A lot of TV shows, movies, and even books are set in mainstay cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York. Each has its own unique sense of place, but none of them can hold a candle to the immediate, visceral, visual, and emotional tone that you get the moment the camera starts showing those neon lights. It's "Vegas, Baby!" and it looms large in the American consciousness. A big part of that comes from the city's many appearances in popular culture.
Las Vegas in the Movies
If there is one thing the movies on this list seem to have in common (besides using Las Vegas as a setting), it is their embrace of the anything-goes, anything is possible ethos that the city is famous for.
- The Hangover (2009). This one turns the marketing phase "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" into a comic cautionary tale as three guys try to piece together the events of a drunken bachelor party night in Sin City so they can find the missing groom. What they get when they turn in their valet parking ticket is worth the price of admission alone.
- Ocean's Eleven (2001). No movie in modern history has epitomized the swaggering cool of Las Vegas like this remake. George Clooney and Brad Pitt lead an all-star cast on a loony heist to rob three casinos and have the audience cheering them on the whole way.
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). Johnny Depp takes on Hunter S. Thompson's fever dream of a road trip to surreal heights.
- Vegas Vacation (1997). The Griswold clan (including a patriarch played by Chevy Chase) brings their cursed vacation luck to Vegas for a flick most notable for its great cameos by Wayne Newton, Sid Caesar, and Siegfried and Roy (and their tigers!).
- Casino (1995). The dark side of the city is laid bare in this scathing portrait of the mob in Las Vegas during the 1970s. Watch for a cameo from future Mayor Oscar Goodman playing himself (he was once a mafia attorney).
- Leaving Las Vegas (1995). If Casino showed the dark side, this one shows the pitch-black side as an alcoholic screenwriter (played by Nicolas Cage) comes to town to drink himself to death. It takes the underlying sense of Sin City desperation and lays it bare in a way that is almost hard to watch.
- Showgirls (1995). Widely derided as one of the worst movies ever made, this tale of strippers and their excesses is good for a late night laugh and full of iconic Vegas locales.
- Indecent Proposal (1993). A husband and wife, played by Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson, play the odds in Vegas as a wealthy man (Robert Redford) offers $1 million for an evening of pleasure with the Mrs. How far would you go for a payout like that?
- Viva Las Vegas (1964). Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret swing and sing their way through the glory days of Vegas, complete with a title song that has become the city's unofficial theme.
- Ocean's Eleven (1960). As a movie it's dated and more than a little silly, but as a time capsule snapshot of the Rat Pack era it can't be beat. Frank, Dino, and Sammy put Vegas on the map with this caper comedy.
Criss Angel's Favorite Las Vegas TV
Although most people immediately think of movies when they think of Las Vegas in pop culture, there have been some classic television series and episodes set in Sin City as well. We asked superstar magician Criss Angel (and star of A&E's hit series Criss Angel Mindfreak) to pick his favorites:
- Criss Angel Mindfreak (2005-current). I'm a little biased, but we've done six seasons, a lot of it in Vegas including an episode where I floated more than 500 feet above Las Vegas Boulevard in the Luxor Light. Taxis literally crashed watching.
- Vega$ (1977-79). Robert Urich, Tony Curtis, The Desert Inn, and that red Thunderbird cruising the Strip. Does it get any cooler than this?
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000-current). There's a dark side to Vegas behind the neon lights and this gory (in a good way) show captures it perfectly.
- Las Vegas (2003-2008). I'm especially fond of the November 2005 episode "Bold, Beautiful & Blue" where I got accused of stealing a priceless diamond. It wasn't me, I swear.
- Friends ("The One in Vegas"; May 1999). Ross and Rachel get drunk and wind up married. In other words a typical weekend in Vegas.
- The Simpsons ("Viva Ned Flanders"; January 1999). Homer takes Ned to Vegas for a lesson on how to live fully, get drunk . . . and wind up married. Sensing a theme here?
- The Real World Las Vegas (2002-2003). Okay, there may be nothing "real" about living in a casino, but it did leave behind a suite at The Palms that you can rent and make your own Vegas reality show.
- Roseanne ("Vegas, Vegas"; November 1991). Thinking he's just an impersonator, Roseanne heckles the real Wayne Newton during a concert. Anything with Mr. Las Vegas in it is an instant classic.
- The Stand (miniseries; 1994). When the world is ending, where would you want to go? Vegas of course!
- Blanksy's Beauties (1977). Does anyone else remember this sitcom with Nancy Walker as a den mother to a bunch of Las Vegas showgirls? Just me? Okay.
Las Vegas in Music
Although cities like New York may have more iconic songs written about them, Las Vegas has enough singers associated with its bright lights and showrooms to fill a jukebox. Here are just a few of the musical monikers that come to mind when thinking of Sin City.
- Elvis Presley. The King of Rock 'n' Roll staged his big comeback concerts in Vegas and cemented his position in celebrity impersonation shows across the city forever.
- Wayne Newton. The Danke Schoen singer started performing in Vegas in the 1960s and is still going strong with plans to open his estate for tours. There's a reason they call him Mr. Las Vegas.
- The Rat Pack. Each of them had their own careers but together, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop created the ultimate Vegas lounge act and invented the modern era of Vegas cool.
- Céline Dion. Her 2003 to 2008 headlining gig at Caesars Palace opened the door for big-name stars to consider Vegas cool again. Now that she's back on the same stage indefinitely, her reign as the Queen of the Las Vegas music scene is virtually locked.
- The Killers. This Grammy-nominated alt-rock band fronted by Las Vegas local Brandon Flowers got their start in the bars and clubs around town and even named one of their albums Sam's Town after the Boulder Highway casino.
- Cirque du Soleil. When one thinks of this Canadian circus troupe, one usually thinks of aerial derring-do. But their soundtrack albums of shows in Vegas have sold millions, and their modern interpretations of the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and (soon) Michael Jackson are redefining the music scene.
Las Vegas in Books
- Brinkley, Christina. Winner Takes All: Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian, Gary Loveman, and the Race to Own Las Vegas (Hyperion, 2008). Today's Las Vegas was largely the work of these three competing tycoons, who come together in a crush of money, ambition, and vision.
- Castleman, Deke. Whale Hunt in the Desert: Secrets of a Vegas Superhost (Huntington Press, 2009). A look at one of the city's leading casino hosts and the process by which Vegas lures in high rollers.
- Cooper, Marc. The Last Honest Place in America (Nation Books, 2004). Long fascinated by Sin City, the reporter-author investigates its evolution into its current corporation-driven status.
- Denton, Sally. The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America (Vintage, 2002). An exhaustive, often behind-the-scenes investigative history of Vegas.
- Fischer, Steve. When the Mob Ran Vegas: Stories of Murder, Mayhem and Money (Berkline Press, 2005). Ah, the good old days.
- Hess, Alan. Viva Las Vegas: After Hours Architecture (Chronicle Books, 1993). Vegas doesn't have architecture as much as set design, and here you can learn all about how its bizarre skyline is really an icon of model American urban culture.
- Martinez, Andrez. 24/7 Living It Up and Doubling Down in the New Las Vegas (Villard, 1999). The author chronicles his efforts to spend his $50,000 book advance in a wild Vegas spree.
- McManus, James. Positively Fifth Street (Picador, 2004). From the World Series of Poker to murder to treasure buried in the desert, this is a true tale of Las Vegas at its most seductively bizarre.
- Mezrich, Ben. Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions (Free Press, 2002). The title says it all. Recently the basis for the movie 21.
- O'Brien, John. Leaving Las Vegas (Grove, 1995). This novel demonstrates that not everything that happens in Vegas is fun and games, as the protagonist comes to town to drink himself to death.
- Puzo, Mario. Inside Las Vegas (Grossett & Dunlap, 1972). Though out of print, it's not that hard to find, and well worth reading to get the take on the man who invented the Corleones in the city invented by the mob.
- Spanier, David. Welcome to the Pleasure Dome: Inside Las Vegas (University of Nevada Press, 1992). First-person history and analysis of the Las Vegas phenomenon.
- Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Random House, 1971). The gonzo journalist and his Samoan lawyer head to Sin City for the all-time binge. A classic, made into a movie starring Johnny Depp.
- Tronnes, Mike, ed. Literary Las Vegas (Henry Holt, 1995). A terrific collection of essays and excerpts from books about Vegas.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.