Last week, we covered the 9 Most Unforgettable Hands in the History of the WSOP ME. Now, we take a look at the Hollywood side of things to honor our favorite poker scenes from the silver screen. Some of them—Ok, most of them—are improbable, dare we say impossible, hands, but we can overlook the percentages and various misplays for the sake of simple entertainment. From Bond and Le Chiffre to Teddy KGB and Mike McDermott, here are the 9 Most Famous Hands in Movie History.
9. “I don’t know about cards, but I think these four-fives beat a full house.” (The Wire)
While this scene doesn’t focus on the actual poker hand, nor is it from a movie, I would be remiss if I didn’t include this memorable spot from one of the greatest television shows of all time, HBO’s The Wire. During the scene, the infamous Omar robs up-and-coming drug dealer Marlo, who just moments before had hit a full house against his opponent’s queen-high flush. That doesn’t seem to faze Omar, who pulls out a pair of .45 caliber pistols and announces, “”I don’t know about cards, but I think these four-fives beat a full house.” Perfect.
8. “Making the wrong move at the right time.” (The Cincinnati Kid)
The final hand of the 1965 film The Cincinnati Kid pits The Kid (Steve McQueen), an up-and-coming poker star, against Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson), aka The Man, in a heads-up, high stakes, five-card stud poker match. What separates this hand from the majority of Hollywood poker hands is that, for once, the hero doesn’t win! Instead, a straight flush beats his aces full of tens. Yes, it’s unrealistic—especially in a game of stud—and yes, it’s undeniably cheesy with the music and cinematography, but it also happens to feature an unforgettable poker line from Edward G. Robinson: “Gets down to what it’s all about, doesn’t it? Making the wrong move at the right time.”
7. Spider Loses More Than a Poker Hand (Goodfellas)
Goodfellas, one of my all-time favorite films, features a scene that shows that poker can be a deadly game even to those who aren’t even playing at the table. Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) is a hotheaded psychopath on a good day, but when Spider (Michael Imperioli) fails to deliver a Cutty Sark and water to the table, Tommy decides to hurry him up, firing several shots at his feet, one of which strikes the young waiter. Tommy’s response? “So he got shot in the foot. What is it? A big f****in’ deal?”
Later on, Spider hobbles back to the table, his foot covered in bandages, where, after a series of verbal jabs from Tommy, he tells the gangster to “go f*** himself.” Unfortunately, that would be the last words our would-be hero would ever utter. A few moments later, Tommy pulls out a gun and kills Spider in cold blood. Something tells me that the rest of the poker game got called off after this.
6. Fast Eddie Gets Taken To The Cleaners (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels)
At some point in our poker lives, we’ve all lost a monster pot. It might not have been a £500,000 pot, and it might not have ended with you getting threatened with physical harm, but I’m sure that it certainly gave you that same sick feeling in your stomach. In fact, our hero, Fast Eddie, throws up the second he walks outside of the building. There’s nothing worse than losing a massive hand that you can’t afford, especially after you were up money all night. Ugh, it’s making me queasy just thinking about it.
5. “Sometimes nothin’ can beat a real cool hand.” (Cool Hand Luke)
Ah, the art of the bluff! One of the most realistic poker hands on the list also happens to be one of the, ahem, coolest. Not only does it show what kind of character Cool Hand Luke is (a smooth, cool-headed gambler), but it also gives us one of the most famous poker lines in cinema history: “Sometimes, nothin’ can beat a real cool hand.” Don’t worry though, this won’t be the last time you see Paul Newman on the list…
4. Mike McDermott Lays Down A Monster (Rounders)
This isn’t the only hand from Rounders to make the list, but it might just be my favorite. Not only does Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) spot Teddy KGB’s (John Malkovitch) glaring tell and lay down a monster, which is entertaining enough on its own, but then the two also do a bit of verbal sparring, which makes for an incredibly entertaining scene. I’m not sure why Mike decided to reveal to Teddy that he spotted his tell—-I would have used it to wreck him—-but at least he got Teddy to stop eating all those Oreos!
3. Bond Beats Le Chiffre and The Odds (Casino Royale)
While this might be the best-looking scene of the bunch, it is also quite possibly the most preposterous hand in movie history. Four players get involved in a $115 million hand, with an ace-high flush losing to a full house, which loses to a bigger full house, which eventually loses to a James Bond’s straight flush, all of which are conveniently shown in order from worst to best. Of course, that isn’t even the worst of it—not only does Bond do the worst slow-roll in movie history, but the villain, Le Chiffre, has more chips than Bond at the start of the hand! I guess all’s fair in poker and saving the free world, eh 007? We at least have to give credit to Le Chiffre for not snap-calling Bond’s re-raise with a full house…
2. Mike McDermott Gets Revenge on Teddy KGB (Rounders)
The final scene between Mike McDermott and Teddy KGB is a flip of the first hand of the film, in which Teddy traps and eventually busts Mike. Despite Teddy’s verbal trash talking, Mike remains as cool as a cucumber with his flopped nut straight, checking on every single street and letting Teddy bust himself. It’s especially rewarding to hear Mike tell Teddy, “you’re right Teddy, that ace didn’t help me,” before flipping over the nuts. At least Teddy takes it like a champ at the end, telling his goons to “pay that man his money.” Score one for the good guys!
1. Four Jacks (The Sting)
Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s even better if you can make your own luck by rigging the deck in your favor, which is exactly what con man Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) does against criminal banker Doyle Lonnegan, played with a ferocious intensity by Robert Shaw, in the 1973 classic, The Sting.
The game is five-card draw, and by the end of the hand, the post is worth tens of thousands of dollars. Initially, we see that Henry has four threes, while Doyle has four nines. There’s no way our hero gets out of this one, right?
Honorable Mentions: Mike vs. Teddy: Round 1 (Rounders), Maverick Pulls an Ace (Maverick), Five-Card Draw Lowball at Gardena (California Split), “Must be a peach of a hand.” (Tombstone), “Let’s have a spelling contest.” (Tombstone), Wild Bill Buys a Man Breakfast (Deadwood)