Top 10 Crime Gone Wrong Films

Neal Damiano joins the bank robbers and the jewel thieves, the cops giving chase and the unwitting victims caught in the crossfire as Top 10 Films checks out the greatest crime-gone-wrong movies…

10. Heat (Mann, 1995)

Heat, Mann, De Niro, Pacino, Crime, Top 10 Films,We waited for years to see arguably the two greatest actors of this generation team up in a film. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino come together to make one of the most exciting crime films in the last 25 years. Heat delivers with storyline and action, and when you throw in Tom Sizemore and Val Kilmer, you got yourself an all star cast. Michael Mann did the film correctly, De Niro plays a much better bad guy absent of empathy than a romantic and Pacino pulls off a straitlaced good guy so well. In my opinion, Heat has one of the most electrifying shootout scenes in cinema history.

9. Killing Zoe (Avary, 1994)

Killing Zoe, Top 10 Films, Roger Avary created an extremely violent bank heist film with Killing Zoe. Eric Stoltz stars as an american safecracker, who travels to France to help an old friend played by french actor John Hughes Anglade pull off a bank robbery. Things start to spiral out of control when his friend is completely out of his mind on drugs and psychotic episodes. Anglade plays such a madman shooting everything in sight including his own men. Not someone to tangle with at all. Things soon get worst when he finds out Stoltz has fallen for a call girl (Julie Delpy) the night before, who just happens to be a teller at the bank. Full of action and violence Killing Zoe has one of the most graphic, bloodiest shooting massacres I have ever seen. In my opinion it is one of Stoltz’s greatest performances in film.

8. The Killing (Kubrick, 1956)

The Killing, Top 10 Films, The Killing is considered one of the most influential heist films in history and rightfully so. Stanley Kubrick made a crime masterpiece where story comes before action. Five guys get together to pull off one more heist. One of the men just can’t seem to keep the heist secret, blabbing to his girlfriend plans to rob a racetrack. It becomes a game of who is loyal and who is the snitch, as each one envisions how it’s going to play out. The cinematography is quite stunning for a crime film considering what Kubrick had for a budget.

7. Heist (Mamet, 2001)

Heist, Top 10 Films, David Mamet directs a clever crime film starring Gene Hackman as an expert thief looking to retire from crime and settle down with his wife. But when a jewelry heist goes wrong, Hackman and his men are forced to pull off one more very risky job to steal a shipment of gold bars from a Swiss plane. Heist is full of non-stop action and intense acting especially from Danny Devito, known for playing comedic roles really strectches himself as a sleazy dealer of stolen goods. Full of double crosses and set ups, Hackman doesn’t know who to trust including his own wife.

6. The Getaway (Peckinpah, 1972)

The Getaway, Top 10 Films, Sam Peckinpah directed this enigmatic crime thriller starring Steve McQueen as a Texas ex-con hired by the politicians responsible for his parole to take part in a bank robbery. The heist drastically goes awry leaving McQueen to take the fall. He takes off with the money and his wife heading to the Mexican border. McQueen puts on such a charismatic performance so you can’t help but root for him in the end. Again, a crime film that centers more on the dialogue than the high end action in crime films.

5. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Yates, 1973)

The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Top 10 Films, The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a very good example of gritty 70s cinema. Made in 1973 it was quite violent for the time and personified the character-centered film. Eddie Coyle is a low down criminal looking to make one more score he gathers his friends for a bank heist. He has the kind of friends that would sell their own mother down the river if it meant saving their own tail. Eddie Coyle gravitates towards the seedy underworld, where crooked cops look the other way for an easy pay-out. Coyle is jaded, but it’s the only world he’s ever known. Robert Mitchum plays Coyle endearingly very innocent looking but calculating on the inside. A highly influential crime film.

4. Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino, 1992)

Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino, Top 10 FilmsQuentin Tarantino, having been inspired by several crime noir films of the 1970s, made one of the most entertaining independent films of the nineties. It’s clear to see Tarantino was highly influenced by the gritty violence and raw emotion of 1970’s cinema. He brought back the crime films of that era, where the dialogue and story are just as important as the action. He held nothing back in Reservoir Dogs creating one of the most bloodiest, violent scenes in film history involving a straight edge razor and an ear. The dialogue is quite humorous and the criminals are actually likable but when it’s time for business they do not play games. When a bank heist goes array they soon find one of their own is an undercover informant. What I think is cool, there’s sort of a mystery behind the title of the film. Tarantino never revealed the meaning behind Reservoir Dogs and people still try to figure it out today.

3. The Usual Suspects (Singer, 1995)

The Usual Suspects, Top 10 Films, Crime Films, Heist Films, In mid 1990s there was a resurgence of indie romantic films. Crime movies were sort of put on the backdrop. That all changed when Bryan Singer released The Usual Suspects, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating films in history. Keyser Soze is a bit of a legend; how we get to know Keyser Soze in the course of this film is utter brilliance. Remember the old childhood game, where you would use objects around you to makeup a story? Well, put that game in a police interrogation scene and you have pure genuis. Four criminals and a crooked ex-cop team up for a multi-million dollar heist but the fear of the myth behind crime lord Keyser Soze creates paranoia and it turns into a bloodbath. An all star cast including a young Kevin Spacey, who puts on a radiating performance as the the mythical character, is he or isn’t he Keyser Soze? A very witty and complex thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

2. The French Connection (Friedkin, 1971)

The French Connection, Top 10 FilmsGene Hackman gives one of the best performances of his career as Detective Popeye Doyle teaming up with Roy Scheider to crack down a heroin ring. William Friedkin directs a very fast crime caper set in New York City where cop Doyle is obsessed with taking down a French heroin supplier. Again, grimy dialogue and raw violence we don’t see in cinema today. Doyle is forced to work with the federal agents as the case gets closer. Hackman hits all the right notes, giving such a convincing performance, you can literally feel his frustration through the screen. The French Connection displays a dingy side of New York circa 1970 with pimps, hookers, and drug addicts flooding the alley ways; it’s a gritty, realistic look at the drug problem during the period when heroin was starting to come into America. It includes one of the best car chase scenes in film history. Winner of five Academy Awards and rightfully so, including Best Picture and Actor.

1. Dog Day Afternoon (Lumet, 1975)

Dog Day Afternoon, Film, Sidney Lumet, Al Pacino,Based on a crazy police case that happened in the 1970s, director Sidney Lumet delivers a masterpiece bank heist film starring Al Pacino as a desperate family man who plans a local bank robbery to pay for his gay lovers sex change operation. The robbery goes incredibly wrong leading Pacino to a highly publicized hostage stand off that makes him a media sensation. What I particularly loved about this film is Pacino’s character becomes somewhat of a likable anti-hero despite what he has done. Significantly, Dog Day Afternoon was one of the first films to deal with sensationalizing people who rebel against the system. At one point the hostages start rooting him on and actually help him. The film benefits from exceptional acting by Al Pacino and John Cazale, who plays his crime partner, and includes an unforgettable scene where Pacino finally comes out of the bank and starts chanting “Attica Attica” as the crowd chants along creating an all out riot. Some say it’s a little long winded but given the story content what do you expect?

Written and compiled by Neal Damiano.

What are your fave crime-gone-wrong movies? Let us know…

About the Author
Neal Damiano calls himself “an unhip film geek” who mixes his passion for movies with an enthusiasm for travel, music and journalism.

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    Josh Millican Reply

    Two of my favorites (both also in the horror genre, surprise surprise): Botched and The Cottage.

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    Cary Watson Reply

    Almost all heist films seem to be about heists that eventually go awry, but one of my favourites (it won’t be to everyone’s taste) is THEY CAME TO ROB LAS VEGAS, a 1968 Euro production that brings the mood and look of a spaghetti western to an ambitiously plotted story set in Vegas and L.A. My review:

    • Avatar
      Neal Damiano Reply

      @Cary The title originally was Top 10 Crime/ Heist Gone Wrong films.

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    Davis Reply

    Great list! Love a good crime-gone-awry movie. Dog Day Afternoon has to be the greatest!

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    Todd E Reply

    Dog Day Afternoon… Without a doubt, Lumet is king! Great list!

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    CineGirl Reply

    One of my fave crime gone wrong films is Ruthless People. I love how it continually spirals out of control, eventually into total farce.

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      Dan Reply

      Good one CineGirl, definitely one of my favourite 80s comedies. This gets me thinking of the brilliant and underrated Quick Change with Bill Murray pulling off a bank job only to be hounded through the city as the cops give chase. You are willing him to escape.

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    Dan Reply

    Love this top 10 Neal – a real diversity of films and time periods and styles. And what a great selection of filmmakers. I can’t fault your choice for number one. Dog Day Afternoon features my favourite Al Pacino performance and thanks to Lumet we get characters we can sympathise with and whose endeavours, despite their criminality, become something we can support.

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    Mette Reply

    Does The Taking of Pelham 123 count? Because that one is awesome (the original…)

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    David Neary Reply

    The Killing. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Le Cercle Rouge.

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    Kost Reply

    Riffiffi, The Asphalt Jungle, Heat

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    Colin Biggs Reply


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    Paul A J Lewis Reply

    Carl Colpaert’s neo-noir DELUSION is a good, sadly largely forgotten, one; as is anything by John Dahl (eg, RED ROCK WEST).

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    Kevin Meany Reply

    I think Dog Day Afternoon is a great shout, Asphalt Jungle, And Heat are two great ones too I reckon

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    Mark Fraser Reply

    Outta sight, Neal.

    Possible additions:

    The Town …. a big shoot out that derivative of Heat, but still done pretty well.

    The Anderson Tapes … Chris Walken gets killed in his debut movie.

    Across 110th Street … the heist ain’t as clean as the boys from the ‘hood would have liked – plus they steal mob money.

    Wild at Heart …. Willem Defoe goes nuts.

    Dead Presidents … the heist doesn’t go to plan; plus the robbers use too much dynamite when they blow the doors off the armoured car.

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    Rodney Reply

    Ha ha, that first one I could spot coming a mile away! LOL!!

    I must say, I was a bit disappointed with HEIST, with Hackman and Co, it just seemed to lack momentum and fluidity and I found it… well, dull. I might have to rewatch it (I think I have it in my DVD collection somewhere0 and reappraise it.

    All the others are on point.

    PS: no love for RONIN, at all?

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      imitator joe Reply

      Heist has some really good bits and some not-so good bits. I love the ensemble cast but it could have been better.

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    dean Reply

    Great list. The Getaway is one of my favorites but it seems to be forgotten about these days. So many casual film viewers seem to have a mind-blank when it comes to Peckinpah. It’s strange that The Getaway has almost disappeared – it’s never on TV! – but it’s one of the director’s most accessible films and who can forget that chemistry between McQueen and Ali MacGraw (who were having an “alleged” affair behind MacGraw’s husband, film producer Robert Evans’ back).

    I second the motion to add Quick Change – wish Bill Murray had directed more movies.

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    Gregory Patterson Reply

    The Adam Sandler film (before he was famous) Airheads features a good hostage-taking-gone-wrong. I like it. Not sure it would knock any of these off the top 10 but I do have to see a few of the older ones.

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    Grace Reply

    Great to see Killing Zoe!

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    Judd Reply

    My fave from this list is Reservoir Dogs – love how we never see the “job”, only the aftermath.

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    ArchE Reply

    Oh. Wow. Someone mentioned The Friends of Eddie Coyle. I salute you, Sir Neal.

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    Paul Upton Reply

    Not quite crime gone wrong but crime-bringing-unwitting-victims/participants to the table would be Romancing The Stone. Great list though Neal. Some classics on here.

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    Callum Reply

    Good job Neal. I’m a big fan of Reservoir Dogs and The Usual Suspects so I’m eager to check out some of these others. Never even heard of Eddie Coyle and have been wanting to see The Getaway for ages. Thanks for the recommendations.

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    Murat Reply

    Great to see The Friends of Eddie Coyle get a mention.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    Thank you all so much for reading my work and the feedback :-). I’m very proud of this list.

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      ArchE Reply

      Well done, Sir.

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      Callum Reply

      Really great list Neal. 🙂

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    Neal Damiano Reply


    Wow, well thank you…..I’ve just been knighted, lol.

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    Evan Crean Reply

    Some great films in your list Neal. My personal favorites are Heat, The Killing, Reservoir Dogs, and The Usual Suspects. I hadn’t seen The Killing until this year, but my god did it blow me away. What a tense film. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time just waiting for it all to go wrong.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    Can’t believe I missed this one when you first wrote it, Neal. Lots of traffic films on here and of course two of my favorites you have included. The Usual Suspects and Heat are two of the finest films ever made in my opinion. Well done buddy.

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