With the release of Plastic – a British heist movie starring Ed Speleers, Will Poulter, Alfie Allen and Thomas Kretschmann – on 30 April, it got us at Flicks And The City looking back at the best the ‘heist’ genre has had to offer over the years.
Before we get into the list of our favourites, it’s worth mentioning a few that nearly made it. Many would immediately put Ocean’s Eleven into a list of heist movies. This is a great heist, a brilliant example of a well thought out plan, and an amazing all-star cast, but the movie itself isn’t that great (and the sequels aren’t up to much either).
The Dark Knight begins with the Joker carrying out an audacious and clever bank job. This is brilliant, and looks amazing, especially with parts filmed in IMAX. But The Dark Knight is certainly no heist movie, and this only takes up a small part of the overall runtime.
Good cases could certainly also be made for Heat (for its amazing post-heist getaway), and The Usual Suspects, The Town and Inside Man all deserve a mention, as well as the film that perhaps set the blueprint for heist films, Rififi.
So on with our list of those that did make it, the top six best heists, bank jobs, stings or hustles.
6. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
We start with a heist film without the heist. This shows 6 criminals hired to carry out a job, but the police turn up at the right place at the right time so they panic. Afterwards, 5 of them meet up at the pre-arranged warehouse to piece together what went wrong, suspecting one of them is an undercover cop.
This is Quentin Tarantino at his absolute best, heavily stylised and with a great script. It’s a film that was heavily influenced by another film that appears later on our list.
5. The Italian Job (1969)
A movie that is remembered more for the iconic Minis and the ‘only supposed to blow the bloody doors off’ line.
The first of two films on the list to star Michael Caine; here he plays a man just out of prison intercepting gold in Turin by bringing the traffic to a standstill, and staging an amazing car chase getaway in the Minis. This is a clever and well-acted film that is somehow both dated yet has stood the test of time. Far better than the Mark Wahlberg remake, the original wasn’t a success in America but has remained an absolute classic this side of the Atlantic.
This also has the greatest ending of any film mentioned here.
4. The Sting (1973)
This film is largely remembered for its titlecards and Scott Joplin ragtime music (both of which are brilliant), but it’s a fun and clever hustle featuring Paul Newman and Robert Redford which won 7 Oscars.
Set in the 1930s, this is the story of two con men who team up to pull off a long con on a mob boss who killed their mutual friend. This is a hustle in the classic sense, with deception at every turn, and a whole fake betting shop being set up for the finale. If you see one twist coming, then there’ll be another one coming along in a few minutes to catch you out. It’s funny throughout and has a great 1930s feel to it. This is what heist films should be like.
This film certainly influenced the BBC television series Hustle more than any other.
3. Inception (2010)
The most recent film to be included in our list, and that’s because it does something unique in the genre: it’s a heist within a dream. Or rather, it’s the opposite of a heist – instead of taking something, they are planting something. In a world where people steal secrets, they must plant an idea into someone’s head.
Christopher Nolan’s stock rose incredibly after The Dark Knight, and he met expectations by producing this brilliant and intelligent blockbuster. With a cast as all-star as an Ocean’s movie, this features Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard and Michael Caine, amongst others. This features stunning visual effects and certainly demands your full attention just to give you a chance of understanding what is going on, and whose dream they are currently inside.
2. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
This is the least well-thought out heist on this list, but is included because it has incredible acting from both Al Pacino and John Cazale, and simply because it’s an amazing film. All of John Cazale’s five films are incredible, and this is no exception, and probably features his best performance.
Pacino’s Sonny holds up a bank to pay for his lover’s sex change operation, with the help of Cazale’s down-and-out Sal. When they realise there’s not much money on the premises and they’re surrounded by police, it becomes a hostage situation. Sonny tries negotiating with the police captain for a taxi to the airport and a plane out of there, but things don’t go smoothly (as is often the case with heist movies).
Ahead of its time in terms of it’s portrayal of gay characters/rights, this is a remarkable film that everybody should see.
1. The Killing (1956)
Stanley Kubrick’s films can be used in just about any list of films, and heist films are no exception. The Killing is an early work of Kubrick’s (he was just 28) that perhaps doesn’t get quite the adulation it deserves. It’s certainly had a far-reaching impact.
The Killing revolves around a meticulously planned heist led by an ex-con (Sterling Hayden), who plots to hold up a track on race day, and the fallout afterwards. Their plan involves police distractions, an inside man, killing a horse and a corrupt police officer. What could go wrong?
We’re shown it in non-linear fashion, showing each of the group doing their bit, so as we see more segments we can fit it all together. The fact it doesn’t take place in chronological order, makes it a far better film, as is the case for other films that have been influenced by this and adopted this approach, such as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.
What would be an interesting and engaging heist movie is elevated to a great film by the way the story is told, and much of that must come from director Kubrick. Well worth checking out if you haven’t seen it already.
Plastic is released in the UK on April 30 2014.