywood has had a long-term fascination with casino games. Whether it manifests as movies that revolve entirely around a game – like “21“ does with blackjack – or as a key scene that highlights who the antagonists are – “GoldenEye” anyone? There are countless references to the casino since the silver screen first came into being.
In addition to poker, the game of roulette has held a certain allure with movie directors. Maybe it’s the glamorous association with the ever-fashionable French (the game was invented on French shores by Blaise Pascal), or perhaps it’s the seemingly never-ending stacks of chips and the ultimate tension that’s created as the ball slowly finds it’s resting place after the wheel has been spun. Whatever the reason, there are several iconic movie scenes and movies featuring roulette, from zany comedies to the tensest modern-day thrillers. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Casablanca (1942), Michael Curtiz
There isn’t a movie buff alive who wouldn’t list Casablanca as one of their top ten movies. Michael Curtiz’s 1942 drama has really stood the test of time, becoming a significant part of popular culture since its release over half a century ago.
Everyone knows the plot: Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine has opened a bar in the eponymous hideaway of Casablanca and, at the height of WWII, he agrees to help his former lover, and gets his heart broken all over again. Lines like “of all the gin bars in all the world, you had to walk into mine” and “we’ll always have Paris” have worked their way into the modern lexicon, and we all know what it means when someone starts playing As Time Goes By.
Central to the plot of the movie, however, is a game of roulette – a game that Rick knows a little something about. Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund and her fiance are desperate to get out of town, so Rick tells them to bet on Black 22 at a roulette game at his Cafe American. Needless to say, the game is rigged.
Diamonds are Forever (1971), Guy Hamilton
Starring Sean Connery as James Bond in his second incarnation (if you count Sir David Niven), roulette has made appearances before and after in the 007 canon, but this one is arguably the most iconic. Bond, oozing charisma, famously enters the chic Whyte House casino – the epitome of what people expect a glamorous gaming parlor to be. Betting on Black 17 Bond, naturally, wins big.
Run Lola Run (1998) ,Tom Twyker
Twyker’s adrenaline-packed feature, starring Franka Potente, is a true highlight of modern German cinema. Admittedly, not every movie fan can hack subtitles (or understand the native language), but we urge you to give it a go. It’s a fascinating exploration of not just thrills and romance, but also the way that life can turn on a dime and the countless possibilities that there are in any given moment.
To save her boyfriend’s life, Potente’s Lola needs to stump up a hefty $150,000 within just 20 minutes. With the clock against her, Lola speeds to the roulette table, where she places a big bet on Number 22 … we won’t spoil the rest if you haven’t seen it yet.
Croupier (1998), Mike Hodges
“Croupier” is an excellent little neo-noir movie through and through. As you’d expect from the title, the film is packed with fascinating scenes set inside the London casino where the titular character, Jack Manford, played with brooding intensity by Clive Owen, works.
One of the best scenes involving roulette, or the table at least, is when Jack demonstrates his croupier skills – sorting chips within a matter of seconds.
Roulette in real life
As thrilling as these scenes are to watch, just like how poker gets the Hollywood treatment in movies like “Casino Royale,” so too does roulette. It’s important to remember that these scenes are crafted for the dramatic appeal, and in the case of “Run Lola Run” and “Casablanca,” are central to the plot.
Confusing these scenes with real-life could be a costly mistake. Of course, in the digital era, there’s no excuse for not knowing the rules of the game or for not being able to develop a decent strategy with the internet full of tips to win at roulette as well as roulette etiquette. However, that doesn’t mean that betting big like Ilsa or Lola will generate the same result.
As it does with so many everyday activities and situations, the big screen portrays a much more fantastical experience at the roulette wheel than you’d typically have at a casino, no matter how much you fancy yourself as James Bond!