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The 20 Best Movies Set In Las Vegas That Will Inspire You To Visit

Las Vegas has always felt like more than just a city. It's an entertainment hub and a place where someone can have almost any kind of fun they want to have — at virtually any hour of the day or night. The "rules" just feel a little bit different in Vegas than they do anywhere else in the world — sometimes for the better, and sometimes not so much. But either way, it's a place that has a mystique built up around it that lends itself very well to the medium of film and has done so since Hollywood's golden age.

Movies about Vegas are their own subgenre, and almost every kind of movie imaginable has been set in or around the city. A lot of them serve to reinforce the magic, glitz, and glamor of Vegas — while others aren't afraid to show the city's seedier and grittier side. 

Of course, that's precisely what makes Las Vegas so intriguing — those two extremes and all the shades of grey in between. From movies about building up Vegas to movies about tearing it down, and from movies celebrating good luck to movies where characters can't catch a break — these are the ultimate Las Vegas films that will have you itching to visit. 

1. Viva Las Vegas

There is no better place to start than arguably the classic Las Vegas movie — not to mention the movie tied to the song of the same name that is basically Vegas' theme song. "Viva Las Vegas" is considered one of the better Elvis Presley movies — which range from the sublime to the ridiculous — and it really is a fun film that also features an electric performance from Presely's co-star, Ann-Margret. The chemistry between her and Presley burns right through the screen — which is another thing that was often lacking in many of The King's movies.

While the title doesn't give much away, "Viva Las Vegas" is actually a racing movie. Presley plays a driver named Lucky Lewis, who travels to the city for its first-ever Grand Prix race. Of course, everything in the plot is just an excuse for Presley — and sometimes Ann-Margret — to sing and dance in eye-popping musical numbers. There's also the bonus of it being an excellent opportunity to see images of the Las Vegas of the '60s, which looks very different than it does today.

2. The Cooler

Most casino games are ultimately about luck, and it's in a casino's best interest that its customers have bad luck the majority of the time. In "The Cooler," casino manager Shelly (Alec Baldwin) makes sure the odds stay ever in his favor by hiring a man named Bernie (William H. Macy). Bernie's luck is so bad that it seems to permeate the area around him, so he is hired to be a "cooler" — standing near a table where a player is on a hot streak in an effort to "cool" them down. When Bernie becomes involved with a cocktail waitress named Natalie (Maria Bello), his luck begins to change — and so does his effectiveness as a cooler. 

While the premise requires a pretty strong belief in luck as a changeable force, "The Cooler" is an underrated Vegas movie that earned raves for the performances of Baldwin and Bello in particular. As a character, Shelly is also a fan of a more old-school Vegas and doesn't want to succumb to the flashiness of the places on the strip. This leads to the movie being something of a farewell to that dying era of Vegas — hammered home in the closing credits which are overlaid on top of real-life footage of several vintage Vegas casinos being demolished.

3. Vegas Vacation

There's some debate as to whether this is the worst of the "Vacation" movies — with some arguing that the distinction belongs to "European Vacation" instead. Still, being the third-best entry in a franchise — that also includes the bona fide classics "National Lampoon's Vacation" and "Christmas Vacation" — is hardly anything to be ashamed of. Ultimately, "Vegas Vacation" has more than enough of that ol' Griswold family charm to earn its place in the series.

It's fun to see Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) getting flirty with another man for once when that's usually Clark's (Chevy Chase) forte. The fact that the man is Wayne Newton (playing himself) is just a stroke of genius. Aging up the Griswold kids, Rusty (Ethan Embry) and Audrey (Marisol Nichols), just enough to join in on the Vegas fun — if not entirely legally — was also a nice touch. And of course, we get yet another reliably hilarious Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) appearance. One could argue that this would've been the perfect movie to bring the series back to the R-rated raunchiness of its original installment, but there's nothing wrong with a good, family-friendly Vegas comedy either. 

4. Diamonds Are Forever

In terms of the chronology of the James Bond movie series, 007 made his first visit to the United States in "Goldfinger" when that movie's titular villain targeted Fort Knox. For Sean Connery's sixth and final (official) time as the suave super spy on film, Bond returned to the U.S. — and in particular, Las Vegas — in "Diamonds are Forever." It's somewhat surprising that it took that long, considering how synonymous the character is with the image of him sitting at a gambling table. Even in "Casino Royale," Bond was gambling in Montenegro, rather than Vegas.

Needless to say, Bond seems right at home at a Las Vegas craps table with a gorgeous woman by his side — in this case, the unfortunately-named Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood). While it would've been awesome to see Bond spend an entire film in Vegas, or at least return to it a couple of times, its brief appearance in "Diamonds Are Forever" makes it that much more special as a result.

5. Swingers

This movie's attitude to Vegas at the time could be summed up with one memorable quote: "Oh, Mike, you don't want all that ****in' "Pirate of the Caribbean" horse****, or a rock-n-roll grunge tip." That line — spoken by Trent (Vince Vaughn) to Mike (Jon Favreau) shortly after they arrive in Vegas in the opening scenes of "Swingers," establishes the idea of the romanticized Vegas, and the reality of the one they're confronted with. Trent and Mike are two guys who want the classic, chill, Rat Pack-era Vegas — perhaps like the one they'd seen in movies — rather than the big, bombastic casinos and resorts that were now the norm.

Nicely coinciding with the swing music revival of the mid-'90s gave "Swingers" the perfect excuse to portray a group of young guys that aren't wooed away by the flashiness of new Vegas, and just want to hold onto whatever was left of old Vegas. The movie might not have spent all that much time in Vegas itself, but the vibe of golden-era Vegas carries on throughout, thanks to the leads' total commitment to that brief period when the decade became the swinging '90s.

6. Bugsy

If you're going to dive into movies about Las Vegas, it's only right to educate yourself on the history of the city and the man who is largely responsible for making it into what it would eventually become. In the biopic "Bugsy," Warren Beatty plays mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel who travels from New York to California in the '40s to get into the gambling racket. Bugsy soon finds himself dreaming of setting up an entire gambling empire — and sees the opportunity to do just that in a largely undeveloped area of the Nevada desert. This eventually becomes Las Vegas, but of course, the road to building it is not without its bumps.

"Bugsy" was an Oscar darling that year, racking up nine nominations that included best picture, actor, and director (for Barry Levinson). Beatty was only very sporadically appearing in movies by this point, but he generally made it count when he did — and sure enough, his portrayal of the title character was pitch-perfect. As for the movie itself, it's a lavish and engrossing look at when the groundwork was laid for what would become the Las Vegas we know today.

7. Honeymoon in Vegas

Not to be confused with "Leaving Las Vegas" — the Nicolas Cage 1995 Las Vegas movie that earned the actor his first Academy Award — "Honeymoon in Vegas" is instead a lighthearted romantic comedy starring Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, and James Caan. It sees Jack Singer (Cage) and his fiancée, Betsy (Parker) getting into a sticky situation when they lose a high-stakes poker game to Tommy Korman (Caan). To pay their debts, Tommy demands that Betsy spends the weekend with him as she looks uncannily like his late wife, Donna (also played by Parker). 

Don't expect any "Indecent Proposal" type of steaminess with "Honeymoon in Vegas" — there is an agreement that sex is off the table. Instead, what follows is a lot of misadventures and shenanigans in this rather low-stakes but still extremely entertaining Vegas comedy. The climax of the movie features a group of Elvis Presley impersonator skydivers — which tells you a lot about the kind of goofiness to expect in this somewhat old-fashioned screwball comedy. If you're wondering what version of Nic Cage you'll get here, this is in line with the manic, hilarious Cage of "Raising Arizona," and Parker is on excellent form as well — a lot funnier than she often gets credit for.

8. 3000 Miles to Graceland

Kurt Russell has either played Elvis Presley or at least been in Elvis-adjacent projects several times in his career — from his first film role as a child in the Elvis movie "It Happened at the World's Fair" to playing the King himself in John Carpenter's "Elvis" biopic and providing Presley's voice in the Elvis scene from "Forrest Gump" (via IMDb). In "3000 Miles to Graceland," Russell not only plays a man named Michael Zane — who claims to be Elvis' son — but he then plays Elvis himself in a montage near the end of the film. 

All that being said, it's somewhat surprising that "3000 Miles to Graceland" is Russell's only major Las Vegas movie — seeing as how the legacies of Elvis and Vegas are so intertwined. And while it's far from the best Vegas movie, this heist comedy is perhaps among the most underrated. 

Its fun premise sees Russell, Kevin Costner, Christian Slater, David Arquette, and Bokeem Woodbine all dress in Elvis costumes to rob a hotel. In order to make it easier for the group to pull off the heist, they plan it during International Elvis Week — when the city is awash in Elvis impersonators. Everyone in the cast is clearly having fun — especially Russell and Costner — in this inventive black comedy, which deserved much better than its critical panning and Razzie nominations.

9. The Gambler (1974)

There are a bunch of movies called "The Gambler," with some being remakes of others and some being standalone offerings. To make things abundantly clear, this is not the one that starred Kenny Rogers and featured his iconic song of the same name. Nor is it the 2014 Mark Wahlberg movie — that one is actually a lackluster remake of this one. Now that we've established what it's not, let's explain what the 1974 movie called "The Gambler" is: A stellar crime drama starring James Caan in a performance that earned him a Golden Globe nomination, and doesn't get enough attention when celebrating the late actor's career.

Caan plays Axle Freed, a seemingly mild-mannered and law-abiding college professor who hides a crippling gambling addiction. Axle's obsession lands him in jail and, later, in the crosshairs of some very dangerous loan sharks. Much of the action takes place in Vegas — which is both heaven and hell for someone who is addicted to gambling — and "The Gambler" does a great job of portraying those dizzying highs and devastating lows in a way few other Vegas movies ever have.

10. 21

Many may dream of a way to "cheat" Las Vegas — to come up with some way to tip the odds in their favor and guarantee big wins — but in such a way that you won't get caught. "21" is based on the true story of a group of college students who did exactly that, using their mathematical brains to count cards and ensure consistent wins at Vegas blackjack tables (via MIT). While the movie takes plenty of Hollywood liberties and makes the story a lot flashier and more melodramatic than it actually was, it's still a very entertaining look at an extremely fascinating story.

The movie version sees the whole endeavor spearheaded by a student named Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), who has a big tuition bill due soon and needs money, fast. He conspires with other students as well as professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey), and soon they have developed a system with which to all but guarantee a win every time at blackjack. After racking up a tidy sum in this scheme, they soon butt heads with the casino security guard, Cole (Lawrence Fishburne), who eventually threatens to get the FBI involved. It's more "Ocean's Eleven" than the original story probably warranted, but putting that aside, "21" is still well worth a watch for anyone who's ever wanted to stick it to a casino.

11. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Journalist Hunter S. Thompson had a unique vision of Las Vegas — which goes without saying, as he had a unique vision about almost everything. This vision was laid out in his 1971 novel "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," which would eventually be adapted into a film by visionary director Terry Gilliam. Johnny Depp plays Thompson in a road movie that technically does have a plot — he and his lawyer, Dr. Gonzo (Benecio del Toro) are traveling to a motorcycle race that Thompson is supposed to be writing about. But along for the ride is a whole bunch of drugs, and it doesn't take long before the movie has lost any semblance of its original plot and is just about a substance-fueled descent into madness.

Coming from Gilliam, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" is of course a visual feast, with unsettling camera angles and uncomfortable close-ups conveying the feeling of being lost in a drug-fueled haze. And, like many Gilliam movies, the visuals are the star of the show and the script often feels like an afterthought. Still, getting bogged down in whether or not there is a coherent plot here is completely missing the point, and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" is best enjoyed by those willing to see a distinctively unique and debaucherously weird view of Vegas. 

12. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

Vince Vaughn was one of the biggest comedy stars of the 2000s, and one of his best-loved movies from that era is "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story." Vaughn plays Peter LaFleur, who runs a gym that caters to people who don't feel like they belong in the bigger, flashier gyms — facilities like Globo Gym, which happens to be located right across the street and is looking to buy out Average Joe's gym. But how will Peter come up with the money to save his gym and keep it from being shut down by Globo Gym's cocky owner, White Goodman (Ben Stiller)? The obvious answer, of course, is to enter a Las Vegas dodgeball tournament.

The premise is what is. What's important is that it allows for a fun sports comedy set in Las Vegas and featuring Average Joe's doing battle against a series of over-the-top novelty teams — including a German team that allows for a fun David Hasselhoff cameo. If there really was a world dodgeball championship, it probably would be held in Vegas. Would it be this cartoonish and over the top? Maybe not — but movies about Vegas are often at their best when they are portraying that familiar Hollywood caricature of the city. And if you loved this hilarious underdog comedy, you'll likely be excited to hear that Vince Vaughn might be plotting a "Dodgeball" sequel.

13. What Happens in Vegas

It's somewhat surprising that it took until 2008 for someone to make a movie that takes its title from that classic Vegas slogan: "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." It's probably less surprising that the movie is about an impulsive, alcohol-fueled Vegas wedding gone wrong. But this Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz rom-com is actually a lot more fun than its generic premise might have you believe. 

Much of the credit for that goes to the cast — not only the two leads but an ensemble full of talent that includes Rob Corddry, Lake Bell, Dennis Farina, Krysten Ritter, Billy Eichner, and Zach Galifianakis, to name just a few. None of the beats that the story takes will surprise you, but that doesn't mean you won't be plenty entertained and laugh out loud a few times along the way. It never gets as randy as its title might have suggested, but that's not necessarily a bad thing in this case.

14. Casino

"Casino" often gets unfairly overlooked when discussing Martin Scorsese's films — particularly his crime epics. It was bound to be forced to live in the shadow of "Goodfellas" as it would be the first movie the director made in this genre since the aforementioned gangster classic. But taken on its own terms — and with a little space from "Goodfellas" — "Casino" is an undeniably excellent film that brings together several Scorsese regulars, and pairs them with his distinctive style in a story about how the mafia had its claws in Vegas back in the '70s.

Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are great as always here, but it was Sharon Stone who earned an Oscar nomination for her amazing work in the film. Like most Scorsese movies, the cast is full of recognizable faces doing some of their best work. But the real star here is the '70s and '80s Las Vegas backdrop — shown with a style and authenticity that only Scorsese could've accomplished. It might very well be the best Vegas crime movie ever made.

15. Electrick Children

The newest entry in this list is 2012's "Electrick Children," written and directed by Las Vegas native Rebecca Thomas. It tells the story of Rachel McKnight (Julia Garner), a 15-year-old living in a Mormon community who finds out she is pregnant. Convinced she has experienced immaculate conception through an indie rock song she was listening to, she escapes the community with her brother, Mr. Will (Liam Aiken) — who the community believes is the one who actually got her pregnant. They make their way to Las Vegas where the two go on an odyssey through the city and meet a bunch of interesting characters along the way.

Thomas based the story in part on the biblical tale of the Virgin Mary, and also combined elements of her own Mormon upbringing and being raised in Vegas and the conflict those two things caused in her life (via Interview Magazine). As such, "Electrick Children" does indeed feel like a film that is both about the authentic Las Vegas experience as well as the mysticism that is often built up around it.

16. Now You See Me

A huge part of the Las Vegas experience is the high-production stage shows, many of which are focused on magic. "Now You See Me" is a great expression of that on screen, with four magicians pulling off elaborate and hard-to-figure-out stunts to the delight of a huge, cheering audience. Of course, a little movie magic is definitely involved here as some of the tricks being done by the magician team would be nearly impossible to pull off in real life, but nobody said this was a documentary.

"Now You See Me" isn't just a movie about flashy magicians, however. The four stars — Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco — are playing a group of magicians who aren't just interested in being entertainers but are using their shows as cover for elaborate heists. While they at first seem like Robin Hood types — as they rob banks and then give the cash to the audience — it turns out that their intentions may actually be even nobler than that. A heist movie with the protagonists being Las Vegas magicians is definitely a novel concept, and "Now You See Me" definitely lives up to it. 

17. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

One of the reasons people go to Las Vegas is it gives them an excuse to lose their inhibitions and to try things that they might not try in their regular everyday lives — hence the whole "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" mantra. And that's the premise of the cult classic "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," which sees two couples travel to Vegas and live out their long-discussed plans of swapping partners for a night.

Released in 1969, the film was definitely risque for its time due to its subject matter, but it isn't as salacious as the premise would suggest. Instead, it's mostly an exploration of monogamy and the emotional risks that can come from experimentation within a relationship. The movie was taken quite seriously in its day, with stars Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon even receiving Academy Award nominations for playing Ted and Alice Henderson, respectively. Whether viewed as a cautionary tale or just a fascinating look at what can come from this type of Vegas weekend, "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" is well worth a watch and has aged much better than you might expect. 

18. The Hangover

Few movies of the last 20 years or so enjoyed the surprising success that this film did. Released with little initial fanfare, "The Hangover" went on to become a genuine pop culture phenomenon and a box office smash. This raunchy comedy follows a trio of guys — played by Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis — who have to retrace their steps following a wild bachelor party for their friend, Doug (Justin Bartha). In a series of events that they barely remember — seemingly spanning the entire city of Las Vegas — the race is on to find the missing Doug in time for his wedding. 

What follows is an absurd escalation of events, each set piece more hilariously bizarre than the last, in a laugh-out-loud romp — the likes of which don't come around that often. Every 10 years or so there seems to be that zeitgeist-capturing comedy like "There's Something About Mary" that gets word-of-mouth buzz and has people filling up theaters in order to see it with a packed audience — and "The Hangover" was definitely one of those movies.

19. Leaving Las Vegas

In some ways, Nicolas Cage's dueling Las Vegas movies represent the two main extremes often associated with the city. And while "Honeymoon in Vegas" sees the city at its silliest, "Leaving Las Vegas" is a powerful look at people for whom Vegas is the place where they hit absolute rock bottom. Cage won his first — and so far only — Academy Award for playing a writer named Ben Anderson, whose alcoholism is slowly destroying his life. Ben then gets involved with a prostitute named Sera (Elizabeth Shue, also nominated for an Oscar), in a relationship that ultimately doesn't do either one of them any favors in terms of accountability for their own personal demons.

There's no getting around what a downer this movie is, right up to its tragic ending. But the reality is that Vegas is often a downer, and it has enabled many people to fully embrace their vices to the point that they destroy their lives and relationships. It might not be the sunny Vegas of Elvis musicals or the glamorous Vegas of the classic heist films, but it is still Vegas — depicting a very real, and honest version that will resonate with many.

20. Ocean's Eleven

Starting with the 1960 Rat Pack vehicle, then giving way to the Steven Soderbergh-helmed trilogy of "Ocean's Eleven," "Ocean's Twelve," and "Ocean's Thirteen" in the 2000s, and most recently spawning the female-led follow up "Ocean's 8," the "Ocean's" franchise is now a decade-spanning series of movies that can be hard to keep track of. There isn't a truly bad film in the bunch, though some are objectively better than others, and some scratch different itches. But for our money, the ultimate "Ocean's" movie remains 2001's "Ocean's Eleven" starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon. Completing the titular eleven are Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Elliot Gould, Don Cheadle, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Qin, and Carl Reiner.

On top of being an incredibly inventive heist movie, "Ocean's Eleven" is ultimately an ensemble of incredibly talented people — that also includes Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia — clearly having the time of their lives filming this movie together in Vegas. The subsequent two movies feel a little too much like they were made just so this group could all hang out together again, but it's with the "original" that the finished product is an experience that is every bit as fun to watch, as it evidently was to make.