Originally published a version of this on my Moviepilot page. The site has closed down so enjoy this updated version of my article.
The heist film is one of my favorite genres. A subgenre of the crime film, the heist film focuses on the protagonist’s attempts to plan, execute a theft, and the aftermath of their actions. There are many twists and turns in the plot as the characters try to accomplish their goal: getting away with the big score.
Great heist films keep viewers on the edge of their seats with the character’s planning, execution, and the aftermath of the theft. In the history of cinema there have been many excellent heist films. Here are ten of my favorites.
10. Tower Heist (2011)
This heist comedy focuses on employees of an exclusive apartment building who lose their pensions in a Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Wall Street businessman Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). Lead by the building manager Josh Kovaks (Ben Stiller), a small group of the employees and a former tenant enlist the aid of criminal Slide (Eddie Murphy) in order to steal back their money from Shaw. As the group’s plan begins to take fruition, they must also evade the watchful eye of FBI agent Claire Denham (Téa Leoni) who’s investigating Shaw.
One of my favorite scenes from this film is during the heist when the group attempts to steal Arthur’s car and they have to get it out of the building while the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is taking place outside.
9. Inception (2010)
Director Christopher Nolan’s film takes the heist genre to another level in this film with the addition of sci-fi thriller elements, as the themes of dreams and reality take center stage in the film.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a professional thief who commits corporate espionage by infiltrating the subconscious of his targets. He’s assigned a task to implant another person’s idea into a target’s subconscious, also known as inception. If he’s successful, his criminal history will be erased and he’ll be able to reunite with his family.
The end keeps viewers guessing on whether DiCaprio’s character’s family reunion is real or nothing but a dream.
8. The Italian Job (2003)
A remake of the 1969 film of the same name, this film stars Mark Wahlberg as Charlie Croker, a thief whose mentor was betrayed and killed by a member of their team. A year later, Croker and his friends have located the traitor (played by Edward Norton) and decide to take back what had been stolen from them.
This film was notable for its excellent use of BMW’s and the then-new line of retro-styled Mini Coopers. Many saw this film as part of a revival of the heist film around the beginning of the 21st century.
7. Fast Five (2011)
With this fifth entry in the Fast and Furious franchise, fans got an epic heist film. Despite its impossible physics action sequences, the film had an awesome memorable scene in which Dom and his family are racing through the streets of Rio pulling a huge safe behind them as they’re chased by Agent Luke Hobbs and the bad guys.
6. Oceans’ 11, Ocean’s 12, Ocean’s 13, & Ocean’s 8
Overall, this is one of my favorite film franchises (perhaps I’ll post an article on that subject in the future). It’s also a great heist franchise and that’s why it’s on my list. With the exception of Ocean’s 12-the weakest link of the group-I’ve seen every film. The humor, the planning and execution of the theft(s), and the aftermath that follow are just exceptional.
Each person in the group has a specialty that they’re good at and as such contribute to the big score in diverse ways. There’s also a code that the group follows and it’s interesting to see how that affects their planning. But what I enjoy most about these films is the following.
While we’re watching the group go after a specific target, it’s not till the end that we discover that in addition to stealing said target the group manages to steal other valuable items which make the successful completion of the heist even more memorable.
5. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Depicting the events before and after a botched diamond heist, this film was director and writer Quentin Tarantino’s debut. The film’s slow motion opening sequence set to “Little Green Bag” by the George Baker Selection, is a favorite scene of mine. One notable and notorious scene from the film is when Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) severs the ear of his hostage. What I liked about this film was how the deception and mistrust affected the characters. While they were close at the start the bond they developed erodes and becomes permanently severed.
4. Inside Man (2006)
This Spike Lee joint focuses on an elaborate bank heist on Wall Street over a 24-hour period that includes the robbers taking hostages. Clive Owen stars as Dalton Russell, the orchestrator of the heist, and Denzel Washington as Detective Keith Frazier, an NYPD hostage negotiator.
What I love about this film is the many twists it takes. The film keeps viewers on their toes as they try to figure out what’s really going on. The long stand off between Russell and Frazier is my favorite part of the film as the two go head to head trying to outdo one another. The tension builds leading to the the big pay off at the end.
3. Hell or High Water
If you couldn’t tell already from my previous posts, Hell or High Water is one of my favorite films, let alone a favorite heist film. The movie’s premise is this: Two brothers commit a series of bank robberies in order to save their family ranch, drawing the attention of two Texas Rangers.If you want to dig more into the reasons why you ought to watch this film, read the following posts:
2. Bonnie and Clyde
This classic heist film is based upon real-life events and features sex, drama, and of course violence. The most memorable scene of the film comes right at the end. Considered “one of the bloodiest death scenes in cinematic history,” what a death scene it is. Right before the shooting starts you see Bonnie and Clyde take one last look at each other, knowing that the end is imminent. A landmark film, Bonnie and Clyde’s regarded as one of the first films of the New Hollywood era due to its breaking of cinematic taboos. It’s also one of the first films in mainstream American cinema to showcase graphic realism.
1. Set It Off (1996)
This film was one of the first heist films I ever watched. It’s emotional action packed movie that makes you root for the four women-Francesca “Frankie” Sutton (Vivica A. Fox), Lida “Stony” Newsom Jada Pinkett-Smith), Cleopatra “Cleo” Sims (Queen Latifah), and Tisean “T.T.” Williams (Kimberly Elise). There’s drama, humor, action, and everything you need to enjoy a heist film. As you watch you’re glued to your seat not wanting to move until the film ends. While it starts off slow, the film takes you on a ride that surprise and moves you in ways you didn’t expect.
And that ends my list. Heist films are great stories to watch and there are so many great ones that it’s hard to list them all here. What are your favorite heist films? Leave your list below in the comments.