Created by visionaries, fueled by mythic ambition and directed by larger-than-life personalities, Las Vegas is pure performance all the way, which has made the Entertainment Capital of the World a perennial setting and backdrop for the movies.
The cameras rolled here earlier this year on Jason Bourne, the fifth installment of the Bourne franchise, with Matt Damon back in the title role. Set for release next month, the action includes a high-speed car chase along the Strip in which a SWAT vehicle plows through a dozen cars in front of the Fountains of Bellagio, which were reportedly choreographed in sequence with the filming. In another scene, a SWAT vehicle crashes through the doors of the Riviera Hotel & Casino, which has been featured in multiple films over the decades and is now being demolished as part of the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The movie was among several previewed in April at CinemaCon 2016, the annual convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners. Participants at the four-day fest, hosted by Caesars Palace Las Vegas, included Jason Bourne producer Frank Marshall, who described the chase scene as “the best ever” in the series.
Also present were director Todd Phillips and actor Bradley Cooper of The Hangover fame, scenes for which were shot at Caesars. For the show, which included preview screenings, panel discussions, awards presentations and evening receptions, the organizers used spaces that included multiple ballrooms, the Colosseum, the high-energy Omnia nightclub and the fabled Pool of the Gods.
As the city continues to build for the future, yesteryear Vegas is increasingly fading from view. Even Elvis Presley, who gave the city its immortal Viva Las Vegas theme song, is reportedly on the way out, with much press of late on how the Elvis brand is falling out of vogue.
In the movies, however, Elvis and the past can live forever. From still-active resorts and venues to long-demised sites, here are six Las Vegas films offering Tinseltown tie-ins for groups.
Ocean’s 11 (1960)
Filming during the day after performing their regular acts at night, Rat Packers Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin, along with Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, headline this heist caper. Led by Sinatra as Danny Ocean, the gang, all paratrooper buddies from World War II, hatch a plan to rob the Sahara, Flamingo, Riviera, Sands and Desert Inn casinos. Angie Dickinson also stars, Sammy and Dean sing in the film, Shirley MacLaine does a drunken cameo, and the picture, like its players, generally romps along.
Of the five casinos, only the Flamingo Las Vegas survives today. Opened by mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel as The Pink Flamingo Hotel and Casino in 1946, it was the third hotel on the fledgling Strip, following El Rancho Vegas (1941) and The Last Frontier (1942), where Liberace played his first Vegas show in 1944. Renamed the Fabulous Flamingo in 1947, the property, after several ownership and physical changes through the decades, is now owned by Caesars Entertainment.
The Sahara was reborn as SLS Las Vegas, its three towers—one scheduled to become a W Hotel this year—managed by Starwood Hotels and Resorts. The Sands paved the way for The Venetian, while the Desert Inn, where Sinatra made his Vegas debut in 1951, is now Wynn Las Vegas.
In the 2001 remake Ocean’s Eleven, George Clooney, as Danny Ocean, leads a similar scheme to knock off the Bellagio, Mirage and MGM Grand.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Having quit the series following 1967’s You Only Live Twice, Sean Connery reprises his role as 007 (donating his $1 million-plus fee to the Scottish International Education Trust) and comes to Las Vegas for his final official outing as James Bond. Saving the world from old SPECTRE foe Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Connery and “Bond girl” Jill St. John stay at Tropicana Las Vegas, evade the cops in a high-speed chase along Fremont Street, and plot their way through Circus Circus.
Featuring vintage trapeze artists and clown water balloon games (still there today), this extended scene is pure time capsule—including legendary Circus Circus Las Vegas and Caesars Palace founder Jay Sarno camping it up as a mad scientist in a carnival act.
With casino scenes shot inside the Riviera, and the iconic International Hotel (now the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino) standing in for the fictitious Whyte House, The Sands (now The Venetian), Dunes (now Bellagio) and Mint (now part of Binion’s Gambling Hall & Hotel) also appear in the film.
Connery also rides the external elevators on the Landmark, which was imploded in 1995 (featured in the Tim Burton film Mars Attacks!) and now serves as a Las Vegas Convention Center parking lot.
The Electric Horseman (1979)
Starring Robert Redford as Sonny Steele, a former rodeo champion now serving as a breakfast cereal pitchman, this movie captures Las Vegas at a moment of major transition, with Steele serving as a symbol of disillusionment.