In celebration of the film’s twentieth anniversary, Rounders is now available for streaming on Hulu. Rounders was released in 1998, was met with mixed reviews, and only achieved moderate success at the box office. However, the film was a hit among college students, quickly became a cult classic, and has had a massive influence on poker today.
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Directed by John Dahl and starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton and John Malkovich, the film’s plot is centered around two friends who enter into a high-stakes poker tournament in order to pay off a large debt. The term “Rounders” refers to someone who travels from place to place in search of high-stakes card games. The story follows law student and talented poker player Mike McDermott, played by Damon, who, after losing his entire bankroll, decides to give up the game and focus on law school and his relationship with his girlfriend. This commitment lasts until Mike’s childhood friend, Lester “Worm” Murphy (played by Norton), is released from prison and owes a large debt to some bad dudes. Mike, unable to give up the game, finds himself pulled back into the high-stakes world of underground poker. It’s a fun and entertaining movie that still manages to display a deep knowledge and understanding of the complexities of poker.
The film cost approximately $12 million to make and made around $8 million in its opening weekend; it ended its theatrical run grossing a total of $22.9 million. So, it wasn’t a total flop, but it wasn’t a smash hit either. Thankfully, the film started circulating in college dorm rooms about a year or two after its initial release and quickly gained cult status. One of the main reasons the film was so popular was because it portrayed poker in a realistic manner, while still managing to balance excitement and risk. The film starts with what could be one of the greatest opening lines ever. It begins with the line: “Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.” It’s an old saying that many professional players take to heart. Rounders placed a lot of emphasis on poker as a game of skill, which added a lot to the authenticity of its poker scenes. It presented the sport in a much more nuanced and realistic way than any other poker movie before it.
Sparking the Poker Boom
The film is more than just a college dorm room classic, however, as many professional poker players have credited Rounders as the film that inspired them to start playing poker in the first place. The success of Rounders has had a profound impact on poker. The film’s popularity coincided with growing popularity of poker. Young people flocked to both the film and poker. Even 2003 World Series of Poker Winner Chris Moneymaker said that he started playing the game after watching the film over and over. Moneymaker became an overnight sensation and is often credited with sparking the poker boom that took place between 2003-2006. Moneymaker admitted that he had never played no-limit Texas hold ‘em until he watched Rounders and had never even heard of the World Series of Poker until he rented the film. Without Moneymaker, who knows if poker would have reached the global mainstream popularity that it has today, and without Rounders there likely would have been no Moneymaker.
Rounders played a critical role in bringing poker to a mainstream audience and influenced a lot of professional poker players still playing today. Rumors of a follow-up to the film have been circulating for years, and while writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien have said that they’ve got the basic plot of Rounders 2 worked out, there’s no official word yet of a sequel being in development. If you haven’t seen Rounders, you can stream it right now on Hulu.