There’s nothing quite like a good heist movie. The plotting, the scheming, the heist itself, and then the fallout all make for compelling films. And heist movies have been made for as long as there have been films. But when done well, this genre of the movie can be something special. Some of the best movies of all time have been about robberies and heists. The genre lends itself well to both action and characters. It’s one of the reasons the genre persists today. And why we here at Goliath are counting down the 10 best heist movies of all time.
10. Heist (2001)
One of actor Gene Hackman’s final performances before he retired from acting in 2004, Heist is a movie written and directed by David Mamet. It stars Hackman as an aging jewel thief who ends up at odds with the crime boss he has worked for over many years. Heist is a well-written thriller full of great wordplay and performances. Sam Rockwell co-stars as the nephew of the crime boss who is sent to watch over Gene Hackman as he pulls off one final heist. Full of double-crossing and surprise twists, Heist plays like a template for the perfect heist film. Tense, exciting, and unpredictable, this is a more recent heist movie that is worth seeing.
9. Thief (1981)
The 1981 movie Thief is early and vintage Michael Mann. It is about a professional safecracker, played by actor James Caan, who takes on one final job for the mafia cracking an almost impenetrable safe. The James Caan character is, of course, double-crossed after he cracks the safe and the movie then switches into a revenge tale. With a supporting cast that includes Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson, and a young Jim Belushi, Thief is a heist movie that holds up. And it contains a lot of trademarks of Michael Mann’s directorial flourishes—the slow-build suspense, explosive violence, and rich character development. Like many of Michael Mann’s movies, Thief takes its time building and the payoff is worth it.
8. Point Break (1991)
When people think about the 1991 movie Point Break, they tend to remember surfing and skydiving. But this movie is actually about a group of surfers who rob banks to fund their endless summer and trips around the world to surf some of the biggest waves on the planet. Patrick Swayze plays the head bank robber, while Keanu Reeves is the FBI agent tasked with infiltrating the bank robbers’ gang and stopping them before they hit another target. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Point Break contains extremely tense bank-robbing scenes in addition to the fantastic footage involving surfing and skydiving. The bank robbers also memorably wear masks of former U.S. presidents while committing their crimes, which is a nice touch. And Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves are great in this game of cops and robbers. A classic action movie, and a heist movie, worth seeing again.
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7. The Getaway (1972)
Directed by the great Sam Peckinpah with a screenplay by Walter Hill, The Getaway stars Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw as two lovers on the run after a heist goes wrong. Freed from jail by a powerful local crime boss, Steve McQueen must repay the favor by pulling off a heist and robbing a local bank. Things go horribly wrong, and Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw end up on the run to the Mexican border. Filmed in southern Texas communities such as San Antonio and El Paso, The Getaway is a classic 1970s movie and one of Steve McQueen’s best. It is also hugely influential. Watch this movie and you’ll see how it influenced more recent films such as No Country For Old Men, Reservoir Dogs, and countless other crime films. The heist itself is filmed with accuracy and precision by Sam Peckinpah, who keeps the movie’s pace at a fast clip throughout. A classic movie that should be seen by anyone who likes the heist genre.
6. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Definitely, the funniest heist movie ever made, 1988’s A Fish Called Wanda is about a jewelry heist gone wrong and the double-crossing fallout that occurs among the main characters. Featuring a sharp script by Monty Python alumnus John Cleese and great performances by Cleese, Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this film, A Fish Called Wanda is one of the funniest movies you’ll ever see. It also contains several tight action sequences and a truly off-the-wall ending. Everyone in the movie is untrustworthy and the way the film depicts the clash of cultures between uptight, stuffy British people and loud, arrogant Americans is really great. It’s the best thing John Cleese and Michael Palin did after Monty Python and a movie that does not get old with repeat viewings. “Don’t call me stupid!”
5. The Town (2010)
About bank robbers in Boston, The Town was written and directed by Ben Affleck and is one of his better movies. It stars Affleck as a bank robber whose feelings become conflicted when he falls for a bank manager he takes hostage after one of the robberies he pulls off. Co-starring Jeremy Renner in an Oscar-nominated performance as Ben Affleck’s psycho friend, and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as the FBI agent trying to catch the bank robbers before their next heist, The Town is a movie that delivers both a great story and characterization as well as exciting action sequences. And although critics complained about the film’s ending, it doesn’t detract from what is otherwise a first-rate heist movie. Ben Affleck cemented his reputation as a great director with this film, and deservedly so.
4. The Killing (1956)
Director Stanley Kubrick’s first feature film, 1956’s The Killing is about a group of thieves who rob a race track. Crafted like a game of chess, The Killing is one of the very best heist movies. Told out of sequence and with strong characters, this film, in many ways, has set the template for the heist movies that came after it. Highly influential, The Killing stars Sterling Hayden as the ringleader who plans the race track robbery with careful precision and attention to detail. He ropes in a group of supporting players, each of whom has a specific role to play in order to make the robbery go smoothly. Featuring one of the strangest and saddest endings ever in a movie, The Killing is a movie with a narrative payoff. It also established Stanley Kubrick as one of the world’s top directors and launched his impressive career. Still, one of the best heist movies ever made.
3. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
About a dimwitted man who tries to rob a New York bank to pay for his gay lover’s sex change, Dog Day Afternoon has the interesting twist of being a true story. Starring Al Pacino as the man trying to help his gay lover become a woman, and the late great character actor John Cazale as his equally stupid sidekick, Dog Day Afternoon is not only a heist movie, it is also a stinging indictment of television news coverage and our celebrity-obsessed culture. Of course, the heist does not go as planned at the Chase Manhattan Bank in Gravesend, Brooklyn, and the situation quickly turns into a hostage situation that generates a circus of live television news coverage. With strong performances from Al Pacino, John Cazale, and Chris Sarandon as the man who wants the sex change, Dog Day Afternoon earned six Academy Award nominations when released, including Best Picture and Best Director for Sidney Lumet. A heartbreaking drama about a heist gone horribly wrong and the misguided people who staged it, Dog Day Afternoon is unforgettable.
2. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
About the infamous bank robbers who terrorized the American Midwest during the Great Depression, Bonnie and Clyde is a great movie that helped revolutionize cinema in the 1960s. Starring Warren Beatty as the infamous and amoral Clyde Barrow, and Faye Dunaway as his sexy sidekick Bonnie Parker, this movie features several bank robbery scenes as well as well-filmed chase sequences that show the lovers on the run from the police. Directed by Arthur Penn and featuring strong supporting work from actors Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, and Michael J. Pollard, Bonnie, and Clyde was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and is now considered a milestone in American cinema. This is the film that established Warren Beatty as a Hollywood powerhouse, as he not only starred in Bonnie and Clyde but also produced the movie on his own.
1. Heat (1995)
A modern classic, Heat stars actor Robert De Niro as a professional bank robber who is being pursued by an obsessive Los Angeles detective played by Al Pacino. Perfectly directed by Michael Mann, Heat is one of the very best cops and robbers movies ever made. It is also a fantastic heist film. The scene where Robert De Niro and his crew, which features actors Val Kilmer and Tom Sizemore, rob the bank they’ve been circling for much of the movie is terrific, and the gunfight that erupts in downtown Los Angeles as the police arrive is one of the best shootouts in film history. But in addition to being a superb heist movie, Heat is also a great drama driven by an intricate plot and compelling characterizations. The acting throughout is superb, particularly from De Niro and Pacino, and the chase at the end of the movie is both memorable and satisfying. For a movie that looks into the motivations of cops and the thieves they chase, there is nothing better than this 1995 film.
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