Why Poker is a great tool to use in movies

It has been the centrepiece of many great films. Casino Royale, The Cincinnati Kid and even the lesser-known 21 film, have all shown poker in some of its most glorious and equally ungratifying moments. The suspense depicted on camera by actors has its viewers speechless, in awe of anticipation as they reveal whether protagonists have the luck required to blow their opponents’ hands of cards out of the water and hit the jackpot in one of the world’s most popular card games. And let’s be honest, they usually do.

In many ways, poker has become increasingly relevant in recent years. With the proliferation of online poker, the game has been opened up to even more people. For many, it is the appeal of being able to feel the same excitement that they see in the films all from the comfort of their own home. The number of promotions out there and the variety of games available is also a factor.

There is clear reason for using poker in films, however. The card game can last for hours, meaning should directors or producers wish, then a whole film could be entirely centred on one game of cards, all the while highlighting the twists and turns of emotion running through each players minds and mannerisms alike as they deal with the trials and tribulations of the poker table. That concept is yet to take off however, and there is much more value in highlighting specific moments of the game, at its most climatic stages, to entice viewers into tuning in to film spectacles.

This is because, similarly to sports films and narratives, poker brings out the unique human emotions in stories that allow us to root for our favourite characters to achieve the unthinkable; to achieve greatness in their chosen field. Just like we cheered for 007 as he knocked Le Chiffre from his perch in Casino Royale, we loathed Lancey ‘The Man’ Howard as he so realistically brought Eric ‘The Stoner’ Howard down to earth in that ever so famous final hand in The Cincinnati Kid.

The latter example is another reason why poker sells. Unlike the go-home-happy stories of several inspiring sports movies, such as Coach Carter and the more-comedic Happy Gilmore, the sports involved are shown to include vital life lessons for the competitors and even if they ultimately fail, they walk away better than they entered the field of play.

In poker however, the drama lies in the fact you really do not feel anything but demoralisation if you are on the losing end of an all-in hand. Not only have you lost the competition, but you have likely blown thousands on the risk. Without sounding too materialistic, money is a major driving factor in many people’s lives, meaning they can understand the value of a high bet in poker and ultimately connect with their on-screen characters, which gives us the end result most filmmakers desire when plotting films behind the scenes; an emotive response.

The cold hard fact of poker is that in this game, sometimes, losing is in fact everything and the drama, the suspense and the sheer reality of that outcome being brought to life on the big screen has made for some of the best moments in film history.

Photo Credits: grongar


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