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Women and Gambling in Popular Culture Movies

Learn of some of the most profound performances by women in casino movies.

For many years, gambling themed movies have been huge hits and over time, a number of leading women have played key roles in such movies. From the 1940s to now, there have been award winning performances by some of the best actresses in the industry, portraying string female lead roles in movies that focus on poker, blackjack and other casino games.

Women performers tend to have a smaller role in movies with this theme, but in the following list, many starring roles have been portrayed by some of the most talented in the profession. Though often overshadowed by male roles, these female performers have graced the stage and captivated audiences with their stellar performances and portrayals of some of the most recognised characters from gambling flicks.

1946 Movie

Rita Hayworth as Gilda in “Gilda”

Even in the early years of cinema, strong female actresses were used to portray lead roles in hit movies. In Gilda, viewers enjoyed watching Rita Hayworth play the feature role of Gilda. This was one of the first female roles in a gambling related movie and Hayworth nailed it. This became her signature role that would follow her through her career. Starring as a sexy wife to a casino owner, Rita Hayworth captured the screen and played the role of a woman viewers would remember for years to come. Gilda was released in 1946 and the performance by Hayworth was one that will be remembered for many years to come.

While Rita Hayworth did not win any awards or nominations for her role as Gilda, she was successful in creating a memorable character that would be referenced for years to come. In this movie, Hayworth plays the wife of George Macready, a crippled casino owner. As a former lover of a gambler who takes a job in the casino, Hayworth portrays a strong character that is known for her introduction in the film with a classic head snap and a radiant smile yet has a slightly twisted psyche as a result of her past relationships.

1949 Movie

Barbara Stanwyck as Joan Boothe in “The Lady Gambles”

Over the years, many women actors have played starring roles in casino related films, and with The Lady Gambles from 1965, viewers had the pleasure of watching Barbara Stanwyck fill the screen with her amazing presence. Stanwyck’s performance as Joan Boothe offers a compelling story about gambling and the effects of gambling addictions. A story of struggles and love, The Lady Gambles has become a classic casino based film that is still enjoyed by many these days. The film noir drama is one that will captivate viewers and with Stanwyck playing a leading role, it is a film that many female viewers have been touched by.

In The Lady Gambles, Barbara Stanwyck takes centre stage as Joan Boothe, accompanying her reporter husband on a trip to Vegas. During that time, Boothe begins gambling to pass the time and finds herself becoming addicted to the thrills of playing in the great Vegas casinos. Borrowing her husband’s expense money, she pursues her addiction, leading to break up of the marriage. Stanwyck delivers a powerful and heartfelt performance.

1965 Movie

Ann-Margret &Tuesday Weld as Melba & Christian in “The Cincinnati Kid”

With the hit film The Cincinnati Kid from 1965, viewers were entertained with the leading roles of Ann Margaret as Melba and Tuesday Weld as Christian. This great movie is all about stud poker and is one of the top ranking gambling films of all time. Margaret takes on the role of The Man’s girl while Weld portrays the seductive Christian, the wife of a card dealer, Shooter. This now classic film presented a drama about a card shark as he takes on some of the best poker players from around the world.

The Cincinnati Kid created the only time Ann Margaret and Steve McQueen acted together and the roles of both were a huge success. Though Margaret’s role of Melba was as a mere wife to poker dealer, it added the love and romance side to an otherwise serious poker drama.

Tuesday Weld livened the film as Christian, the girlfriend of McQueen, who threatens to leave as a big poker game draws near. Neither actress won any awards for their roles in this 1965 gambling flick.

1974 Movie

Lauren Hutton as Billie in “The Gambler”

The Gambler is one of the great dramas from the 1970s and offers a deep look into the mindset of an addictive gambler. James Caan has the lead role as a literature professor with a gambling addiction. With the beautiful Hutton on his arms, Caan continues to gamble and suffer the effects of his addiction. Diving deeper into debt, Caan heads to Vegas and enjoys a winning streak, providing him with the ultimate gambling high. While he treats his girl well, Billie, played by Hutton, drawn into his dark addiction.

Lauren Hutton has a rather weak screen presence in The Gambler, though she does not actually do much throughout the film. She services more as eye candy for Caan, as he battles his gambling addiction, and basically sits by and watches his losing and brief winning streaks. Hutton did not receive any nominations or awards for her role in the film and it did not do much to boost her career as her performance was merely for visual appeal.

1987 Movie

Lindsay Crouse as Margaret Ford in “House of Games”

This is one of the great gambling films that focuses on the female lead role, played by Lindsay Crouse. As a successful psychiatrist, Crouse, playing Margaret Ford, gets drawn in by an attractive card shark. Forced to face her own struggles and obsessions, House of Games offers a psychological thriller with some great twists and turns. Conned into supporting one of her clients in a poker game, Dr Ford comes face to face with the dangers and evils that lurk in back room poker games. Drawn to the behaviors of her client, Ford decides to use him as her next book subject, offering a look into the world of con men.

Despite being an expert in behaviors, Dr Ford is quickly drawn in to the world of a con man and learns the fine points of poker and the art of conning many out of money. Her role in the beginning of the movie is uninspiring, seldom offering a smile and just reading her lines. However, as the film progresses, her character comes out and draws in viewers. The movie itself was nominated for multiple awards, but Crouse’s performance fell short.

1994 Movie

Jodie Foster in as Annabelle Bransford in “Maverick”

In the 1994 American Western comedy Maverick, Mel Gibson and Jodi Foster bless the screen in this great movie that features some notable poker scenes. Gibson is joined by Foster, playing a con artist, as they participate in a high stakes tournament. Gibson, portraying Maverick, tries to prove he is the best poker player of all time, but when faced with the competition of Annabelle Bransford, Foster, Maverick realizes he has some serious rivals at the poker table. The movie was inspired by the hit television series of the same name and the successful performances of Gibson and Foster make this movie a must see for any poker enthusiast.

Jodi Foster takes on the con artist role of Annabelle in this thrilling Western from 1994. She has a strong role and an amazing screen presence, bringing her character alive. Her role as Annabelle was well received by viewers and while Foster is best known for her tough girl roles, in this movie, she shows her flirty feminine side. Her performance was witty and light hearted, a thrilling treat from a typically serious actress. 

1995 Movie

Sharon Stone as Ginger McKenna in “Casino”

As Stone takes her place on the screen, viewers see her as a beautiful prostitute working the streets of Vegas. Ginger captivates and mesmerizes many men, including Ace, the star of the film. He offers a gambling proposal and she demands jewelry as payment and she later becomes his wife. This 1995 box-office hit is all about gangs and gambling in Vegas and with some powerful scenes from Stine, viewers will be pulled into the drama and thievery that takes place. Stone compliments DeNiro on the screen and both carry the film to great success. Casino takes viewers on a thrilling ride through the gambling scene of Vegas to car chases and robbery, landing Stone’s character in FBI custody.

Sharon Stone’s successful role as Ginger Landed her a Golden Globe award as well as a nomination for Best Actress. In this gangster film, she has an amazing presence on eth screen and captivates the audience with her wit and astonishing beauty. While Stone did not have the spotlight in the film, her role was key and she has a profound effect in all of her scenes.

1996 Movie

Melissa Sullivan as Liz in “Follow the Bitch”

As the weekly Friday night poker game starts to unfold, things become different when Andy announces he is getting hitched. Soon after, Andy’s co-worker, Liz, arrives to be an extra player in the game increasing tension and starting the gender war. As a cool customer, Liz plays a great game of poker, providing the boys with competition they have never seen before. As the first female player to ever be at the weekly games, Liz throws a wrench into these weekly events and as the guys start to share that they are sleeping with each other’s girlfriends, the movie takes some interesting twists and turns, with Melissa Sullivan carrying out an impressive role.

In this 1996 gambling themed movie, Melissa Sullivan has one of the leading roles as a female poker player to join in on the weekly game with the boys. This comedy has won numerous awards, though Sullivan received no nominations for her stellar performance. She graced the screen with beauty and wit, making this one of the more popular female roles in any gambling movie to date.

2001 Movie

Julia Roberts as Tess Ocean in “Ocean's Eleven”

Jumping back into his former profession, Danny Ocean drafts a plan to carry out one of the largest casino robberies of all time as he plots to steal millions of dollars from the vaults of three major Vegas Casinos. His ultimate goal may appear to be the monetary gain, but he is really trying to win back his ex-wife, Tess, played by Julia Roberts. Just after being paroled from prison, Ocean contacts a group of 11, each mastering a special skill that will help him pull off the elaborate theft. The casino targets are those owned by Terry Benedict, the man who is currently dating his ex wife. With a thrilling plot and endless action, Ocean’s Eleven is not just a gambling themed movie, but one of true love.

Julia Roberts portrays Danny’s former wife, a beautiful, smart and captivating woman dating the owner of three huge Vegas Casinos. Tess graces the screen with her style and flawless movements. As a gifted actress, Roberts is hugely successful in this role, which landed her the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Actress in 2003.

2006 Movie

Eva Green as Vesper Lynd in “Casino Royale”

A great James Bond film, Casino Royale follows the action of Bond as he starts his career as Agent 007. Following the prevention of a terrorist attack, Bond falls in love with Vesper Lynd, an employee of the treasury. Lynd provides money to Bond in a high stakes poker game, where the goal is to bankrupt a terrorist. Bond and Lynd continue their relationship, professionally and personally, eventually falling in love, forcing Bond to resign from MI6 to live his life with her. Eva Green plays a powerful role in this film as the money manager and providers viewers with a thrilling performance.

In this 2006 film, Green plays Lynd, an agent from a task force that is assigned to ensure Bond properly managed funds from MI6. She becomes his trophy as a high stakes poker tournament, refusing to bankroll him after he loses. Green’s amazing performance landed her a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films Festival and she won the Best Female Newcomer Award at the Empire Awards.

2006 Movie

Kate Bosworth as Jill in “21”

Based on a true story, 21 takes viewers on an exciting adventure as 6 MIT students learn how to master blackjack card counting to prove that the Blackjack system in Vegas is in fact beatable. The students are being trained by Professor Rosa. As they become intrigued with the idea of making money, a secret weekend trip to Vegas allows them to use their newly developed kills to beat the house and win thousands from the blackjack tables. One student becomes corrupted by greed and Kate Bosworth, as Jill, tries to keep him on track in this compelling drama from 2008.

Bosworth’s character, Jill, in 21 is based on Jane Willis, a math whiz who graduated from Harvard in 1991. Bosworth is a member of the team learning how to count cards and becomes the affection of Ben. This fact based drama allows Bosworth to play a compelling role as a math genius learning how to beat the house, but also how to control the greed arising from her teammates. Her role earned her the Teen Choice Award nomination for Choice Movie Actress in a drama.