The Great Train Robbery kicked off Hollywood’s fascination with heist films in 1903, but the genre did not really blow up until the early 1950s with the noir crime film,The Asphalt Jungle. Based on the 1949 novel of WR Burnett, the film tells the story of Dix Handley, a man who plans to steal $ 1 million in jewels. All the workings of the classic heist caper are present here, as the film follows Handley as he assembles a team of low-level crooks, a safecracker, and a lawyer to carry out his quest. Regarded as one of the greatest noir films ever made, the classical film structure is both visually striking and rich in its narrative, providing the framework for countless American heist movies to follow.
Perhaps the heightened popularity of the heist film is the art of watching a skillful character perform dangerous and rigorous thefts through a sea of sticky and incriminating plot lines. It can become incredibly entertaining to watch people skilled in their trades (explosives, safecracking, etc.) perform at the best of their ability in order to get some big score, and the collaborative aspect of their usual ensemble casts is always fun. Some heist movies are completely fictional, others relate to true stories, but all the best are able to transcend drama and become something else entirely. Invoking fun, sometimes righteous anger, and usually downright intense emotions, these are some of the greatest modern-day heist movies in American culture.
6 Ocean’s Eleven
A plethora of A-list actors conjunctively planning out the most complex and sophisticated casino robbery in Ocean’s Eleven still evokes chills. Steven Soderbergh’s excellent remake of the Rat Pack classic sees Danny Ocean (George Clooney) plotting his next move less than 24 hours into parole from a New Jersey penitentiary. If anyone ever has plans to complete a stint in corrections, the state of New Jersey is probably a safe bet, filled as it is with the country’s most dapper white-collared criminals.
Enlisting assistance from his friend Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), the two assemble a crew of nine professional con men. The artistry behind Ocean’s Eleven makes rooting for criminals seem like not such a bad idea; the guys are all lovable and funny, plus they’re not supposed to steal from anyone who does not deserve it. The astronomical success of the super-cool Oceans Eleven (2001) was followed by the equally smooth heist movie Oceans Twelve and its more lackluster sequel Ocean’s Thirteen.
5 The Town
Ben Affleck did an excellent job directing this movie, not to mention co-writing and starring in it; watching it will instantly help audience members to understand why JLo gave him a second shot. In The Town, Doug MacRay (Affleck) leads a group of ruthless criminals who commit incredibly dangerous bank robberies around the state of Massachusets. MacRay, who has authority over his fellow gang, struggles to balance his romance for bank employee Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), taken as a hostage in one of their earlier heists, while dogging the FBI The appeal of this antihero, so life-like and three-dimensionally created with layers of depth, makes viewers fall in love with Affleck’s character. MacRay has this swagger about him that’s nonchalant, but still pulls everyone in further with each twist and turn; he steals the audience’s hearts.
Christopher Nolan’s most complex film takes place in an embedded, nesting-doll dream universe, forcing viewers to reexamine whether they are watching a dream sequence or ‘the real world.’ Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a professional thief who steals information by invading the subconscious of his targets. Though his skill set has made him world-renowned, it has also cost him the family he once had. Ultimately, Cobb is offered a chance at redemption by a client. His job is to plant an idea into the mind of a business conglomerate; if he succeeds, he is able to regain the life he once lost. In Inception, dreams and reality mirror each other, sometimes forcing the human brain to question its own realities. Not to mention, the ending is still controversial this day. This is a heist movie where ideas are the robbery and the mind is the bank.
3 American Animals
Based on the true story of how four friends botched a $ 12 million dollar heist, American Animals follows the four Kentucky-based friends enact a plan to steal the most valuable books from Transylvania University’s library. Not your typical bank robbery movie, the film is fascinating for blending the documentary approach with a fictional style. It uses the real-life people from the crime to play themselves in a meta twist while the real ringleader Spencer Reinhard narrates lulling audience members into American Animals‘quirky and unorthodox method of storytelling. The film’s tagline says it all: “The perfect heist is a work of fiction.”
2 Inside Man
Inside Man will make viewers question the person closest to them, indicative of the film’s dark idea that no one can really trust anybody. Director Spike Lee’s heist thriller centers around an elaborate 24-hour bank heist held on Wall Street. As a crisis for fellow hostages unravel, Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) goes toe to toe with deadly bank robber Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) to end the mastermind’s chances of seizing control. Though complicated, its premise ties into the bank owner being affiliated with past Nazi dealings, betrayal, and unforeseen alliances. The last few minutes of the film comes as a complete shocker in this tight, efficient, wonderfully acted bank robbery movie.
1 Reservoir Dogs
From the critical analysis of Madonna’s Like a Virginto the timeless color-coded characters within a highly intriguing and immersive plot line, Reservoir Dogs captures the attention of viewers from the opening moment. Illustrated as an all-boys club, each scene of this heist movie is direct, blunt and pushes beyond the edge, in true Quentin Tarantino form. Six criminals, all hired to complete a robbery, are also strangers to one another. With the jewelry heist going completely wrong, the guys are forced to take matters into their own hands, shooting their way out and later on coming to the eerie conclusion that one of their own may be a police informant. What’s iconic about Reservoir Dogs is the unique and unconventional form of storytelling that shifts from angle to angle, providing a series of impromptu surprises. It’s also one of the rare heist movies that does not actually show the heist happening, but the sequence of events before and after the heist itself. The fact that it works so well is a testament to Tarantino’s skills as a writer.
The new Army of Thieves trailer teases all manner of heist action as Matthias Schweighöfer’s Ludwig Dieter takes center stage.
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