What is the best heist movie?

Morten Tyldum’s thrillingly perverse adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s novel The Headhunters puts an art thief into a situation he can’t control. Top 10 Films looks at some great recent heist movies.

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A crew of people, a prominent target and a strategic plan – all aspects needed to qualify as a heist. Putting these aspects on screen has created some of the most memorable films, making the heist genre one of the most popular.

Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters is released on Blu-ray and DVD on August 13th. It focuses on Roger Brown, a man who seemingly has it all until he discovers his life is based on a lie. He is a well-known headhunter with a pretty wife, gigantic mansion and everything else he could ever want. However, his biggest secret revolves around maintaining this lavish lifestyle – as an art thief. When his finances hit rock bottom, he attempts to pull off his biggest art heist yet. Things don’t go to plan with chilling secrets revealed, backstabbing and murder. Suddenly the man who has it all, has nothing. He’s on the run and he doesn’t know who to trust. As Top 10 Films looks forward to watching Headhunters’ new take on the heist formula – and its different, dark and often comical nature – we’ve been inspired to look at other unforgettable movie robberies.

Quick Change (1990)

Bill Murray shows how dangerous a clown can be in one of the top heist movies ever. He stars as Grimm, a grumpy New Yorker who plots a heist on a bank with the help of two accomplices. Although the heist goes smoothly, stealing the money is only part of the job. When the three robbers attempt to make their escape from New York City, things start to spiral in a very bad direction for them.

Point Break (1991)

One of the most important things in making a heist successful is having a captivating leader. Patrick Swayze stars as Bodhi, who seems just an ordinary surfer, when really he’s the leader of the Ex-Presidents gang– a crew of felons who rob banks wearing Nixon, Reagan and Carter masks. Keanu Reeves stars as a rookie FBI Agent who goes undercover to catch the robbers, but as he gets drawn in by Bodhi’s charismatic personality, he has to make the decision of a life time.

Heat (1995)

With one of the greatest shootout scenes in film, Heat sets the bar for robbery, shootout and escape scenes in the heist genre. Robert De Niro stars as a successful thief, who is considering leaving the business for good after one last heist, while Al Pacino stars as a compulsive cop who desperately wants to lock De Niro up before he does. De Niro and Pacino both know a heist is being conspired, as each man keeps a close watch on the other.

Entrapment (1999)

Sean Connery stars as an international art thief, while Catherine Zeta-Jones stars as an insurance investigator sent to question him about stealing a Rembrandt painting from an office. She persuades him with a plan to steal a Chinese mask from a heavily secured palace. After they successfully steal the mask, Connery accuses her of plotting to turn him in– until she informs him of yet another heist for the duo to plot.

Heist (2001)

Gene Hackman stars as Joe Moore, a renowned jewel thief whose life and career become endangered when he’s caught on security cameras. He finds out that his fence, Bergman, breaks his word on the money he’s owed and his wife may be cheating on him with the fence’s nephew. As Moore and his crew are left broke, betrayed and blackmailed, they are forced to do Bergman’s last big heist for the payday of a lifetime.

Oceans 11 (2001)

Using some of the best looking stars, a bit of humour and a well-thought out plan, perfectly exemplifies the modern heist genre. George Clooney stars as Danny Ocean; an ex-con who gets out of jail and instantly puts together an ultimate crew of ten men. As each of the members specializes in something different, they strategically plan a heist on a casino that’s run by an oblivious CEO dating Ocean’s ex-wife.

Inside Man (2006)

Dressed in painter outfits, Dalton Russell’s crew enters a bank and within seconds, they put the bank under a strategically planned heist as they disable the surveillance cameras and take everyone hostage. The NYPD detectives arrive on the scene to contact Russell and ensure the safety of the hostages. However, things don’t go as planned as Russell’s perfect bank robbery leaves the hostages and authorities dumbfounded.

The Bank Job (2008)

Inspired by the infamous 1971 London bank robbery, the plot twists keep an intriguing edge throughout the film. As a struggling car dealer with a wife and kids to take care of, Terry Leather is constantly worrying about money. When Martine, a model from his old neighbourhood, tells him of a flawless heist plan, he takes the risky chance of a life time and robs the bank. What Terry doesn’t realise is that Martine has an ulterior motive– one that is much bigger than anything he or his crew could imagine.

The Town (2010)

This film brings some of most thrilling robbery scenes in film history. While sometimes dressing up in the infamous nun costumes- Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner star as two childhood friends who pull off armed heists for a dangerous mobster. When Affleck’s character starts to build a relationship with one of his robbery victims, things begin to get complicated for the crew as they set out to execute the ultimate robbery.

Inception (2010)

Built like a classic heist film- the crew, the plot and the execution- but having it all happen inside the subconscious mind adds an entirely different twist to the genre. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, an expert in raiding the minds of his targets while they sleep to steal their secrets. When he is assigned to plant a thought instead of steal one, the difficult heist skyrockets to a whole new level.

Find out how Roger gets on in Headhunters, on Blu-ray and DVD August 13th.

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Your turn – what are your favourite heist films?

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Blandine Etienne Reply

    Two of my favorites are Rififi and Bound. The French classic Rififi features a long sequence in silence, yet is still riveting. Bound is great with its double crosses and two female leads. I’ve never seen a better performance from either actress.

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    Jack Deth Reply

    Hi, all:

    Excellent catch with ‘The Bank Job’! Would also include ‘Thief’ for its then unique method of cutting a door in a massive diamond vault. Also, the little known, superior gem, ‘Charley Varrick’. Not so much for the heist itself, but for Walter Matthau’s game of wits against Joe Don Bakers’ retrieval specialist, Molly.

    ‘Bound’ is also a fine suggestion.

  3. Avatar
    Fogs' Movie Reviews Reply

    LOL. I love seeing “Quick Change” on this list. Bill Murray’s only directorial effort, I’ve been told 😀 Fun little flick too.

    Nowhere near best though, that would have to be either “Heat” or “The Town”. I love a lot of movies on this list, a lot of them are great. I think “Inside Man” is a great flick, too, but I need me a big ‘ol shootout! 😀

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    Eric Reply

    Great topic, and a strong list. Another one to consider is The Asphalt Jungle, a gritty Film Noir that has an epic 11-minute heist scene as its centerpiece.

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    PG Cooper Reply

    Heat is probably my favourite, but I also love Inception, Ocean’s Eleven, and Reservoir Dogs.

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    mark Reply

    Does The Wild Bunch count? Film starts with a failed heist (spawning one of the great bloody battles in cinematic history), before moving onto a fantastic train robbery in the middle.

    Also, has anyone seen The Dead Presidents? Starts off being a Vietnam movie before the protangonists rob a payroll truck on a cold Sunday morning in what looks like downtown Manhattan. I’m a bit wary of films that are directed by “brothers” (read The Matrix), but this one was pretty good.

    What about The Brinks Job, which was kinda significant as it was Friedkin’s first film after the (then) Sorcerer fiasco? Personally I’d watch it again (if I could find it on DVD).

    Also, my ex brother-in-law raved about $$$ when it was shown on TV back in early 1981. From memory (and I may be wrong here) it was released down here in Oz (circa 1974) as Heist and starred Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn. What I found interesting was that, some 30 years later, it got very little coverage in Peter Suskind’s biography on Beatty, despite the author’s insistence on rabbiting on about Beatty’s penchant for being a perfectioninst (such as the anecdote regarding the repeated takes of a stirring of a cup of coffee in The Parralax View). It was made by Richard Brooks, who arguably was one of the great American unofficial auteurs of the 50s/60s/70s (along with John Huston).

    OK, on the subject of Brooks – In Cold Blood was kind of a heist movie. Arguably one of the greatest black and white films ever made.

    Finally, note to Jack Deth: All I remember about the start of Charley Varrack was the way he disposed of his wife. Kinda brutal (but typical of Siegal, I guess). Thinking about it, was it Sheree North? If so, did you see her in the Tom Gries/Bronson 1975 thing called Breakout with Robert Duvall? Man, was she hot.

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    Sam Fragoso Reply

    Missing a lot of the older films:

    The Sting
    The Killing
    Reservoir Dogs
    Three Kings
    The Score

    Fun list to read overall!

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    There is a recent film that came out from IFC films called “Flypaper” it’s a madcap bank heist film….incredibly hilarious dark comedy stars Ashley Judd & Patrick Dempsey. worth checking out I probably would put low on the list.

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    ruth Reply

    I’ve seen all of them except for Quick Change and yeah they’re all great heist flicks. I really want to rewatch HEAT one of these days!

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    I personally would include “Killing Zoe” on the list. I absolutely love this film Eric Stoltz and Julie Delpy are simply amazing in this explosive bank heist gone completely wrong turning into a blood bath of destruction! Produced by Tarantino and written by Roger Avary.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    Neal: I found Flypaper to be fun with a great cast but too improbable for me. I didn’t really get Dempsey’s character and there seemed to be way too many random things that he figured out in the film. It was a good idea and well executed imo but it could have gone through another draft before being greenlit.

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