There’s something about a good heist movie that makes a moviegoing experience perfect. From the high stakes to the top-shelf actors and directors who seem to gravitate to the genre, when it’s done right, it can be a thrilling cinematic experience.
With this week’s “Triple 9” about dirty cops involved in, yes, a heist (starring Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet, and Casey Affleck), we thought it would be a good time to look back on classics in the genre.
Here are the 21 best heist movies of all time, ranked.
John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin play a bumbling group who commit a robbery of very pricey diamonds (and then try to con one another out of the loot). Cleese and Palin are at top form and Kline's portrayal of a cocky American earned him an Oscar win for best supporting actor.
Though Tom Cruise's first time playing Ethan Hunt showed off all of the fun spy aspects of the franchise, it also had a very elaborate heist element. Hunt breaking into CIA headquarters to steal the 'NOC' list is a highlight of the film.
For Wes Anderson's directorial debut, he cast then-unknown brothers Luke and Owen Wilson as friends who plan the heist of a factory only for things to go horribly wrong.
This heist movie in the guise of a World War II comedy follows Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas, and their ragtag group of GIs as they go behind enemy lines and steal Nazi gold before the war ends.
Larenz Tate plays an African-American Vietnam vet who struggles to make a decent living after getting back from the war, leading to a life of crime. The attempt for a big score from an armoured car at the end of the movie is a thrillingly tragic commentary on the few options offered to veterans following the war.
Adapting the book by legendary crime novelist Elmore Leonard, Steven Soderbergh shows off his distinct visual style in this noir love story starring George Clooney as a career criminal and Jennifer Lopez as a US Marshall who is on his trail after he escapes prison. Their final meet-up happens at the end during a very poorly planned heist of a rich ex-con's home safe.
One of the movies that led to darker, more auteur-driven releases in Hollywood during the 1970s, the historical film with Warren Betty and Faye Dunaway as infamous bank robbers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker gave birth to the on-screen antihero as we know it.
Though at times a little too clever for its own good, Spike Lee's heist/hostage movie is still a fun head-scratcher with Denzel Washington and Clive Owen delivering great performances.
Though the insane car chase scenes are more remembered than the heist itself, this movie makes the list because it's one of the most original entries in the genre. Robert De Niro as a mercenary who is out to do a job or die trying gives one of the most underappreciated performances of his career.
If Ben Affleck directed this kind of movie for the rest of his career, we would have no complaints. Also starring alongside Jeremy Renner (deservedly nominated for an Oscar), Jon Hamm, and Rebecca Hall, he's part of a group of Boston thieves as they plan their last big score.
The crime movie that outsmarted everyone with its twist ending is also filled with clever heists, including a final one that leads to the the demise of the career thieves who thought they had seen it all.
Christopher Nolan takes the heist premise and adds the human mind to create a trippy thriller that follows a team (led by Leonardo DiCaprio) that attempts to steal corporate secrets from the mind of a CEO without slipping into the black holes of their own brains.
Soderbergh makes it again on the list with a more lighthearted take that has a more fulfilling payoff. Hitting three of the major casinos in Vegas simultaneously leads to a great finale that's capped by entertaining performances by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon.
Quentin Tarantino's heist film is memorable because it works tremendously even though we never see the heist happen. Because the scenes before and after the act are so strong, we are more involved in what the characters are about than where 'the stones' are.
On the complete opposite spectrum is director Michael Mann's look at a professional jewel thief, played by James Caan. It's so rich in detail, you'd think Mann got the genre out of his system with this masterwork. Luckily for us, this would not be the only time Mann would delve into a heist movie.
Kathryn Bigelow's mixture of the sexiest male stars of the era (Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze) with incredible bank-robbing action sequences equals a classic movie in the heist genre.
One of the smartest crime movies ever made, written and directed by David Mamet, this tale follows a career jewel thief doing one final score before hanging it up. Starring Gene Hackman in one of his best roles, along with Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, and Sam Rockwell, the story's double-crosses come fast and furious, and the ending is perfect.
Tarantino takes on an Elmore Leonard novel in this 1997 film that has pretty much been underrated since the day it came out. Along with the sensational performances by Pam Grier, Robert Forster, and Samuel L. Jackson, the way Tarantino plays out the details of how Grier's character outdoes everyone is exceptional storytelling.
Stanley Kubrick's noir caper came at a time when the legendary director was still figuring out his craft, but you can see glimpses of the greatness that was coming. From the distinct camera angles to the execution of the specifics of the racetrack robbery, the movie is a tease of what the legend, who went on to direct 'The Shining' and '2001,' was capable of.
Told you Michael Mann would be back. Expanding what we saw in 'Thief' to explore the police perspective as well, the director's masterpiece creates an incredible pressure cooker that explodes when Robert De Niro and his gang rob a bank and Al Pacino and his team are hot on their tail. 'Heat' is arguably the greatest American heist movie ever made.
But in France, they have 'Rififi.' This classic 1955 noir follows a group of men who pull off the perfect crime, only to find that the human element gets in the way. All of the great Hollywood heist movies, from 'Mission: Impossible' to 'Heat,' have taken an element or two from this masterpiece. The movie also stands alone in the genre for its boldness. There's the heist scene that spans 30 minutes, in which not one word is uttered. And then (warning: spoiler!) there's the bizarre conclusion, in which our (anti)hero races around Paris mortally wounded while the child he saved in the seat next to him joyfully fools around with his toy gun.
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