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8 Iconic 20th Century Films Set in Vegas

The incredibly scenic backdrop of the never fading bright neon lights, big glamorous buildings, roller coasters, shopping, celebrities and gambling, make Las Vegas an exciting and dramatic place to set, and to shoot feature films. The city is evocative and provocative and very open to storytelling of many varieties and genres, especially stories around the lives of casino owners, gamblers, and those lost in the chaos and busyness of this great city in the desert.

It’s not surprising then that many different films have been set in and filmed in Las Vegas, or have featured scenes in the “Sin City”. Gambling and casinos are at the forefront, along with deception, drug or alcohol use and a study of humanity at its most vulnerable or cunning.

If you’re looking to get a taste of Vegas via some great and entertaining films, here are 8 great iconic 20th Century films set in Las Vegas…

8. Dark City (1950): A classic film noir from Hollywood’s heyday this film was the great Charlton Heston’s debut and is a film that still stands the test of time as a great noir featuring strong performances and a tight script, while also revealing some of the darker sides of Las Vegas gambling and card games. This of course is a key aspect of films set or shot in Las Vegas.

7. Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Starring Sean Connery, this 7th James Bond film is not considered one of the very best of Bond. Still it was an iconic film of its generation at the height of the Bond film franchise success and a great depiction of the glory days of 1970s Vegas. This film was based on Ian Fleming’s 1956 novel of the same name and while it delivers some great performances, quotes and scenes, the film’s contradictory plot and characterization was confusing for audiences. This was Connery’s last bout as Bond. It was filmed on location in Vegas (though a part of the filming was also done in Pinewood Studios in England). The on location scenes were filmed at Circus Circus, Tropicana and the Las Vegas Hilton.

6. Rain Man (1988): While not set exclusively in Vegas, Rain Man was and continues to be a powerful and much loved American film starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. In the film, a selfish automobile hustler (Charlie) discovers he has a previously unknown brother (Raymond) who is an autistic savant and has inherited the bulk of their father’s fortune. Charlie kidnaps Raymond and takes him on a “lust for life” trip to Vegas in an attempt to win over the fortune left to Raymond. The film features scenes in Vegas where Charlie takes Raymond gambling because he can count cards. The Vegas scenes were shot at Caesar’s Palace.

5. Bugsy (1991): This film starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening tells the tale of the legendary gangster Bugsy Siegel and the story of how he created Las Vegas, turning it into the big bright crazy city it is today. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and is still considered to be a Hollywood masterpiece by some. Bugsy was actually filmed primarily in Los Angeles, but is still one of the best Las Vegas films around.

4. The Stand (1994): This was a highly ambitious TV movie/mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, The Stand tells the story of a group of survivors after a deadly flu wipes out the majority of the population of America. The group finds their way to Las Vegas after following a series of strange visions, and end up in the middle of a final battle between good and evil.

3. Leaving Las Vegas (1995): Starring Nicholas Cage as an alcoholic screenwriter who has come to Las Vegas to drink himself to death and forms a relationship with a troubled prostitute played by Elisabeth Shue. The film garnered several awards (including an Oscar) for Cage and numerous nominations for Shue, and writer/director Mike Figgis. Vegas filming locations included The Excalibur Hotel & Casino, the Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas Boulevard, Circus Circus, Bally’s Casino, Flamingo Hotel and the Strip. With its provocative and very raw portrayal of heartbreak, depression and hopelessness the film gained much praise and is still considered one of the best films set in Las Vegas.

2. Casino (1995): One of Martin Scorcese’s most iconic films, and a true American classic. The film stars Robert Deniro and Sharon Stone among others and depicts the two faces of the Las Vegas casino world: glamour and glitter, and brutality and cruelty. The film follows the lives of two Vegas mobsters and a gorgeous hustler, their loves, losses and ultimate downfall. Shot on location in Vegas, you’ll notice these locations quite prominently displayed in the film: Bally’s, Landmark Hotel, La Concha, Las Vegas Boulevard, Park Paseo, Valley of Fire State Park and more.

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998): adapted from the novel by Hunter S Thompson, this was rather poorly received in cinemas but it has since gained cult status and has done very well in DVD sales. The film, directed by Terry Gilliam, is a crazy semi-autobiographical romp of a road movie about a strange journalist (Johnny Depp) who, “along with his lawyer (Guillermo Del Toro), has a series of psychedelic drug induced adventures in Vegas while in search of the “American dream”. The film features some truly iconic and often referenced cinematic moments. The film was shot in and around Las Vegas, with the Stardust hotel & Casino being most prominent along with the gorgeous Red Rock Canyon.

This is a guest post by a copywriter and film fan who writes for, and thinks Vegas holidays are incomplete without taking in some of these iconic film locations and indeed the films themselves before you go!


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.