Bingo on the Big and Small Screen

Written by Chris Baxter
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As a game, bingo might not seem to lend itself too naturally to film. After all, its popular image is that it’s an old-fashioned game that’s quite slow-moving and, even when people win, a little lacking in drama.

But a number of movies and TV shows have used the game to great effect and in a range of genres as the examples below show.

While none might quite be the same as jackpot bingo progressive and standard with real-money prizes and even some movie and TV tie-ins like The Naked Gun and Deal or No Deal to play, they nevertheless add to the overall viewing experience.

Bad Grandpa

This was the first move from the Jackass team away from dangerous pranks and hidden cameras into a more plot-based movie. Johnny Knoxville plays Irving Zisman, the bad grandpa of the title. The movie is basically a series of scenes in which he behaves badly in a range of settings, one of the most memorable of which is in a crowded bingo hall. He makes an immediate impression by drinking the ink out of his bingo dibber – to the horror of the old ladies around him. But things get even worse when Irving announces that they’re driving him to drink and proceeds to get a cocktail maker out of his holdall to mix some margaritas. It’s a scene that shows off Knoxville at his knockabout best – and the movie was even nominated for a make-up Oscar for the prosthetics that he’s wearing.


There’s a bit more of a sinister vibe going on in this 2009 film directed by horror expert Uwe Boll and starring Brendan Fletcher as a disaffected twenty-something called Bill Williamson. The rampage of the title is the one that Williamson goes on in his hometown, the fictional Tenderville, Oregon in order to settle a few old scores. Between the carnage, he stops off at a café in the town where a game of bingo is in progress. Seeing that he is heavily armed and seemingly looking for trouble, the café staff treat him with a mixture of suspicion and fear as there’s a feeling that violence could erupt at any moment. Instead, he sits quietly with the game proceeding in the background, eats his sandwich and leaves. It’s an undoubtedly powerful and contrasting scene in what is a very violent movie.

Better Call Saul

Fans of Breaking Bad were overjoyed when they learned that a spin-off series was to be made starring Bob Odenkirk as the crooked lawyer used by Walter White in BB. One of the standout scenes in the first season of the spin-off show came when Saul officiates a bingo game in a retirement community. Instead of just calling the numbers, he waxes philosophically about his life, to the obvious frustration of players who just want to get on with the game. Where that life will take him, we’ll have to wait until season six to discover. But the makers have promised us something big.

So, given these examples, maybe it’s time to reassess bingo as a game. Because, if it can inject this much drama into entertainment, imagine what it can do to real life.

Top Image "Bingo" (CC BY 2.0) by clyderob

Read 1163 times Last modified on Thursday, 17 September 2020 12:55
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Chris Baxter

Chris Baxter

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