Guest Post – The cinematic history of Las Vegas

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Las Vegas has been an ideal backdrop for films since the early 1950’s. In fact, the city itself is so imposing and thematic that it often becomes the central character. Whether the city overshadows the film’s stars or simply provides a bright, seedy and iconic backdrop, Las Vegas is one of cinema’s most revered cities.

The Early Years of Vegas in Film

One of the first major films set in Las Vegas was 1952’s The Las Vegas Story. While this film noir combined elements of the seedy underground mixed with Vegas’ somewhat tacky interior, it had failed to set the standard for the Vegas films to come.

It wasn’t until 1960’s Ocean’s Eleven that Vegas films became profitable and a genre of their own.
Ocean’s Eleven featured the immensely-popular Rat Pack, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Peter Lawford. The film itself was a simple heist story, but because of its central characters, it became a box-office success and eventually spawned multiple remakes and sequels. However, one of the main characters of the film was clearly Las Vegas.

The cinematic appeal of Vegas was perfectly captured in the film, and copycat directors were quick to take notice. The next 10 years featured an array of films set in Las Vegas, and these included dramas, comedies, crime films and even the fourth James Bond film. By now, Las Vegas had cemented its role as the cinematic city that never sleeps, where the women know more than they let on, and where hard-drinking men like to live on the edge. As films continued to push the boundaries of violence, language and sex, the Las Vegas film became progressively more adult and serious in tone.

Las Vegas Adapting With Film

The 1980’s featured comedies and dramas with Las Vegas as a prominent character. The acclaimed drama >Rain Man had its grand climax revolving around a card game at Caesars Palace, and this was one of the first films to use Vegas maturely. The film doesn’t feature lewd behavior, and it is considered one of the finest dramas of the decade. However, the 90’s would quickly reverse this trend and bring Vegas back to its seedy roots.

Martin Scorsese’s 1995 mafia film Casino was one of the most violent and controversial films of the early 90’s. The film is set during the 70’s and 80’s, and it portrays mafia activity in Vegas with an unflinching eye. The film portrayed Vegas and its runners as ruthless, violent and sociopathic men. In contrast to Rain Man, which used Vegas as a backdrop for dreams, Casino used Vegas to portray a nightmare of greed and vanity.

Portrayals of Vegas took another strange turn with the release of Showgirls in 1995. The film was released to unbearably negative reviews, yet it has since turned into a camp classic. As a portrayal of a stripper trying to make it big on the strip, the oddly serious film is now remembered as a living cartoon with a ridiculous plot, terrible acting and laughable costumes. Along with 1997’s Austin Powers, which had many scenes in Vegas, the city was quickly becoming the backdrop for laughs as opposed to violence. This humorous inspiration was felt all the way from a new breed of eclectic slot machines to the fun casino games at Betsson and other online casinos.

In the 2000’s, many comedies were released with Vegas as the backdrop, but it was The Hangover that became triumphant as the top-grossing Vegas film. Utilizing Vegas as a character, the film revolves around bachelors trying to recover their lost friend before a big wedding. The film spawned two sequels, and it will certainly be remembered as one of the funniest films set in Vegas.

As films continue to explore new plots and histories, and as they continue to push the boundaries of what can be shown, it is certain that Vegas will continue to evolve with film. Las Vegas has proven to be a versatile city that can linger in the background during an emotional drama, be menacing in a true-life crime film, or be a central character in a very dark comedy. To see the future of Vegas, one needs only to go to their local cinema.

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