Sultry show girls, high-stakes gamblers, neon signs pronouncing Celine Deon and David Copperfield appearances, and 40 million visitors each year – Viva Las Vegas. While many still think of Vegas merely as a tourist town, on average 7,000 people are moving to Las Vegas each month, making it one of the fastest-growing cities in America.
So, what’s it really like to live in what is affectionately known as Sin City? Well, if you let the world of cinema tell the story, you’re going to get a different answer every time. This makes sense, though. Seeing as there are seemingly endless things to do in Vegas, it would only be appropriate that films based on the city would be just as varied. Some stories are pure fun, and others will have you avoiding Vegas at all costs (perhaps giving gambling enthusiasts the incentive to keep up with the latest online casino reviews, join the 21st century, and take their ambitions to the cloud).
With all of that being said, this is 10 Diverse Films About Life In Las Vegas.
10. Now You See Me (2013)
Director: Louis Leterrier
Now You See Me follows the battle between a team of bank robbing magicians performing in Vegas called The Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fischer, and Dave Franco) and the detectives trying to keep up with their tricks (Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent). For the bulk of the film we’re placed in the detectives’ shoes, which is good, because Now You See Me is concerned first and foremost with the joy of the chase.
This surprisingly witty, deliciously well-played and sneakily subversive outing slightly goes off the rails once it reaches its final act but, nevertheless, ranks as one of the most entertaining heist films in recent history.
9. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Director: Mike Figgis
Ben (Nicolas Cage) is a Hollywood screenwriter who has lost everything due to his affliction with alcohol. With that, he heads to Las Vegas to literally drink himself to death. Once he gets there he forms a relationship with Sera (Elisabeth Shue), a local prostitute. They come to an uneasy pact – Ben is not allowed to mention Sera’s line of work, and Sera is not allowed to get in the way of Ben’s drinking. Needless to say, they ultimately have a doomed relationship. This film pulls no punches, takes no prisoners and flies in the face of feel-good pictures.
After a wild night in Vegas, the film tumbles down a rabbit hole of misery towards its utterly desolate conclusion. It’s a relief when such a dark film refuses to preach, trusting the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions about the roots of this self-destructive funk.
8. Last Vegas (2013)
Director: Jon Turteltaub
As creaky as an arthritic hip, Last Vegas does for four leading stars of the ‘70s and ‘80s what movies like Tough Guys and Grumpy Old Men did for survivors of Hollywood’s storied Golden Age: It lets them show they can still throw a punch, bust a move, and get it up, and that they’re not quite ready for the Motion Picture Home just yet.
In Last Vegas, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline play four childhood friends that reunite in Las Vegas to celebrate the pending nuptials of the group’s long-term bachelor, Billy (Douglas). It’s harmless fun. You may be able to tap out every beat of the story before it’s been played, but you’ll go along with it because of so much star charisma and a heady party atmosphere.
7. Vegas Vacation (1997)
Director: Stephen Kessler
When Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) puts his mind to something, we soon realize he hasn’t got one. Still, nothing stops him when the vacation bug hits. This time, he’s chosen Las Vegas, the new family entertainment capital of America.
As the fourth installment in National Lampoon’s Vacation series (and the first not to be written by John Hughes), Vegas Vacation often gets the short end of the nostalgic stick. However, this is still an enjoyable entry of the franchise and a hilarious look at the hecticness of Vegas. Perhaps, the greatest moment of the film is when Clark and series mainstay Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) try their luck at an usually low-budget casino (where you can play Rock, Paper, Scissors). There is also a nice tribute scene to the first movie, with the hot chick in the car. And what’s not to love about that?
6. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
How do you successfully modernize a film that included Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop without losing any of its effortless “cool”? By casting George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Don Cheadle as your leading men, clearly.
Just as in the 1960 original, the plot of Ocean’s Eleven is mostly convoluted fluff, with Clooney playing an ex-con leading a merry band of misfits as they carry out an elaborate robbery inside the Las Vegas casino the Bellagio. But Soderbergh’s film has a strong magnetic appeal, radiating the sense of fun had by its cast members. The movie, of course, spawned two sequels, raked in millions around the world and led to a whole host of far inferior mimickers.
5. The Hangover (2009)
Director: Todd Phillips
The Hangover blindsided Hollywood execs and audiences alike in the summer of 2009, laughing its way into history books as the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time.
The film stars Justin Bartha as Doug, a thirtyish male preparing to get married. Before the marriage, there is to be a bachelor party thrown by his best friends Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms), as well as Doug’s future brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galifianakis). So the four take off for Las Vegas where they proceed to have one hell of a drunken good time.
The film takes a brave turn by skipping over the raucous night in question. Instead, we pick up with the boys the following morning (hence the title) as they follow a series of clues to what happened the previous night. It involves their lost friend Doug, a tiger, a stripper, and Mike Tyson – among other things. And it is indeed quite hilarious.
4. Think Like A Man Too (2014)
Director: Tim Story
In Think Like A Man Too, we catch up with our four couples (and some of their mutual friends) in Las Vegas, where they have gathered to celebrate the wedding of “Single Mom” Candace (Regina Hall) and “Momma’s Boy” Michael (Terrence J.). Through some awkward miscommunication, fiery little Cedric (Kevin Hart) got the impression that he – not sensible, suave Dominic (Michael Ealy) – was Michael’s best man, and the resulting plan for the bachelor party reflects Cedric’s over-the-top, half-cooked scheming. However, the ladies plan to turn it up just as loud as the guys; spearheaded by Candace’s best friend Lauren (Taraji P. Henson).
Freed from its ties to the source material – the first film was inspired by a Steve Harvey self-help book – Think Like A Man Too borrows liberally but in a definite PG-13 fashion from The Hangover, hitting on every required Vegas touchstone.
3. Showgirls (1995)
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Yes, Showgirls has become notorious for its depictions of skimpily-clad women, a script that appears to have been written by an inebriated sixteen-year-old, and all the terrible acting you can throw a first year drama class at. Powered by an outrageous – and very naked – performance by Elizabeth Berkley (uh-huh: nerdy Jessie Spano from Saved By The Bell), Showgirls is often sited as one of the worst films ever made. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t wildly enjoyable.
For those who may be unfamiliar, Showgirls was the ’90s version of All About Eve, telling the story of the nomadic dancer Nomi Malone who journeys to Las Vegas in search of her dreams, ascending the heights from stripper to the lead in the Stardust Hotel’s show Goddess, all the while seducing and sabotaging the people she encounters along the way. It was the first (and last) NC-17 film to have a wide release and effectively killed its lead actor’s career, but it has enjoyed cult status since its release thanks to the furtive nature of home video rentals and campy midnight screenings.
2. Casino (1995)
Director: Martin Scorsese
In much the same way as Goodfellas before it, Casino is another collaboration between crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese, and one that also details the life of a career criminal: Frank Rosenthal (renamed as Sam “Ace” Rothstein in the film). Unlike Scorsese’s earlier gangster film though, Casino was a much more glamorous and indulgent affair, detailing the life of Rosenthal (Robert De Niro) as he rose up to a position of prominence as the manager of a mob-run Las Vegas casino.
The movie depicts the unscrupulous side of casinos as they were back in the day, no scene illustrates this better than the card-counting Blackjack player who, after trying to cheat the casino, ends up getting his fingers broken with a hammer. Of course, nowadays, if you gamble online, you’ll never be able to count cards and you definitely won’t get your fingers broken with a hammer. How times have changed.
1. Bugsy (1991)
Director: Barry Levinson
Bugsy Siegel is one of the most interesting men in Las Vegas history. In fact, if it wasn’t for him, the Strip probably wouldn’t look like it does. He was one of the first gangsters to land in Sin City and alongside Meyer Lansky opened the Flamingo Hotel – the first on the Strip. This 1991 classic tells the story of how Siegel (Warren Beatty) left New York for Vegas, and how he became incredibly famous, befriending the likes of Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and Frank Sinatra. Las Vegas was ultimately his demise, as he was shot at his home less than a year after the Flamingo opened.
This good-looking gangster pic may be nowhere near GoodFellas-calibre mob drama, but it manages to convey the menace and glamour of the west coast hood it was portraying with evocative style. One wonders if Siegel would approve of what became of his vision. Would he have been a Wayne Newton fan?
What’s your favorite Las Vegas movie? Let us know in the comment section below.