In what may come as a surprise to some poker players, “Molly’s Game” crushed “Rounders,” arguably the most popular poker movie ever, at the box office.
More than $53 million have been spent on ticket sales worldwide to watch “Molly’s Game,” a movie starring Jessica Chastain that was released in theaters on Christmas Day and will be available on Blu-Ray March 27.
That blows away the $23 million box office sales the 1998 movie “Rounders” received.
“Rounders” had a star-studded cast led by Matt Damon and Ed Norton, but it wasn’t an Academy Award-nominated flick nor was it overly popular at the time of its release.
Contrast that to “Molly’s Game,” which received rave reviews from critics, even those who aren’t poker grinders. Director Aaron Sorkin was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Writing Adapted Screenplay category, the award he won in 2011 for “The Social Network,” but lost to James Ivory who wrote “Call Me by Your Name.”
Numbers Lie Sometimes
“Molly’s Game” had more success at the box office than “Rounders” but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a better poker movie.
The game of poker was far less popular when “Rounders” was released than it is today. Poker was an afterthought at most casinos in the 1990s, if a poker room even existed. Nowadays, most casinos have a card room.
“Rounders” was released prior to the launch of online poker and five years before Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event.
The World Poker Tour wasn’t a thing, Phil Ivey had just started playing the game, and exposing hole cards on television wasn’t even an idea.
Is it Really a Poker Movie?
The “Rounders” plot revolved around the grinder lifestyle. Mike McDermott (Damon) and his friend Lester “Worm” Murphy (Norton) hustled to make a living at the poker tables.
In “Molly’s Game,” a movie based on a true story, there was limited poker action and the main plot centered around Molly Bloom’s (Chastain) pending criminal charges for hosting an illegal poker game.
Bloom, a former world-class skier who moved from Colorado to Los Angeles after college, ran a regular high-stakes poker game in Hollywood and Manhattan for celebrities and influential people. After she began taking a rake, making the game illegal, the feds shut down the game and charged her with a crime.
Most critics agreed Sorkin, making his directorial debut, told a great story. But the movie was more about Bloom’s daddy issues and criminal charges than the game of poker.
“Rounders,” on the other hand, had some subplots such as McDermott’s lousy relationship with his girlfriend. But the main focus of the flick was the ups and downs of the poker grinder lifestyle.