Playing cards is a popular pastime in the real world, so it’s no surprise to see it crop up again and again in fiction. Many movie makers have a particular fascination with card games, since they can be used to create compellingly dramatic narratives and also help an audience learn more about the characters involved.

Here are just a few examples of the best movies which are either themed around card games, or feature them prominently at some point.

21

If you aspire to play blackjack like in the movies, you might want to start by watching this 2008 film. It’s based on the true story of college kids who decided to pay their extortionate tuition fees by counting cards and beating the odds in real world casinos.

The movie is a thrill ride, as well as acting as a cautionary tale about taking things too far and trying to trick your way to success with techniques that many gambling houses do not allow.

While the film was controversial at the time for its casting choices, as well as retrospectively problematic due to revelations relating to one of its stars, it is nevertheless one of the best recent examples of a movie in which a card game takes centre stage.

Maverick

With a killer cast and a comedic tone, Maverick is not as dramatic or realistic as some of its counterparts. But back when it was released in 1994 it was a commercial success, and it continues to be an entertaining experience almost a quarter of a century later.

Mel Gibson stars as Bret Maverick, a professional gambler who teams up with Jodie Foster’s conniving fraudster in order to take the top prize at a poker tournament.

With enjoyable larks, a little romance and some especially enjoyable cameos, this is the perfect Sunday afternoon movie.

The Cooler

William H Macy tends to get cast as down-on-their-luck characters, and that’s certainly the case in 2003’s The Cooler. In the movie he portrays a man who drags bad luck around with him and is so unfortunate that he literally gets paid to sit at casino tables and let this rub off on other players.

While it’s not specifically focused on card games, this film does do a good job of showing the important role that luck, or rather random chance, plays in any gambling scenario. No matter how skilled you are, sometimes the cards just won’t fall in your favour.

Rounders

Featuring high stakes poker games, Russian gangsters, virtuoso poker players and a hot young cast, this 1998 movie manages to blend together many other elements that make gambling films so fun to watch.

It may not have made much of a splash at the time of its release, but it has since risen in status and today sits at the table with the best of this particular genre.

Casino Royale

Prior to Daniel Craig’s arrival as James Bond in this 2006 classic, the franchise had been struggling to remain relevant in a post-Bourne world. With Casino Royale, a new, more brutal 007 was introduced, combining raw strength with a steely-eyed intelligence to great effect.

Bond’s battles with super-villain Le Chiffre at the titular casino are played out on the poker table, with violence only erupting outside of this civilised space, even if it is the card-based action that shapes a lot of the other events.

This back-to-basics Bond, with only a few gadgets and not nearly as many one liners, helped to propel the series into the 21st century. With rumours about Craig’s replacement stacking up, Casino Royale might be remembered as a turning point.