When it comes to cinematic efforts about the poker world, there are some standouts on both the good and the bad side. Lucky You, despite a scintillating star turn by tournament director Matt Savage, isn’t considered one of the masterpieces of poker moviedom. Same goes for such films as Deal and the online poker themed Runner Runner. When it comes to the good, however, most lists will include the film that many have credited with pulling them towards the game, Rounders.

Rounders, written by David Levien and Brian Koppelman and directed by John Dahl in 1998, starred a then relatively unknown Matt Damon and equally unknown Edward Norton and told the story of an underground poker player/law student (Damon) who traversed the scene in New York City. When it was released, however, it wasn’t widely viewed in a favorable light. To be honest, it was actually panned by many, including the audience, as it only pulled in slightly more than $8 million in its opening weekend and $22 million in its initial release.

But sometimes the first look can be deceiving. Over the years, Rounders has become the starting point for many a poker player to get into the game. It contributed to the “poker boom” of the Aughts and even has an impact on the game today, surprisingly, as people are still entranced with the storytelling of Levien and Koppelman and the display of what was, at that time, a mysterious world that few would enter.

Naturally, people would think that they should try to catch lightning in a bottle again. But please, don’t do it…there’s no need for a Rounders 2.

If Daniel Negreanu Says It…

The latest calls for a sequel to Rounders have come from none other than Poker Hall of Famer Daniel Negreanu. In a Tweet on the subject, Negreanu states that he “NEEDS” a Rounders 2, saying “We need to know how Mikey (sic) McD made out in Vegas and beyond.” He did get some support from other players in the game such as Matt Salsberg, Bill Chen and Dan O’Brien and even Koppelman popped in to respond to the question.

But there are several reasons that a sequel wouldn’t work. First, there has been way too much time pass between the original and any new effort. Sure, there are some films that have been able to pull off an adequate sequel WAY after the original was done (Blade Runner 2049 comes to mind as a recent movie that was able to do that) but, for the most part, there has to be some recent familiarity with the original product. Additionally, there has to be a demand for it; Rounders, as we stated earlier, wasn’t exactly warmly received by a rapt audience that eagerly wanted to see the story continue.

Second, there would have to be a solid story put together that would make the sequel logical. Needing to know how “Mike McD” did when he went to Vegas isn’t enough of a storyline. Especially since the game has changed since the original was filmed in 1998, which direction would you go in? Levien and Koppelman tried to capture the magic from Rounders again with Runner Runner and arguably failed. Do you bring back the original players from the first movie and just try to put together something that works for today? And wouldn’t “Teddy KGB” and “Knish” be a bit on the older side to still be chasing poker (or would they be doing something else?)? We can already assume that Professor Petrovsky has passed away (actor Martin Landau, who portrayed the law professor that saved “Mike McD’s” ass, died in 2017).

For his part, Koppelman stated in the Tweethread started by Negreanu that he and Levien “already know the movie we’d make” if they were ever given the chance. And, in today’s world of Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime and the different movie studios out there, it isn’t like there aren’t outlets that might greenlight such a project. But why not break new ground?

Part of Cinema is Bringing New Thoughts

Don’t get me wrong…Rounders is highly entertaining. But the purpose of moviemaking is to bring new ideas to the silver screen. Part of the problem with Hollywood – whether it is the film industry, television or now even streaming – is that they want to go with the “tried and true” rather than take a chance on something that might be groundbreaking and new. All you have to do is look at recent cinematic efforts to see that there isn’t any risk-taking being done in Tinseltown.

What was the biggest film of this year? It was the continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, 23 FILMS altogether, and Avengers: Endgame, which brought in over a billion dollars in worldwide release. You have to go down to the #8 film of the year, Jordan Peele’s horror film Us, before you find something that is an original piece of work (other films ahead of Peele’s include the live remake of The Lion King, Spider Man: Far From Home and another film in the MCU franchise, Captain Marvel, just to name a few).

Instead of trying to recapture the magic with Rounders, why doesn’t someone take a chance and pen something that tells a story and respects poker at the same time? Many years ago, one of the best poker films I ever saw, Freeze Out, was released. This film was about a group of friends who, getting bored with their penny-ante home game, decide to make it a winner-take-all freezeout tournament. This small change in the game reveals the “true person” that exists in each friend, for better or for worse. It was an outstanding film but, guess what? It never went anywhere when it should have been a big success.

This is the purpose of movies: to entertain the viewers and make them think. You’re not supposed to just sit there and mindlessly absorb something you’ve seen plenty of times before. And that would be my apprehension if there were a remake of Rounders, that you would simply see the same scenario transported to another location and no new drama to entrance the audience.

Will They or Won’t They?

Right now, there’s no action on any remake of Rounders. But there’s perhaps an audience that would be in favor of such a movie. There’s also those that would rather gouge their eyes out with lobster forks than see Mike McD, Worm and Teddy KGB come back to the screen (and let’s not even get into the vitriol that Jo, Mike’s former girlfriend, gets from the poker playing audience). Which way do you go with the subject?

2 Comments

  1. Marc says:

    You could easily have them all wading through a big tournament to meeting at a final table or small shorts on each one how they played throughout the tournament till put out the grinds they go through kgb in a suit at all times. Knish retired but hears that mike has been doing well or gets a 10k seat gifted by mike. Ed Norton continues to be a dough but busts out early goes to the cash games ends up owing money again and disappears. Lots of little story lines could be done easy enough

  2. Dave hodson says:

    Interesting article Earl. Well done.

    Still, I have a different take on why Rounders II may not be a good idea.

    While I do not entirely agree with your take that movies “must” break new ground to be valid, those sequels which DO NOT break new ground are unlikely to rise above the level of entertaining fluff. And while Rounders is never going to enjoy the wide spread appeal of the Godfather movies, it does mark a very accurate, and resonent, portrayal of the sub-culture of poker in similar ways as G’Father for we poker players. As such, it must be with trepidation that any sequel be approached, lest that effort sullies the worth of the original by lessening its value.

    To me, Rounders I is essentially a movie about the DREAM of poker, and the obstacles faced on the way to that dream. The genius of the movie lay in its prescient realization that this dream may be relatable to more than just a semi-pathetic sub-culture of degenirates, petty criminals, and those who try to feed on the weaknesses of others for profit. Once that story is told in a way which makes a life style which really does seem destructive to many outside it sympathetic, where do you go?

    Daniel N may THINK he wants the truth of how Mikey McD turned out, but does THAT story really end well? Ultimately, “chasing a dream” is only laudable until you CATCH that dream. After that you are faced with the question: “now what”? Is the poker culture really ready to answer that question for itself?

    This is why, perhaps, it is better for Rounders to remain unserialized. If it answers that question, poker players are not going to enjoy that much serious introspection. If it does NOT tackle that question, can Rounders II be anything except entertaining fluff at best?

    The first movie deserves a better legacy than that.

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