Vincent: What, smoke?
Carmen: No — Money.
Twenty-five years after he abruptly retired from the world of pool, "Fast Eddie" Felson (Newman) is working as a successful liquor salesman. One day, he meets the skilled but flamboyant pool player Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) and his girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Seeing Vincent as himself as a young man, Eddie takes him up as a protégé and teaches him the way of the Hustler.
Like the original movie, The Color of Money was based on a novel by Walter Tevis, which was also a sequel to The Hustler. Unlike the original movie, Color deviates significantly from its source novel, which dealt with Fast Eddies comeback to take on his former archrival, Minnesota Fats. Also unlike the original film, Newman actually won the Oscar this time around.
This movie features examples of:
- 10-Minute Retirement: After Eddie's heroic BSOD and breakup with Vincent, he immediately starts working on regaining his pool-playing skills.
- Academy Award: Nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Newman took home Best Actor for his role.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Stocker, Vincent's favorite video game, was an actual title by the short-lived Bally/Sente.
- Badass Boast/Doomy Dooms of Doom: Occurs when Vincent goes back to play pool against Moselle, carrying his Balabushka pool cue in a case. When Moselle asks what's inside, Vincent grins and opens it, revealing the Balkabushka, and simply says "Doom" with a huge grin. He then proceeds to wipe the floor with Moselle. This scene was the inspiration for the name of the seminal video game Doom
- Broken Ace: Eddie is this at the start of the movie.
- Call-Back: Several lines are call backs to The Hustler.
- After beating Eddie, Amos asks him, "Do I need to lose weight?" (a reference to Minnesota Fats from the original)
- At one point, Eddie's girlfriend Janelle says she likes him because he has "character". In The Hustler, Eddie is told he's a loser because he doesn't have character. Additionally, Eddie notes that one of the things that makes Vincent unique is that he's a "natural character", something that Vincent misconstrues as him having natural character.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Vincent exhibits signs of this whenever he gets the slightest hint that Carmen might be interested in someone else. During a hustle, when Eddie and Carmen were pretending to be a couple, Vincent was noticeably distracted by Eddie's heavy petting of her.
- Delinquent: Carmen was one prior to the events of the movie. She first met Vincent after she got arrested for driving the getaway car while her (former) boyfriend was robbing his parents' house.
- Determinator: The final scene spells it out, showing Fast Eddie is back:Vincent: Hey Eddie, what are you going to do when I kick your ass?
Eddie: Pick myself up and let you kick me again.
Vincent: Oh yeah?
Eddie: Yeah. (beat) Just don't put the money in the bank, kid. Because if I don't whip you now, I'm gonna whip you next month in Dallas.
- Fan Disservice: Averted. The script called for Fast Eddie to play one match in the nude, but Paul Newman declined on the grounds that "You don't want to see a 60-year-old man naked."
- Friendly Rivalry: Eddie and Vincent become this at the end of the movie.
- Gold Digger: Played with; Carmen stays with Vincent and clearly benefits from his pool-playing skills, but it's never clear how much genuine affection she has for him.
- Heroic BSoD: Eddie gets one after he himself is hustled by Amos, who smoothly pretends to be a lucky amateur and suckers Eddie into a series of double-or-nothing games.
- He's Back: The final lines of the film:Vincent: What makes you so sure?
Eddie: (stares at Vincent for a second, then gets ready to break) Hey I'm back. (break!)
- Hustler: Eddie, who teaches his skills to Vincent.
- I Know Mortal Kombat: Discussed; aside from shooting pool, Vincent's hobby is playing "Stocker", a racing video game. He believes that mastering the game will give him the reflexes needed to attend West Point.
- In Name Only: As noted in the description, the film is this to the novel.
- The Lad-ette: Carmen is a mild version of this. Though she enjoys looking attractive, she happily spends her time in pool halls, smoking and drinking with the guys while rounding up marks. She's also a lot more Street Smart than Vincent.
- Love Makes You Dumb: Vincent has this with regards to Carmen — he clearly sees her as a Purity Sue, blinding himself to her Street Smarts and delinquent past. She's even wearing a necklace she stole from his mother, and he thinks it's just a coincidence.
- Lysistrata Gambit: Carmen uses this to force Vincent to return to their plan and intentionally lose.Carmen: You win one more game, you're gonna be humping your fist for a long time.
- Ms. Fanservice: Carmen wears short skirts and has scenes where she's topless and wearing only panties and an open shirt.
- No Sympathy: Eddie tells Vincent that being a successful hustler means he must never have sympathy for his marks; when Vincent throws a pool game against a man with a tracheotomy, Eddie sets up a Pool Hall Brawl to teach him a lesson.
- Nostalgia Filter: Eddie has this in regards to the present-day popularity of nine ball, which he thinks is simpler, faster, and easier than the straight pool he used to play.Eddie: This ain't pool. This is for bangers. Straight pool is pool. This is like hand-ball, or cribbage, or something. Straight pool, you gotta be a real surgeon to get 'em, you know? It's all finesse. Now, every thing is nine-ball, 'cause it's fast, good for T.V., good for a lot of break shots.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Vincent isn't exactly faking being a goobery idiot, but Eddie does tell him to play it up to get people to underestimate him. Later, another goober pulls the same trick on Vincent.
- Ordered to Lose: Eddie tells Vincent to "dump" one of his road matches to prep him for a rich guy who's an easy mark. Vincent, being the hothead egotist that he is, wins the match and loses the mark instead.
- Parental Substitute: Vincent ends up adopting Eddie as a father figure.
- Pool Hall Brawl: Eddie indirectly starts one to teach Vincent a lesson.
- Pride: Vincent's big failing is his inability to control his ego. He won't lose matches he should, despite Carmen and Eddie pointing out that it's the way to set up big scores. Later, when he gets the hang of it, he throws a match against Eddie and expects Eddie to be pleased that Vincent has taken his lessons to heart.
- Pride Before a Fall: Eddie gets hustled and has a short BSOD. It serves as the catalyst for him sharpening up his skills and returning to playing pool full-time.
- Redemption Quest: The movie is essentially about Eddie redeeming himself and embracing his long-supressed love for pool.
- Scary Black Men: When Eddie takes Vincent and Carmen to a pool hall filled with black men, Vincent urges Carmen to return to the hotel, worried that she could get raped. Carmen's angry insistence that she can handle herself gets ignored.
- Society Marches On: In-universe. Eddie first takes Vincent and Carmen to an old pool hall he dominated as a young man. He's visibly excited to return and makes sure everyone's prepared...only to discover the pool hall has gone out of business and is now a furniture warehouse. Carmen and especially Vincent are amused. Eddie? Not so much.
- Street Smart: Carmen is clearly more experienced and world-savvy than Vincent.
- Team Prima Donna: Vincent, who always wants to be the winner, even when it's detrimental to the hustle. Eddie and Carmen have to work together to keep him in check. Vincent's inability to throw games (to set up larger bets and richer marks) often leads to arguments.Eddie: How much did you take off Moselle? I heard a hundred...
Vincent: One fifty!
Eddie: A hundred and fifty?
Vincent: That's right, a hundred and fifty.
Eddie: You walk into a shoe store with a hundred and fifty bucks, you come out with one shoe! We were working on five thousand!
- Technician vs. Performer: Eddie and Vincent are this trope in regards to both pool and hustling — Eddie is methodical and businesslike, while Vincent is flamboyant and seeks attention.
- The '80s: Not as obvious as it could be, as a lot of the film takes place at pool halls which are pretty timeless, but Tom Cruise's hairdo is a dead giveaway.
- Throwing the Fight: After Eddie beats Vincent in the 9-Ball Classic semifinals, he learns that Vincent threw the match because he had numerous bets riding on him to win.
- Training Montage: Eddie's recovery is shown with a montage of activities to rebuild his skills, including swimming, being fitted for new eyeglasses, and lots of games of pool.
- Wild Card: Carmen. Siskel & Ebert stated that her character was the only thing preventing the film from being a tired formula film.
- With a Friend and a Stranger: An example of the variation where the protagonist (Eddie) is the Stranger who meets the established Friends (Vincent and Carmen).