Las Vegas is famous for its hotels, gaming, nightclubs, restaurants, attractions and just about everything. Is it really a surprise we’re deemed the Entertainment Capital of the World? It’s also no surprise that Vegas is a popular film location. From the iconic “Hangover” movie series to the old-school and new-school “Oceans 11,” Vegas gives off an allure that even Hollywood can’t top.
Check out our list of the best drama films shot in Las Vegas (in chronological order), and make sure to stay tuned for our comedy and fantasy/ action editions next week. Did we forget one? Make sure to tell us your favorite. Grab your bowl of popcorn and enjoy:
The Las Vegas Story, 1952
Sixty some odd years later, and we’re still talking about it. “The Las Vegas Story” is definitely more of a popcorn movie versus Oscar material, but it has all the elements of a Vegas movie: a steamy love affair, a murder and gambling. Plus, this was one of the many movies Howard Hughes produced. And if you’re a fashion buff, Jane Russell’s gorgeous gowns are a reason alone to watch this classic flick.
Oceans 11, 1960
We’re sure you’re familiar with the newer version (mentioned later in this article) but we need to show some love for the original. Its closing scene is definitely a memorable one: We see the Rat Pack leaving The Sands, looking super-duper dapper in their suits. It’s surreal to see them all walking along the Strip, especially since Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin all have streets named after them in Vegas now.
The Godfather Part II, 1974
We bet that theme song is stuck in your head now. You’ll hear lots of folks say the sequel is better than the original, but you still have to watch the original to understand the sequel. And we agree. This movie won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Francis Ford Coppola) and Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro). The Godfather Part II set the tone for gangster movies and De Niro’s and Al Pacino’s acting couldn’t be any more on point.
Rocky IV, 1985
Apollo Creed’s entrance into the MGM Grand is so over-the-top Vegas. The Russian, Ivan Drago stands in a boxing ring that rises from beneath the floor while Apollo Creed is lowered from the ceiling, riding a huge bull that pours smoke from his nose. James Brown performs “Living in America” surrounded by pyrotechnics, showgirls and dancers in top hats. The cool thing is, these are all show props and stages that were really used in Vegas.
(Editorial contribution by Ashley Oñoz-Wright)
Rain Man, 1988
Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise’s characters are such an unlikely pair, but that’s what makes this film so great. The half brothers meet after their father dies and take a road trip cross country, with Vegas as one of their stops. We can’t forget about the famous Vegas scenes, including the jackpot win and lavish Emperor suite inside Caesars Palace. The film won several Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (Barry Levinson) and Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman).
“A hotel, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, 500 miles away from the nearest toilet bowl!”
Man, they couldn’t be any more wrong. If you’re into the whole Vegas mobster allure of the 1940s, this one will tickle your fancy. Bugsy is the story of how organized crime boss Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel started Vegas. It all started as a simple trip, which led to what we have today. It’s also great to see how things were in the early days of Vegas. It’s too bad Mr. Siegel didn’t get to see the success of his Flamingo hotel.
Indecent Proposal, 1993
“The night could come and go, but money can last a lifetime…”
Oh, those famous words. A cool million does seem like a lot of money, but is it really worth it – at any cost? Based on a book by the same name, it starred Demi Moore as Diana Murphy, Woody Harrelson as David Murphy and the smooth talking billionaire John Gage, played by Robert Redford. The two high school sweethearts head to Vegas in hopes to win it big, but lose everything. They meet John who offers the couple $1 million to spend the night with Diana. The deal ruins their relationship (spoiler alert), but they end up back together. Still, we’re sure the incident will always be in the back of their minds.
Deemed as a cult classic, “Showgirls” is a tale of a Vegas stripper-turned-showgirl. We loved how Jessie Spano’s (er, Elizabeth Berkeley’s) character pronounces Versace “ver-sais.” Other than that, you can make fun of this movie all you want — if you watched it, we’re sure you were glued to it from start to finish. We really haven’t seen her in anything else since, but here’s the clip for you to enjoy.
Leaving Las Vegas, 1995
OK, so maybe this isn’t the happiest tale, but hey — that’s why it makes our drama list. The movie is based on John O’Brien’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Nicolas Cage does a phenomenal job playing a suicidal alcoholic (the grocery store scene is jaw-dropping) and his call girl-turned-girlfriend played by Elisabeth Shue does an equally talented job. We also liked the film quality used, giving it more of an artsy feel. Cage won a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Actor. The characters fall in love, but don’t expect your typical happy ending. It’s raw, it’s gritty and that’s why we’re still shaken up (and impressed) from this story 20-plus years later.
Your Vegas movie collection wouldn’t be complete without the 1995 blockbuster hit, “Casino.” Directed by the great Martin Scorsese, the all-star cast included Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone. This is easily one of the best movies filmed in Las Vegas. De Niro’s character is loosely based on Frank Rosenthal, Pesci’s role is based on Nicholas “Nicky” Santoro and Sharon Stone plays Ace’s conniving wife (based on real-life Geri McGee). The movie is set in the early ’70s, when mobsters in Vegas were a real big thing. Too much drama to count, so we’ll take it away with the following film clip. Fun fact: There’s a cameo appearance by mob lawyer/ former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman.
(By the way, “Showgirls,” “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Casino” proved that ’95 was a great year for filmed-in-Vegas movies.)
Con Air, 1997
Besides Nicolas Cage’s rockin’ mullet (business in the front, party in the back y’all), the scene where the plane crashes into the Hard Rock Hotel’s guitar marquee is epic. We also love the cameo appearances of Stardust, Riviera and Oasis (rest in peace, Vegas hotels). We also love how Steve Buscemi’s character calmly sang “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” as the plane plummets toward the ground. The special effects weren’t too shabby, especially for the ’90s. The crash into Sin City looks pretty realistic. And here we are, paranoid if a drone bops us on the head.
Oceans Eleven, 2001
Hard to believe it’s been 15 years since “Oceans Eleven” was released. There’s something strangely peaceful about all the guys hanging out by the Bellagio Fountains, each of them leaving one by one. After watching two hours of drama and action unfolding, we would say this end scene is very necessary.
The Cooler, 2003
We’re huge fans of William H. Macy, especially as the hilarious alcoholic father in the Showtime series “Shameless.” If you’re unfamiliar with what a “cooler” is, it’s a slang term for someone who brings bad luck to casino tables; this person is typically a casino worker. Alec Baldwin’s character depends on him, but everything changes when Macy’s character meets and falls in love with his own Lady Luck. Baldwin and Macy starring together should inspire you to watch this movie if you haven’t already done so.
Admit it. Watching this movie made you feel like anything was possible… even if it meant something kind of illegal (don’t worry — all of us know better than that!). But the heart-pounding action, risk of getting caught and every other intense second of this movie felt like you were just as involved as they were. It’s crazy it was inspired by a true story. Math never seemed so sexy.
Jason Bourne, coming in 2016
Obviously we can’t praise the cool parts of this drama/action movie just yet, but what we can tell you is that the Riviera hotel-casino is immortalized in this film. We also experienced the crazy traffic on the Strip first-hand because of filming for this movie. They already had us at Jason Bourne, but the Vegas flair makes this movie all the more exciting to watch. Make sure to watch the crazy crash at :22. That looks so real, it’s scary.
Don’t forget to tune in next week for our comedy and fantasy / action pieces. We’re sure you’ll stay busy watching these Vegas flicks or planning your next Sin City trip in the meantime.