Some places are so iconic they lend themselves to being film locations. New York, Paris, London – the unique landscapes of these cities is irresistible to film makers. Another place you could count in this list is Las Vegas, and it’s easy to see why.
Bright lights, world-famous venues, timeless glitz and glamour – it’s no big surprise that literally hundreds of movies have used Sin City as a backdrop to the action, comedy, drama, or any genre of film. Plenty of these movies have picked up some pretty major awards and accolades too.
Here are seven of the biggest movies Vegas has ever known.
Viva Las Vegas (1964)
According to director George Sidney, the script for this movie was written in just 11 days. That’s pretty impressive if true, as Viva Las Vegas is considered to be one of Elvis Presley’s best films. A lot of that has to do with the on-screen chemistry between him and co-star Ann-Margret, who was at the peak of her Bye Bye Birdie fame. As a result, the movie picked up a 1965 Laurel Award as runner-up in the musicals category.
Presley plays a would-be grand prix racer and Ann-Margret is a hotel swimming instructor determined to win his heart, in this adorable love story. However, the film is as much renowned for its backdrop as it is its plot. Being filmed around the golden era of Sin City, it captures the glamour of Vegas at a time when it was full of suited-and-booted famous faces. The Rat Pack was in town, pioneering the city’s entertainment scene, and many hopeful gamblers came to town to become overnight millionaires on the casino tables.
If you weren’t alive to see this special time for yourself, and you haven’t watched Viva Las Vegas, there is a place where the spirit of this era lives on. With key details that allude to this glorious gaming era in its design, including pink Cadillacs, jukeboxes and milkshakes, you’ll be taken right back to the glory years at what’s perhaps the best and most unique online casino out there.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
A very different kind of love story us at the heart of this searing drama directed by Mike Figgis and starring Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue. Far from glamorising Las Vegas it uses its glitz as a jarring backdrop to the gradual unravelling of Cage’s character, Ben Sanderson – an alcoholic Hollywood screenwriter hell bent on self-destruction. Shue plays a Vegas prostitute who takes him under her wing and tries to save him from himself.
Made on a tiny $4 million budget, the film went on to gross almost $50 million. What’s more, it was nominated for no less than four Academy Awards, with Nicolas Cage winning Best Actor and picking up a Golden Globe too.
With a title like this, it’s a movie that could only ever be set in Las Vegas. In some ways it’s a companion film to Goodfellas which looked at the activities of the mafia in and around New York and in which Martin Scorsese also collaborated with Nichola Pileggi. The film is firmly set in the dying days of the mob’s involvement with Las Vegas casinos as the big corporations are starting to move in. As a result, it very much has an “end of days” feel.
There’s a fairly typical Scorsese cast including Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. But it was Sharon Stone who got the Oscar nomination for her portrayal of De Niro’s girlfriend, Ginger McKenna as well as a Golden Globe.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
Of The Godfather trilogy, it’s Part II that is generally considered to be the best individual picture – as shown by the six Academy Awards that it picked up in the 1975 awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Francis Ford Coppola and Best Original Score.
The Vegas-centred action is focused on the black sheep son of the Corleone clan, Fredo. He has been sent to look after the family’s interests in the city having proved himself to be less brave and able than the other brothers.
Throughout the film, Fredo is under suspicion of not always working in the family’s interests, but is safe while his mother is still alive. However, after her funeral things take a turn for the worse for the oldest Corleone brother, and the rest of the movie features some of the most brutal drama ever seen on the silver screen.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Fans of the works of journalist Hunter S. Thompson had always considered his novel about a drug-fuelled expedition to report on a Las Vegas motorcycle race un-filmable. However this didn’t stop the former Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam from giving it a go. While it failed to recoup much of its $18 million budget, it was nominated for the Cannes Film Festival Palme D’Or and has achieved genuine cult status.
The film stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro. And, depending on your standpoint, the film is either a complete mess or a good effort at recreating Thompson’s Gonzo journalistic style on screen. But it certainly does manage to capture the surreal nature of much of Las Vegas.
The Hangover (2009)
For stories of a wild bachelor party in Vegas, few have come much wilder than this. Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Heather Graham, it’s the film that launched one of the most successful comedy trilogies of the 21st century – as well as carrying off the accolade of being the Golden Globes Best Comedy of the Year.
The plot is a complicated one, featuring drunken nights out, a tiger, chicken and even a baby found in the partygoers’ hotel bedroom, and our hapless heroes being embroiled in a feud with mobsters demanding the return of money that they believe they’ve stolen. There’s even a cameo appearance from Mike Tyson, who wants to claim his tiger back, and a great example of using card counting to win a game of blackjack.
Behind the Candelabra (2013)
We started this rundown with one Vegas legend in Elvis and we’ll conclude it with another, Liberace. The flamboyant piano player and showman had a colourful life that was captured in Steven Soderbergh’s 2013 movie. Originally made for TV by HBO, it also had a big screen release and picked up a raft of awards including no less than eleven Emmys as well as a 95% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Michael Douglas gives an astonishing performance as the pianist with Matt Damon as his chauffeur/lover on whose book the story is based. But Las Vegas, with all its extravagance and excess, is also always in the limelight too.
As the range of movies in this list serves to highlight, Vegas is an inspiring place to tell a story. While the world has changed hugely in the 60 or so years these films cover, it’s managed to preserve its timeless appeal.