And by that I mean movies that are set in or feature scenes in Las Vegas, not overrated adaptations of Frank Miller's work that star Mickey Rourke.
After all, who doesn't love Vegas? Much like movies with bowling scenes, films that showcase Vegas in one way or another just add a certain zest and flavor that Sacramento just can't offer, much less Atlantic City (sorry, Rounders). With so many to choose from, it's damn near impossible to pick my favorites. So first, some honorable mentions:
The Godfather — The fact is, I haven't seen this in a long time and barely (if at all) recall any scenes that were filmed in Vegas. However, when doing research for this post, I saw The Godfather as one of the films associated with Las Vegas – as such, I knew omitting it from this list altogether would get me on some hated lists that I don't want to be on. So, here it is.
Bugsy — Another mob movie that can't be omitted, especially considering that the movie is about how Bugsy started Las Vegas. It would seem disrespectful to leave it off. Kudos, Mr. Siegel.
Rain Man — "They're gonna give daddy the Rainman suite, you dig that?"
Vegas Vacation — Four words: Wayne Newton. Nick Papagiorgio.
The Cooler — A great portrayal of old school versus new school Vegas, with Alec Baldwin in the classic role of Shelley Kaplow. However, many points are taken away as the audience must endure numerous shots of William H. Macy's ass. Boo!
And the winners…
5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
I originally had this slotted at number two, but had to keep moving it down, as the films listed below just plain deserved it more. That said, Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's brilliant novel definitely belongs in the conversation – hell, it even has Vegas in the title! Bonus points for featuring old school Vegas (as it's set in the mid-'70s, that couldn't really be avoided) and for Ellen Barkin's out-of-nowhere near cameo as a frazzled waitress in a run-down diner.
The city fathers should probably pay out royalties to Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Doug Liman, and anyone else associated with Swingers, as the movie is probably one of the big reasons for Vegas' boom in the mid-'90s. With every hipster (and non-hipster alike) shouting out "Vegas, baby, Vegas!" the city got millions of dollars worth of PR for nothing. Hell, as legend has it, the filmmakers didn't even have authority to film their scenes while in town – they had to shoot it guerrilla-style the whole time. And don't forget – always double-down on 11. Always.
A proud member of my all-time underrated movies, Go also makes me want to run to Vegas just watching it. The Taye Diggs-led storyline is the most fun of the three in Go as it's got it all — sex, drugs, strippers, gambling, and even an MSG-laden buffet. Let's go!
2. Ocean's Eleven (2001)
We're all very familiar with this one. Star-studded cast remakes Rat Pack "hit" from days gone by, with George Clooney in the Sinatra role. Three stars of the new Strip are featured prominently (Bellagio, The Mirage, and the MGM Grand), with the Bellagio practically given a co-starring role, as much of the film takes place in it and other casinos. Heck, even Siegfried and Roy get a cameo.
Even if this wasn't a great movie (which it is), it would have probably earned the top spot by virtue of the first 45 minutes alone. As Sam "Ace" Rothstein walks you through the inner workings of his casino, you get what was at the time probably the best insiders' point of view of how a casino is run. Throw in James Woods, Sharon Stone (still in her prime), Joe Pesci, and a kickass soundtrack and you have one of the best films of the '90s (and I still say it's better than GoodFellas).
Finally, the hall of shame:
The Great White Hype – for its lost potential. This should have been a much better movie.
Con Air — do I need to explain?
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Famous — haven't even seen this, but it's associated with Vegas. For more evidence, read that title again.
Very Bad Things — another lost potential case. A great cast, including a pre-Entourage Jeremy Piven, a still-thin, post-Swingers Jon Favreau, Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, etc. — and the movie stunk. A grand disappointment.