10 of The Greatest Heists Movies
Making this list it is apparent that there are 2 types of heist films. One is a movie that focusses 100% on the heist, how it is performed, the team assembled etc., and the other is a movie where a heist is incidental of the plot and/or the characters development. But what makes a god heist movie? These are the things I have taken into account when choosing;
- The building. Is it a stronghold? How tough is it to break in/out? Is it memorable (I’m looking at you Nakatomi Plaza)? Or is it realistic, does it make you suspend your disbelief just a little too much?
- What is being stolen? How important is it? Something invaluable or something with an ulterior motive?
- Find a tough guy/leader, why is he stealing it? Then find a bad guy, why is he ‘bad? Motivation, motivation and more motivations!
- Is there the traditional 3 act plot(getting the team together/performing the heist/plot fulfilment)? Or is there something less traditional?
- The team being assembled. Skilled? Charismatic? Clever? Tech used?
- Is there comic relief? Is there actually any tension? Does it get brutal?
- Ultimately with a heist film I want to come out thinking, “yeah, that was clever”, or, “yeah, that could actually happen.”
10. The Fast & Furious (franchise)
There are just too many heists to choose from in any one film so a nod to franchise will do instead. Some of the best action can be found throughout the F&F films over the last 15 years, it is entertainment at it highest… and sometimes at its most ridiculous. In a time of boy racers and obsessions over the Suberu Impreza the film tapped into everything that cliche’ adolescent males would go for. Memorable characters.. check…ridiculous action… check… hot women… check… suped up cars… check… rappers getting a cameo regardless of talent… check.
Yeah, the story at times is flimsy and the acting isn’t always up to scratch but in the end the entertainment makes up for the most of that. You know what your getting with these films, and there’s always something to steal.
Star Moment – Too many to pick from.
Not one that immediately jumps out at you but legitimately deserves a spot on this list. The film jumps right in to the assembling of the group and cuts out a lot of character build up and to be fair, it works. There’s no need for unnecessary insights into the characters when all the ones you want to know about do more than show it through the events that end up taking place. The film making has a very down to earth feel to it and the characters come across as realistic. Some really top notch chase sequences ramp up the heist elements for the silver case everyone is after. Crosses, double crosses, a small twist, it has all the elements that make a thoroughly well done heist.
Star moment – Robert De Niro talking Jean Reno through surgically removing a bullet from himself.
Guy Richie directed probably the best pair of British gangster films in recent times with Lock Stock & Snatch and it was no fluke. While Lock Stock had a lower budget indie feel to it Snatch was its bigger flashier brother. With a bigger cast, more action and a far superior script this caper revolves around a diamond heist right at the beginning and the then resulting fallout.
The script is hilarious and is one liner after one liner with all the actors (who were casted perfectly) delivering them in a way that is memorable and great to watch. Ritchie’s keeps most of it’s scenes mostly minimalist and doesn’t overstuff what is going on which makes it flow at a god pace. It is non traditional in its arc structure and there are antagonists a plenty in this very re-watchable entry.
Star Moment – You could pick any one liner.
Christopher Nolan did a fine job of taking what is essentially a heist movie and making it into a thought provoking visually entertaining action thriller. The ‘stronghold’ element is turned it on its head by making levels of consciousness the place that was being infiltrated, and in turn gave the film a level of creativity on a big budget that hasn’t been seen since perhaps Dark City/The Matrix. Also by giving character development equal weighting to the heist element of the film it never feels like it’s over encumbered by either the action or the drama. Fine performances all around make this a must see film.
Star Moment – Either the first time Di Caprio shows Page the world building or the emotional final moments with the spinning top.
6. Point Break
This film is actually ridiculous when you write it down on paper. A young ex quarterback undercover FBI agent (Keanu Reeves) goes undercover to find a group of surfers who have been robbing banks using masks of the dead presidents. Oh and he’s teamed up with Nick Nolte too. Director Katheryn Bigelow does a bang up job of bringing this adrenaline junkie fuelled piece to life. Clocking in at 2 hours there’s plenty of characters to get stuck into (and in Anthony Kedis’ case… laugh at) and Patrick Swayze completely steals the show with his charismatic turn as Bodhi. The heists are dead simple, it’s always about money and it’s not massively clever but what there is plenty of is compelling exposition and memorable scenes. The entertainment value alone here brings this in at #6.
Star Moment – Either Keanu shooting his gun into the air and letting one of the robbers go or the last robbery.
5. Mission Impossible
One of those where the heist isn’t the central theme but is definitely one of the most memorable. The plot is solid for this film adaptation and it unearthed Cruise as a bona fide action star. There are twists and turns. The team all bounce off of each other and have their own useful qualities. Loyalties always questioned. The heist seems (dare I say it) impossible. The film isn’t afraid to kill off characters (a big plus in my book). You completely buy the espionage on show here which leads to it’s most sweat dripping iconic moment in Langley to retrieve the Noc List.
Star moment – Langley, Jean Reno in the ventilation, that rat, and the perspiration that nearly ruined everything for Tom Cruise.
4. Usual Suspects
This is another one where the heist is not the focus but rather the narrative is. It’s a clever film with one of the best endings in cinema and Keyser Soze is now a name etched into legend through Bryan Singers flawless storytelling. The script lends itself to the acting talent on show and put nearly all of the actors on the map. While the heist isn’t the focal point, the build up to it and the events that culminate with our main characters coming together is what drives the whole film. It’s a clever, creative, mind fuck on show here and it’s lack of traditional heist themes sets this apart from others on this list.
Star moment – The reveal.
3. Reservior Dogs
Tarantino takes the usual formula and turns it around for this heavily dialogue driven piece. Events are portrayed out of order while the viewer pieces together the narrative in some of cinema’s most iconic scene building. Tarantino puts Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen to excellent use and while there is heavy diversity in each person’s character traits the choice to keep each person’s true identity anonymous gives many of the scenes an edgy tension. This is a film where Tarantino’s talent for dialogue was really present, he makes what seems like an innocuous conversation relatable to the audience in a way that just keeps you interested. We see everything but the heist making this truly unique entry on the list.
Star moment – It’s hard to see anything past Madsen, the tied up policeman, Stuck in the Middle with You and that ear.
2. Ocean’s 11
I’m not sure much more fun can be had on a first viewing of a film. It’s star studded cast bring a glitz and glamour to this casino robbery, and bar Don Cheadle’s… let’s say… interpretation of a cockney accent, it’s good quality acting on show. Andy Garcia does a bang up job as our suave calculating villain, he really does make you root for Clooney. It’s not over the top with action but the film definitely makes the most of what there is. The team are a bundle of laughs and they play off of each other with so many differing types of humour it’s difficult not to want them to be able to pull it off. The vault seems pretty impregnable, the challenge is definitely there. In the end the heist itself is executed flawlessly with great use of the soundtrack by Sodenborgh to reveal how the heist concludes. There is enough of a story away from the heist to keep you interested into the motivations of our lead characters.
Star moment – The execution of the heist.
All of the heist movies that have come before Heat are more than worthy to be on this list, but what sets Heat apart is a groundedness that was sorely lacking from films in and around the 90’s. Di Niro & Pachino steal the show but take nothing away from Tom Wilkinson or Val Kilmer who played their parts with the subtle realty that draws you in to each heist the crew go for.
There’s nothing massively clever about the set pieces, and it’s always money they go after but what keeps the viewer so engrossed is the ruthless efficiency of the technical aspects of each set piece. The action is as loud as it is enjoyable without there being an over reliance on it to carry the film with plenty of time devoted to some of the backstories.
Chemistry is not an issue here and the scene with Di Niro & Pachino sitting having coffee together laying all the cards out on the table is done in a very matter of fact way. You have one man chasing another man down and letting him know it, but then you have this professional honesty about how and why they do the things they do and it becomes apparent that while they are both very different, they are both very similar too. Mann successfully swaps the usual depictions of our main characters by making De Niro’s criminal completely likable and Pachino’s cop extremely flawed which gives the viewer the opportunity to make their own mind up over who they root for to live and/or die.
It’s not flawless but it’s pretty close. Superbly acted and shot in a way that makes the realism work on a big scale with lots going on. There’s enough action to enjoy with well fleshed out characters to fill in the rest of the run time. This is one excellent film.
Star Moment – The Bank Robbery
- The Score
- Inside Man
- Sexy Beast
- The Bank Job
- Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
- The Town
- Die Hard