Many movies have been made about gambling, and no film can capture an audience’s attention if it lacks compelling characters.
As such, it should be no surprise that stories told on the silver screen which involve gambling as a core plot point also frequently feature some memorable personalities.
Let’s go over the most game-changing and influential gambling movie characters from throughout the history of cinema to see what sets them apart from their less enduring counterparts.
Alan, The Hangover
Often cited as being among the best gambling movies of all time, The Hangover introduced the world to the unhinged yet lovable character of Alan, portrayed with aplomb by Zack Galifianakis.
While Galifianakis had long been a staple of the stand-up scene, Alan was the role that allowed him to break through into the mainstream, and become the subject of many a meme.
What makes Alan remarkable is his ability to be both annoying and endearing at the same time, with the charming childishness of his behavior keeping him in our good books, no matter how much he messes up.
Molly Bloom, Molly’s Game
The reason Molly Bloom deserves a place in this list is that as well as being a character in a movie, she’s a real person whose life story inspired the plot of this Aaron Sorkin penned and directed movie starring Jessica Chastain in the eponymous role.
Bloom made a name for herself running high end poker games attended by celebrities and all sorts of other powerful, wealthy people, until it all came crashing down around her when the Russian mob and the feds got involved.
Chastain embodies Molly as a highly intelligent, ambitious, driven person who happened to end up in a tricky situation, and we root for her character throughout, even with her flaws and foibles.
Howard Ratner, Uncut Gems
Some movies glamorize gambling, but some show it in a warts-and-all kind of way, and the latter definitely applies to Uncut Gems. In it, the protagonist Howard Ratner is a New York jewelry dealer who can’t stem his gambling addiction, and takes bigger and bigger risks with sports wagers that threaten to upend his entire life.
This is another career-defining role for Adam Sandler, who won hearts and minds with Punch Drunk Love many years ago, then went back to making throwaway comedies, before finally reminding everyone he can act all over again with Uncut Gems.
Raoul Duke, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Few cult classics can stand alongside Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when it comes to the bizarre antics of their characters. Johnny Depp’s performance as drug-obsessed journalist Raoul Duke is suitably left-of-field and gives us that sick and twisted insight into the underbelly of Sin City and the people who inhabited it in the middle of the last century.
Almost matching Duke for intense weirdness is his lawyer Dr Gonzo, played with pitch perfect unscrupulousness by Benicio del Toro. This terrible twosome is impossible to forget, and will shape the way you see Las Vegas forever more.
Nicky Santoro, Casino
Rounding out our roundup of remarkable gambling movie characters is a gangster played by Joe Pesci who still has the power to terrify viewers nearly 30 years after the film was released.
It’s the complete unpredictability of Nicky Santoro that makes him so scary, as you never know when he’s going to erupt into an act of violence.
Casino is certainly one movie which deserves to get more attention than it does in the impressive canon of director Martin Scorsese, and Pesci’s performance puts it up there with the best of them.