The caper movie is one of the most enduring genres of them all. But the key to a truly great caper movie is how it blurs the distinction between good and bad, right and wrong.
The following list contains some of the very best, and in many of them, the beauty lies in the fact that even the most upright and moral of us will be cheering on the thieves and wanting them to get away with the loot. How many of them have you seen?
The original 1960 rat pack production is well worth a look, but it has inevitably been overshadowed by Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 blockbuster. These days, thanks to online innovations like Mr Green’s Live Beyond Live, we are all familiar with how a casino works. Yet far from diluting the mystique, it just makes the heist masterminded by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and the rest all the more audacious.
For many, this is the definitive caper movie. Robert Redford and Paul Newman team up once again, hot on the heels of their success as Butch and Sundance, in a film that has it all. From the initial encounter on the train to the climax of the Big Con, there is not a single false step. The 1930s set pieces are lovingly created, and the Scott Joplin soundtrack is the cherry on the top.
The Lavender Hill Mob
No list of caper movies can leave out this 1951 Ealing comedy that arguably invented the genre. It stars Alec Guinness as a young bank clerk who dreams up an audacious robbery, bringing together an unlikely gang to pull it off. Watch closely and you’ll catch a glimpse of a young Audrey Hepburn in a supporting role.
Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels
Is it really 20 years since Guy Richie’s wry take on the Tarantino gangster formula hit our screens? The movie takes the word “gritty” to new levels as we delve into London’s criminal underworld. It was also the film that brought Vinnie Jones and Jason Statham to worldwide movie fame.
The Italian Job
Like Ocean’s Eleven, this film was first released in the 1960s and was remade for the new millennium. But in this case, it is the original, starring Michael Caine, that everyone remembers. “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off” was voted the best line in movie history in a 2003 survey and the final scene gives new meaning to the word “cliffhanger.”
A Fish Called Wanda
37 years after directing the Lavender Hill Mob, Charles Crichton returned at the age of 78 to bring us another Academy Award winning classic. The all-star cast includes John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Palin, while the plot takes in a jewel heist, some bungled attempts to murder an old lady and, of course, a fish called Wanda.
The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three
Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau are in top form in this 1974 offering that sees a team of criminals take a subway train hostage. As time ticks by, it emerges that there is more at stake than the million dollar ransom demand. This is gritty 70s fim noir at its best.