’s Favorite Las Vegas Casino Movies

Viva Las Vegas (1964)

Filming Locations: Golden Nugget, Flamingo, Horseshoe, The Mint, Hotel Fremont, Stardust, Sahara, Tallyho, and More

Viva Las Vegas (1964), arguably Elvis Presley’s best movie, opens with the King singing the titular song as we fly over 1960s Fremont Street, known today as the Old Strip. We see casinos that still exist, like Golden Nugget, as well as now-defunct casinos like The Mint and Stardust. 

If you want to immerse yourself in classic Las Vegas imagery alongside one of the city’s most famous performers, it doesn’t get much better than this cheesy musical about a drag car racer who falls in love with a Vegas local.

Speaking of, a cool aspect of Viva Las Vegas is its emphasis on the locals as well as the University of Nevada, a part of Vegas rarely highlighted in movies that take place in Sin City.

On a personal note, my first time in Las Vegas, one of the blackjack dealers was an Elvis impersonator who just got off a shift. With his hair still gelled up and mascara on, he sang a little taste of Viva Las Vegas in a pitch-perfect Elvis voice as he dealt the cards. I was home, and this movie brings me back to that moment and so many others Vegas has blessed me with.

Streaming On: HBO Max

-Mike Epifani

Rain Man (1988)

Filming Locations: Caesars Palace

In what has become the iconic casino gambling scene in film history, Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt silently computes the position of eight decks at the blackjack table. It’s the scheme of his hyper-selfish brother Charlie, played by hyper-intense Tom Cruise. Rain Man is a heavyweight movie with superstar actors sharing nearly every scene.

The blackjack scene for Rain Man was shot in Caesars Palace, which opened in 1966 and remains an iconic symbol of the city in the desert. Later films also shot casino scenes at Caesars in a similar manner as Rain Man, including 21, two of the Hangover movies, Iron Man, and Entourage.

Rain Man, which was directed by Barry Levinson, is the most decorated film to include scenes filmed in a Las Vegas casino. The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Hoffman.

A bonus for sports fans in this movie is Raymond’s obsession with baseball. As in his encyclopedic knowledge of the pitching rotations in MLB: “Fernando Valenzuela pitched Saturday, [he’s] not scheduled to pitch until Wednesday. Yeah Wednesday…” Now that’s the type of brother you want if you plan to bet Dodger games. 

Streaming On: HBO Max, Amazon Prime, Netflix 

-Dan Holmes

Ocean’s 11 (1960)

Filming Locations: Flamingo, The Sands, Desert Inn, Riviera, Sahara

Perhaps my favorite Vegas-set film, the Rat Pack’s Ocean’s 11 laid the groundwork for the eventual George Clooney-led reboot. But 1960’s Ocean’s 11 had a different ring to it, a slightly more comedic bent (if you’ve seen the 1960 ending, you know exactly what I mean, but no spoilers here). It also eschews the distinct heist-genre feel, probably because the genre had yet to find its footing before the blockbuster movie-era came around. 

Rat Pack-era Vegas is a town all its own, encased in the big-band swing amber of the 50s and early 60s. And Ocean’s 11 brings the Sinatra heyday locales to the forefront. The movie filmed at the Flamingo, the Desert Inn, and the Sahara. But who can forget The Sands, where Sinatra and his pals played the Copa Room to swingin’ Las Vegas lovers. 

In short, Ocean’s 11 is a movie frozen in time, preserving the legacy of Vegas’ most influential performers. 

Come for the old-timey Vegas feel, stay for Sammy Davis, Jr. singing Eee-O Eleven.

Streaming On: Movie rental services (not available on free streamers)

-Cole Rush

Honey, I Blew Up The Kid (1992)

Filming Locations: Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, The Mirage Hotel-Casino, Fremont Street

For the quantity of scenes in Las Vegas, it’s hard to top Honey, I Blew Up The Kid, the second of three movies in this franchise. Many of the key sequences take place in the Hard Rock or The Mirage. Kudos to the production team for filming scenes on Fremont Street, or what is known by locals as “the Old Strip.”

Many of the scenes in this film are backdrops for special effects, with the gigantic toddler serving as the “King Kong” menace. It’s especially fun because a few of the scenes clearly pay homage to the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man who appears as a giant nemesis on the final scenes of Ghostbusters (1984).

Is this the most underrated comedy trilogy in film history? The three films are: Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989); Honey, I Blew Up The Kid (1992); and finally Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves (1997 direct to video). Rick Moranis plays the incompetent inventor Wayne Szalinski in each of the three films. Silly movies, sure, but they each had great success, and serve as fantastic family entertainment. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show (starring Peter Scolari) even lasted three seasons.

In 2020, Disney announced plans for a series titled Shrunk that continues the franchise with Moranis’ character’s son as the central figure. Apparently the younger Szalinski has followed in his dad’s footsteps and he’s just as bumbling. Fair to speculate that more shrinkage will ensue.

Streaming On: Disney Plus

-Dan Holmes

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Filming Locations: Bally’s, Circus Circus, Excalibur, The Mirage

I get why some people can’t watch this movie. It’s not easy to watch a man try to drink himself to death, and Nicolas Cage isn’t for everyone. But it’s my firmly held belief that Leaving Las Vegas (1995) is an objectively high-quality film, and it has some iconic Las Vegas scenes.

If Nick Cage isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps Elisabeth Shue will compensate. Not only is she amazing, but her Leaving Las Vegas performance also landed her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. And we first meet her character in front of The Flamingo, the start of many of the film’s classic Las Vegas locations.

One of the best parts of this movie—other than a great script and unforgettable performances—is the fact that all of the key Las Vegas settings are still around. A Leaving Las Vegas tour, with significantly less booze, would be a great time.

Streaming On: Movie rental services (not available on free streamers)

-Mike Epifani

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

Filming Locations: Imperial Palace Casino, Riviera Hotel & Casino, Stardust Resort and Casino, the Vegas Strip, Valley of Fire State Park (northwest of Las Vegas)

Director Jay Roach does a smoking job of giving this comedy a Vegas taste in this first installment of the popular (and profitable) trilogy that stars Mike Myers as the titular character.  Myers also wrote the screenplay and co-produced this blockbuster, which earned more than $67 million on a budget of $16.5 million.

The most enjoyable Vegas scene in Austin Powers: IMOM, is the musical interlude that features Burt Bacharach singing his hit single “What The World Needs Now Is Love” while playing the piano on a double-decker bus that navigates the Vegas Strip. There’s nothing more Vegas-y than that, and you can never go wrong with a Burt Bacharach song in your movie.

The exterior scenes for Dr. Evil’s desert lair were shot in Valley of the Fire State Park, the same location that served as an alien planet in Star Trek: Generations.   

Streaming On: Netflix until May 31, 2021

-Dan Holmes

Casino (1995)

Filming Locations: The Riviera

If Scorcese-directed Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci movies are your thing, well…*gestures to a whole stack of ‘em.* But Casino hits different. The glory and the darkness of Vegas come out in full swing here, as De Niro works behind the scenes to keep the fictional Tangiers running and make it look like it’s all above board. 

Pop culture lore insists that The Stardust was the inspiration for Casino, but principal photography took place at the now-defunct Riviera. And the property serves the movie well. So well, it holds up as an iconic Vegas classic (at least for me when I watched it a few months ago). 

If you’re looking for a specific scene that screams “Las Vegas,” you could reasonably pick any moment from Casino. But my personal favorite, and a longtime casino-movie trope, is when Nicky (Joe Pesci) starts an altercation with a Tangiers customer, beginning his descent into much-unwanted media attention for the mob-controlled outfit. There’s also the wonderful shot of Ginger, played by Sharon Stone, hustling men from one table to the next. 

Simply put, Casino is a treasure trove of classic mob-run Vegas vignettes. And its long-gone filming location is just as much a relic of the past as the stories contained in the film. 

Streaming On: Movie rental services (not available on free streamers)

-Cole Rush

The Hangover (2009)

Filming Locations: Caesars Palace, The Bellagio

While most of this movie was filmed in Caesars Palace (my personal favorite casino on The Strip), you can’t talk about the iconic scenes from The Hangover (2009) without mentioning the Bellagio fountains erupting as “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” by Kanye West plays.

But the majority of the movie takes place in Caesars Palace, where we get to experience the massive lobby, a luxury suite, and a rooftop toast, and that’s all before the plot gets going.

The Hangover is funny, and it’s wildly entertaining. But what makes it such an iconic Las Vegas movie is its embrace of the city’s most notorious functions. You have a card counting scene a la Rain Man, a shotgun wedding moment, and drug use and prostitution are major plot points.

Is the humor more than a bit dated? Sure. But does it hold up? If you’re looking for a movie that embraces the worst parts of one of the best cities, absolutely.

Streaming On: Movie rental services (not available on free streamers)

-Mike Epifani

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)

Filming Locations: The Stardust, The Riviera

Las Vegas as a city has its fair share of uniquely twisted dark sides. The mob-controlled cesspool of blackmail and violence likely springs to mind immediately for most. But the Terry Gilliam-directed adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Gonzo-journalism novel brings about the drug-addled rainbow fever dream Las Vegas that the classic mob movies won’t show you. 

The Johnny Depp- and Benicio Del Toro-led film feels ephemeral in a way so many Vegas trips do. You fly into Sin City, wide-eyed and hoping for a piece of the action. You’re thrust into a world of flashing lights and bleeding colors, only to emerge uncertain, exactly, of what just happened. 

Most of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was shot in LA, but the film did find temporary homes in The Stardust and The Riviera. The scenes that take place at these locations feel exactly like many Vegas nights…drunk walks through a sea of lights.

That temporary nature, that impermanent sheen of Las Vegas, is best reflected by the film’s two Las Vegas sites. Both met their demise in recent years, The Riviera in 2015 and The Stardust in 2007. Products of a bygone era. 

Streaming On: Starz (or movie rental services)

-Cole Rush

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