My Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in Las Vegas

The city of Las Vegas has always fascinated me. Applied mathematics and psychology are everywhere. There are many movies that feature Las Vegas, but three really entertaining films were released in 2013. So I decided to make a list of my ten favorite Vegas-related movies. By favorites, I don’t necessarily mean good, I mean entertaining movies that I’d take with me if I was going on a long trip.

1. Last Vegas (2013) – I surprised myself by ranking this my number one. Old guys played by Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline get together in Las Vegas for Douglas’ bachelor party. The movie has great acting, is often hilarious, and has heart. I actually saw a scene being filmed at the Aria Hotel while I was staying there.


2. Viva Las Vegas (1964) – Another movie that’s surprisingly high on my list. Elvis Presley has a job as a waiter in a Vegas hotel, trying to raise money for his race car. Ann Margaret is the hotel pool manager and love interest. It’s easy to make fun of Presley films, and to be honest, I don’t like most of his films, but this movie is good fun.


3. The Hangover (2009) – Everyone has seen this movie several times because it’s on TV so often, but this film is still a hoot. Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) try to find Doug (white Doug that is). The chicken? Probably intended to be a snack for the tiger.


4. Ocean’s Eleven (2001) – George Clooney and Brad Pitt (plus Matt Damon and eight friends) are the epitome of cool as they rob the Bellagio, the Mirage, and the MGM Grand casinos, all owned by Andy Garcia. One of my favorite scenes is early in the movie, when Pitt is teaching some TV actors how to play poker, and Topher Grace (from “That ’70s Show”, playing himself) proudly reveals his three-hearts and two-diamonds hand with a victory boast of, “All red!”


5. What Happens in Vegas (2008) – High-strung Cameron Diaz and slacker Ashton Kutcher hook up in Vegas, get really drunk, get really married, and accidentally win $3,000,000. After sobering up, they try to get divorced but in the end, fall in love. This movie got bad reviews but I like it a lot.


6. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013) – Old school magicians Burt (Steve Carell) and Anton (Steve Buscemi) have a daily show at Bally’s Hotel in Vegas, but have gotten stale and irrelevant especially with the rise of the new breed of street magician (played by Jim Carrey). This movie is uneven in tone, but has some really funny scenes.


7. Ocean’s Thirteen (2007) – This is the second follow-up to Ocean’s Eleven. Here, Clooney, Pitt, and friends seek revenge on Al Pacino and his “The Bank” hotel and casino by rigging the games so the players, rather than the house, win. This movie got poor reviews but I think it’s nearly as good as “Eleven”.


8. Now You See Me (2013) – Three young and one not-so-young street magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco, Isla Fisher, and Woody Harrelson) are sponsored by a mysterious, unknown patron and become a hit Vegas act (at the MGM Grand) called The Four Horsemen. Very clever and entertaining movie.


9. Showgirls (1995) – This movie is so jaw-droppingly bad, it’s good. Elizabeth Berkley is a street-smart girl who claws her way to the top (or would it be the bottom) of Vegas showgirl-dom. I swear, I can’t tell which parts of this movie are intended to be funny (but aren’t) and which parts are intended to be serious (but are hilarious). Just a crazy movie.


10. Vegas Vacation (1997) – This movie, with Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as the heads of the Griswold clan, hasn’t held up too well over the years, but it’s still pretty funny in parts. This movie was filmed mostly at the Mirage Hotel, which has one of my favorite Las Vegas pool areas (although there are many fantastic pools in Vegas).


Honorable and Dishonorable Mentions

The Godfather Part II (1974) is an academy award winner and arguably one of the best films of all time, but not one that I’d bring on a long trip.

Rain Man (1988) is another good film, but I can never suspend disbelief seeing Dustin Hoffman playing an autistic man.

Casino (1995) with Robert De Niro is on most Vegas-top-ten lists but doesn’t make my list. Sorry De Niro, I’m talking to you.

Indecent Proposal (1993) has Robert Redford and Demi Moore, who I like, but I hated this movie. Just creepy. Ugh.

Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) is the one where Nicolas Cage parachutes with the flying Elvises to Sarah Jessica Parker. Found this movie boring, which is hard to do for any movie with Cage in it.

Swingers (1996) is on virtually every Vegas top ten list but no way does it make mine. Here Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn star before they got fat, but they’re already smug and annoying.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995) is another Nicolas Cage film, but this one is just too depressing.

Ocean’s 11 (1960) – The original version with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack should be a winner, but this movie has a very tired feel to it.

Diamonds are Forever (1971) – I love most James Bond films, but here a pudgy Sean Connery is just going through the motions.

Bugsy (1991) – Critics loved this film, but I’m not a Warren Beatty fan or a fan of this movie.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is scheduled for release in April 2015 — Kevin James attends a security guard conference in Las Vegas.

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2 Responses to My Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in Las Vegas

    • I was afraid someone would mention this 2008 movie. I saw it but just didn’t like it at all. I was a student at the University of Calif. Irvine in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A professor there, Edward O. Thorpe, literally invented Blackjack card counting, and after a seminar at UCI my friends and I (Eddie and Martin in particular) made great money in Vegas (a 5 hour road trip from campus) for about two years. I could write a book on our amazing adventures. Vegas caught onto naïve card counting quickly and individual card counters could be identified and were pretty much stopped by 1972 or so. A few years later is when the events of the move 21 took place, when teams of players worked together. Anyway, my real life experience made me, in part, not like the movie because of the technical inaccuracies and artificially inserted drama.

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