Good Heist Movies

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 6:45 pm

Good heist movies involve a person or persons trying to steal something, and a number of plot twists often threaten to derail their carefully-laid plans. Sometimes played for laughs (Ocean’s Eleven) and sometimes deadly serious (Heat), these crime films will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final frames. But which heist films are worth seeing?

The following movies have been screened by yours truly, and I can attest that they’re all above-average. In fact, referring to them as “good heist movies” would be perfectly appropriate. Join me now for a look at those films featuring guys (and gals) sliding under electronic sensors, wielding automatic weapons, and generally looking damned cool in the process.

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Reservoir Dogs (1992) – Quentin Tarantino makes his mark in this stylistic, blood-soaked homage to the heist movie. Instead of actually seeing a robbery being carried out, the bulk of the action focuses on what happens afterwards. Bristling with hip dialogue and electric performances, Reservoir Dogs features Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Steve Buscemi.

Heat (1995) – Michael Mann directs, while Al Pacino and Robert De Niro star (in their first on-screen scene together). De Niro plays Neil McCauley, a hardened criminal who’s looking to pull off one last job and retire with his newly-found romantic interest (Amy Brenneman). Pacino, meanwhile, is Lt. Vincent Hanna, a member of the LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division dedicated to bringing down McCauley and his crew. The most notable part of the film is the extended shootout scene in which both crooks and cops riddle downtown with thousands of rounds of ammo. Also starring Ashley Judd, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, and Jon Voight.

The Score (2001) – Another heist film starring Robert De Niro, but this time he’s far more likable as a professional safe cracker who wants to get out of the business and spend more time with his girlfriend (Angela Bassett). One last score is arranged by old pal Max (Marlon Brando in his final role), but complicating matters is the involvement of a cocky thief named Jack Teller (Ed Norton). What follows is a game of cross and double-cross between a master criminal and the hotshot newcomer. Pay special attention to the scenes between De Niro and Brando, as much of their dialogue is improvised.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001) – A remake of the 1960 Rat Pack vehicle, Ocean’s Eleven deals with likable crook Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his efforts to rob three casinos belonging to romantic rival Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). The all-star cast also includes Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Elliott Gould, Casey Affleck, Bernie Mac, and many more. As far as structure goes, it follows the classic guidelines of the heist movie to the letter.

The Killing (1956) – Before he was making movies about weird space babies and violent droogs, director Stanley Kubrick turned out this noir feature about an aging criminal (Sterling Hayden) hoping to rob a racetrack and retire with his favorite gal (Coleen Gray). But as fans of the genre know, things never go so smoothly. Empire Magazine honored the film by naming it one of the 50 greatest crime films ever made.

The War Wagon (1967) – Screen icons John Wayne and Kurt Douglas join forces to steal a shipment of gold belonging to a mutual enemy. To complicate matters, the shipment is being transported in a heavily-armored stagecoach known as a “war wagon.” Before they can have their revenge (and riches), the two outlaws will have to figure out a way to get past the wagon’s lethal mounted gatling gun. Also starring Howard Keel, Keenan Wynn, and Bruce Dern (who would later kill Wayne in 1972’s The Cowboys). A fun film which blurs the line between the heist and Western genres.

Killing Zoe (1994) – This bank caper movie from director Roger Avary stars Eric Stoltz as Zed, a safe-cracker who travels to Paris to help an old friend (Jean-Hugues Anglade) pull off a robbery. What he doesn’t realize is that his old pal is out of his mind on drugs, dying of AIDS, and planning to pull the robbery the very next day. Oh, and a French prostitute named Zoe (Julie Delpy) is also thrown into the plot for good measure. Porn legend Ron Jeremy makes a cameo as a doomed bank employee. While it’s certainly no Reservoir Dogs, Killing Zoe does have its moments (the dead cat scene, for example).

Kelly’s Heroes (1970) – The rare war movie in which all the main characters get out alive, Kelly’s Heroes stars Clint Eastwood as an American soldier in the waning days of World War II. When he learns a bank behind enemy lines houses over $16 million in gold bars, he devises a plan to sneak in and steal it. Of course, he has to recruit help, and this comes in the form of guys like Big Joe (Telly Savalas), Crapgame (Don Rickles), and Oddball (Donald Sutherland). There’s a great nod to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly when Eastwood faces down a German Tiger tank, and it’s hard not to end up whistling the infectious “Burning Bridges” by The Mike Curb Congregation.

Heist (2001) – The multi-talented David Mamet wrote and directed this film about Joe Moore, a talented thief (Gene Hackman) who decides to retire to a quiet life with his wife and sailboat. But before he can do that, he’s forced by his violent fence, Mickey Bergman (Danny DeVito), to pull off one more job. He’s also asked to include Mickey’s trouble-making nephew, Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell), as part of the plan, a request that causes friction when Jimmy shows an immediate interest in Joe’s wife. Filled with plenty of the trademark Mamet Speak.

Out of Sight (1998) – Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, Steven Soderbergh directed this film about a bank robber, Jack Foley (George Clooney), who falls for U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). As he and his crew head to steal the diamond stash of a seedy ex-con/businessman (Albert Brooks), Sisco is in hot pursuit. But is she following because it’s the right thing to do, or because she also feels something for the charming Foley? Chosen by Entertainment Weekly as the “sexiest film ever.”

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If this list of good heist movies still hasn’t quenched your cinematic thirst, try a glassful of the following:

This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 at 6:45 pm and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “Good Heist Movies”

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April 25, 2010


some great suggestions, the killing especially. I did a similar thing with 6 of the best clips rather than movies. So many missed as well. Check it out if you have time.

March 14, 2012

John Clifton

It all seemed so fresh and new in Reservoir Dogs, didn’t it? I sure wish Tarantino would put out something half as good these days. I’ve got to check out the John Wayne, Kurt Douglas movie–that one escaped me.


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