The 1998 movie Rounders, directed by John Dahl, features Matt Damon and other well-known actors such as Edward Norton and John Malkovich. Damon was still a relatively new name in Hollywood at this stage, but his role in the movie has grown in importance through the years since becoming Hollywood royalty.
Rounders didn’t blow people away at the box office. It eventually raked in $22.9 million in the US, including $8.5 million during its opening weekend. Considering the film had a budget of $12 million, that was a meager return.
What brought Rounders back to life?
The film enjoyed a new lease of life in the 2000s though, thanks largely to the increased exposure and interest in the game of poker. The success of Chris Moneymaker at the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event lit the blue touch paper for a poker ‘boom’. Improvements in online connectivity and legal landscapes meant that online poker rooms shot to prominence. Moneymaker proved what was possible in the poker world, after qualifying for the WSOP Main Event via an online poker site. Millions worldwide have since tried to emulate Moneymaker’s feat of turning $40 into $2.5 million.
The online poker boom eventually made its way across the Atlantic into the US, although it’s still by no means embraced by all four corners of the United States. It’s been legal to play poker in Pennsylvania online since 2017, with PokerStars leading the way from the outset. More operators have made their way here since, including 888poker, WSOP.com, and Borgata.
The immersive poker storyline of Rounders
With so many people becoming poker enthusiasts, the Rounders movie took on increasing importance in the eyes of newfound card sharks. The plot is based on Mike McDermott, played by Damon, who is a talented poker player and law student. Like Moneymaker, McDermott harbors ambitions of becoming a winning player at the historic WSOP. He had built up a poker bankroll playing at underground cash tables across New York City but lost it all in one mad hand against a Russian named Teddy “KGB”.
Losing that bankroll would eat away at McDermott, who could focus on little else, to the detriment of his law degree and his relationship with his girlfriend. McDermott eventually challenges Teddy KGB to another heads-up game in a bid to win back his roll. After eventually spotting KGB’s physical tells, he can play the long game and win back everything he lost – and then some. It’s a rags-to-riches story that every poker dreamer enjoys, just like the Chris Moneymaker dream.
Through the years there has been much conjecture about the potential for a Rounders 2, starring Damon as McDermott again. Brian Koppelman, who co-wrote Rounders with David Levien, has often teased the possibility of a sequel. Even Damon admitted on Bill Simmon’s The Ringer podcast that a sequel is something the crew had been discussing “for years”. However, reports suggest there are likely to be several legal complications, given that Rounders was a Miramax movie. Damon refused to deny the prospect of long-time pal Ben Affleck joining the cast too. All of which would be music to the ears of poker fans who’ve been starved of poker-themed action on the big screen ever since.