COLUMN: The 10 best sports betting films
The draw of a good casino game is the thrill of victories, large and small. From slots to table games and everything in between, popular sports betting websites like Betting Top 10 can provide those exciting opportunities to fatten one’s wallet and put smiles on faces. For an elevated feeling, combine the buzz of a gambling win with the real-life thrill of victory that comes from spectator sports. Betting on sports is like double the juice when you combine fandom with fun.
Over in the arena of movies, my specialty, sports betting has been a popular plot point within the genre of gambling movies. Here’s my list of the top ten best sports betting films, peppered with little salutes and recommendations. Enjoy!
1. The Hustler
Of all of the movies to feature sports betting, it’s the mano-a-mano duels happening on the green felt of a billiards table that absolutely scintillate the risks that come from gambling on yourself. Paul Newman puts himself through the ringer of pressure and confidence to play “Fast Eddie” Felson versus Jackie Gleason’s looming heavy. The Hustler often ranks among the best non-traditional sports films of all-time and, for this subtopic, it tops the list.
2. Eight Men Out
Few things breed intrigue like scandal. The story of the “Black Sox” saga of the 1919 World Series involving the Chicago White Sox is one of sport and societal legend. Featuring a dynamite scripts and an ensemble cast of then-fresh faces like John Cusack, D.B. Sweeney, and David Strathairn, John Sayles’ brilliant film dives into the nitty gritty with a film balanced by shock and sympathy.
3. Two for the Money
Eclectic director D.J. Caruso (Eagle Eye, xXx: Return of Xander Cage) and future Oscar-nominated writer Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) teamed up on easily the best film directly centering on the vast inside world of sports betting. Al Pacino leads Matthew McConaughey down the ominous rabbit hole into the massive business that the world of sports betting entails. The Hustler and Eight Men Out maybe be better overall films in the cinematic lexicon, but Two for the Money is the alarm-ring tutorial and cautionary tale to the real size of this particular gambling world.
4. The Color of Money
Not far behind The Hustler is its spiritual sequel directed by the masterful Martin Scorsese. Tom Cruise is the headliner as the next big thing to tear up pool halls raking cash, but the stick that stirs this movie’s drink is Paul Newman returning 25 years after The Hustler to once again play Eddie Felson. Newman won his first and only Academy Award for Best Actor after eight previous acting nominations. With new polish from Scorsese, the film sizzles with style.
Happy, Texas director Mark Illsley’s film is an underseen gem for this sports betting topic. Bookies has four college buddies, led by Nick Stahl and The Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki, that dive deep into the role as small-time bookies that get good enough at what they do to attract the watchful eyes of the local organized crime outfit, embodied by The Sopranos ensemble actor David Proval. Seek this one out where you can find it.
During his Matrix peak, Keanu Reeves slid into this touching sports drama about a ticket scalper and sports gambler who grows a heart coaching a Chicago inner-city Little League baseball team. Showing the pitfalls of reckless behavior massaged by the transformative presence of children and responsibility, Hardball is one of Reeves’ best non-action performances. This 2001 film had the unfortunate challenge of being released right during 9/11, but has become a favored little gem.
Sports film vet Michael Ritchie (Semi-Tough, Downhill Racer, The Bad News Bears) dipped into the squared circle of boxing for this slick comedy. James Woods, the actor with the best sleazy gear in Hollywood, plays an opportunistic businessman who makes a big bet that a boxer recently released from prison, played by Louis Gossett, Jr., can knockout ten men of the titular town in 24 hours, setting off community-wide attention and excitement. Bruce Dern, Oliver Platt, and Heather Graham fill out the supporting cast.
8. Even Money
A top-notch ensemble cast featuring Oscar winners Kim Basinger and Forest Whitaker as well as Kelsey Grammer, Nick Cannon, Tim Roth, and Ray Liotta headline this late-career crime drama from On Golden Pond director Mark Rydell. Gambling addictions and an unsolved murder link two college basketball bookies and other ancillary people to collide in mystery.
9. Let it Ride
Horse racing is the target here and Richard Dreyfus plays a cab driver who just can’t quit in a tidy comedy from the future director of Space Jam. Dreyfus personifies the lovable loser to perfection. This was a bomb in 1989, but it plays well for a list like this.
10. Lay the Favorite
The big personality of Bruce Willis plays a sports gambler who find a potential gambling prodigy in the form of Rebecca Hall’s former exotic dancer. Hairbrained hijinks ensue and the two are joined by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vince Vaughn, and Joshua Jackson. This film drips with charisma and comedy.
SPECIAL MENTION #1: The Sting
George Roy Hill’s classic The Sting, the winner of seven Oscars including Best Picture, slots itself as a caper flick more than a sports-betting film. That said, it’s climactic horse race hustle is a legendary ending. Here’s a piece of the big scene:
SPECIAL MENTION #2: Focus
This Will Smith/Margot Robbie 2015 vehicle from the makers of Crazy, Stupid, Love. and TV’s This is Us probably slots itself more as a con artist film than a pure gambling film, but gambling on sports does play into the schemes. Within the sleek caper film, Focus carries what might be the single most elaborate and exciting sports betting sequence of all-time. Will Smith’s grifter character builds the suggestive clues and encircles B.D. Wong’s impulsive millionaire into a whopper of an escalating payoff. The layers used to establish this con are brilliant. Forgive the less-than-ideal quality, but here’s a look: