Plastic plays a key role in these films -- and teaches money lessons, too.
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Lights! Camera! Credit card! Action!
Credit cards made their big screen debut as far back as “The Man from the Diners’ Club” in 1963, years before BankAmericard (now Visa) and Master Charge (now MasterCard) put the power of plastic into America’s pocket.
Since then, Hollywood has depicted countless scenes involving credit card payments, usually as background action, either to inject levity or a slice of realism into the visual storytelling. In fact, it’s probably more noteworthy (so to speak) that film protagonists still tend to leave cash on the counter when real life increasingly takes plastic today.
After combing through film archives, we’ve identified the 10 best credit card movie moments. These are moments in which a credit card took a star turn, either as a plot point, a sight gag, a social comment … or a deadly weapon.
Batman & Robin (1997)
Starring: George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman
Why it’s worthy: Before there was “The Dark Knight,” there was Knight Lite, as Clooney and O’Donnell donned the infamous nipple suits to fight Ah-nold’s Mr. Freeze and Uma’s Poison Ivy. Batfanatics, convinced that director Joel Schumacher was punking the series in this fourth installment, frequently bemoan the auction scene in which Ivy doses the dynamic duo with botanical lust dust, prompting them to bid for her. When Batman bids $5 million, Robin challenges his ability to pay. The caped crusader then produces the Bat Card, underwritten by Gothcard, with the visual gag: Good through Forever. Just to prove that truth remains stranger than even bat fiction, a Hong Kong bank now issues the real thing, albeit with less generous membership terms.
Money lesson: Earn rewards points by putting charitable contributions on your card — but be careful what you bid on.
Less Than Zero (1987)
Starring: Andrew McCarthy, Robert Downey, Jr.
Why it’s worthy: Few films dared to explore drug abuse among the upper crust during the “Just Say No” Reagan years. Although this vapid adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel suffers both from Hollywood sanitizing and an embarrassment of shoulder pads, it did provide an eerily accurate preview of Downey’s real-life police mug shots to follow. Perhaps the audience was too stoned to notice the gaffe early on when a strung-out Julian (Downey) uses his American Express card to gain entry to his family’s mansion through a sliding door. Yes, it’s an old trick. The problem is, the door is missing any sort of latch or lock, leaving viewers with the impression that the drug-addled Julian was having trouble swiping his card at the world’s largest credit card terminal.
Money lesson: Credit cards and cocaine? Just say no.
National Lampoon’s Pucked (2006)
Starring: Jon Bon Jovi, David Faustino, Nora Dunn
Why it’s worthy: For Frank Hopper (Bon Jovi), the transition from lawyer to entrepreneur has been a rocky one. His plan to franchise mall mud wrestling flopped and his latest brainchild, an all-female hockey league, can’t bark up a backer. Then, on a whim, he fills out a credit card application, misstating his annual income at $1 million. Soon, he’s up to his earlobes in enough plastic to launch his dream league now and worry about gate receipts later. But when Frank’s card debt tops $300,000, the card companies come looking for payback.
Money lesson: Credit cards can provide the short-term financing to launch your dream business. But if you don’t make your payments, you won’t be in business very long. Now, about that female hockey league …
Midnight Run (1988)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin
Why it’s worthy: Credit cards provide two plot points in this unlikely buddy movie in which bounty hunter Jack Walsh (De Niro) has four days to transport mob accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Grodin) from New York to Los Angeles before a) the FBI nabs him or b) the mob whacks him. In the first twist, a rival bounty hunter locates the pair by using Walsh’s credit card receipt: “American Express? This is Jack Walsh. I lost my card. I wanna know the last place I used it. Here’s the card number.” Then he cancels the card. Later, when Walsh learns his card is no good, he must resort to cheaper, slower and ever more hilarious modes of transportation (remember the crop duster scene?) to deliver his unctuous yet endearing prey. Without those key plot points, this wild run would have been a snooze fest.
Money lesson: When traveling, book your transportation online to avoid last-minute credit card snags.
The Man from the Diners’ Club (1963)
Starring: Danny Kaye, Telly Savalas
Why it’s worthy: The earliest credit card film of any merit — it proclaimed itself “The funniest picture since money went out of style!” — finds bumbling Ernie Klenk (Kaye) wrestling with a bullying boss, a bunch of newfangled computers and the thankless task of approving the credit lines for new Diners’ Club cardholders. When Ernie unwittingly extends a card to mob boss Foots Pulardos (Savalas), things go sideways fast. You see, Ernie shares a physical abnormality with Foots, who is facing trial for tax evasion. The gangster’s plan: whack Ernie, steal his identity and retire to Mexico. The slapstick comedy was written by William Peter Blatty, who 10 years later unveiled another laugh riot — “The Exorcist.”
Money lesson: In additiona to signing, write “see ID” in the signature panel of your credit card to further prevent imposters from hijacking your identity to Mexico.
Starring: Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson
Why it’s worthy: Don’t you love it when an action hero needs customer service? Giant intergalactic robots with malice in their mainframes have brought their grudge match to Earth. When the particularly nasty Scorponek bot attacks a U.S. military base in Qatar, a desperate Captain Lennox (Duhamel) tries to phone the Pentagon for reinforcements in midbattle. So much for the fantasy portion of the scene. A very bored East Indian operator informs him he’ll need a credit card to complete his call. “I don’t have a credit card! I’m in the middle of a war!” Lennox screams. Stuck, he interrupts Sgt. Epps (Gibson) as he’s returning fire to borrow his plastic. “Back pocket!” Epps screams. “Which back pocket? You’ve got 10 of them!” Lennox asks. “Left cheek! Left cheek! Left cheek!” Epps chants. Once Lennox retrieves Epps’ Visa, he’s still not off the hook, as the operator inquires, “Have you heard about our premium plus war service gold package?”
Money lesson: If there’s even a remote chance you’ll be pounced upon by alien life forms, keep your cell phone and credit card handy.
The Sure Thing (1985)
Starring: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga
Why it’s worthy: Opposites attract — eventually — in this Rob Reiner cross-country teen comedy that finds Ivy League college freshmen Gib (Cusack) and Alison (Zuniga) hitching, then ditching, a ride to California for winter break. Slacker Gib has been coaxed into making the journey by photos of “a sure thing” (Nicolette Sheridan) sent by his high school buddy. Straight-laced Alison, headed west to visit her law student fianc\xe9, is repulsed by Gib’s beer-for-breakfast lifestyle. Their constant backseat bickering prompts their rideshare driver (a funny cameo by Tim Robbins) to kick them both to the curb somewhere in the Midwest. They’re hungry, broke and 100 miles from the nearest town when a downpour prompts them to seek shelter in an abandoned trailer. As Gib starts hammering on the locked door, Alison informs him she has found her credit card. “My dad told me, specifically, I can only use it in case of an emergency,” Alison says. Through gritted teeth, Cusack drolly replies, “Well, maybe one will come up!” The card eventually buys them a hot meal, a warm room and enough time together to fall in love.
Money lesson: Shared adversity sometimes proves more effective than a credit card at jimmying a locked heart.
28 Days Later (2002)
Starring: Alex Palmer, Bindu De Stoppani
Why it’s worthy: Animal activists unleash more than monkey business on Great Britain when they liberate chimpanzees that have been infected with a blood virus that turns humans into killer zombies. A month later, London is a ghost town, with the exception of our band of survivors, and the undead, of course. In one of the few moments of levity in this otherwise dark ride, the survivors happen upon a Budgens supermarket that’s been untouched by the mayhem. The soundtrack turns all supermarket bubbly as the band loads up on fresh apples, canned goods and 16-year-old single-malt scotch (“the peaty aftertaste takes out the fire but leaves in the warmth,” read one shopper). As they pour through the empty check stands with their selections, one satisfied customer offers the ultimate post-apocalyptic punch line: He pulls out his Maestro debit card and simply leaves it on the counter.
Money lesson: If civilization is suddenly reduced to roaming bands of brain-eating zombies, you can probably skip a credit card payment or two.
The Jerk (1979)
Starring: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters
Why it’s worthy: Nevin Johnson (Martin), a white simpleton raised in Mississippi by a poor black family, embarks on his rags-to-riches-to-rags story by working for Harry Hartounian (Jackie Mason) at his gas station. When a carload of shady Mexican vatos rolls in, Nevin informs them that he can accept only credit cards on Sundays. The scruffy driver obtains a “Master Charge” in the name of Mrs. Neusebalm from a pot-puffing passenger. “We take Master Charge,” Nevin assures them. “Do you want a fill-up, Mrs. Neusebalm?” When Nevin discovers the card is stolen (duh), he phones the cops, ties the car’s bumper to the water tap of a nearby church and tries to keep the vatos in place by announcing, “Hey, guess what! You’re our eighth customer today — you won a free oven mitt!” With two new radials in the trunk and Nevin’s spare cash in their pocket, they peel out, with disastrous consequences.
Money lesson: You could obtain a Master Charge from 1969 until 1979, when the name was shortened to MasterCard. Using Mrs. Neusebalm’s card if you’re not Mrs. Neusebalm is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The Glimmer Man (1996)
Starring: Steven Seagal, Keenen Ivory Wayans
Why it’s worthy: Forget plot; it’s always about the hair in Steve’s world. Here, as ever, the kickin’ Buddha flails and impales L.A. baddies without ever messing his Zen ponytail, or breaking a sweat for that matter. Any red stuff on his love beads is probably ketchup from lunch. When a trio of gunmen tries to shake down Jack Cole (Seagal) and sidekick Jim Campbell (Wayans) at a dockside warehouse, Cole assures them, “I have a lot of cash. Or you could take plastic.” With that, he produces his “Dynasty” card, flips open its hidden utility blade, and slashes three throats in one card swipe. Truly the killer credit card scene.
Money lesson: If your credit card has a razor-sharp hidden utility blade, be sure to close it before returning the card to your back pocket.