The Best Heist Movies of All Time

By

Heist movies promise their characters the ultimate shortcut to the American dream—if they work really hard for one night, then they’re set for life. And perhaps because most of us at some point on a slow Tuesday afternoon have daydreamed about sticking up a bank to facilitate a stylish drop off the grid, films about heists have become an exceedingly popular and fleshed-out genre. 

Their plots follow the pre-job, job, then post-job structure, a limitation that pushes directors to reveal their personal creativity in a way that can be compared. For example, Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, and Wes Anderson all made heist films for their debut features, yet respectively crafted, an intricately laid-out classic, a plot-hopping slow-boiler and a beyond-bizarre indie project that leans on the charisma of the Wilson brothers.

The films also usually center around an actor cast as a beyond-confident person that gets rich by breaking the law yet can’t be touched—an archetype that’s prone to smoldering stares, wry smirks and monologues filled with dope lines: three things that audiences like watching movie stars do. 

But which is The Best? To determine, I’ll consider the heist’s mastermind, the size of the score and how desperate I’d need to be to rob a bank with them. In the perfect heist movie, a recently troubled, but deep-down noble thief gets together a likable and capable crew to rob an exorbitantly wealthy, morally compromised person—hopefully for revenge—then after a suitably unpredictable and intricate plan, they make away clean to enjoy their loot—hopefully with each other. The rankings will be based off how well each film executes this ideal, while also factoring in the novelty and necessity of their own specific touches. 

These are the best heist movies of all time (according to us).

25. Bottle Rocket (1996)

Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, James Caan

What’s the score? Essentially, nothing.
Who’s calling the shots? Dignan, a naive, but aspiring thief
Would I rob a bank with him? No. Dignan has no idea what he’s doing, yet he’s enthusiastic about it anyway—a bad combination for breaking laws.

What happens? In the first film by white people’s Tyler Perry, Anderson crafts a truly bizarre heist movie about two friends who have no idea what they’re doing—not just in terms of thievery, but like, in a more general sense. It starts with Dignan (Owen) “breaking” Anthony (Luke) out of a voluntary mental institution that he checked into for “exhaustion.” Dignan then unfurls a 75-year plan, in which the two of them stage a series of heists to pay for a comfortable lifestyle. They do a warm-up heist of Anthony’s house, then move onto a bookstore, at which point they go on the lamb, where Anthony falls for a Spanish-speaking maid and he gives her most of the bookstore’s money—leading to the breakup of the duo. They reconcile to rob a cold-storage facility, but their plan goes disastrously awry on a number of levels and lands Anthony in jail. Viewed as a heist movie, it makes basically no sense. But it’s solid as an allegory about the naivete of people going after dreams they barely understand. It’s not much like any other movie, and that’s not necessarily a compliment. Mostly, it’s a likable introduction to Anderson and his fraternal muses—signifying of better things to come.

24. Point Break (1991)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey

What’s the score? The Ex-Presidents stick to the cash drawers, so we’re talking in the hundreds of thousands or low millions.
Who’s calling the shots? Bodhi, a surfing criminal mastermind who can flip from chill to unchill very quickly.
Would I rob a bank with him? No because before they would trust me, I’d have to go skydiving and bigwave surfing first and I can’t/have no desire to do either of those things.

What happens? Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow directed Point Break as one of her earlier features. And her direction of spell-binding action sequences saves the threadbare plot of this cult hit. In it, FBI undercover agent, Johnny Utah (Reeves) integrates himself into a gang of adrenaline junkies led by Bodhi (Swayze). They rob banks while wearing the masks of ex-presidents, which doubles as the name of their gang. Only, in clear dereliction of duty, Utah gets seduced by the crew’s lifestyle, blurring his own alliances. Along the way, there’s sick-ass surfing, shooting and skydiving sequences—including one where Utah leaps out of an airplane without a parachute, then catches Bodhi in mid-air. To give you an idea of the dialogue, Bodhi’s last line is, “C’mon, compadre. C’mon.” So, taking a grain of salt is a necessary before diving into the movie. But accept it for what it is, and you might feel something anytime Utah and Bodhi lock eyes. 

23. The Bank Job (2008)

Director: Roger Donaldson
Starring: Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Daniel Mays

What’s the score? As much as you want out of a room full of safety deposit boxes.
Who’s calling the shots? Terry Leather, the man with the best name in cinema history.
Would I rob a bank with him? I’d have to be desperate. He’s semi-retired and got deceived on the motivations of the robbery. The plan was inventive, but a bit sloppy. And watching one of Terry’s crew get their ankle melted filled me with reluctance.

What happens? Imagine Jason Statham as a car salesman. Imagine him trying to sell you a window tinting or seat warmers. Very hard, right? Now imagine him robbing a bank. Oh, wow that’s so easy. So, in this thoroughly entertaining British flick, although Statham starts out as a family man named Terry Leather (!) operating a car dealership, he soon ends up tunneling into a bank vault full of safety deposit boxes, one of which contains naughty photos of a princess. These will earn immunity for his ex-girlfriend, who recruited Terry to help with the job, but they also steal the portfolio that a gangster, Lew, has accrued so as to blackmail cops into letting him get away with his business. And Lew starts torturing members of Terry’s crew to get it back. It’s a fictionalized true story that leans heavily on Statham’s tough guy with a soft center charisma, and he handles it effortlessly. But the ceiling for Statham-centric pictures is of a limited height.

22. The Italian Job (2003)

Director: F. Gary Gray
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Mos Def, Seth Green, Jason Statham

What’s the stakes? Around $30 million in gold. 
Who’s calling the shots? Charlie, a professional bank robber.
Would I rob a bank with him? Yes. They’ve got a skilled team of professionals and do not really seem to fear police capture, tacitly testifying to their prowess. I would apply for the Mark Wahlberg Professional Thievery Fellowship. 

What happens? After a daring heist in the alps, Steve (Norton) turns on his crew, killing their leader and absconding with $35 million in gold bullion. Seeking revenge, the former second-in-command, Charlie (Wahlberg) tracks down his murdered mentor’s daughter, who will replace her father’s safecracking skills. In the second-best rounding up the gang scene ever, the rest of the team includes Left Ear (Def) on explosives, Napster (Green) on computers and Handsome Rob (Statham) at the wheel, which invariably is some extremely modified Mini Coopers. The team tracks Steve to a SoCal mansion where he’s been laundering his loot through a Ukrainian jewelry dealer with links to the mob. After some back-and-forth, Steve attempts, but fails to escape to the airport, and so gets his comeuppance, while the team gets to spend the loot on the material possession they’ve been fantasizing about. Wahlberg is properly indignant and righteous, Norton excels as a sleazeball with a paunch and Theron brings more gravitas to her role than necessary, which is sorta the problem. The Italian Job waffles between being sorta fun and sorta serious without ever hitting many high notes. I bet it was the favorite movie of a lot of seventh graders.

21. Inside Man (2006)

Director: Spike Lee
Starring: Clive Owen, Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer

What’s the score? Some old jewels that are probably worth a lot.
Who’s in charge? Dalton, a meticulous, if oddly motivated bank robber.
Would I rob a bank with him? Yes, Dalton thinks out his caper thoroughly, then allows his accomplices to escape without getting blamed.

What happens? Inside Man details a very well-planned and suspenseful heist, but the problem is the unsatisfying payoff. In it, Dalton (Owen) brings an armed crew dressed up like painters to rob a bank—only for no reason at all, they throw smoke bombs, which alerts a passing beat cop. So, Detective Frazier (Washington) arrives, but, smart as he is, he realizes he’s up against a man who has total control over the situation while he’s only just getting his bearings. During the robbery, the elderly bank chairman (Plummer) calls in a fast-talking fixer (Foster) to recover a safe deposit box from the bank. But that’s what Dalton came for: an envelope filled with jewels and Nazi regalia linked to the chairman, who was a war profiteer that used this ill-begotten dough to establish an American bank. Which, it’s very evil and all, but not terribly original, nor particularly believable as a motive for Dalton. Top-quality work from Denzel, Jodie and Spike elevate the lackluster script, but only to ho-hum level. It is however, a very charming time-capsule of the mid-2000s.

20. Sexy Beast (2001)

Director: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane

What’s the score? A safe full of safety deposit boxes.
Who’s calling the shots? If he hadn’t gotten killed, Don Logan, who is nucking futs.
Would I rob a bank with him? To quote the man, “No. No no no no no no no no no! No! No no no no no no no no no no no no no! No!”

What happens? In 1982, Ben Kingsley played Gandhi. In 2000, he played the opposite, Don Logan, a spitting, foul-mouthed sociopathic criminal who is absolutely intent on getting his old safecracker, Gary, away from his Spanish villa, where he lives with his ex-pornstar wife, next door to his best friend. As you can imagine, Gary is reluctant. But Don keeps pushing, telling the pudgy Gary he could make a suitcase out of his tanned skin, informing his wife that her movies are still very popular and shouting at Gary’s best friend that he fucked his wife. After a smash-cut, Gary’s at the job, which is a fairly interesting underwater heist, but the real reason to watch is Kingsley, who is absolutely deranged, attempting to bully his way into getting what he wants by, sometimes, just repeatedly screaming “No” or “Yes,” depending upon what the situation calls for. He’s just stunningly, unnecessarily assholish—exemplified by a tangential scene when he refuses to put out a cigarette on an airplane, then threatens to cut the hands off a fellow passenger and “use them as an ashtray.” Later in holding, he falsely accuses a flight attendant of “touching his front bottom” to dupe the authorities. Unfortunately, Kingsley’s so good, the rest of the film never reaches his level.

19. Fast Five (2011)

Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster

What’s the score? $100 million
Who’s calling the shots? Dom Toretto, the Captain America of the Fast & Furious crew.
Would I rob a bank with him? Yes. They steal a safe out of a crooked police department, then switch it with a decoy in front of a federal marshal—all while barely getting out of their cars. Very impressive.

What happens? After springing Dom (Diesel) loose by using their muscle cars to flip a prison bus, Brian, Mia and the crew head down to Rio de Janeiro where they happen upon the location of a drug lord’s $100 million safe, which would finance some fresh starts. Eventually, they enlist the help of a gargantuan government agent, Luke Dobbs, (Johnson), who seeks revenge on the drug lord for killing his team. During the heist, they smash-and-grab the safe from a police station by attaching it to Dom and Brian’s Chargers, then drag it through the streets, pancaking everything in its path. After their successful caper, Dobbs demands to keep the safe, then gives the crew a 24-hour head start before he comes after them—only to realize after they’ve sped off that they pulled a switcheroo. Fast Five marks the pivot of the franchise, away from street-racing and towards absurd, globe-trotting adventures carried out by strong, handsome people. It’s a decision that has made Fast & Furious more popular than anything not starring characters with capes, wands or swords. 

18. Ant-Man (2015)

Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Corey Stoll, T.I.

What’s the score? An incredibly valuable shrinking suit.
Who’s calling the shots? Dr. Hank Pym for the most part, though Scott Lang improvises a bit.
Would I rob a bank with them? Yes. Dr. Pym seems incredibly smart and Lang was already a world-class thief before he could shrink down to the size of my pinky toenail. 

What happens? Marvel tends to make its pictures on the galactic scale—I mean, in the terrible Age of Ultron, the heroes lift then drop a city to defeat an artificially intelligent demi-god. Ant-Man pokes fun at and zags away from this excessive scale, choosing to make a souped-up heist flick centered around a likable thief, Scott Lang (Rudd), who steals a suit that lets him shrink down to an ant’s size. The suit’s creator, Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas), wanted Lang to steal the suit, as he is the only one who can steal and destroy similar technology made by Pym’s megalomaniac former protege (Stoll), who plans to sell to Hydra. Although the flick hits all the superhero movie cliches, they’re lightened by a terrific screenplay (punched up by Rudd and Adam McKay) that lets Lang pop the bubble whenever things get too self-serious. Plus, Lang’s crew of fellow thieves—or “wombats” as Dr. Pym calls them—includes T.I. and Michael Peña, whose jabbering character is an absolute delight, especially during his short narration sequences. The dazzling, inventive cinematography crafts bite-sized epic locales. And the relationships between Lang, Dr. Pym and their daughters gives emotional heft to a mash-up of two genres that often feel sterile.

17. Bad Santa (2003)

Director: Terry Zwigoff
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham

What’s the score? Thousands of dollars and illicit shopping sprees from department stores, annually.
Who’s calling the shots? Willie and Marcus, professional holiday season grifters.
Would I rob a bank with them? No. Marcus is very wily and good at disabling alarms. He’s also not trustworthy. And Willie is far too drunk to be counted on. 

What happens? Billy Bob Thornton delivers the performance he was born to give as Willie, a sex-addicted, alcoholic, suicidal mall Santa that, along with his elf partner, Marcus (Cox), knock over shopping outlets, then ditch town each holiday season. Hating himself, but unable to quit, Willie soon meets a pudgy, strange, but sweet little boy, Thurmond, who wants a pink elephant for Christmas. He drives Thurmond home, then learns his mother is dead and his father is incarcerated for white-collar fraud. The film forsakes the redemption narrative as Willie doesn’t change his foul-mouthed, bottle-smashing disposition throughout the film. Rather, he’s put in situations where it’d take a real scumbag not to feel something, like when Thurmond gives Willie a carved wooden “pickle” that’s brown because the little boy cut his hand while making it. Eventually, following a double-crossing by his partner, a botched robbery and a car chase, Willie stumbles up the boy’s lawn, clutching the elephant, before he gets plugged with bullets courtesy of the Phoenix police department. Unlike the syrupy morals of other holiday pictures, Bad Santa doesn’t give a shit about the Christmas spirit, making its climactic moment far more satisfying. Instead of praising some froo-froo, seasonal sense of goodwill, it’s a character study of a man who robs, cheats, deceives, destroys and tries to kill himself with car exhaust, but eventually, after a life of misery, finds something worth living for: the doofiest little boy you’ve ever seen.

16. Out of Sight (1998)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy

What’s the score? A whole mess of uncut diamonds
Who’s calling the shots? Jack Foley, (apparently) the most successful bank robber in American history.
Would I rob a bank with him? On one hand other, Foley’s car doesn’t start as he’s making his getaway. On the other, Foley has robbed over 200 banks. So, assuming the movie just caught him at a bad time, I’ll say yes, with some desperation 

What happens? In this pairing of perhaps the two best-looking people ever, Clooney stars as America’s most successful bank robber, Jack Foley, who while escaping from jail, takes a federal marshal, Karen Cisco (Lopez), hostage by hopping into the same trunk as her. They banter while spooning as Clooney looks at J-Lo like she’s a cup of Nespresso. Eventually, they escape from each other. And she gets on the task force to take Clooney and his right-hand man (Rhames) down as they rob a corrupt businessman of his uncut diamonds. The real show-stopping scene comes the night before the robbery, when Clooney meets J-Lo at her hotel bar. They smolder at each other before heading back to her hotel room, where they remove their clothes. It’s the most shamelessly sexy scene this side of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Without Clooney and J-Lo, the semi-absurd plot and characters wouldn’t really work, but they sell it. It’s a little bit like “Loyalty” by Kendrick and Rihanna— a why-didn’t-this-happen-sooner collab that allows each to compliment and magnify the other’s talents.

15. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

Director: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones, P.H. Moriarty, Sting

What’s the score? About half-a-million pounds.
Who’s calling the shots? The four boys: Eddie, Tom, Soap and Bacon.
Would I rob a bank with them? Absolutely not. These boys can barely rob inept criminals, let alone a bank complete with an elaborate security system. They came out on the right side of a lot of coincidences, which could have easily gone against them. 

What happens? Eddie (Moran) plays cards very well. But after rounding up 100,000 pounds between he and his three friends, he’s unlucky at the table against a murderous porn king, Harry (Moriarty), who cheats the young man, leaving him with a tab of half a million pounds that he has to pay in week—otherwise, he and his buddies will start losing fingers. Luckily, Eddie lives in a thin-walled apartment next to some thugs that are planning to rob some pot-growers of their money and flora. So, Eddie and his buddies decide to rob them just after they get back from that job. Only the guy Eddie’s fixing to sell the weed to is the boss of the growers. And the guns they procure for the robbery are antiques that Harry desperately wants. Guy Ritchie crafts a flashy, incredibly fun and deliriously paced heist film about a series of Shakespearean misunderstandings between these amateur and professional criminals. Then two years later, Ritchie brought back a lot of the gang and basically made the same movie again, Snatch, only with Brad Pitt playing an falcon-punching, unintelligible gypsy. Both flicks are a blast and will have you talking to yourself in cockney for the rest of the day.

14. The Town (2010)

Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall

What’s the score? There’s a few, but let’s just do $3.5 million.
Who’s calling the shots? Doug, a dissatisfied, but effective armed robber.
Would I rob a bank with him? Only if I was very desperate. They seem to regard death as an inevitability that will be soon realized. And I like money, but I don’t particularly want to die. 

What happens? In the film that fully purged the stench of Gigli, Ben Affleck plays Doug, a former hockey star turned reluctant bank robber who starts dating the woman he held at gunpoint while masked. She inspires him to want to leave his life of crime, which is tricky because his crew is made up of lifelong friends like Jem, (Renner), who just got out of jail, yet has no interest in a different life. But after Doug’s lady gets harassed by local thugs, Doug tells Jem, “I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is. You can never ask me about it later. And we’re gonna hurt some people.” To which Jem responds, ‘Whose car are we taking?” Which, wow, that’s so cool. Later, she’s kidnapped by a rose-loving crime boss who forces Doug and Jem and the rest of their gang to pull off One. Last. Job. Like the film’s most iconic dialogue exchange, The Town is blunt, understated and violent. Affleck’s direction is crisp, clean and tense, particularly during the stellar action sequences. In between, he lets Renner do the acting heavy-lifting and lets Jon Hamm put the darker, slimier side of Don Draper into an FBI agent. The Town makes it inarguable that Affleck can pull actor-director double-duty as well as that he is absolutely, definitely, very proudly from Boston.

13. Jackie Brown (1997)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, Robert DeNiro, Robert Forster

What’s the score? $500,000
Who’s calling the shots? Jackie Brown, fed-up flight attendant and freelancing smuggler.
Would I rob a bank with her? A bank might be above Jackie’s expertise, but if I was semi-desperate, I’d get in on some semi-illegal money manipulations with her. Jackie can handle her business. 

What happens? In his homage to blaxploitation films, Tarantino cast Pam Grier as a middle-aged flight attendant, Jackie Brown, with a dwindling number of professional and personal prospects. She gets busted for smuggling money for a murderous arms dealer (Jackson), who is hosting a recently released, stoner prison buddy (DeNiro in a totally against-type role). Facing jail time or death, Jackie must decide her course of action after getting bailed out by a bondsman, Max (Forster), who grows to love her and reassures her there’s nothing wrong with a big butt. After getting set up for a sting, Jackie decides to get hers by duping both sides and making off with the smuggled money with Max’s help. Complete with an exceptional soul soundtrack and typically tight dialogue, the film’s heist sequence is pleasantly tangled, but then resolved on a melancholy note. It’s Tarantino’s only adapted script and a fascinating choice to make after Pulp Fiction. He could have gone all grandiose and Oscar-baity, but instead made a contained, character-driven picture that coaxes understated and human performances from all involved. Sam Jackson lists this as his favorite Tarantino movie. I don’t agree, but that’s enough to earn Jackie Brown its spot on the list.

12. Inception (2014)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

What’s the score? A pardon for a phony murder charge and lots of money
Who’s calling the shots? Dominick Cobb, a world-class stealer of secrets from brains.
Would I rob a bank with him? Compared to brains, I imagine banks are pretty easy for him, especially since he won’t be conjuring up his wife, who inevitably sabotages the mission.

What happens? BWOMMMMMM. In addition to its instantly recognizable Hans Zimmer score, Inception deserves credit for being one of the most intricately constructed scripts in film history. Set sometime in the future, when secrets can be stolen straight from someone’s brain during communal dreams, Leo stars as the world’s top thief, Dominick Cobb, whose wife (Cotillard) became convinced that reality...wasn’t. So, she committed suicide and framed Cobb for murder. Now she haunts him as he leads his absolutely stacked squad (LOOK AT THAT MF’ING CAST) of inceptors as they implant an idea inside the head of a business titan’s son in exchange for millions and Leo’s pardon. JGL’s rotating hallway fight scene is worth the watch alone. And Nolan does his signature mushing of relentless logic with irrational emotions into one of the most original movies ever made. It’s a mind-fuck that trusts its audience’s intelligence and then finishes with a wink. BWOMMMMMM.

11. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Director: Arthur Penn
Starring: Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Michael J. Pollard, Estelle Parsons

What’s the score? Several bagfuls of cash from Depression-era banks.
Who’s calling the shots? Bonnie and Clyde, mythic bank robbers.
Would I rob a bank with them? There’d have to be historically poor economic prospects. I admire their refusal to rob poor folks, sticking strictly with the bank’s money. However, they also get blamed for every unsolved bank robbery and approach their profession with a reckless amateurism. 

What happens? Bonnie and Clyde starts out a very sexy picture. A bored waitress (Dunaway) languishes naked inside her room when she looks out her window and sees a handsome man in a suit thinking about stealing her mother’s car. She confronts him, they banter, he pulls out a gun, she strokes it, then he sticks up a general store and the two of them speed off, Bonnie straddling Clyde. From there, things take a turn. Clyde can’t get it up. The Depression-era banks are either shut-down or have little cash. And the duo’s dynamic complicates as they recruit a driver, Clyde’s brother (Hackman) and his shrieking wife to their crew. As they outrun the law, their legend grows, bringing a little excitement to the hard times. But the true contribution of the film is its approach to violence. Before Bonnie and Clyde, gunfire deaths were sterile affairs. This was the first to depict bloodshed graphically and realistically, and several shots are simply jarring, meant to force the audience to wrangle with what’s entertaining them. At the end, after the climactic, ghastly shootout, the onlookers gather around the bullet-pocked bodies. They want to see what it looks like.

10. Heat (1995)

Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Tom Sizemore

What’s the score? $1.6 million in bearer bonds. Then $12 million in bank money. So, $13.6 million.
Who’s calling the shots? Neil McCauley, a thief so good even the detective tracking him respects him.
Would I rob a bank with him? Despite McCauley’s skills, his heists tend to end up in shootouts. And I’m not trying to get sucked into a life of crime, which seems inevitable in his crew. So, I’d have to be very, very desperate. 

What happens? At nearly 3 hours long, Michael Mann’s masterpiece takes its time—not detailing the robberies, which are swift and violent, but rather the characters on both sides, led by Lieutenant Vincent Harris (Pacino) and an accomplished, top-quality thief, Neil McCauley (DeNiro). A raving, entirely consumed-by-his-job officer, Harris can’t save his third marriage from crumbling because he’s obsessively tracking McCauley, who starts falling in love with a graphic designer, breaking his prison-learned rule: “don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat...” Midway through the film, the two put on an acting clinic in a coffee shop as they realize they’re two sides of the same coin: two guys who only know how to do one job and don’t really want to do anything else. And so, as a result, they brush aside everything that impinges upon their jobs, including those they purport to love. Eschewing the glitzier, postmodern trends in crime thrillers, Mann sincerely explores the inner lives of his characters: a cop and a robber who have only ever been fully understood and accepted once—by a stranger, for five minutes, over a cup of coffee.

9. Die Hard (1988)

Director: John McTiernan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia

What’s the score? $640 million in bearer bonds
Who’s calling the shots? Hans Gruber, a flashy and ambitious vault robber that uses terrorism as a front.
Would I rob a bank with him? No. Hans literally needed to snag one executive as he wobbled drunk out of the Christmas party to pull off his planned job, and there would have been no witnesses. Like Paul Ryan, he looks and talks like a mastermind, but really, he’s just a guy who will let people die so he can get more money. 

What happens? The only difference between a good guy robbing a bank and a bad guy robbing a bank is their approach to the hostages. If Hans Gruber (Rickman) hadn’t been so willing to kill, he might be the good guy in this picture. Think about it: he’s trying to rob the Nakatomi corporation—which makes unknown products and employs sleaze-sacks like this dude—of $640 million in bearer bonds to teach them a lesson about greed. His terrorism is purportedly just a distraction. Add a little more context and if this movie got made in 2009, he’d be the good guy. But the 80’s loved capitalism and so, to defend a mysterious corporation, barefoot cop John McClane (Willis) does his darndest to save the hostages which include his estranged wife. He walkie-talkies with a donut-loving cop while he and Hans play some cheeky games of cat-and-mouse that involve a lot of C4. Eventually, Hans is undone by choosing the Christmas Party as the time for a robbery and not several hours later—when there LITERALLY WOULD HAVE BEEN NO ONE THERE, Hans, you idiot. Even still, Die Hard is a pillar in action movie history. It’s a film that knows how to tip-toe down the line between cheesy and dope, while still crafting likable characters with believable relationships—oh, and there’s a ton of sweet explosions. That too.

8. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Director: John Cleese, Charles Crichton
Starring: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin

What’s the score? Jewels worth 13 million pounds.
Who’s calling the shots? Wanda, a con woman who will flirt with you, then ruin your life.
Would I rob a bank with her? She doesn’t do anything particularly exceptional during the robbery, but she can turn dudes into babbling bozos at will. So, if I was semi-desperate, I’d rob a bank with her as the distraction.

What happens? Monty Python’s John Cleese wrote, directed and stars in the funniest heist movie ever made. In it, George, a wealthy thief, his seductive American girlfriend Wanda (Curtis), a stuttering animal lover, Ken (Palin), and a Nietzsche-reading numbskull, Otto (Kline), steal a load of diamonds. Otto and Wanda double-cross George, but their plans fail as he has moved the diamonds without telling them. In an attempt to find their location, Wanda woos George’s lawyer, Archie (Cleese), a posh Brit who loathes his life and loves Wanda for her free-spiritedness which is a marked contrast to the English’s mortal fear of embarrassment—to paraphrase him. For the rest of the film, everybody basically takes turns lying to each other in the verbal equivalent of those Scooby-Doo scenes set in multi-doored hallways, before Wanda chooses the man she wants to spend her life with. Jamie Lee Curtis slays, John Cleese plays the perfect straight man and Kevin Kline delivers an all-time comedic performance as a delightfully unhinged idiot who can’t stand to be called stupid, for which he won an Oscar. Like a lot of Python, it’s brilliant silliness that’s occasionally interrupted by jaw-droppingly concise observations on the human condition. Like a sweet potato for your brain, it’s both tasty and nutritious.

7. Rififi (1955)

Director: Jules Dassin
Starring: Jean Servais, Jules Dassin, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel

What’s the score? 240 million francs in the 1950’s. So a lot. 
Who’s calling the shots? Tony, a very good, albeit recently jailed thief.
Would I rob a bank with him? Yes, but only if everybody does exactly as Tony says. In the movie, the safecracker gives his girlfriend a stolen ring, which leads to the whole thing unraveling. So, assuming that everybody follows Tony’s directions, I’d be pretty much down—especially considering he goes for moon-shots, so the risk-reward is pretty favorable.

What happens? After five years in prison, Tony (Servais—think Belgian Humphrey Bogart) meets up with his protege, Jo, and another thief, Mario, to discuss a job. Tony declines, but then after a violent interaction with his former lover who has moved onto a crime boss, Pierre, Tony decides he wants to steal diamonds. Over a breathless 28-minute stretch, they break into the apartment above a jewelry shop, cut a hole in the ceiling, muffle the alarm with a fire extinguisher, screech through the back of the safe and make off with the diamonds. It’s a timeless scene. But then, Pierre, hears of the theft and kidnaps Jo’s child to ransom the cash made off the fenced rocks. In typically French fashion, everyone ends up miserable or dead. And before it all goes wrong, the best exchange comes from Jo’s wife, when she asks him why he ended up a criminal, a “tough guy,” unlike all of the other poor kids he grew up with. And when he shrugs, she responds, “They’re the tough guys. Not you,” effectively puncturing the glamour of the heist in the first film that put together all of the elements that would go on to comprise this prolific sub-genre. Rififi is the cornerstone upon which all heist movies have been built. 

6. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen

What’s the score? A valuable set of diamonds. 
Who’s calling the shots? Joe, a mob boss with a careful and successful history. But everybody starts looking out for themselves once the job goes wrong.
Would I rob a bank with them? Honestly, I feel like this movie gives a bad first impression. They’re professionals in matching suits. If I’m going to rob a bank, that’s who I want to rob a bank with.

What happens? In the film that made Tarantino’s stardom inevitable, he hops around chronologically while documenting the stressful before-and-after of a bank robbery gone wrong. Outfitting a crew of his regulars in black-and-white suits, the majority of the flick takes place in the warehouse where the criminals’ rendezvous after a stick-up turns into a shootout that leaves one (Tarantino) dead and another painfully wounded in the gut (Roth). The pot starts to bubble as the police’s suspiciously quick response time raises the possibility that there’s a rat among the colorfully christened cons, especially when Mr. Orange shoots Mr. Blonde before he can ignite a kidnapped, gasoline-soaked police officer with an ear missing. When Joe, the boss who assembled the crew, arrives, they start pointing fingers, then guns as old allegiances fracture. Complete with the director’s signature crackling dialogue, exceptional soundtrack and sopping red violence, Reservoir Dogs showcases how, with his words, Tarantino only needs good actors and a barebones set to make a classic. 

5. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon

What’s the score? About 10 grand plus a limo ride to a private jet.
Who’s calling the shots? Sonny, a fidgety thief with some serious drama in his personal life.
Would I rob a bank with him? No. Sonny is very likable and compellingly human, but he is a bad bank robber.

What happens? In a mind-bending true story, a gay Vietnam veteran, Sonny, (Pacino) sticks up a Brooklyn bank to pay for the sex change surgery of his lover (Sarandon). When he’s found out, he locks the bank doors and starts figuring out a plan. With him, there’s his slow-witted partner (Cazale), a diabetic bank manager and a host of bank-telling ladies. With his eyes bugged and mind-whirring, Sonny becomes an unwitting media sensation and starts hamming it up for the gathered by tossing fistfuls of cash and screaming “Attica” as a callback to a prison massacre carried out by the police. As everybody sweats in the midday heat, Sonny begins to realize the consequences of his actions for his mother, his wife and his lover. Director Sidney Lumet captures the afternoon as realistically as possible, finding natural moments for humor to bubble up between moments of toe-squirming tension. He crafts a movie without good guys or bad guys, just people trying to get through a hot day with different goals. It doesn’t fit the genre’s conventions, which is funny, because it’s probably the closest to capturing what a heist would actually look like.

4. The Killing (1956)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Sterling Hayden, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr. 

What’s the score? $2 million. Apparently enough for several guys to have it made in the 50’s. 
Who’s calling the shots? Johnny Preston, recently freed, meticulously-planning thief.
Would I rob a bank with him? Johnny is very good at making plans, but perhaps too good as they’re complicated and prone to be unraveled by several unforeseen variables. If he kept it simpler, I might be down, though I’d have to be significantly desperate.

What happens? In Stanley Kubrick’s first feature debut, he shows his obsession with chess by crafting a heist full of interconnected, moving parts. Shot in black-and-white, he centers around Johnny Preston (Hayden), a thief who just got out after a five-year sentence, who plans to rob a racetrack on the day of a massive race. To pull off the caper, Johnny enlists a crooked cop, a boulder-sized wrestler, a clench-jawed sharpshooter, a bartender with a dying wife and a teller (Cook Jr.) who’s wrapped around the finger of his wife (Windsor). In turn, she plots with the man she’s having an affair with to steal the $2 million haul. Narrated in no-nonsense newsreel style, Kubrick masterfully builds tension by following each character to their position just before the critical moment, then starting over again and again. And once they’re set, the pieces started flying around the board in a sequence he follows with his trademark tracking shots. The dialogue is chockful of old-school banter, the knuckle-biting plot is years ahead of its time and the penultimate scene is as beautifully shot as it is deliciously ironic as it is gutting. Kubrick was, is and ever shall be, the man. 

3. The Sting (1973)

Director: George Roy Hill
Starring: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw

What’s the score? $500,000, which was a lot more money in the 1930’s.
Who’s calling the shots? John Hooker and Henry Gondorff, two first-ballot, Hall-of-Fame con men.
Would I rob a bank with them? These men orchestrate an elaborate, dedicated ruse to rob a guy who would kill them if he found out. And the whole time, they’re smirking. Even if I had a secure job with benefits, I’d probably take them up on an offer.

What happens? In this winner of 1974’s Best Picture and Best Director, Robert Redford and Paul Newman are more handsome and charismatic than any other pair of humans had been until that time. Fresh off the success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Redford stars as John Hooker, a gambling addicted con man whose partner retires after they clear thousands off a pigeon drop. The partner recommends Johnny meet up with Henry Gondorff (Newman), a legend hiding out from the police. But Johnny and his partner have accidentally ripped off mob boss, Doyle Lonnegan. He kills Hooker’s partner for this, causing Hooker to seek revenge with Gondorff in the form of the most intricate con in history where they create an entire fake gambling hall and horse race to bilk Lonnegan out of a half-mil. Redford and Newman orchestrate the multiple layers of deception with panache and once-in-a-generation chemistry, punctuating their movements with a nose-touching gesture that’s way suaver than it sounds. Set to merry-go-round ragtime music, it’s too complicated to explain here, but rest assured the film is dazzling, unpredictable and well-deserving of its Best Picture status. 

2. The Usual Suspects (1995)

Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Benicio Del Toro

What’s the score? $91 million dollar shipment of cocaine. Supposedly. 
Who’s calling the shots? Considering he’s the only one of the crew to make it, Verbal Kint.
Would I rob a bank with them? They’re professional, seasoned criminals, which makes them good at stealing, but bad at being trustworthy. Still, if I needed money and robbing a bank was the only way to do it, they’d be among the top people to call.

What happens? Keyser Söze is not a man to steal from. Legend holds that when he came home to his wife raped and children threatened by extorters, he didn’t attempt to save them. Rather, he murdered his family, then their kidnappers, then their families, then disappeared to manage his massive underworld empire. So when five cons learn they’ve all unknowingly ripped Söze off, and he wants them to destroy a cocaine-trafficking rival’s $91 million shipment in exchange for this offense—they’re not in a position to decline. With a character actor line-up that fits together like the 2004 Detroit Pistons, Benicio del Toro stands out for his flamboyant mumbling, Stephen Baldwin for his icy-blue insanity and Kevin Spacey for his Oscar-winning turn as the constantly calculating, yet seemingly helpless con man, Verbal Kint. The swirling script also won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. And the way it cultivates a sense of cloudy mystery for the whole movie that clears in one instant has rarely been matched. It’s the best film on this list, but not the best heist film.

1. Ocean's Eleven (2001)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Julia Roberts

What’s the score? $160,000,000
Who’s calling the shots? Danny Ocean, dashing thief extraordinaire
Would I rob a bank with him? Yes. He robs the richest, scummiest people with the coolest crew ever and gets away almost completely clean. If I could join the Ocean’s crew, I would never ask for anything ever again in my entire life. 

What Happens? Beyond spawning three sequels, Ocean’s Eleven stands on its own and remains the absolute pinnacle of the heist flick, starting with its deliriously fun rounding-up-the-gang montage which has Clooney and a neck-tattooed Pitt just oozing superstar gravitas as they recruit a high-ceiling thieving prospect (Damon), a crotchety blackjack dealer (Bernie Mac), a cheeky demolitions expert (Don Cheadle) and a score of other specialized cons. They rendezvous at a luxe Vegas pad to discuss robbing Tony Benedict (Garcia), who owns three of the strip’s biggest casinos on the night of a nine-figure prize fight. But it ain’t just about the money. Clooney’s true love, Tess (Roberts) is with Benedict, something Ocean hopes to also change with this heist. Like he did with Out of Sight, Soderbergh gets the Clooney and Roberts’ conversations to crackle. The crew’s plan, which is spectacular, unfolds over the last quarter of the film and basically entails a successive string of alley-oops dunked right on Benedict’s head. Then in the iconic, perfect ending, they play themselves out with a little Clare de Lune while they stare at the Bellagio’s dancing fountains.

Ocean’s Eleven checks all the boxes you want in a heist film. But the reason it stands atop the list is that no movie better imparts the feeling every viewer seeks when settling into a heist film, the feeling that, for the rest of their life, they’ll never have to work again. 

Latest in Pop Culture