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10 Las Vegas Films That Will Make Your Next Visit Look Terrific


If you only came home broke, consider yourself lucky...

An inviting sign hiding a wealth of cinematic disasters...

Las Vegas, USA is one of my favorite vacation destinations. Whether you’re the kind of tourist that likes gambling, a show, ridiculous glitz, or upscale restaurants, Las Vegas is the place for you. Last year, my wife and I visited Sin City for the first time in years and, unfortunately, the trip didn’t go quite as planned. She was suffering from a bad cold and I came down with a killer toothache. Bad timing, to be sure, but we still made the best of it. And let’s face it – vacations that end up containing little bumps along the way could always be worse. The following list of films shows just how badly a trip to Vegas could wind up...


10. The Cooler (2003)

The Cooler (2003)

Alec Baldwin’s character of Shelly Kaplow owns the fictional Shangri-La casino in Las Vegas. Most casinos make good money, but Kaplow does better than most thanks to his ace in the hole: Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy). Years earlier, Kaplow had Lootz’s kneecap crushed after Lootz ran up a huge gambling debt at Kaplow’s expense. Then Shelly realized something about poor Bernie – he was a “Cooler”. In Vegas lingo, a cooler is a mythical figure whose luck is so terrible that he has the ability to kill anyone’s lucky streak just by being near them. So now Bernie miserably “works” for the Shangri-La, in deep debt to Shelly, with no love life, no social life, and no future, only brought out to the tables when Shelly needs a certain player’s hot streak snuffed out. Eventually, Bernie falls in love, regains his luck, and wrests himself from Shelly’s clutches. But before Bernie’s change of fortune, one of the last things you would want to see as a gambler is the “Cooler” approaching your table.

9. Vegas Vacation (1997)

Vegas Vacation (1997)

Wherever the Griswolds go, disaster is sure to follow, and the last film in the Vacation series is no exception. Through the usual series of pratfalls and foul-ups, father Clark manages to spring a leak in the Hoover Dam on the way to Vegas and then gambles away the family bank account upon arriving at Sin City, mom Ellen becomes infatuated with Wayne Newton, daughter Audrey gets mixed up in exotic dancing, and son Rusty hits a winning streak and shuns the family in favor of a “high rolling” lifestyle. Somehow, dumb luck and bizarre situations cause the family to come together in the end and escape Vegas with a bundle of money and four new cars. Widely considered to be the worst of the four “Vacation” movies, Vegas Vacation’s main side effect is to make you glad that you’re not a member of the crackpot Griswold family and forced to come along on their doomed “adventures”.

8. The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)

The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)

A classic 1950s “B” sci-fi flick, The Amazing Colossal Man stars Glenn Langan as Glenn Manning, an astronaut who, you guessed it, suffers radiation burns from an atomic blast test and mutates to a 60-foot tall giant. Gradually driven insane by the mutation, Manning is confined by scientists who attempt a cure. However, he escapes, grabs his girlfriend, and goes on a rampage through the heart of Las Vegas. After obliterating everything in his path, Manning is finally cornered by a US Army unit by the Hoover Dam, shot by a barrage of gunfire, and falls into the Colorado River, drowning. Now I don’t know about you, but if I saw a 60-foot tall man marauding through town, knocking down casinos, and trampling down the Strip, that would pretty effectively ruin my trip.

7. Leprechaun 3 (1995)

Leprechaun 3 (1995)

The first direct-to-video installment of the Leprechaun film series, and the first to be set in Las Vegas, Leprechaun 3 sees the evil little monster setting his sights on a group of hapless Vegas tourists. With his evil magic and cursed pot of gold (not kidding), the Leprechaun kills off several characters through a variety of methods – strangling, electrocution, sawing someone in half, making people explode, and so on. Finally, the little guy is burnt to a crisp by the last two surviving characters. Not the greatest of movies by any stretch, but I think it’s safe to say that being chased and stalked by a murderous little troll is not what anyone is looking for when they visit Las Vegas.

6. Con Air (1997)

Con Air (1997)

This wacky Michael Bay-style outing features Nicolas Cage as Cameron Poe, a US Army Ranger who is railroaded into a jail sentence after beating his wife’s attacker to death. His bad luck continues when the plane taking back him home after his parole is hijacked by convicts. Having to pretend that he’s in cahoots with such maniacs as Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom (John Malkovich), “Billy Bedlam” Bedford (Nick Chinlund), and Garrett “The Marietta Mangler” Greene (Steve Buscemi), Poe tries to devise a way to bring the plane down and go back home to his wife and daughter. When the convicts finally learn of Poe’s traitorous actions, a showdown erupts, culminating with Poe gaining control of the “Con Air” plane and crash landing on, you guessed it, the Las Vegas Strip. Destruction and chaos ensues as the enormous C-123 plows through cars, souvenir booths, and pedestrians before finally coming to a stop in the lobby of the Sands Hotel. The surviving convicts then attempt a getaway in a fire truck, causing yet more havoc. Watching serial killers being chased down Las Vegas Boulevard after their plane destroys half of the Strip would not exactly make for a relaxing vacation.

5. Indecent Proposal (1993)

Indecent Proposal (1993)

This particular film is a bit more on the realistic side insomuch as it deals with the nightmare of infidelity along with losing your shirt in Vegas. David (Woody Harrelson) and Diana (Demi Moore) are lifelong sweethearts who travel to Sin City in the hopes that they’ll win enough money to finance David’s real estate dreams. In a move that can only be described as colossal stupidity, they put nearly their entire life savings on “Red” on one spin of the roulette wheel and lose everything. Now flat broke and despairing, they encounter billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford), who is entranced by Diana and offers the couple one million dollars if he is allowed to spend the night with her. After much handwringing, the couple agrees. The resulting tension eventually destroys the couple’s relationship and Diana begins a relationship with John, serving David with divorce papers. Only after David gives away the million dollars and signs the papers does Diana realize that a life with John would never have the same love and feeling as her life with David did. The movie ends with Diana and David reuniting. Although melodramatic and a bit ham-handed, Indecent Proposal touches upon a problem that many Vegas visitors have – allowing the vision of instant wealth to override their common sense. In this case, not only does it leave the main characters flat broke, it nearly destroys their marriage as well.

4. The Hangover (2009)

The Hangover (2009)

No “Vegas trips gone horribly wrong” list would be complete without last year’s hilarious comedy of errors. In The Hangover, four acquaintances drive to Sin City for the weekend before one of them is to be married. Naturally, as is often the case during cinematic bachelor parties, things go incredibly awry. After blacking out, three of the friends wake up in a trashed hotel room. Worse still, one of them is missing a tooth, a tiger is in the bathroom, a baby is in the closet, and the fourth friend (the soon-to-be groom) is nowhere to be found. As the three men race to find their friend before his wedding, they encounter more bizarre mishaps, including losing their car, being attacked by a naked Asian gangster, getting tasered by an overzealous Vegas cop, and punched by Mike Tyson. Everything barely works out in the end - after the friends find the groom-to-be sunburned to a crisp on the roof of Caesar’s Palace, the reunited group manages to just make it to the wedding in time. However, The Hangover is proof that the saying “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is only true up to a point. Those who can’t handle Vegas are regularly chewed up and spit out if they’re not careful.

3. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Probably the single most depressing movie ever set in Las Vegas, Leaving Las Vegas stars Nicolas Cage as Ben Sanderson, a Hollywood agent who loses everything because of his alcoholism. Unable to pull himself away from the bottle, Ben is fired from his agency job due to his chronic drinking. Given a large severance package, Sanderson drives home, burns a huge pile of personal possessions in his backyard, and then drives to Las Vegas, leaving his family. With his severance money, Ben checks in to a dumpy motel and proceeds to try to drink himself to death. He starts something of a relationship with Sera (Elizabeth Shue), a prostitute, who he nearly runs down during a drinking and driving binge. They agree to not judge each other’s actions and remain friends, but eventually they become frustrated by each other’s decisions and the relationship crumbles. Soon after, Sera is beaten and raped by a group of teenagers, and then evicted when her landlord discovers her profession. By this time, Ben is dying of alcoholism and invites her to stay with him. When she arrives at his rundown motel room, they make love and fall asleep. The next morning, Ben awakens to find Sera in his arms, and dies with a smile on his face. Leaving Las Vegas shows the seedy underbelly of Sin City that few casual visitors ever witness, a slice of Vegas society rife with crime and ruined lives. Ben Sanderson doesn’t go to Vegas to have fun; he goes there to die.

2. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)

I would like to say that Fear & Loathing is like The Hangover on steroids, but it would be more accurate to say that it is like The Hangover on every drug known to mankind. After all, Johnny Depp’s character of Raoul Duke (based on Hunter S. Thompson) has a suitcase of dozens of different narcotics that rarely ever leaves his side. Driving to Las Vegas with his attorney/drug buddy Dr. Gonzo, Duke is ostensibly there to cover the Mint 400, an annual motorcycle race, but instead spends the vast majority of his trip on a drug-fueled crackup to find the “American Dream”. Directed by the incredible Terry Gilliam, Fear and Loathing uses wacky camera angles and nightmare-inducing special effects to portray what is nearly the ultimate “bad trip”, both figuratively and literally. Duke and Gonzo get strung out on an endless succession of drugs, destroy hotel rooms to levels never seen before or since, run up room service bills in the thousands, encounter strange characters that may or may not be part of their drug-induced hallucinations, and generally use Vegas as their own personal playground of the insane, before escaping back to Los Angeles. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas is another one of those movies that is a lot more fun to watch than it would be to actually live the experience. Waking up in a hotel room with a bloody ‘Z’ carved into my forehead while lying on a mattress surrounded by two feet of standing sewage water is not on my list of what constitutes a “good time” in Vegas. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this film. A true classic of the bizarre.

1. Very Bad Things (1998)

Very Bad Things (1997)

Without question, the hands-down most disastrous Vegas trip ever. The black comedy to end all black comedies, Very Bad Things echoes The Hangover as it deals with a group of buddies visiting Sin City before one is to be married. While The Hangover was all in good fun, though, things take a turn for the worse very quickly in this selection. The five friends snort cocaine, smoke weed, binge drink, and generally go a little nuts in their hotel room. Then the stripper arrives. A spirited session of overly-rough sex from one of the guys ends with the stripper meeting a gruesome death after her head is impaled on a coat hook in the bathroom. What to do now? To the group’s horror, strong-willed Boyd (Christian Slater) concocts a plan to cut her up and bury her in the Nevada desert to save their skins. Unfortunately, things get even worse when a hotel security guard checks in after complaints about the noise. The guard sees the dead stripper in the bathroom mirror’s reflection, but before he can alert the police, Boyd stabs him in the heart with a corkscrew and locks him in the bathroom to breathe his last with the dead stripper. Now there are two bodies to get rid of. The rest of the film deals with the group grudgingly agreeing to Boyd’s plan, their disposal of the bodies, and the men’s attempts to go back home to California and try to act as if nothing happened in Vegas. Naturally, the cover-up doesn’t last long as a couple of the friends begin to suffer from nerves, leading to even more murders as the psychopathic Boyd kills off friends and family to keep his secret safe. To put it mildly, the film does not end on anything approaching a happy ending. Alternately hilarious and squirm-inducing, Very Bad Things is the bad Vegas trip to end all bad Vegas trips. Period. Just another example of how quickly and badly things can go wrong in Sin City.

Honorable Mentions:

The Stand (mini-series) 1994

Even though this is a ‘Films’ list, I feel that I still need to include The Stand, the brilliant Stephen King mini-series that premiered in 1994, especially considering the climax which takes place in Las Vegas. The Stand was based on Stephen King’s eponymous novel and was eight hours long altogether. Why will you be glad your next Vegas trip doesn’t go as badly? Probably because of the superflu virus which kills 99.5 percent of the world’s population, for one. As ragged little bands of survivors congregate to try to rebuild society, it seems somewhat ironic that the dregs of society, led by the evil Randall Flagg, decide to choose Las Vegas as a base from where to rule what’s left of the world. After much maneuvering and buildup, divine forces mysteriously intervene in the end and wipe the villains out by touching off an atomic bomb and wiping Las Vegas from the map. Kinda makes that $50 you lost at the roulette wheel not seem so bad now, doesn’t it?

Mars Attacks (1997)

Lists at Shadowlocked



#1 Guest 2010-05-14 01:22
That was Garland Greene in Con-Air, not Garrett Greene.
#2 Guest 2010-05-14 01:53
Good list, but I think that "Mars Attacks!" should be on there somewhere too.
#3 Guest 2010-05-14 02:25
-10 pts. for leaving out "Lost in America"
#4 Guest 2010-05-14 03:39
Quoting JL:
That was Garland Greene in Con-Air, not Garrett Greene.

I actually knew that, but for some reason I wrote Garrett. Whoops. I'll have it corrected ASAP. Thanks for the heads-up!
#5 Guest Paul 2010-11-11 23:37
U left out the Night Stalker with Darren Mcgavin
#6 RE: 10 Las Vegas Films That Will Make Your Next Visit Look Terrific Sean 2012-03-02 03:58
21? HELLOOO!!??!

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