Las Vegas is a popular setting for movies these days. First, 21 and now What Happens in Vegas... As Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz try to figure just how drunk they got to get hitched in Sin City , we look back at 10 other Vegas flicks that have made the cut.
10. Vegas Vacation
Although not as high in quality as some of the other films on this list (hence its placement), Vegas Vacation is a must-include. It’s at least a testament to the essence of the city--after all, Las Vegas does have a tendency to make fools out of dads and to tear families apart--and yes, maybe we’re a little nostalgic since we haven’t seen or heard from the Griswolds since. So sue us! Ultimately, Vacation is a great intro into Vegas cinema that the whole family can enjoy, which is precisely what gave it the edge over Peter Berg’s Very Bad Things for the last spot on our list.
Although not as high in quality as some of the other films on this list… Yup, the same opening-line disclaimer applies here as for Vegas Vacation. Everywhere else, though, Nos. 10 and 9 obviously couldn’t be more dissimilar. Upon its release in 1995, Showgirls immediately became the laughing stock of Hollywood; it was a huge loser at the box office and winner at the Razzie Awards. Elizabeth Berkley, then just a short time removed from squeaky-cleanliness on TV’s Saved by the Bell, has never quite recovered from her unintentionally funny performance or the jaw-dropping (and seemingly fast-forwarded!) sex scenes it called for. However, the movie itself has gradually been embraced on DVD, achieving a veritable cult status. And this much is undeniable: When you think of Vegas movies, Showgirls is one of a few that instantly comes to mind--even if for all the wrong reasons.
8. Honeymoon in Vegas
During his third of at least seven different career phases--post-Wild at Heart, pre-Leaving Las Vegas--Nicolas Cage was playing mostly straight-man roles in fairly conventional comedies. Perhaps none was straighter than Honeymoon’s Jack Singer, but by the movie’s end he’s crazy in love and jumping out of a plane full of Flying Elvises to prove it. Such is what Vegas--and, fine, love--will do to a guy, and the imagery of that scene is extremely memorable, probably more so than the movie.
7. The Cooler
It's Vegas cinema--indie style! Wayne Kramer’s The Cooler is a complex story without the flash--and certainly star power--of an Ocean's Eleven type, but that’s not to say the Sin City aura isn’t still palpable throughout. William H. Macy is right at home playing the nebbishy Bernie Lootz, a casino "cooler" whose luck in life is about to change for the better for the first time in eons. But as we all know, in Vegas, the odds of luck remaining in your favor are roughly a zillion to one.
6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Ever wonder what Las Vegas might look and sound like after, say, huffing copious amounts of ether? Well, instead of learning the hard way, play it safe and watch Fear and Loathing--it’s disorienting enough to intoxicate you itself AND it’ll dissuade you from ever embarking on such a trip. Johnny Depp stars (loosely) as his late real-life friend Hunter S. Thompson in the big-screen adaptation of Thompson’s drug-informed memoir/novel, written about the late-‘60s "American dream." Director Terry Gilliam might’ve veered slightly off course from the message(s) of Thompson’s book, but give him credit for conjuring up a Las Vegas that was previously only fathomable to people heavily under the influence--or in the throes of a horrifying nightmare!
Even when it is taking place in Los Angeles, which is much of the movie, Swingers’ heart is in Las Vegas. The beloved 1996 comedy, which introduced us to current movie giants Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau (who wrote the screenplay) and director Doug Liman, is in many ways the consummate homage to Vegas altogether. Early on, when Mike (Favreau) and Trent (Vaughn) take an overnight trip there, it’s clear that Vegas is "money" to them, but even the constant Rat Pack idolatry/references are thinly veiled professions of love for the city.
4. Leaving Las Vegas
Ah, the second of Nicolas Cage’s Vegas-titled and-themed movies. Although Leaving Las Vegas does contain some drunken-humor moments, it’s safe to say that the movie is ever-so-slightly darker than Honeymoon in Vegas. The descent into feigned alcoholism paid off for Cage, however, netting him the Best Actor Oscar in 1996, and deservedly so. (The movie received an additional three nominations.) Cage plays screenwriter Ben Sanderson, who leaves Los Angeles for Las Vegas on an unstoppable mission to drink himself to death. Leaving paints a grimmer Sin City than perhaps we’ve ever seen on film, but it’s a necessary antidote to the wildly unrealistic version we're used to seeing.
3. Ocean's Eleven
Forget Twelve and Thirteen--Ocean's Eleven (the remake of the 1960 Rat Pack original) got it right and did Las Vegas justice. Steven Soderbergh’s heist caper, starring half the A-listers in Hollywood, captured not only the ambiance of the city but also the ambiance of its casinos--all while teaching us how to seamlessly execute a robbery of them. That is, assuming you have 11 MacGyver-like con artists at your disposal, not to mention the resources and ingenuity to build a dummy casino!
Those who argue that Bugsy should be No. 1 have a legitimate beef, but no list is complete without a snub of some kind; Bugsy might just be that victim. While it tells the biography of mobster Bugsy Siegel (Warren Beatty, typically flawless), the movie is ultimately modern Las Vegas’ biopic since Siegel was largely responsible for the adult Disneyland that Vegas is today. Part subjective history lesson, part cautionary tale, part pure Oscar bait (10 nominations in total), Bugsy is the all-encompassing Vegas movie whose wide scope on the subject matter simply may never be matched.
With sincerest apologies to the too-old-for-this-list Viva Las Vegas, Martin Scorsese’s Casino is the one to beat for the title of Best Las Vegas Movie. The legendary director’s three-plus-hour epic shines a flashlight on the city’s underbelly, but it’s also a character study--the type of dichotomy that has defined Scorsese’s amazing career. Lending outstanding performances to those characters are Scorsese regulars Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, as well as a perfectly cast and never-better Sharon Stone (who was nominated for an Oscar). But Vegas, once again, is the main character here, punctuating all the good and filthy that Casino exposes.