Films have the opportunity to be special. They can often transport the audiences to different universes, planets, countries, or even to just a different city. One of the most mesmerizing cities to which movies can transport their audience is Sin City itself, Las Vegas.
After all, this is a city known for its lights, glamor, entertainment, and a place where people can travel from far and wide to live out some of their personal vices, and some great movies set in Las Vegas depict all of that.
Often times it is hard to accurately depict the appeal of Las Vegas without being so over the top in dramatics or scope that people lose the sense of realism for the city. Many times through the history of film, there have been stories the were put to screen that shows off the euphoric sensation that one feels while being in the city.
Some films show what the highs and incredible lows of gambling, bachelor parties, and falling in love in the city that never sleeps can be like – while holding a high quality of entertainment value that these types of films should have. After all, while films set in Hawaii or New Zealand might be for the stunning natural landscapes, but Vegas the appeal is far more .. human.
Many movies set in Las Vegas showcase what some of the deep desires of humans are and highlight why so many take a weekend away here to live out some of their dream vices.
You never know.
Perhaps the films on this list will inspire you with ideas of what to do (or not to do in many cases) if you happen to trek into this man-made oasis in the Nevada desert. However, if you are looking for less illicit ideas that won’t land you in gain, we recommend sticking to our list of fun (and legal) things to do in Las Vegas.
Wondering where to watch? It depends on where you live in the world and which streaming services you have. We link to the streaming service we watch on in each case - be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, or elsewhere.
You can get one month free of Amazon Prime (or a 6-month trial for students) of Amazon Prime and also get immediate access to FREE Two Day shipping, Amazon Video, and Music. While you won't be charged for your free trial, you'll be upgraded to a paid membership plan automatically at the end of the trial period - though if you have already binged all these, you could just cancel before the trial ends.
Apple TV+ also has a one-week trial, and Hulu has a one-month trial (which can be bundled with Disney!). Another option might be using a VPN to access Netflix titles locked to other regions. Netflix is now available in more than 190 countries worldwide and each country has a different library and availability. US Netflix is (understandably) one of the best.
While we wish everything could just be in one place - for now, it seems these are the best streaming platforms to watch on.
Viva Las Vegas (1964)
Is there such a thing as a classic film that is also a Vegas film? I’m not entirely sure if there is, but it would be Viva Las Vegas if there is. This film is arguably one of Elvis Presley’s most famous films and one of the most famous films to feature Las Vegas, but it is Ann-Margeret, the show-stealer in this one.
Every scene she is in, she comes off as the most electrifying force on the screen, her energy is the driving force throughout this film, and she lights up every scene that she is in the way that the Vegas city lights can light up the city streets.
Among the Las Vegas genre of films, this best matches the authentic energy and feel of classical Las Vegas.
Admittedly, it has a more dated feel when watching it in the modern-day. Still, it feels like it does an excellent job of honing in on the original appeal of Las Vegas, and it does so through the characters it shows us, which not every film with Las Vegas at its center does through that lens.
Whether it is Presley or Margaret, they seamlessly translate the liveliness that one can feel once they enter the city limits of Vegas.
Rain Man (1988)
When Dustin Hoffman is on, it is hard to find a more enjoyable actor to watch get lost within a role, which is on full display throughout the run time of Rain Man.
This film is more about the ideas and themes of Americana more so than Las Vegas, but those parts of Vegas are intertwined with the structure of the film in such an effective way. It feels like the moments between the two main characters Raymond Babbitt and Charlie Babbit, played by Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, respectively, always feel intimate. The moments in Las Vegas during the film feel equally intimate with the audience.
The scenes that incorporate Las Vegas perfectly capture the essence and the vibe that Las Vegas is known for. It shows off how beautiful this city can be, even amid the insanity that can be found on a night-to-night basis – it helps show that like life, even in the most insane and chaotic situations, there can be beauty under it all.
Rain Man translates the entire city to the screen in such a beautiful and truthful manner. It shows off the lively lights from the strip leaking into the empty and barren hotel rooms. There’s something about how Rain Man incorporates the city’s liveliness that makes me want to transport to that city and moment every single time.
Casino comes during a time of immaculate movie making in Hollywood – the 1990s. It is one of Martin Scorsese’s remarkable achievements as a filmmaker (then again, most of his films could be considered one of his great achievements).
For its over three-hour run time, Casino is one of the more consistently entertaining long epics of the last twenty or so years. Casino is a slow burn that takes a generous amount of time to build the world around its characters, and even when a story is set in a notorious setting like Las Vegas, films need to take their time to set the stage.
Nevertheless, Casino does a fantastic job of showing the audience the characters’ world.
Casino truly shows the business side of Las Vegas. While not every business has ties to the mafia or mob bosses, there is a massive amount of corruption in cities like Las Vegas on the side of politics and the businesses that exist in those cities.
Casino is one of the more intense and exciting mobster films that shows the intensity that can be felt within Las Vegas with a unique spin on it as most audience members will not be a business owner in Las Vegas. Still, Casino’s excitement and the intensity felt within the film attract nature to the infamous city.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
The idea of visiting Las Vegas is not always the glitz and glamor, many times, it is a city of pain, grit, and desperation, and the film Leaving Las Vegas does a remarkable job of honing in on the idea that Las Vegas can be a city that breaks you.
Yet, Leaving Las Vegas is a film that shows that even in the darkest moments in our lives, there can be one unifying factor that can be found if we are looking for it, and that is love.
It’s a film that shows that there can be this sense of euphoric magic underneath the despair and chaos of our everyday lives, and it does so in a beautiful way. It’s another film the feels like it authentically shows the beauty and intimacy that can be found in Las Vegas.
Finally, it’s a film that follows the despair and downward spiral that an individual is going through and feels what being a lost soul and searching for rebirth in life can look like in Las Vegas.
Hard Eight (1996)
This entry on the list is a bit of a stretch as much of the film takes place in Reno, Nevada, and not Las Vegas, but it has more of an essence and feel of Las Vegas and the state of Nevada than most Vegas films. It also has some of the very best themes and performances of any of the films on this list, including a great mentor and mentee dynamic between Philip Baker Hall and John C. Reilly.
Additionally, it has a strong father and son dynamic between the two of them that it is hard not to feel connected to the two’s relationship and feel a connection to them throughout the film.
Hard Eight is partially a gambling film, and then it turns into this crime coverup film, and it has every bit of heart and feels that almost all other Vegas films tend to have. It feels like you are in the casinos with the characters. The lighting, the sound, and every ounce of aesthetic in Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut feature film effortlessly transports the audience into the desert of Las Vegas.
Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)
Usually, when watching a film, I try to find out if there is a deeper meaning to what the writing, direction, and story are trying to say, and sometimes there isn’t anything more profound. It feels like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a film that isn’t truly about anything.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of deeper meaning here, but that is not always a bad thing. I think that this film is about pain and disgust. I think it is about the human beings as a species and their desire for indulgence, and the indulgence here is a copious amount of drugs, and that seems to be about it.
This film shows a lot of the dirtiness and bad rap that Las Vegas tends to have. It shows that a lot of the time, people go on their journey to Las Vegas to explore their personal self-indulgence through various methods of consuming drugs, binge drinking, excessively gambling, or a mix of the three.
It’s a film that aggressively attacks the senses of the audience, and in many ways, gives a very authentic feel of the aggressive nature of Las Vegas – it’s truly a place that continuously attacks your senses the entire time you are there, both in the best and worst ways.
Ocean’s Eleven and Thirteen (2001 and 2007)
Over the years, it has become more and more apparent to me that director Steven Soderbergh is truly hit or miss, but man, oh man, when he hits, it is in the most epic and thrilling ways possible. Luckily enough, the Ocean’s franchise is, for the most part, a hit.
Like many movies set in Las Vegas, the events in Ocean’s Eleven and Thirteen are improbable to happen to the audience, but man does it make the city of Las Vegas feel like the most electric city of all time.
The Ocean’s franchise will always have a special place in my heart as they are heist films, and that genre will always have a very special place in my heart. However, it’s an added bonus that these films make Las Vegas feel and look like one of the most exciting places in the entire universe.
Through the ensemble cast, editing, and the magnificent direction by Soderbergh, it feels like one of the truly great and electrifying films that feature the one and only Las Vegas at its epicenter.
The Cooler (2003)
This is not the first, nor is it the last film centered around life and love in Las Vegas, but it tackles those ideas in one of the more unique fashions. The Cooler follows Bernie, a worker in a Las Vegas casino who notoriously brings bad luck to those in Las Vegas to gamble, which means good business for the casino.
It feels like a film that does not want to fit into any specific genre, and while that typically can lead to a messier type of story, it genuinely works with this one. It welds together tropes of tragic love stories and dynamic thrillers that examine the exploration of life and love.
Like many of the films on this list, it explores the personal journey someone can go through when they are living in Las Vegas. In addition, it explores the complexities of our relationships in cities like Las Vegas that are so centered on the idea of individuals living out their personal vices.
However, unlike many films, it demonstrates the often harshness and complexity of living in a town like Las Vegas while having the true appeal of a city like Las Vegas for those on the outside looking in.
Admittedly this feels like one of the two guilty pleasures on this list. 21 is a film that follows an MIT student recruited by his professor to become a card counter so they can win enough money to cover his school expenses. While I enjoy its core with its quick pace, easy-to-follow story, and snappy dialogue, I also recognize that it’s not the best-structured film.
With all that being said, this is a great gambling film, and it helps demonstrate the ephemeral feeling gambling gives people and has some solid stakes for the characters throughout the film. It seems difficult to create a high-quality gambling film, but 21 does a solid job of making the card counting and gambling aspects extraordinarily entertaining and engaging.
Every time that I check this out, it immediately makes me want to take a quick trip to Vegas to gamble and play blackjack until I don’t have the energy to anymore.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
As Sean Connery’s sixth and final appearance in the official James Bond film series (we don’t count Never Say Never Again here), he went where so many of us do these days, to Vegas! It turned out to be one of the most iconic James Bond film locations of all time and introduced this glitzy gambling mecca to international audiences. So, while this is not one of those movies set in Las Vegas entirely, we still think it is worthy of inclusion!
Following a diamond smuggling investigation, James Bond heads to Las Vegas, where he unveiled a sinister plot headed by his nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The production ofDiamonds Are Forever shot including almost all of Las Vegas’s biggest hotel and casino properties at the time, including The Riviera, Landmark Hotel & Casino, Dunes Hotel, International Hotel, Las Vegas Hilton, and Circus Circus Las Vegas.
Bond, however, stayed at the Tropicana Las Vegas – though we dare say he would choose a less dated Vegas hotel with a car park these days. Black Rock Desert, McCarran International Airport, and Fremont Street were also used as filming locations, but we dare say the most memorable scene of James Bonds’s trip to Vegas is the car chase scene through downtown Las Vegas.
This feat alone requires a portion of the Vegas Strip to be closed at night for three days. Being Vegas, however, a great deal has transformed since Bond ripped through the strip, and it is almost comical to compares 50 years on.
The Hangover (2009)
One of the more over the top and aggressively crude mainstream comedies of the last twenty years, 2009’s The Hangover is a prime example of everything not to do if you decide to have a bachelor party in Las Vegas.
While The Hangover has some humor that hasn’t held up over the last decade or so, it continues to be a rather hilarious rewatch on a cliche, raunchy weekend away in Las Vegas.
Often on Las Vegas trips, it feels like time escapes you, and throughout the runtime of this film, it truly encompasses what that lost time feeling is like. If you’ve had a few adult beverages or dabbled in some recreational drug use in a trip to Las Vegas (in this film’s case, being drugged with roofies), it can feel as if you are at the heart of a mystery you are trying to solve.
The Hangover structurally does a good job of having its characters backtrack the events of the night before as someone who’s had a night out in the city that never sleeps would instead of showing the events in chronological order.
Without any spoilers, let’s just say these guys went a bit wilder than a night at the WOW Vegas show or going to one of the male strip shows in Vegas.
Last Vegas (2013)
This is the second of my guilty pleasure Las Vegas films. While it still is not an over-the-top great film, it is hard for me to not consider it a fun film and makes me want to take a trip to Las Vegas with my best friends when I’m an old man.
A big part of the appeal of Last Vegas is the fact the core four actors (Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, and Kevin Kline) are four of the greatest living actors remaining from their respective generations.
It’s full of generic humor and highly predictable, but it’s just such a fun time. Of this list, it is also easily the most family-friendly film about Las Vegas on this list and comes across as one of the most rewatchable ones as well – it always seems to deliver enjoyment and laughs.
It also makes Las Vegas come across as a truly appealing city to visit with some of your closest pals without having to be too raunchy to get the point across.