Most sports betting movies focus on the most extreme aspects of punting. This doesn’t say as much about betting as it does about Hollywood; the film industry is notorious for taking a good storyline and flipping it into a massive production, from stunts to dialogue. In other words, there’s a big difference between taking advantage of online bonuses for a wide range of games or choosing who to support when it’s time for the US Open or a global event like the FIFA World Cup… and films like 2002’s Big Shot or 1992’s Diggstown.
Still, there have been a handful of projects that tap into the reality behind betting: fans putting their knowledge to the test, poring over stats to try to forecast things like outright winners and prop bets. It’s about skill and intrigue more than hopes for a big payout.
Sure, characters like Howard Ratner (played by Adam Sandler in 2019’s Uncut Gems) may be familiar—there’s always someone that needs to cut their losses. But similar films make the mistake of taking a hard turn into a dark territory that’s unfamiliar to the vast majority of punters.
Looking back, here are three films that nail the spirit of sports betting.
The Color of Money (1986)
This Martin Scorsese project highlights one of the most storied and intriguing aspects of punting: the old guard and the new. Paul Newman’s character, Eddie ‘Lightning’ Felson, takes on an unlikely protégé in Tom Cruise’s Vincent Lauria.
The sport is pool, and the stakes are familiar to most punters; rather than money on the table, it’s about pride, experience, and legacy.
Let It Ride (1989)
This comedy from Joe Pytka and Nancy Dowd highlights one of the most ingrained parts of the punting experience: big ups and big lows. Though Richard Dreyfuss’s character, Jay Trotter, doesn’t always win big at the tracks, Let It Ride covers one insanely lucky day when Trotter wins every bet he places.
It’s a slapstick look at what happens should everything go right for a punter, which is a delightfully fresh take compared to the coverage seen in other popular movies.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Though Silver Linings Playbook tends to earn a lot of attention as a sports betting film, the topic takes a backseat as the main characters, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, focus on a dance competition.
Still, every punter recognizes just a tiny bit of themselves in Robert De Niro’s character, who absolutely adores the Philadelphia Eagles—and isn’t afraid to back them with a wager. Even the most seasoned punters know it’s difficult to wager against their own team.
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