Bingo’s Rise In Popularity Has Seen It Emerge In Movies

With films finding ways to utilise bingo’s unique characteristics, it’ll be unsurprising to see this seemingly ageless leisure activity make more appearances on the big screen.

Hotel Transylvania

In the era of the internet, bingo has enjoyed a new lease of life. The demise of the bingo hall was caused by shifts in social trends. Our leisure activity was changing and bingo was seemingly resigned to residential homes where the game’s former hardcore players had all come to be. It was a sign of a game that had run its course and become recognised as a bit old fashioned.

But it has reinvented itself online. After all, it’s an easy-to-play game. And, with the accessibility afforded to us by smartphones and an abundance of platforms combining bingo with fun and on-trend variations of the game, dabbers and calls of “house” are suddenly back in fashion. It’s therefore unsurprising to see bingo make appearances in films such as horror The Babadook recently as well as thriller Rampage.

While casino favourites like poker, blackjack and roulette have featured heavily in movies throughout the years, bingo, despite its popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, hasn’t enjoyed the same cinematic appeal. That might be because it wasn’t a pastime of James Bond (the British secret agent who was often found with cards in his hand at the casino) or the fact filmmakers have struggled to find the tension-filled thrills afforded to them by a huge poker raise or the moment before the ball lands on the roulette number.

That’s not to say bingo isn’t a good bet for an absorbing big screen story. In fact, it’s a great platform to develop characters, relationships and reinforce the tone of a film. Indeed, it proved to be the focal point of Julian Kemp’s House starring Kelly Macdonald. The film centres around a small well-established bingo hall that is threatened by a new bingo centre nearby that’s dubbed the biggest in the country. The film incorporates fantasy with comedy and romance to tell a story that, while being fairly unimaginative, nevertheless utilises its bingo backdrop to great effect.

Its protagonist – a twentysomething – is representative of bingo’s younger audience in the age of the internet. While the film arrived well before we had 4G, 5G and ultra fast broadband internet speeds and smartphones in our pockets, actor Kelly Macdonald’s Linda, a young woman who sets out to save the bingo hall, is a breakaway from the game’s stereotypical players with their grey hair and walking aids. Once the reserve of an older clientele, bingo’s new lease of life online is attracting a younger audience, which is indicative of its addictive delights.

Popular in many locations around the world, in North America, for instance, nearly $100 million is spent every week as players get their dabbers out hoping to win the jackpot. First played in 1530, the game has retained its gameplay traditions with a contemporary spin; for example, you’ll now see events such as “immersive bingo” featuring theatrical drinking and dining crop up at venues seeking to jump on this pop culture trend.

Now it’s becoming more frequent in film too. 2012’s Hotel Transylvania ensured it gave the game a family-slant with a sequence that used bingo as a backdrop to a life lesson about similarities between people in the pursuit of winning. Also in animation, we saw bingo play its part in 2013’s Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods as the super-powered characters put their fights to one side for a very different route to potential victory.

Christoph Waltz’s Col. Hans Landa was heard exclaiming “That’s a Bingo!” in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, The Wog Boy saw its protagonist work as a bingo caller, and Johnny Knoxville put bingo centre stage for a scene in Jackass Presents: Bad Grampa. And King of the Bingo Game, although set in 1943, is a 1999 film about a depression-era New Yorker who sees the bingo hall as a route out of poverty.

Bingo still possesses a unique niche amongst gamers, be that online or off, but its popularity in the age of the internet is clear. With films finding ways to utilise bingo’s unique characteristics, it’ll be unsurprising to see this seemingly ageless leisure activity make more appearances on the big screen.

Amilia Totten
About the Author
Amilia Totten is a freelance writer, photographer and erstwhile time-waster. Her eclectic film favourites include the latest Hollywood blockbuster to European avant-garde and the joys of Bollywood.

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