James Bond and Oompa Loompas take slot players into different worlds
New James Bond-themed video slot machines have landed at Southern California casinos. (Courtesy of Pechanga Resort & Casino)

 

The chimes and clangs of slot machines greet all patrons on a casino floor, but it’s becoming more likely that they’ll hear some familiar pop culture references, too, whether it’s James Bond’s quippy one-liners or a chorus of Oompa Loompas dishing out sweets and bonuses.

Pop culture slots are not new to the gaming world, but plenty of movies are getting new life not as Netflix reboots, but as high-tech slot machines with plenty of bells and whistles and video clips featured in the gameplay.

The movie-themed slots vary from classics such as the 1953 Marilyn Monroe hit “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” to more modern films such as 2009’s “Avatar.” But the purpose remains the same as all of the machines: provide an experience that will entice people to play and continue playing.

Tom Sedlock, director of slot operations for Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, said the machines bring in fans in multiple ways, from their signage to the noises they make.

“When the machine has a winning combination or goes into a bonus round they have the exact same sound as the movies do and then when they do get into the bonus round they are showing small clips from the movie,” Sedlock said.

Fantasy Springs can usually depend on longtime favorites, such as machines based on “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” to do well, he said, but also regularly hedges its bets on new offerings that might attract customers.

The casino recently debuted two new slots based on the James Bond movies “Casino Royale” and “Thunderball.” Next in line? One featuring the classic Gene Kelly musical “Singing in the Rain.”

Adding another dimension 

There are several ways slot machines are evolving to create a more immersive, movie-like experience.

“It kind of engages the customer and gives a different kind of a multi-sensory gaming experience,” said Alex Rodriguez, vice president of slots at Pechanga Resort and Casino.

If the machines aren’t embracing 4-D they’re embracing bigger, better video displays.

“The videos are definitely (getting) more attractive and appealing to our customers,” Sedlock said. “And it seems like the screens are getting bigger on the machines. They’re not these small little 19- or 20-inch video monitors, the monitors are getting big just like your TVs at home. It seems bigger is better and our customers are responding to the bigger screens on slot machines.”

 

New James Bond-themed video slot machines have landed at Southern California casinos (courtesy of Pechanga Resort & Casino). New James Bond-themed video slot machines have landed at Southern California casinos. (Courtesy of Pechanga Resort & Casino)

What’s hitting 

Sedlock said that while slots based on older movies used to be really popular, slots based on newer fantasy movies such as “The Lord of the Rings” seem to be doing really well right now.

Simon Farmer, marketing director for Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa, wrote in an email that visitors to Morongo skew more toward slots based on science fiction and action flicks.

“Those genres offer a lot of room for creativity and imagination with the game design,” Farmer wrote.

Rodriguez said he’s seen movies from all different genres fare well. He said that timing, more than genre, can determine the performance of a movie-themed slot.

He said if a movie or TV show has only recently come out and is still popular, then the slot machine that’s based on it will do well when it reaches the gaming floor. However, some mega hits, such as those in the James Bond franchise, transcend the timeliness rule.

Finding the right formula 

Joe Whitman, director of slots at Soboba Casino, wrote in an email that many movie-based slot machines are passing fads.

“Most are short lived in regard to player popularity,” Whitman said.

Jeff Hornung, slots director for Harrah’s Resort Southern California, said he’s also found that to be the case.

“They go in cycles,” Hornung said of a game’s popularity, “It will be good for a while but then (players) are looking for the next latest and greatest.”

What’s the difference between a movie-themed slot that lasts and one that quickly leaves the gaming floor? That’s anyone’s guess, Whitman said.

“I’ve seen instances where a particular game was a smash success at one property yet failed miserably at the nearest competitor’s casino, just a few miles away,” he said.

Since there is no formula for slot machine longevity, sometimes you just need to take a gamble, according to Whitman.

“At the end of the day the only true test is to install it and see what happens,” he said.

Hornung said at the success of a machine ultimately isn’t based on which movie it’s based on or its exterior features.

“If it has bad math no one is going to want to play regardless,” he said.

7 slot machines based on movies

Slot machines move in and out of casino gaming floors quickly, so call ahead to see whether your favorite casino has these machines.

“Casino Royale”: This 2006 film has Daniel Craig’s James Bond trying to defeat a terrorist-aiding banker in a game of high stakes poker at a Montenegro casino. In addition to clips from the movie and the iconic Bond theme song, the game has a bonus round that shows a gun blowing holes in playing cards. The bonus round gives players the chance to win credit prizes.

“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”: This slot machine series is based on the 1971 film which has the titular Wonka (played by Gene Wilder) open his unusual chocolate factory to five children who win golden tickets. Shenanigans ensue. No matter which machine you play, chances are that Wonka’s workers, the green-haired and orange-skinned Oompa Loompas, will serenade you in a bonus round.

“The Goonies”: This movie, a staple of the ’80s, has a group of kids go in search of long-lost pirate treasure in hopes of saving their neighborhood from being demolished and turned into a golf course. One of the bonus rounds has players pick out skeleton keys to win possible stake multipliers, recreating a scene in the movie in which the kids avoid a booby trap.

“Singin’ in the Rain”: This slot machine is based on the classic 1952 comedy and musical about the misadventures that happen when a film company has to transition from silent films to making a musical. The game plays the titular song when players win jackpots and also plays clips from the musical numbers “I Dream of You” and “Good Morning” during bonus rounds.

“Ghostbusters”: This 1984 film follows three former professors opening a ghost-hunting business. The 4-D “Ghostbusters” slot game not only features the “Ghostbusters” song by Ray Parker Jr. as the reels spin, but also features a bonus round where the pudgy green ghost Slimer spins a “Wheel of Fortune”-like wheel that gives players such prizes as credit for additional games and jackpots.

“Back to the Future”: In this 1985 film, teenager Marty McFly is sent 30 years into the past and gets to meet his parents when they were his age thanks to the invention of his friend Doc Brown, a time-traveling DeLorean. The “Back to the Future” slot game features music from the film and bonus rounds that show clips of Doc Brown doing experiments before giving players such prizes as game credits.

“My Cousin Vinny”: This 1992 comedy and commentary on regional differences has loudmouth New York Lawyer Vinny Gambini and his girlfriend Mona Lisa Vito head to the rural south to defend Vinny’s cousin and the cousin’s friend, both of whom are accused of murder. One of the interesting features of the slot game is the reels themselves, which feature such icons as pictures of Vinny and Mona Lisa’s faces as well as the classic red car Vinny drives.