The best Roulette Movies

We’ve all seen the familiar casino scene before: a sophisticated venue, a player looking sharp in their tuxedo, surrounded by charming ladies in ball gowns, dripping with diamonds. He pushes his pile of chips onto a single number and smiles confidently as the croupier starts to spin the wheel and releases the small silver ball that will decide his destiny. It is a long-standing movie staple that has been around since the days when the scene was shot in black and white, but just what is it about roulette that draws movie makers to the game, and what are the best roulette movies for casino enthusiasts?

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Why do film makers love roulette?

Roulette often appears in films because the game lends itself to easy audience understanding. Unlike poker, which has so many different and complex rules and hidden cards, roulette is clear and simple. Viewers can see which number the character has placed his bet on and where on the wheel the ball finally lands, making it is easy to build tension and show thrilling victories and crushing losses. The spin of the wheel and the swirling ball is so much more visual and visceral than just dealing a card, lending itself to thrilling close-ups as the colours blur and the wheel bounces in and out of the slots before finally settling for a number.

Classic roulette movies

The roulette wheel is a central attraction at Rick’s Café American in Casablanca, with everyone, including local police chief, Captain Renault, enjoying a spin. But this is so much more than just set dressing - the game is used to show Rick’s kindness and humanity when he tips the wink to his croupier to let a struggling young couple win with his suggested bet on number 22. Of course, for this bet to be guaranteed to win you need a fixed wheel and a kindly casino owner. As Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty found out to their cost in the Casablanca-inspired Lost in America, just playing 22 for sentimental reasons is a foolish strategy. Couples getting into trouble at the roulette table like this is a common theme, and it crops up once again with devastating consequences in 1993’s Indecent Proposal. Having lost everything, Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore agree to Robert Redford buying a night with her for a million dollars. Sadly, rather than offsetting their losses, this decision leads to them almost losing everything.

Bond on the ball

James Bond’s game of choice may be baccarat, but he is still a regular player at the roulette table too. Indeed, the very first Bond movie, Casino Royale opens with 007 placing his bets, and he is back at the table in Dr No, Diamonds are Forever and several other films in the franchise. Many players base their strategy on Bond’s favourite number, black 17 and there is even a James Bond system for placing your bets. Legend has it that Sean Connery once won big at an Italian casino just playing black 17, which came up three times in a row as he let his winnings carry over each time. Although given that the story allegedly happened eight years before Casino Royale made black 17 famous, it feels more like a PR story than a real event.

Roulette where you’d least expect it

While you’d expect roulette to turn up in a suave and sophisticated Bond film, the last place you’d expect to find it is in the Toy Story franchise. But, look carefully during Toy Story 3 and you’ll find several of the characters playing roulette in a back room, using a See-and-Say game as their roulette wheel and batteries as chips. An even more fleeting mention of the game occurs in Steven Spielberg’s homage to the 80s, Ready Player One. When Parzival first introduces us to the online world of The Oasis, one of the attractions is a giant roulette wheel - the size of a space station - in orbit around the planet. It seems that characters from all walks of life love the lure of the game. From Woody Harrelson to Woody the Sheriff, Bogart to Bond, they’ve all picked their numbers and placed their bets. Roulette has long been a regular presence in movies, and that wheel doesn’t look like it will stop spinning any time soon.