Rounders Sequel Would Be Just What the Poker Doctor Ordered

6 min read

Daniel Negreanu sent out a tweet on Saturday asking for a sequel to the hit 1998 poker flick, Rounders, which caught the attention of the movie’s screenwriter, Brian Koppelman. I also took notice of the post and it got me to thinking, you know what? DNegs is right. This needs to happen, stat, for the sake of our game’s future.

Can Worm and Mike find their way back to the big screen? Many poker fans hope so. (Image: Letterboxd)

That may be a bit of hyperbole, but there is some truth to it. Poker is in good shape as a whole — after all, the 2019 WSOP Main Event had 8,569 entries, second most in its 50-year history. But poker could also use some mainstream attention, and what better way than with a new Matt Damon box office hit?

Negreanu encouraged Koppelman to “make it happen.” The famous filmmaker didn’t guarantee he’d create “Rounders II,” but he didn’t completely shoot down the idea either.

My confidence level for a sequel ever happening isn’t high. Still, Koppelman’s response was good enough to at least get me a little excited about the possibility, albeit slim, of seeing a conclusion to one of my all-time favorite movies.

An All-Time Classic Poker Flick

Rounders had a star-studded cast that included Matt Damon, Ed Norton, and John Malkovich. The movie was released in 1998, half a decade before the poker boom, in a time when poker hadn’t yet become mainstream.

So, for many of us who began playing cards following Chris Moneymaker’s WSOP Main Event title in 2003, the movie was an afterthought when it was first released. I recall watching Rounders on DVD in the early 2000s before I became interested in poker, and found the movie boring.

But that all changed a few years later when poker became my favorite hobby. Rounders went from meh to one of my favorite movies of all-time. It still is today.

Box office numbers for Rounders weren’t overly impressive, which isn’t a huge surprise considering poker wasn’t all that popular in 1998. The iconic poker flick generated a total of $22.9 million in gross ticket sales from September 11 to October 1, 1998. That was good for just the 80th highest earning flick that year, and 3,211 all-time.

Once the poker boom hit, Rounders became, arguably, the most iconic poker movie of all-time, and it’s hard to imagine that it will ever be topped, even if Koppelman creates a killer sequel. Nearly every poker player I know, and that you probably know, has Rounders on Blu-ray or DVD.

And if you’re like me, you’ve seen it a hundred times. Actually, I’ve probably seen it more than 100 times. I get the urge to watch it about once a month.

Why Poker Needs a Rounders Sequel

One Twitter user wrote that Rounders was “perfect”, and thus, a sequel would ruin the original film. Rounders is a cult classic within the poker community, and I’d hate to see it lose its luster. But, I disagree that a sequel would do any harm to the original.

It’s true that sequels often flop. Anchorman 2, Airplane II, and Caddyshack II were truly horrendous movies, all of which I’d like to forget I ever saw. But those disappointing flicks haven’t done any harm to the original versions. In fact, I watched Caddyshack the other night, and still love it just as much as I did many years ago.

There are also numerous examples of sequels that I have enjoyed, including Godfather II, Back to the Future II (and III), and the entire Batman series (save for Batman and Robin, of which I’m just going to pretend never even existed).

The main reason poker truly needs a Rounders sequel is because the game again needs to attract casual players. A movie starring Matt Damon and other mainstream Hollywood celebs will bring non-poker fans to the theaters. And, who knows, maybe some of those viewers will become interested in poker all because they enjoyed the movie.

Why Rounders II Probably Won’t Happen

It cost around $12 million to make Rounders in 1998. Matt Damon was much younger at the time, and it would be far more expensive to bring him on board a second time around. The same holds true for his co-stars such as John Malkovich and Edward Norton.

Rounders II would flop and be uninteresting if most of the original cast weren’t all on board. If “Mike McDermott” was played by anyone but Damon, I don’t think I’d have any interest in watching. You also need Ed Norton to play his shady friend, “Worm,” or the sequel would be missing another key component.

So, beyond money, I can’t imagine it will be easy to convince the original cast to come back 22 years later to shoot a sequel. But, hey, it’s not completely out of the question, as Koppelman hinted.

Another issue is poker isn’t as mainstream as it was 10 years ago. Sure, it’s more popular than it was in 1998 when Rounders was released, but the original only did around $22 million at the box office. Would a studio want to spend millions of dollars producing the sequel knowing it likely won’t do well outside of the poker community? Probably not.

I Need to Know What Happened to Mike McDermott

(SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVEN”T SEEN THE MOVIE, SKIP THIS SECTION!) Rounders ended with Damon’s character, Mike McDermott, leaving for Las Vegas to pursue a career as a professional poker player.

A few poker fans on Twitter said they don’t need to know how his career turned out. I disagree. I want to know how he did. Is he still playing poker? Did he ever go back to law school? Did Teddy “KGB” (Malkovich) beg him for a rematch?

And what happened to “Worm?” Is he still hustling in the underground poker games? Or has he cleaned up his act and is now playing in legit casinos? I need to know these things, and only a sequel can answer those questions.

Proposed Rounders II Plot

In the unlikely event Rounders II is created, I have some advice for Brian Koppelman — as if he needs it — on what I feel is an intriguing plot. So, here’s what would happen in the sequel, if I were given the opportunity to write the script.

A 40-something Mike McDermott is caught colluding with “Worm” in a high-stakes game in Bobby’s Room at Bellagio. The poker-playing friends are banned from the casino, and McDermott is forced to move back to the East Coast where he partners with his old nemesis, Teddy “KGB”, to run an illegal underground card room.

The feds bust the game, and McDermott is sent to jail. His ex-girlfriend, Jo (Gretchen Mol), is chosen as the lead prosecutor in the case. With the feds having seized Mikey’s bank account, he’s forced to grind lower stakes games in Atlantic City so that he can afford legal representation.

I’ll let Koppelman take it from there. Make it happen, Brian.

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