Roulette is one of the most popular casino games in the world, known by many for its iconic little wheel and its strong association with the opulent social gambling atmosphere you can only get at your local luxurious casino venue. Many films over the years have presented their own takes on roulette and some have become etched in our minds more than others; here, we take a look at the most famous of these roulette scenes.
Now over 70 years old, Michael Curtiz’s World War II masterpiece remains one of the most beloved cinematic works ever to come out of Hollywood. It won three Academy Awards (Outstanding Motion Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay) and still ranks highly on any all-time top 100 list worth its salt.
But did you know that Casablanca was also one of the very first major films to feature the game of roulette?
The scene in question sees a young man named Jan attempting to win enough money to buy visas to the United States for him and his new wife, which was an extremely expensive endeavour during wartime.
But he gets a helping hand from Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), the owner of Rick’s Cafe Americain nightclub and gambling den, who urges Jan to bet everything on 22. The croupier takes the hint from his boss and, lo and behold, 22 hits twice in a row.
Although it perpetuates certain myths about how casino operators might rig roulette games, the scene also highlights Casablanca’s immense quotability. When a disgruntled punter questions whether Rick’s games are honest, he gets the reply: “As honest as the day is long.”
Indecent Proposal (1993)
There aren’t many movie lists out there that would mention Casablanca and Indecent Proposal in the same breath.
For while the former won three Oscars, the latter claimed an inglorious treble at the 1994 Razzie Awards – including Worst Picture and a Worst Supporting Actor gong for Woody Harrelson.
With that being said, the early stages of Adrian Lyne’s would-be sexy thriller definitely draw some inspiration from the aforementioned roulette scene in Casablanca.
David Murphy (Harrelson) and Diana Murphy (Demi Moore) head to Las Vegas with the bright idea of hitting the casinos and winning enough cash to finance David’s dream real estate project.
So they put all of their money on red at the roulette table, only to lose the lot.
With their life’s savings gone, the pair wind up accepting billionaire John Gage’s (Robert Redford) offer of $1 million in exchange for one night with Diana.
It hasn’t quite got the same feel-good ring to it as the Casablanca scene, does it?
Run Lola Run (1998)
If you haven’t seen this highly acclaimed German thriller, do yourself a favour and check it out.
It won 26 international prizes following its 1998 release, including the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and some seven titles at the German Film Awards.
The plot is simple enough: Lola (Franka Potente) gets a phone call and is informed that if she doesn’t come up with 100,000 Deutsche Mark within the next 20 minutes, her boyfriend will die.
But instead of settling for a single story arc, director Tom Tykwer offers three separate scenarios (not unlike Sliding Doors, which was released the same year) and mixes live action with cartoon sequences.
In the third and final scenario, Lola enters a casino and heads straight for the roulette table.
She bets 100 marks on number 20 and wins, then presses her stake and wins again for a total windfall of 122,500 DM.
Again, there’s a tilt of the cap to Casablanca here, as Jan did much the same thing (albeit on 22) when playing for his visa money at Rick’s Cafe Americain.
As you might gather from the title, the devil’s wheel features rather prominently in this British neo-noir cult hit.
While perhaps not as well known as some of the other titles on this list, Croupier did gain significant critical attention in the United Kingdom and North America.
It also launched the then-fledging career of a certain Clive Owen, who has since gone on to star in global hits such as Gosford Park, Children of Men, The Bourne Identity and Closer.
The story follows Jack Manfred (Owen), a struggling writer who decides to bite the bullet and start working as a croupier in order to make ends meet.
Not only does Jack find inspiration for his writing, he also becomes intwined in a plot to rob the casino at which he works.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
If you’ve seen this critically acclaimed Vietnam War epic, you might be wondering how you missed the casino scene amongst all the gritty drama.
But we’re talking about a very different kind of roulette in this particular instance.
The Deer Hunter describes the trials and tribulations of a group of American soldiers who are captured and interned in POW camps by the Vietcong.
In one of the movie’s most intense scenes, Sgt. Mike Vronsky (Roberto De Niro) and Cpl. Nick Chebotarevich (Christopher Walken) are forced to play Russian roulette while their captors bet on the outcome.
The film also starred Meryl Streep and the late John Cazale (perhaps better known as Fredo in The Godfather), who died of cancer shortly after filming his parts.
It won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Walken’s performance.