Is 21 The Best Blackjack Movie Ever?

As the famous question goes: Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? Films, books, and TV shows have long had a huge (and arguably the biggest) influence on popular culture, which in turn has helped shape some of the social narratives we live by today, influencing the way we perceive various aspects of our lives. 

Forms and expressions of art serve as a mirror for the human condition, reflecting our hopes, fears, and fascinations, and from fashion trends to iconic catchphrases, films have a remarkable ability to leave an indelible mark on our collective consciousness.

Although films are enjoyed for many reasons, there is a common positive correlation between enjoyment and the stakes. When the stakes of a film are higher, we are much more invested. The movie 21, based on Ben Mezrich’s 2003 bestselling novel ‘Bringing Down the House’, stands out for its blend of high-stakes drama and intimate examination of what it means to be human. 

The film transports its audience into the fast-paced world of casinos, where it builds tension around the players figuring out blackjack strategy, and the unpredictable nature of gambling is moulded into a compelling storytelling. 

Filmmakers in the iconic blackjack film ‘21’ delved cleverly into the intricacies of the game, as well as utilising the psychological elements that come into play when deceiving someone in a dangerous environment, both tactics doing exceptionally well at keeping viewers on the edge of their seats.

Many casino games have made appearances in the realm of cinema, but today we’ll be focusing on ‘21’, a film with a particular game at its heart: blackjack. Blackjack is a classic card game that requires from its players a combination of skill and luck, and since its formation hundreds of years ago, it has captured the hearts of players and card game fanatics.

The inclusion of blackjack in films has not only shaped the cinematic narratives of those films it’s featured in, but it has also had an actual tangible impact on the popularity of the game on digital gambling platforms. After being depicted more often on the silver screen, online casino blackjack games were picked more and more up by casino goers, so it’s fair to say that it’s dramatization has played a crucial role in shaping the image, resurgence, and reputation of blackjack, helping it become a quintessential part of the casino experience. 

The Plot

Diving in, as we mentioned, one of the most famous and our personal favourite out of films to feature blackjack is “21”. The popular story revolves around the story of Ben Campbell, a brilliant and financially challenged student, who studies at the renowned university, MIT, when his seemingly mundane everyday life flips around after he is recruited into an morally dubious blackjack team headed by his incredibly mysterious and cunning professor, Micky Rosa. The team’s ultimate goal is to beat the casinos in Las Vegas by relying on their talents and advanced card counting skills, and reel in the rewards, becoming richer than they could have ever hoped. 

Ben’s internal conflict comes as he grapples with the moral implications of his actions versus the massive reward he will collect if they pull the stunt off. The film does a great job of fitting together the dynamics that develop slowly between each of the team members, showcasing how they are all bringing their unique skills and personalities, for better or for worse, to the table. In my opinion, the film really hits the nail on the head when explaining and demonstrating the complex strategies that are generally needed to card count and play competitively at that level, in a way that is accessible to the audience.

The Reception

When it was first released,the film was quite heavily praised for the standout performances of its stars and cast, with much of the attention going to the two lead actors, Jim Sturgess and Kevin Spacey. The film appealed to a wide audience, and”21″ ended up receiving several awards and nominations, including ‘People’s Choice Award for Favourite Dramatic Movie’, which really affirmed its critical and commercial success.

21 vs Other Blackjack Films

If we examine ‘21’ against other blackjack-centred films, “21” sets itself apart through its character conflict and development that remains strong throughout alongside the casino element of the plot, making  “21” stand out as a more nuanced and emotionally resonant portrayal of the world.

So to answer our question, what makes a movie great at the end of the day is subjective. But with that being said, there are a lot of elements that make ‘21’ a fantastic film, and I definitely would say that it’s a fair judgement to place the film up there among the best Blackjack films, if not the best one of all.