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The Greatest Movies Ever to Feature Billiards

 This article is courtesy of Brunswick Billiards official blog,

I. The Hustler

Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats and Paul Newman as "Fast" Eddie Felson in "The Hustler."

“There are only a handful of movie characters so real that the audience refers to them as touchstones. Fast Eddie Felson is one of them,” wrote Roger Ebert in a 2002 movie review of The Hustler.  The film was chosen as the favorite amongst our Facebook fans.

As The Hustler’s “Fast” Eddie Felson, Paul Newman created a classic antihero, charismatic, but fundamentally flawed.  Despite being a master of the cue, Felson’s primary Achilles’ heel is his arrogance.  The drama explores the synergies between good and evil, love and desperation as Fast Eddie tours the country hustling games – even challenging reigning champion Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason).  Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), a successful gambler, takes Felson under his wing to teach him how to play.

The film won a pair of Oscars for its cinematography and art direction, while Newman and Gleason both earned Academy Award nominations for their performances. Pool champ Willie Mosconi and boxer Jake LaMotta make cameos in the movie.

For anyone who has Netflix, the movie is currently available for streaming.

II. The Color Of Money

Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman, pictured right) and Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise, left)

In 1986, Newman returned to the role of “Fast” Eddie Felson, first portrayed in The Hustler (1961), in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money, for which he earned an Academy Award as Best Actor.  At the end of The Hustler, Fast Eddie was banned for life from playing the game professionally.  Felson’s return shows how his character is now a front man for younger hustlers, the role George C. Scott played in the 1961 film.

His latest “client” is arrogant young Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise), who is goaded into accepting Felson’s patronage by his avaricious girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Under Felson’s teaching, Cruise learns not only the refinements of the game, but also the dirty trickery that will help him lure in the suckers. As Lauria becomes successful, Felson’s enthusiasm to teach turns to jealousy, which leads him to hit the bottle and carelessly becomes the victim to another hustler. After severing ties with Lauria, Felson vows to make an honest comeback leading to a match for the biggest stakes of all: Fast Eddie Felson’s self-respect.

Both the original Hustler and The Color of Money were based on novels by Walter Tevis.

III. Baltimore Bullet

Originally released in 1980, James Coburn stars as the The Baltimore Bullet, a legendary pool player who’s seen better days. Nick Casey (James Coburn) takes Billie Joe Robbins (Bruce Boxleitner) under his wing.  When they meet in the ultimate winner-take-all match, in a rather predictable plot, the teacher informs his pupil that “I taught you everything you know, kid. But I didn’t teach you everything I know.”  Ronee Blakely proves an appealing heroine, while several real-life pool greats –Willie Mosconi, Irving Crane, Steve Mizerak, etc.–show up in cameo roles.

IV. Kiss Shot

A few fans pointed out this film, which was a made for TV only in 1989.  In Kiss Shot, Whoopie Goldberg stars as Sarah, a single mom with a precocious young daughter who is struggling to keep up with the bills. Sarah falls back on her pool-playing skills to pay off her debts. As she plays her way into a big money tournament, a globe-trotting ladies’ man threatens to disrupt her life with her daughter and her peace of mind. Suddenly, everything’s riding on a single shot.

V. Poolhall Junkies

A newer film that features billiards, released in 2002, Mars Callahan writes, directs, and stars in Poolhall Junkies, a saga of pool and redemption.  A small-time pool shark with dreams of the big time seeks revenge against his mentor. Johnny Doyle (Callahan) was a teenaged orphan when Joe (Chazz Palminteri) took him under his wing and taught him everything there is to know about shooting and hustling pool. As Johnny became an ace with a cue, he dreamed of going pro, but Joe preferred to keep him hustling.  When his law student girlfriend (Alison Eastwood) convinces Johnny to go straight, he parts ways with Joe.

When Johnny’s kid brother (Michael Rosenbaum) ends up in big trouble with Joe, only Johnny can get him out. Christopher Walken plays a strange lawyer, who steals the show and ends up bankrolling Johnny in the big game climax against Joe. Rick Schroder plays the pro Johnny must beat to save the day.

For anyone who has Netflix, the movie is currently available for streaming.

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Jason Moss - June 23, 2013

To this list, I would add “Stickmen,” a 2001 film from New Zealand. I featured it recently on my blog about pool/movies if you are interested:

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