Heists are always interesting to watch onscreen, which is probably why Hollywood likes to make so many movies involving them. It’s always a great rush to see how they pull off the heist, and run away with the cash in hand and the girl underneath the arm. Yet, some of the very best heist movies don’t exactly end how we would expect.
The main reason behind our great love of heist movies, which is also at the heart of our love of cinema in general, is the ability they have to help us escape the shackles of our everyday lives for a couple of hours. We like to watch things unfold onscreen that we’d probably never get to do in our own boring lives. We can only dream of robbing a bank, or pulling off the greatest, the cleverest, the most elaborate heist of all time.
Having said this, many heist movies are guilty of being slightly formulaic and ultimately a bit dull. Yet some heist movies still surprise us and offer some of cinemas greatest moments. Here’s ten of the very best heist movies; the most interesting, well directed, and perfectly crafted ones.
10. Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer, 2000)
Jonathan Glazer’s debut film Sexy Beast marked the beginning of a very interesting career for the young British director. He’s a man who rarely makes films, he only has three to his name so far, but every film he has made always offers something different and thought-provoking. Sexy Beast is more than just your conventional heist movie.
Glazer, along with scriptwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto, concentrates on what it’s like to attempt to put the life of a criminal behind you. Sexy Beast demonstrates that no matter what you do, your past will always come back to haunt you, and in this case, it’s in the form of a very dangerous and severely insane Sir Ben Kingsley.
Sexy Beast stars Ray Winstone as retired safecracker Gary ‘Gal’ Dove, who is now living a comfortable life, ‘roasting, boiling, baking, sweltering’ in sunny Spain. Things start to go awry when brutal gangster Don Logan, convincingly played by Sir Ben Kingsley, comes to his Spanish villa in order to recruit him for one last job.
What separates Sexy Beast from other, more conventional heist movies, is that the film concentrates on the predicament of the central character, Gary, a man who doesn’t want to relive his past and just wants to be left alone. The heist itself is in fact completely secondary. We are led to care more about Ray Winstone’s character, and desperately want him to get out of having to go back to UK with Kingsley’s brilliantly mad, and Oscar nominated portrayal of Don Longan, for one final job.
Glazer’s unique direction, the wonderfully colourful dialogue (you will be quoting Sir Ben Kingsley’s “NO, NO NO NO NO NO NO! NO!” monologue for weeks) and the grittily British acting, make Sexy Beast a must-see heist movie, warranting a place on any best heist film list.
9. Ocean’s Eleven (Steven Soderbergh, 2001)
Then there are films that revel in the heist, and more specifically, the planning behind the heist and the intricacies of the plan itself. Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of Lewis Milestone’s original 1960 film of the same name, is a truly riveting heist movie. This film is arguably one remake which is actually better than the original.
George Clooney plays Danny Ocean, fresh out of prison, who now wants to celebrate by bringing together a group of heist experts to rob three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously. Along with his longtime partner in crime Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), they work relentlessly to come up with a team of 11 men capable of pulling off the elaborate heist.
The real reason why Soderbergh’s film is such a brilliant heist movie is due to the chemistry between the two ring leaders, George Clooney and Brad Pitt. You really root for these two loveable criminals and want them to get the better of the unpleasant Casino owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who also happens to be with Ocean’s ex-wife (Julia Roberts). So this is heist is more for personal reasons than financial gain, which makes it that much more interesting and gives the film another edge.
Soderbergh’s film is unashamedly fun. It’s great to watch these characters interact, and entertaining to watch them plan and subsequently pull of one of the most elaborate heists ever seen onscreen. He was able to take the original Ocean’s Eleven film and bring it to life by making the characters more relatable and by making the heist a much more enjoyable watch, which is why it’s one of the best heist movies ever made.
8. The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” Kevin Spacey’s line sums up everything about the the most enigmatic criminal of all time, Keyser Soze. The Usual Suspects was only Bryan Singer’s second feature film and it left cinema audiences completely wrong-footed with one of the best endings in the history of cinema. It’s a film that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it.
This thriller starts off with customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) interrogating Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey), a small time con man whom suffers from cerebral palsy and is one of two survivors of a shoot-out and subsequent fire on a ship docked at the Port of Los Angeles.
He then goes onto tell him a complex story about how he, along with four other criminals, were commissioned by a mysterious mob boss known as Keyser Soze to pull off a heist involving destroying a shipment of cocaine. The film then goes on to show what happened through the use of flashbacks and Kint’s narration.
The Usual Suspects is full of twists, turns and dead-ends, which will keep audiences on the very edge of their seats. Bryan Singer’s direction keeps you hooked, yet it’s all about Christopher McQuarrie’s Oscar winning original script, which is brilliantly written, and utterly enthralling.
The performances are first class; Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Pete Postlethwaite are all superb in their respective roles, yet this film is all about Kevin Spacey’s Oscar winning portrayal of Kint. You never know whether you can trust him or not. Kevin Spacey is an actor unlike no other, with a truly mesmerising screen-presence.
This is a heist movie that will keep you guessing, right until the very end, so make sure you don’t miss a single beat.
7. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
Blockbusters don’t always have to be dumb, and Christopher Nolan proved this to be the case with his 2010 mind-bendingly complex sci-fi masterpiece, Inception. You may be sitting there, wondering if Inception really is a heist movie. Well the answer is undoubtedly yes.
Maybe not a heist movie, in the conventional sense of the term, or a heist film like any of the other films in this list. It’s a complexly different sort of heist movie, a mind heist film, and there is a big reward at the end of the tunnel. Whether it be for financial or personal gain… or both, is for you, the viewer, to find out.
Inception is a science-fiction heist thriller in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays thief Dominick “Dom” Cobb, but he isn’t your run-of-the-mill thief. Dom specialises in stealing corporate secrets by going into people’s dreams and ‘extracting’ them, he and his merry band of followers are hence known as ‘extractors’.
However, things start to get really interesting when they are approached by a Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe), who wants them to perform the incredibly difficult task of ‘inception’ (the act of implanting an idea into someone’s head via their dreams) upon Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), son of Saito’s competitor Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite).
Not only is Inception a brilliantly and lovingly crafted piece of filmmaking but it was also a very personal project for Christopher Nolan. It explores, like a lot of his films, some very complicated and intriguing themes. Inception explores many themes, including, but not limited to that of family, and the lengths to which one would go for his or her family.
Nolan was also intrigued by the idea of sharing someone’s dream space and the power that would give you over another person. Imagine the power you would have if you could actually penetrate someone’s dream and alter it to implant an idea into someone’s head. Herein lies the heist, the heist of someone’s mind, which is what makes Inception not only a compelling and inthralling film, but also a superb heist movie containing innovative and complex ideas.
6. Inside Man (Spike Lee, 2006)
Some heist movies just grab you by the sheer inspirational brilliance of the heist itself. This is certainly the case for Spike Lee’s truly remarkable heist film, Inside Man. The heist in this film is just so undeniably clever and well planned that you can’t write up a top ten heist movie list without mentioning it. It’s a heist film unlike any other because we are given insight into both what the bank robbers and the police are doing, yet are all withheld vital information until the very end, which leads to one of the greatest twists in Hollywood history.
Inside Man centres around a bank heist on Wall Street. NYPD detective and hostage negotiator Keith Frazer (Denzel Washington) is brought onto the scene to negotiate with the leader of the bank robbers, Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), who is now holding people hostage in the bank.
Things start to become more suspicious when Madeleine White (Jodie Foster), a broker, also becomes involved with Detective Frazer’s investigation, upon the request of the bank owner, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer). It turns out that she is there to make sure that a specific safe deposit box, which is inside the bank, is not stolen in the robbery.
The film starts with Clive Owen’s character talking directly to the camera from within what seems to be a prison cell. He claims that he has pulled off the ‘perfect robbery’, his own words. Well, over the course of the film, it would appear that he has done exactly that.
Spike Lee’s crime thriller is most certainly one of the most thrilling heist movies made in recent years. It has absolutely everything one could want from a heist movie. Compelling characters, suspicious old rich guy, Denzel Washington being Denzel Washington, and one of the cleverest and most intricately planned heists ever seen onscreen.
Despite not being recognised at awards season, Inside Man’s popularity has taken off and its following has grown. People just love this heist movie! Spike Lee is a director with an impressive back-catalogue, anyone boasting such films as Malcolm X, 25th Hour and Do the Right Thing, must be ‘doing the right thing’. A lot of the credit however, has to go to the writer, Russell Gewirtz, who was able to write one of the best heists of our generation, possibly of all time.