Las Vegas offers every kind of thrill 24/7 with something for everyone – high stakes gambling where fortunes are won and lost in an instant, spectacular entertainment, incredible dining, strip joints, all-night bars and the showbiz glitz of the beautiful people. Hell, the place even looks like a movie set! Famous and infamous; if anywhere was made for the movies, it is Sin City. It is only fitting that Vegas has been captured and recaptured by many movies that have been made in the city over the years. The best ones always make you feel like you want to be there – here are five movies you need to see.
The Hangover (2009)
Two days before a wedding, the groom and his three groomsmen drive to Vegas for a bachelor party. When the groomsmen wake up the next morning, they can’t remember anything and the groom has gone missing. The hungover friends then try and retrace their steps, find the groom and get him to the church on time! Filmed almost entirely in Vegas, with heavy use of Caesar’s Palace and the Boulevard, this comedy was a smash hit on release. The Sin City is shown in all its outrageous glory, with everything taken to the max. The hotels and casinos are glitzy and enormous, with booze, drugs and hookers flowing freely, and all it takes to get them is money and the willingness to spend it! Featuring wild tigers in the bathroom, a crazed Korean gangster and a cameo from heavyweight boxing legend Mike Tyson, this could well be the ultimate “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” movie.
Martin Scorsese’s epic crime classic is a lurid 70s tale of money, power, greed and murder and is based on a non-fiction book that exposes the links between the Mafia and gambling at the time. The ensemble cast includes Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Don Rickles and James Woods, and the main characters are inspired by real people. De Niro’s character Ace is based on the life of Frank Rosenthal, who ran the Stardust, Fremont, Marina and Hacienda casinos for the Chicago Mob. A worldwide box-office success loved by the critics, Scorsese beautifully captures the decadent, seedy and decaying Vegas of the 70s, a time when many of the original casinos were being blown up to be replaced by the new and almost theme-park like casinos we see today. The performances are all excellent and the movie also contains an unforgettable scene involving a vice and an angry Joe Pesci looking for answers – not to be missed.
The scenes and characters from the Casino movie have also influenced online gambling providers all around the world, helping to create their best game concepts, with their best casino bonuses part of the appeal.
Viva Las Vegas (1964)
The film that gave Las Vegas its anthem. Elvis Presley plays Lucky Jackson, a race car driver who goes to Vegas to earn money to pay for a new engine. Working as a waiter, he manages to find romance with a girl called Rusty Martin, played by Ann-Margret. Elvis made Vegas his second home later in his life, and when you think of Vegas in the 70s, it is difficult not to think of the bloated and ill Presley in his white jumpsuit emblazoned with gold. However, he is absolutely in his prime in this classic musical – it is cheesy, gaudy and very Vegas! Famously, the final scenes were filmed at The Little Church of the West wedding chapel, the Strip’s oldest building.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Glitzy, glamorous and with a secret and sometimes dark side, James Bond and Vegas could have been made for each other. Sean Connery was paid a fortune to step back into the role he had walked away from before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the film involves Bond following a group of international diamond smugglers to Las Vegas where he foils an evil plan concocted by an old enemy at the “Whyte House” casino on the Vegas strip. As always with Bond Films, many interior scenes were filmed in Pinewood Studios in England but director Guy Hamilton made heavy use of Vegas for his on location shooting. The Las Vegas Hilton was used to portray the Whyte House and a lot of the filming took placed at hotels owned by the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, then perhaps the most notable Vegas resident. The film makes an interesting nod to him as Bond spends much of the film trying to find Willard Whyte, a Hughes-style billionaire Vegas recluse. The film includes a fantastic car chase with Bond tearing down the Strip in a Ford Mustang – and apparently it was Hughes who managed to get city officials to close down the Strip to allow the scenes to be filmed. The movie also contains perhaps the most famous Bond theme song, memorably sung by Shirley Bassey. It’s camp as hell, and again, very Vegas!
Ocean’s 11 (1960) and Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Two for the price of one here. The original saw the stars of the Rat Pack, so synonymous with Las Vegas, play a group of World War II paratrooper buddies planning to rob five casinos in one night. All the big names that did so much to build the brand and reputation of Sin City are here – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Joey Bishop et al. They’re all playing versions of themselves and while they filmed by day, they partied hard at night, helping to further the legend of early Vegas. This is the movie to watch if you want to see Sin City in its early days, before famous casinos such as the Hacienda, Dunes and the home of the Rat Pack, the Sands, were demolished to make way for new resorts.
Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake is just as starry as the first film, with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and Julia Roberts headlining a great plot centred around the attempt to simultaneously rob the Bellagio, the Mirage and the MGM Grand casinos, with the Bellagio, with its famous fountains, possessing a vault containing more than $160 million dollars. It is a brilliant and fun movie and was a worldwide box office success, spawning sequels in 2004 and 2007 and a new Ocean’s film with an all-female cast in 2018.