Name in Lights for the City of Lights: Las Vegas in the Movies

Las Vegas

Las Vegas has attracted many nicknames over the past century, including Sin City, the Gambling Capital of the World, the City that Never Sleeps, the Entertainment Capital of the World and the City of Lights. All these nicknames and more are well-deserved for a city that has spent several decades building up a strong reputation as one of the most exciting places in the world. Las Vegas has a complex modern history ranging from mining through gangsters to gambling and entertainment of the first degree, combined with proximity to some of the most stunning natural landscapes and sights the world has to offer.

Most people come to Las Vegas to gamble – around 74% of all people who visit the city will gamble at some point during their stay. That being said, the biggest threat to Vegas’ dominance of the gambling industry is their online competitors. Online casino games are gaining an increasing amount of attention, largely due to the convenience and the rise in mobile play. The games come in a range of themes, something which the casinos of Vegas struggle to compete with. For example, there are online slots games based on classic movies which are sure to grab the attention of movie fans.

While the city today is best known for its gambling and entertainment industry, this industry has a dark yet intriguing history founded by the Mafia. The very first resort hotel in Las Vegas, the infamous Flamingo, was opened by the gangster Bugsy Seigel, who was shot to death only six months after launching the casino. While today’s Las Vegas is much more respectable, the colourful mob era along with the eternal fascination of humans with bright lights and easy money have inspired multiple blockbuster movies. The City of Lights has had its name in lights more times than most, featuring as a backdrop or an integral part of many of the most popular films of all time.

YouTube player

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

The 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven featured and all-star cast and was centred around the Bellagio, already one of the most iconic hotel resorts in Las Vegas. One of the most memorable scenes in the heist movie revolves around the characters leaving the scene of the crime after watching the famous water dance of the Bellagio’s multiple fountains. Filming on location took six months, at times taking over as much as half the entire casino floor, the front desk and other areas within the venue. While this was necessarily disruptive for regular business at the Bellagio, director of operations at the time Paul Berry commented on how much fun the experience was and how everyone knew the outcome would be worthwhile. Berry was proven correct when the month following the film’s release proved to be the hotel’s best December ever.

YouTube player

Viva Las Vegas (1964)

One of the most iconic films ever produced in and about Sin City was the Elvis Presley musical Viva Las Vegas. Filmed in 1964, the film tells the stories of Lucky Jackson, a race car driver played by Elvis, and Rusty Martin, his love interest and local swimming instructor played by Ann-Margret. Elvis’s highest grossing film features ten song and dance numbers filmed in locations across Las Vegas, including the pool of the Flamingo, the Sands Hotel, Fremont Street in Downtown, the Tropicana Hotel and the Hoover Dam. Some of the most memorable and best-known areas and events that have helped make Las Vegas famous are features in the film, including quickie weddings, showgirls and of course gambling.

YouTube player
Casino trailer

Casino (1995)

Scorcese’s masterpiece Casino tells the story of the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas in the seventies, from the perspective of the mob. The characters skim millions from casinos around the city in a variety of innovative and often violent ways. Robert De Niro plays Sam “Ace” Rothstein, who narrates large parts of the movie and is based on the real-life gangster Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. The story is ultimately about the demise of the mafia in Vegas, with things starting to go horribly wrong once outsiders get involved. The film ends with a poignant look at how, once the mob was ousted from Sin City, it was taken over by “Disney-style” corporations and financed by junk bonds, an announcement made sadly by De Niro as narrator.

YouTube player

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the film remake of Hunter S. Thompson’s surreal novel centred on drug addicted journalist Duke, played by Johnny Depp, and his sidekick and attorney Dr Gonzo, played by Benico del Torro. The duo is ostensibly in Las Vegas so Duke can cover a desert motorcycle race and an attorney conference. However, these two events are no more than background fodder. The focus of the film is on the increasingly bizarre, drug-fuelled perspectives of the characters as they stagger around the city ingesting a cocktail of narcotics. Director Terry Gilliam is known for his surreal takes on reality – Fear and Loathing focuses more on hallucinogenic moments and the havoc caused by those who have lost their grip on reality.

YouTube player

The Hangover (2009)

The Hangover centres on a group of young men who have ended up in Las Vegas on a stag night from hell. Epitomising the less salubrious side of modern-day Vegas, the film begins with the bride to be discovering her fiancé has been lost by his groomsmen. Most of the rest of the film then takes place as a flashback, following the stag party as they search Sin City for the missing husband to be after waking up in a hotel room with no memory of the events of the previous evening. The clues they have to go on, which are in the room when they awake, include a crying baby, a belly-button piercing and a tiger, among other oddities. The film progresses in the catalogue of errors genre with a strong focus on observational humour.

These are just a handful of the many films that have taken the iconic backdrop and personality of Las Vegas as inspiration. The powerful character of the city creates possibilities for films of almost any imaginable genre.