Celluloid Shooters

Lessons from Hollywood’s most notorious gamblers

If art imitates life, and life today so closely resembles a high-stakes poker game, then it stands to reason that 21st-century gamblers could learn a thing or two from Hollywood’s greatest onscreen hustlers and card sharks.


Robert Redford in “The Sting.” Tyrone Power in “Mississippi Gambler.” Rhonda Fleming in “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” These calculated, cunning, colorful soldiers of fortune are the greatest gamblers of our time. Seldom perfect and nearly always bewitching, these men and women can teach us a great deal about luck, talent, confidence, conceit, character, and money in this age of risk and speculation.

Following is Fast Company’s take on a few of the greatest gambling films in the history of American cinema: “The Hustler” (1961), “Cincinnati Kid” (1965), and “Casino” (1995). We invite you to read these synopses, add comments of your own, and contribute additional titles to this index of celluloid shooters.

“The Hustler” (1961)
“Fast” Eddie Felson is a born loser suffering from a winning streak. A young pool shark long on grit and short on honor, Eddie (Paul Newman) drinks J.T.S. Brown bourbon and hustles suckers at billiards. He’s an anti-hero who has lived for this moment: His face-off against pool hall legend Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), who hasn’t lost a pool match in 15 years and doesn’t intend to pass the torch anytime soon …

“Cincinnati Kid” (1965)
The Cincinnati Kid, Eric Stoner (McQueen), is hell-bent on domination. A rookie with a mean winning streak and a sense of righteous self-confidence, Stoner forecasts the culmination of his gambling career across a sooty, sordid poker table from The Man, Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson). It’s not the money that he craves. Or the satisfaction of defeating a legend. Quite simply, it’s the notoriety…

“Casino” (1995)
In Casino, Martin Scorsese’s classic tale of Las Vegas crime and punishment, luck is a figment of the losing man’s imagination. And “Ace” Rothstein (Robert DeNiro) is no loser. He is a calculating, fastidious anomaly on the Strip — a man who would compute wind velocity before betting on a field goal and study the peculiarities of college basketball court before wagering on a game. According to Mafia underboss and childhood comrade Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), “Ace bets like a fuckin’ brain surgeon.” In short, the man doesn’t take risks …