If you’re anything like me, you burn through movies set in Las Vegas before your trip to help mentally prepare and build excitement for what’s to come.
Most Vegas regulars, at least the degenerates I know, have a go-to pre-Vegas movie playlist.
For me, it’s a routine that must be adhered to before each Las Vegas vacation. Whether you’re a fan of modern movies or ones from earlier incarnations of Vegas with shots of long-lost properties, there are plenty of options.
I figured it would be fun to go over some of the best movies set in Las Vegas to watch before your trip. They’re ranked in order of their rating on the popular film site IMDb, but they’re all winners for those that love seeing Vegas depicted in movies.
Hopefully, you’re able to identify a Vegas movie or two to add to your pre-vacation playlist!
See Also: Check out our property by property summary of cheap places to eat on the Las Vegas Strip.
Best Las Vegas Movies – Ranked
“Casino” (1995) – 8.2/10 on IMDb: A Martin Scorsese film that re-visits Las Vegas’ time as a mob town. “Casino” follows Ace Rothstein and his adventure running “The Tangiers”, a fictional casino on the Las Vegas Strip intended to mimic the real story of Stardust.
While not an uplifting movie, “Casino” is one that will have fans of Vegas’ mob era salivating. “Casino” sits atop the rest as the best Las Vegas movie out there.
“Rain Man” (1988) – 8/10 on IMDb: Charlie Babbit (Tom Cruise) becomes upset to learn that the majority of his father’s estate is being left to Raymond, a brother he didn’t realize he had who is on the autism spectrum. Charlie goes on a cross-country journey with Raymond, only to end up in Vegas leveraging Raymond’s ability to count cards.
“The Hangover” (2009) – 7.7/10 on IMDb: A comedy that follows a bachelor party as they re-trace their wild night in Las Vegas, “The Hangover’ has been my “night before Vegas” movie for years.
While some movies lose their allure after a viewing or two, this one never gets old and easily ranks among the best Vegas movies out there.
“Ocean’s Eleven” (2001) – 7.7/10 on IMDb: Danny Ocean (George Clooney) rounds up a gang of 11 to rob Terry Benedict’s casinos which include MGM Grand, Mirage, and the Bellagio.
For my money, there are few scenes more iconic than when the crew slowly disappears while watching the Fountains of Bellagio at the end.
“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1998) – 7.5/10 on IMDb: Tag along with journalist Raoul Duke as he, and his attorney Dr. Gonzo head to Las Vegas with a suitcase full of narcotics to cover the Mint 400 race.
Buckle up, it’s a wild ride that will make your wildest Vegas trip look tame.
“Leaving Las Vegas” (1995) – 7.5/10 on IMDb: In our opinion, “Leaving Las Vegas” is better watched after returning home from your trip to make you feel better about the money you lost, as it’s a tad depressing. The premise of the story revolves around an alcoholic, Ben Sanderson (Nicholas Cage), who moves to Vegas to drink himself to death, although he finds love along the way.
Fortunately, even movies with downtrodden storylines get me fired up for Vegas.
“Swingers” (1996) – 7.2/10 on IMDb: Initially set in LA, Trent (Vince Vaughn) works with his friend Mike to get over a previous relationship and find new success on the dating scene. They eventually take the party to Vegas, and the rest is history.
Set in the mid-1990s, an abundance of Las Vegas landmarks featured in “Swingers” are no longer around.
“Ocean’s Thirteen” (2007) – 6.9/10 on IMDb: Danny Ocean (George Clooney) rounds up the crew to rob Willy Bank on the opening night of his new casino “The Bank”. The heist is motivated by the fact that Bank double-crossed his associate Reuben Tishkoff.
“The Cooler” (2003) – 6.9/10 on IMDb: Bernie (William H. Macy) leverages his perpetual bad luck to be a “cooler” working for a Las Vegas casino to negatively affect the luck of other patrons. Unfortunately for his employer, Bernie falls in love and his luck turns on a dime.
“21” (2008) – 6.8/10 on IMDb: A group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology takes their ability to count cards to Las Vegas. What could go wrong?
“Electrick Children” (2012) – 6.7/10 on IMDb: Among the more bizarre storylines of any other Las Vegas-based movie on this list, Rachel, a 15-year-old born into a devout religious community believes she was impregnated by the contents of a forbidden cassette tape she listened to, although the truth is far more sinister. She then leaves the community for Las Vegas to find the creator of the tape.
Although the plot of the movie is certainly unique, the film offers a snapshot of Vegas during the early twenty-teens.
“Last Vegas” (2013) – 6.6/10 on IMDb: “Last Vegas” follows a group of four older gentlemen as they celebrate a bachelor party in Las Vegas while navigating deep-seated relationship issues along the way. The all-star cast includes Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, and Morgan Freeman.
Although the film is found a way down the rankings, I feel that “Last Vegas” is a bit underrated and certainly worth your time.
“Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) – 6.5/10 on IMDb: While Sean Connery stars as James Bond, the storyline seemed to be a bit of an afterthought. The movie’s worth watching before a trip if only due to the images of early 1970s Vegas, where the movie is set. Fremont Street in 1971 shines. Literally.
“Ocean’s Eleven” (1960) – 6.5/10 on IMDb: Flashback to the golden era of Las Vegas with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, and Frank Sinatra as they pull off an improbable caper. While the re-make starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts is cinematically better, the original will appeal to those that long for Vegas of yesteryear.
“Viva Las Vegas” (1964) – 6.3/10 on IMDb: Starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret, fans of 1960s Las Vegas will deem this an absolute must-watch. As fans of vintage Vegas ourselves, the opening 5 minutes are among the best shots of Fremont Street these eyes have seen.
The plot revolves around a racecar driver (Elvis) preparing for the Grand Prix car race while simultaneously falling for Ann-Margret’s character. “Viva Las Vegas” may not boast the highest rating, but those that celebrate Vegas of yesteryear will view it more favorably.
“Vegas Vacation” (1997) – 5.9/10 on IMDb: Clark Griswold packs the family up and heads to Las Vegas, however, it doesn’t initially turn out to be the family trip he had envisioned. A hilarious movie about Vegas, the film also catches numerous images of the mid-1990s Strip including Stardust, Riviera, Monte Carlo, Aladdin, Barbary Coast, and Frontier.
While “Vegas Vacation” earned an unimpressive rating on IMDb, I find it to be among the best Las Vegas movies out there. Tough to beat the late ’90s scenery… and Cousin Eddie’s antics.
“Honeymoon in Vegas” (1992) – 5.8/10 on IMDb: Another wild storyline, Jack Singer (Nicholas Cage) and his girlfriend Betsy (Sarah Jessica Parker) scamper to Vegas to get married. Before the wedding, Singer loses $65k in a poker game to an affluent gambler. The Gambler offers to wipe the debt away if he can spend the weekend with Betsy. They agree. Ultimately, I found the movie to be “OK”, providing a window into early ’90s Las Vegas.
“Showgirls” (1995) – 5/10 on IMDb: An aspiring dancer make the trip to Vegas with the intention of making it big. The story tracks her journey to the big stage. While not the highest-rated film, “Showgirls” is likely the most risque option on this rundown of Vegas movies and provides plenty of mid-90s Vegas imagery.
“The Winner” (1996) – 4.7/10 on IMDb: The story itself isn’t overly compelling. Essentially, a gambler in Las Vegas is on a tremendous winning streak and can’t lose. This success and his generosity attract a number of people who aim to take advantage of his good fortune.
Although the movie earned under 5 stars on IMDb, fans of mid-nineties Vegas will enjoy shots of Fremont Street and the Strip from that era. Tune in to see Sand’s, Harrah’s riverboat facade, Treasure Island’s original sign, Riviera, Barbary Coast, and Stardust.
Hopefully, I was able to help you find a movie or two to add to your pre-trip playlist, or to entertain you on your flight.
Personally, “Casino”, “The Hangover”, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Oceans 11” sit atop my personal list of the best Vegas movies out there.
For the movie buffs out there, check out Las Vegas Movie Tours. Led by a Las Vegas movie expert, passengers are driven in a limo-like bus around to numerous movie sets around the city. Relevant movie clips play as you pass and the tour guide provides additional “behind the scenes” info.
See Also: Need Ideas? Check out our ideal 3-day Las Vegas itinerary.
Feature Image: ©kuzina1964/123RF.COM
I’m a former software salesman turned Vegas aficionado. While the craps table is my preferred habitat, I pull myself away to explore new attractions, shows, restaurants, and outdoor activities around Las Vegas with the intent of sharing my experiences.
Ultimately, I just want to help folks plan a better trip and save a few bucks in the process.