10 Reasons Rounders Poker Movie Is Still The Best

It’s been 23 years since the cult movie Rounders was released in cinemas around the world. Two decades on, what keeps poker fans coming back for more?

Poker Pop Culture

Since its release, Rounders’ has gone from being a film that offered a glimpse into the world of poker many didn’t really know to an authority on the game pre-Moneymaker. Many years later, Rounders is much-loved by poker fans and is not only a retro pleasure but a perennial reflection of the true heart of the game.

Let’s take a look back at 10 good reasons that’s the case.

Teddy KGB’s Oreo Cookies

There are a ton of poker tells in a hundred movies about the game. While many will point to 2006’s Casino Royale scene where James Bond’s enemy Le Chiffre literally weeps blood to give away a tell as the best, they are wrong. Why? Because in Rounders, Teddy KGB’s Oreo cookies bear the brunt of his anger in spectacular fashion. Could you lay down this monster?

The Casting is on Point

There are plenty of casting quirks in Hollywood movies that are pure chance, but the allocation of character roles in Rounders is almost a perfect blend. There are big-name actors in the main roles, but many of the films more subtle roles are played superbly by lesser-known actors. Neve Campbell turned down the role of Mike McDermott’s girlfriend Jo, which was played by Gretchen Mol.

Johnny Chan Has the Best Cameo Ever

It’s hard to imagine now, but the feted poker star with which Matt Damon’s character Mike McDermott was originally going to tangle with in the ‘cash game flashback’ scene, was Phil ‘The Poker Brat’ Hellmuth, who we spoke to exclusively last week about his forthcoming heads-up match against Daniel Negreanu.

It’s a New York Movie

Sure, there are others that highlight the Big Apple more expansively but filming for Rounders took place almost exclusively in the ‘City that Never Sleeps’ and it’s a brilliant move by the makers. Only the law school scenes (filmed at Rutgers School of Law in Newark) and the State Trooper poker game (which took place at the B.P.O Elks Lodge in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey) are exceptions.

matt damon, edward norton, and rounders director john dahl behind the scenes

Matt Damon, Edward Norton, and director John Dahl on the Rounders set.

Ed Norton and Matt Damon Actually Played at the WSOP

We live in an age where online poker is booming like it did in the years after the Moneymaker Effect, which took place five years after Rounders release. Back then, Damon and Norton took part in that year’s World Series of Poker Main Event. Damon had pocket Kings and was knocked out by Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson who had pocket Aces and Norton went out with a full house under quads!

While America’s Cardroom are looking for the next poker hero to follow in Chris Moneymaker’s footsteps, start your dream by watching what Damon and Norton thought of sitting down at the WSOP.  

Christopher Young’s Iconic Score

Composer Christopher Young creates a mood and tone to the movie from the first iconic time his theme appears, as Mike takes on KGB in his underground poker club. Young has composed many other film soundtracks, including for such films as Entrapment, Spiderman 3 and The Shipping News, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination. Interestingly, Young also penned the soundtrack to the 2007 poker film Lucky You.

It has Joey Knish In It

Played with aplomb by John Turturro, Knish acts as a father figure to the main protagonist, Mike McDermott. Helping him out with a job, advice and sometimes money, his most memorable moment is when he cuts off the supply of readies to Mike in brutal fashion.

“I owe rent, alimony, child support. I play for money; my kids eat.”

It’s Not All About No Limit

While the game that is mostly featured during Rounders is no limit hold’em, it’s not the only game in town. The infamous ‘Judge’s Game’ that is crashed by Mike is Seven-Card Stud, while it’s another Stud game that takes place at the Chesterfield. At the Taj Mahal, both Mike and Worm cut down some rookies at Limit Hold’em, while at the Cigar Club, the game is Stud Hi-Lo. There are some other games featured in the film, and at no point are viewers confused. There’s a very good reason for that…

The Writers Love the Game

Writers David Levien and Brian Koppelman aren’t just unerringly accurate on the poker content in the film, they both appear in the Atlantic City poker scene as two of the bad players that lose their money to the sharks who gather at their table. Smoking tells at the felt while Matt Damon and Ed Norton smirk at the writers of the movie? We’re hooked.

The Final Scene is Perfect

If there’s one thing that poker movies notoriously get wrong, it’s how to end. This is perfectly understandable, really. Poker is a long game without end and the only true ending to a movie could be open-ended. That’s why Mike making his way to Las Vegas with exactly what he started has a beautiful symmetry with the start of the movie, which reflects poker. Win or lose at the end of each event, the player is always looking for the next game. As for the taxi driver wishing him good fortune in Sin City, Mike McDermott has some great final words.

“People insist on calling it luck.”

Everything to Know About the Rounders Sequel

While there have long-been rumors of a Rounders sequel, Matt Damon gave an interview on the Bill Simmons podcast and explained why a Rounders sequel is unlikely — this is because he says there isn’t a market in Hollywood for the gritty, complicated character studies featured in Rounders. One reason for this is because Hollywood movies are largely meant to go global, and fare better when they feature easy-to-digest content for most people across most cultures & countries, like simple ‘bad vs. good’ imagery, car chases, and superheroes, which makes executives unsure if a movie like Rounders could be profitable.

Simmons posed the same Rounders-sequel question to writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien, “The thing of it is, for some reason, “Rounders” really means something to people. And it certainly does to us. We would only do a sequel under one of two very specific scenarios. The first is if we come up with the absolute perfect storyline, the next logical step for Mike, Worm, Knish, and the rest. You can’t force that kind of thing, it just sort of needs to occur to you. The second: to quote the Dean in Back to School… “a really big check,” said the writers.

Dave Consolazio

Dave Consolazio has been passionate about writing and sports journalism since his high school years. He has a degree in Broadcast Journalism from USC where he worked with the school's radio and television stations. His work has been featured in SportsbookReview, Sports Illustrated and SB Nation. Dave's experience ranges across multiple fields in the gambling industry. You can find his sports, casino, and poker articles in GambleOnline.co.

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