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Reservoir Dogs
Reservoir Dogs

The 60 best heist movies ever made

From ‘Heat’ to ‘The Killing’: cinema's most nerve-frying hold-ups

Matthew Singer
Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Matthew Singer
Written by
Phil de Semlyen
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Heist movies are the sweaty, disheveled guest at cinema’s thriller party: they have to sneak in the back window, no one will vouch for them, and everyone is checking their wallet at the end of the night. Some of them – Die Hard, Point Break et al – fall into the bracket of action flicks, where the octane levels are high and almost no one is getting out alive; many, like Good Time and Thief, are quieter, clammier affairs content to observe as their antiheroes unravel under the ever-increasing pressure of The Job.

And with filmmakers of the calibre of Stanley Kubrick, Michael Mann, Kathryn Bigelow and Quentin Tarantino all contributing to the canon, this is no genre holiday camp for auteurs taking a break from the serious stuff. From Rififi’s stunning wordless break-in sequence to Heat’s jaw dropping LA shootout, filmmakers have conjured some of their finest and most visceral set-pieces here. Oh, and a few have undercut all the tension and macho-man stereotypes with big laughs and operatic silliness. 

The one rule to keep in mind as you dig into the classics below is that no one – or almost no one – gets away with the goods, so don’t get too attached. This is the cinema of thrilling, nerve-frying, glorious failure. Knock back a couple of beta blockers and strap in. 

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Best Heist Movies Ever Made

Rififi (1955)
Photograph: Pathe

1. Rififi (1955)

The most referenced sequence in heist movie history comes in the second half of Rififi: a wordless robbery that’s impossible to watch without sweat beads forming. It’s the work of American director Jules Dassin, whose bitter experience of McCarthyite blacklisting made him perfect for this story of desperate characters backed into a corner. These men spout tough-guy dialogue (‘I liked you, Macaroni, but you know the rules’ should really get quoted a lot more regularly) and hold to a code that crumbles when their too-clever-by-half hit on a Parisian jewellers goes south. It’s magnifique.

The mark: Gems in a Parisian jewellery shop.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
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In movie terms, the ’90s truly began with a bunch of gangsters spitballing about Madonna in a diner. Indie movies existed before Reservoir Dogs, of course, but Quentin Tarantino’s revolution was to take the crusty ensemble heist genre and populate it with characters who think, talk and act like, well, Quentin Tarantino. The botched robbery itself isn’t even shown; it’s essentially the McGuffin that allows those characters to enter the same orbit and try to make sense of the bloody fall out. Every film Tarantino made afterward became bigger and louder, but Dogs remains a singular piece of cool, even as it borrows from other, older pieces of cool – like Kubrick’s The Killing

The mark: An LA jewellery store.

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George Clooney hadn’t yet assumed the Frank Sinatra role in Ocean’s Eleven when Steven Soderbergh cast him in Out of Sight, but you have to imagine this is where Soderbergh got the idea. As charismatic bank robber Jack Foley, TV star Clooney became a true leading man, layering on enough roguish charm that it’s impossible to believe anyone could resist him – not even the US Marshal (Jennifer Lopez) charged with bringing him to justice. That romantic chemistry fuels a wickedly entertaining cat-and-mouse tale, an Elmore Leonard adaptation that stands alongside Jackie Brown and Get Shorty

The mark: Uncut diamonds.

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A true pulp classic, John Huston’s gritty noir set the template for decades of crime movies to come, most notably in how it embeds audiences with the criminals and forces viewers to see the ensuing disreputable acts (and their consequences) from their perspective. Sterling Hayden is the ex-con fresh from prison assembling the crew for a can’t-miss jewellery store robbery in an unnamed Midwestern town. A then little-known Marilyn Monroe also has a small role made outsized by her already off-the-charts seductive charisma. 

The mark: A half-million dollars in jewellery.

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The Italian Job (1969) 
Photograph: Paramount Pictures

5. The Italian Job (1969) 

Impossibly stylish and extremely British, The Italian Job has inspired other flashy, fast-paced and louche heist films, including two remakes, but few can match Peter Collinson’s original. That’s mostly because they don’t have Michael Caine, iconic as Charlie Croker, a womanising criminal who’s only just finished up a three-year prison sentence when he hatches a plot to rob an armoured vehicle transporting millions in gold bullion in Turin. And for all the imitators it spawned, none of them have the audacity to go with the ending Collinson did – as brilliant as it is perplexing.   

The mark: $4 million in gold bullion.

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
Photograph: Harbel Productions

6. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

A steely-faced noir, Odds Against Tomorrow was produced by Harry Belafonte and ghost-written by Abraham Polonsky, who used the name of his friend, John O Killens, to evade the blacklist. The paranoid spectre of that period hangs over the film, which stars Belafonte as a jazz musician and gambling addict roped into helping with a bank robbery by a corrupt ex-cop. Racism and moral rot are the movie’s major themes, which is among the bleakest of the period – and, with the jazzy score and shadowy cinematography, one of the most darkly stylish.

The mark: A bank in upstate New York. 

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Die Hard may be he greatest action movie ever made, but it gets relatively short shrift as a heist flick. That’s largely because the story is told from the perspective of the guy trying to stop the crime, and that guy is cool as hell. But if it wasn’t for a New York cop in a tank-top crawling around in the building’s air vents, the heist of Nakatomi Plaza would have gone off swimmingly. It’s a brilliant plan, involving plastic explosives, hostages and a terrorism smokescreen. Two sequels later, Hans Gruber’s brother would try to pull off an even more ambitious distraction game in New York – and this time, it was so well-researched, the actual FBI came calling.

The mark: $100 million in bearer bonds.

Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

8. Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

It’s one of John Woo’s favourite gangster films, but if you need even more reason to track down this Jean-Pierre Melville heist flic, consider the timeless team-up of gallic gods Alain Delon and Yves Montand as the masterminds behind a high-concept theft of a Parisian jewellers. But the break-in itself, a silent, skilful escapade that owes a debt to Rififi, is merely the hook for Melville to hang a magnificent murky portrait of these honour-bound, but quietly desperate criminals. As Roger Ebert pointed out, that makes Le Cercle Rouge the best kind of heist movie.

The mark: Two billion francs in diamonds.

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Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
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Is it a heist movie if the heist goes sideways before it even starts? The botched robbery that occurred at a Chase Manhattan branch in Brooklyn on a hot August day in 1972 was all the more impactful for failing so badly. The hostage situation and media circus that followed turned the perpetrators – two gay men with no prior criminal history – into countercultural heroes. Sidney Lumet’s ’70s classic frames the episode as a tragicomedy of errors, and gives Al Pacino space to get believably unhinged. Maybe not a great heist, then, but definitely a great movie.  

The mark: All the cash at First Brooklyn Savings Bank – which turns out to be $1,100.

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With his first major film effort, Stanley Kubrick effectively remixes Asphalt Jungle – even casting Sterling Hayden in essentially the same role – taking the basic idea of a bunch of criminal low-lifes plotting a major robbery which, given the shady characters involved, you know is not going to go off without a hitch. But don’t mistake The Killing for a ripoff or remake: Kubrick upends the narrative by fracturing the timeline and the visual language with brilliant long takes. It’s at once an outlier in the vaunted Kubrick filmography and a key inspiration for Reservoir Dogs

The mark: $2 million in racetrack takings.

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Heat (1995) 
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In many ways, Heat represents the pinnacle of the American crime film. Where else could the genre even go after having Al Pacino and Robert de Niro chase, shoot at and sit down for coffee with each other for nearly three hours? Credit to Michael Mann, who blows up the cops vs robbers formula to the most epic proportions, with complicated subplots and next-level action scenes – including a pantheon-enshrined bank robbery that leads into one of the most bracing shootouts in cinema history – without losing sight of the codependent relationship at the story’s core. 

The mark: A bank robbery worth $12.2 million.

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Attempting to summarise the plot of Christopher Nolan’s metaphysical heist film would warrant hazard pay. The best we can do is to say it involves a thief (Leonardo DiCaprio) with the ability to rappel into people’s dreams and both steal and implant ideas in their subconscious. Understanding Inception isn’t a prerequisite for being awed by it, though. For all its philosophical weight, it’s a movie better experienced than pondered, made up of landscape-warping set pieces and action sequences that literally defy gravity.

The mark: The subconscious of a dying business magnate’s son. It’s complicated.

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Popcorn flicks don’t get much more buttery than this classic western. Robert Redford and Paul Newman make an all-time great pairing as the legendary train robbers on the run from the law. While their story is well-trodden in American lore, director George Roy Hill and screenwriter William Goldman give their partnership an almost buddy-comedy energy, separating the movie from similar works like Sam Peckinpah’s famously nihilistic Wild Bunch. A half-century later, it remains crazy fun.

The mark: A series of banks and trains.

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One of the great hardboiled action movies of the ’70s, Joseph Sargent’s top-shelf thriller involves a group of colour-coded criminals who take advantage of New York’s chaotic subway system by hijacking a train and holding its passengers for ransom. It’s a basic premise rendered into something brilliant by the performances, namely from Robert Shaw as the villainous gang leader and Walter Matthau as the hangdog transit cop and unlikely hero. It’s been remade twice – first as a TV movie, then again with Denzel Washington – but nothing beats the original, which captures the look, feel and speech of Gotham in its grimy heyday.  

The mark: $1 million in cash.

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The Hughes brothers’ follow-up to the ‘90s gangsta classic Menace II Society hits on many of the same themes – namely, America’s abandonment of its Black citizens – but does so in a significantly different way. Set mostly in the early 1970s, it follows a middle-class kid (Larenz Tate) from the Bronx to Vietnam and back again, showing the toll the war took on African-American communities. Desperately adrift, Curtis falls back in with some old criminal elements from his neighbourhood to rob an armoured car. To call Dead Presidents a ‘heist movie’ feels limiting, but it must be said that the climatic hold-up is where the Hugheses really flex their muscles – the sight of the thieves disguised in white make-up is one of the decade’s most iconic images.

The mark: An armoured car transporting money to a mint.

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Photograph: United Artists

16. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

A remake of the 1968 Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway vehicle, John McTiernan swaps in Pierce Brosnan as the titular self-made billionaire and art thief and Rene Russo as the insurance investigator ensnared by his charms. It’s slicker and sleeker than the original but is easily better, namely because of the onscreen chemistry between Brosnan and Russo and the expertly choreographed swipe of a Monet painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The mark: Monet’s ‘San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk’.

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After resurrecting John Travolta’s career, Quentin Taratino’s next mission post-Pulp Fiction was to bring Pam Grier and Robert Forster back into the limelight via an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s ‘Rum Punch’. Grier plays the title character, a flight attendant moonlighting as a smuggler for arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L Jackson). Busted at LAX, she falls in with her bail bondsman, played by Forster, and lays out a twisty scheme to protect herself and separate from Robbie for good. The relationship between Grier and Forste has a warmth that Tarantino has never quite replicated. 

The mark: $550,000 in drug money.

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There isn’t a more stylish film in the last decade and a half than Nicolas Winding Refn’s neon noir about a stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) breaking ties with the crime boss he’s fallen in with. Not since Ryan O'Neal has a getaway driver been more ice cool in extremis, with that satin gold scorpion jacket, black leather driving gloves and a sat nav system’s mastery of LA’s back streets. Drive owes obvious debt to Walter Hill’s The Driver – the movie that established the template of the getaway driver as morally ambiguous and emotionally unreadable – but there’s also a captivating stillness that recalls In the Mood for Love, a combination that produces an utterly unique atmosphere. 

The mark: A bag full of Mob money.

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Two female-led heist films dropped in 2018, and while Ocean’s 8 is a fun bucket of popcorn, Steve McQueen’s Widows is the most deserving of a place on this list. After a crew of criminals are killed attempting to steal $2 million from a Chicago crime boss, the group’s widows, led by Viola Davis, band together to execute another robbery in order to pay off their husbands’ inherited debts. McQueen smartly weaves together themes of police brutality, racism and political corruption, but never forgets to bring the white-knuckle thrills.

The mark: $5 million from a politician’s home.

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Film fans are now well aware that the Coen brothers alternate between two modes: existential dread that’s often darkly funny and pure silliness that’s frequently still full of dread. In the ’80s, though, the transition from the brutal noir of their debut, Blood Simple, to the live-action cartoon of Raising Arizona must have given audiences whiplash. A whirlwind of pulpy dialogue and Looney Tunes energy, it stars Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter as a desperate couple who nick the infant son of a wealthy furniture magnate straight out of his crib. Cue two escaped convicts and a bounty hunter straight out of Mad Max arriving at the door of their mobile home thirsting for the reward money for returning him

The mark: An adorable baby boy.

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‘We’re just taking away from a system that’s fucking us all anyway,’ says Vivica A Fox’s ex-bank teller in this enduring ’90s thriller about four Black women who decide to fuck the system right back. Alongside Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah and Kimberly Elise, Fox’s struggling Angeleno is boxed in – by cops, employers, social services, even the waiters in their local diner – and resorts to sticking up banks to make ends meet. It’s a heist movie with the mind of a social drama, all shot with adrenalised cool by future Fast 8 director F Gary Grey (the car chases rock) and with a killer hip hop soundtrack. John McGinley is great, too, as the toothpick-chewing detective with a conscience on the gang’s trail. 

The mark: A series of LA banks.

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John Frankenheimer’s foundational action film stars Burt Lancaster as a French railway inspector in World War II determined to sabotage a Nazi plot to smuggle some priceless works of art out of Paris and back to Germany as the Allies close in. Tense and grittily realistic – and based on a real-life incident – it inverts the narrative of the typical heist film, as the heroes plot to stop the theft of a valuable artefact through chicanery of their own. Lancaster did his own stunts, and the movie provided the framework for generations of high-intensity action flicks to come, from Bullitt to Speed.

The mark: A collection of art masterpieces.

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Michael Mann’s first streetlights-and-neon noir is a grim study of an expert safecracker (James Caan) who left his soul in prison but nonetheless dreams of a white-picket existence: the wife, the house, the kids, the legit job. Despite his obvious flaws, he nearly achieves it all, until he deludes himself into taking ‘one last job’ (always a mistake in this genre). Caan is excellent, making an essentially charmless character worth investing time in, before he inevitably blows his shot at the straight life. 

The mark: $4 million in diamonds. 

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Spike Lee’s first true big-budget genre picture was a bigger success, commercially and critically, than many anticipated – and there are those who argue it belongs in the upper tier of his filmography. An ingenious criminal (Clive Owen) stages the intricate heist of a Wall Street bank, and a hard-nosed cop (Denzel Washington) is determined to thwart him. But the plot gets increasingly twisty as other characters get involved, including Christopher Plummer as the bank’s president and Jodie Foster as power broker he brings in as an negotiator. The end result is a movie that’s much smarter than the sum of its parts.  

The mark: A bank in Manhattan.

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Like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with a shit-eating grin and a slacker attitude, Three Kings is the ultimate in Gen X heist flick: funny, ironic, and, like its characters, politically engaged – although only when it’s exhausted all possible ways not to be. Most of the time, it’s just a mismatched US army squad (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze) trading put-downs as they search Iraq for stolen Kuwaiti gold during the Gulf War, before learning some home truths about the horrors of war that still hold very true today.

The mark: A stash of Kuwaiti bullion.

The General (1926)
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Two decades after The Great Train Robbery invented the heist picture, Buster Keaton made a movie about a literal great train robbery. In this silent comedy classic, the original pratfall artist plays a southern railroad engineer who has his beloved locomotive stolen by Union spies at the onset of the Civil War, with his paramour aboard. (Yes, the hero is pro-Confederacy. It was a different time.) As usual, Keaton is a one-man Jackass, nearly killing himself for the audience’s amusement – yes, he really did ride on the cowcatcher of a moving train.

The mark: A Confederate train.

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With Rififi, Jules Dassin depicted the perfect crime in such exacting detail, it inspired actual copycat thefts. A decade later, he returned to the heist picture to show that pulling off ‘the perfect crime’ is often a matter of luck rather than skill. A motley crew of thieves case the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and plan to steal an emerald-encrusted dagger dating back to the Ottoman Empire sultan. Like Rififi, the heist plays out in near-total silence, until an unaccounted-for detail unravels the whole thing. It’s Dassin making fun of himself, and he seems to have a blast doing it. So does Peter Ustinov, who won an Oscar playing the group’s clueless fall guy.  

The mark: An ancient Turkish dagger.

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A band of sketchy ex-soldiers gang together to rob a bank in this crime caper whose droll humour makes it something of a British counterpart to that year’s Ocean’s 11. Except, The League of Gentlemen isn’t just an excuse to watch its ensemble cast – highlighted by Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesey and Richard Attenborough – crack wise with each other. Director Basil Dearden stages a genuinely nail-biting heist sequence, featuring smoke bombs, explosions and machine guns. It almost goes perfectly… until, of course, it doesn’t.

The mark: A million pounds from a City bank.

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Mention ‘heist movies’ and Ocean’s Eleven is probably the one that pops into people’s heads. Which iteration depends on age, but if we’re being honest, the ’60s version is mostly just the Rat Pack getting paid to hang out in Vegas and crack jokes. Decades later, Steven Soderbergh borrowed the template but made something a lot more thrilling and fun. Professional thief Danny Ocean (George Clooney) has a plan for an ambitious casino robbery, and sets about putting together an all-star team of criminals to pull it off. It’s got the ring-a-ding-ding comic interplay of the original, but Soderbergh draws upon the proceeding 40 years of heist flicks to forge a movie as exciting as it is breezy.

The mark: $100 million from a Las Vegas casino vault.

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Who knew Gandhi had such a fackin’ mouth on him? Eighteen years after winning an Oscar for portraying the man of peace, Ben Kingsley stepped into his next-most-iconic role as gangster Don Logan. He’s a swearing, spitting menace who shows up in Spain to interrupt the idyll of a retired criminal friend (Ray Winstone) and badger him into assisting with another robbery. Kingsley owns the first half of Jonathan Glazer’s crackling, darkly funny crime film. The second belongs to Ian McShane as criminal behind the bank job. He’s much more restrained than Logan, but no less intimidating.

The mark: A London bank vault. 

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Violent Panic: The Big Crash (1976)
Photograph: Toie

31. Violent Panic: The Big Crash (1976)

With some frenetic shakycam and a climactic car chase that has to be seen to be believed, Battle Royale’s ​​Kinji Fukasaku delivers a cult thriller that positively crashes through your nervous system. It offers a cool, culty ’70s spin on the ‘One Last Job’ subgenre of heist movies, marrying Japanese punk spirit with US genre techniques, as bank robber Takashi (Tsunehiko Watase) reacts to the death of his partner-in-crime and an increasingly enormous police manhunt by, well, robbing even more banks. Will he make it to Brazil with the loot and his beautiful girlfriend in tow? It’s a rush watching him try.

The mark: Millions of yen from banks across Japan.

Baby Driver (2017)
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Hailed upon release for Edgar Wright’s all gas, no brakes direction, Baby Driver is, as its title unintentionally suggests, something of a Kidz Bop version of Drive – only about 100 decibels louder. It involves a stoic, boyish getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) who falls in love with a waitress and attempts to get out of the crime business after pulling off one final job for his gangland-boss surrogate father (Kevin Spacey). Despite its retroactively problematic main cast, there’s still plenty to appreciate here, in particular the creative use of music: Elgort’s character drowns out his tinnitus with an infinite iPod playlist, which he cranks during the robberies, effectively making this a ‘jukebox action flick’. 

The mark: A post office’s stash of money orders.

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33. One-Eyed Jacks (1961)

Marlon Brando’s lone directorial credit came after Stanley Kubrick exited the production of this traditionalist western, which takes its time telling the story of a bandit named Kid Rio (Brando) seeking revenge against his former colleague Doc (Karl Malden), now a sheriff. The plot hinges around a robbery gone wrong, in which Rio’s new gang goes rogue and ends up killing a kid, giving Doc an excuse to get rid of him permanently. It sounds standard, but Brando brings deep thoughtfulness to the role and the picture itself – not to mention an elongated running time that would inspire the likes of Sergio Leone and Martin Scorsese.

The mark: A bank in Monterrey, California.

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The phrase ‘hackers’ had barely entered the lexicon when this early Digital Age thriller first hit theaters, roughly around the time when dial-up modems were just starting to tie up phone lines across the world. Robert Redford headlines a stacked cast as a computer expert commissioned by the NSA to find a top-secret code-breaking device that’s mysteriously gone missing. Sneakers’ ’90s technobabble hasn’t aged particularly well, but its depiction of a world whose stability increasingly depends on fragile cybersecurity systems is remarkably prescient.

The mark: A high-tech black box. 

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At first blush, Point Break scans like a classic ‘good bad movie’. C’mon, a gang of surfer-dude bank robbers who wear rubber masks of former US presidents, led by a zenned-out Patrick Swayze? Keanu Reeves as an ex-college football star turned FBI agent named Johnny Utah? Gary Busey screaming about taking shrapnel in Khe Sahn? How seriously are we supposed to take this thing? Watch it another five… 20… 170 times, though, and the movie reveals itself to be a genuinely great action-thriller. The Ex-Presidents’ approach to bank robbing isn’t sophisticated, but they operate with ruthless efficiency. Until, of course, they decide to mess with their formula.

The mark: The cash in bank tellers’ registers – never the vault.

Payroll (1961)
Photograph: Independent Artists

36. Payroll (1961)

No crime is ever truly victimless. Still, nicking an entire company’s monthly payroll feels like an especially low blow. But the mob behind the robbery in this vinegary, Newcastle-set thriller aren’t the kind to give two sods about depriving a few honest joes of their Friday night pint. What really marks them out is the poor planning, mutual mistrust, and, in several cases, total lack of nerve that damns them to disaster from the get-go. Throw in a vengeful widow and it’s curtains. The heist itself, involving an armoured van, some blueprints and a man on the inside, is a terrific set piece. Its violent fallout marks Payroll out as Get Carter’s slightly older, but equally cynical Geordie brother.

The mark: A £100,000 payroll.

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Any scheme that starts with Bill Murray holding up a bank dressed as a clown can only go downhill, and that’s precisely the experience of Murray and his accomplices (Geena Davis and Randy Quaid), who discover that in New York, the hardest part of any crime is the getaway. The bank-robbing trio make a break for the airport and run smack into the gridlock and madness of the big city. It plays out like a sleazier Planes, Trains and Automobiles, as a series of obstacles – a fellow thief, a lost cabbie, Jason Robards’s cop – impede their progress. Quick Change remains Murray’s only directorial credit (shared with Howard Franklin), and it’s a smart-alecky caper worthy of his gifts.

The mark: $1 million from a bank in midtown Manhattan.

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A 1970s throwback in terms of both feel and timeline, Stander tells the story of a cop in apartheid-era South Africa who, fed up with the rampant corruption in his profession, decides to start brazenly robbing banks on the side to make a point about what a white man can get away with in a racist society. It sounds preposterous, but it’s based on actual events. Thomas Jane, mostly known for cartoonish actioners like Deep Blue Sea and The Punisher, stars in the title role and gives an astonishingly nuanced performance as a man being ravaged by his own conscience with a death wish that he just can’t seem to fulfil.

The mark: A series of banks in Johannesburg.

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Shot in one long, continuous take, this German production is, first and foremost, a dazzling technical achievement. But it’s no empty stunt. Following a Berlin clubgoer who, over the course of two-plus hours, falls in with a crew of criminals and unwittingly becomes the getaway driver for a hastily planned bank robbery, the single-take conceit ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels, while fully immersing the audience in the action. It’s one of the few movies where describing it as a ‘rollercoaster’ isn’t a hyperbolic cliché.  

The mark: €50,000 from a Berlin bank.

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Steven Soderbergh knows his way around a fast-paced crime romp. With Logan Lucky, he emerged from half-hearted retirement with a less suave but equally entertaining revamp of the Ocean’s 11 formula. Adam Driver and Channing Tatum are brothers whose financial desperation leads them to plot a robbery of a NASCAR racetrack. It requires assembling a team of accomplices – including an explosives expert named Joe Bang, played with greasy zeal by Daniel Craig – but it’s no dream team. (Hilary Swank, the FBI agent tracking them down, refers to the crew as ‘Ocean’s 7-Eleven.’) It’s light, but wildly entertaining. 

The mark: Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina.

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A tribute to the classic Ealing comedies of the 1940s and ’50s, this enduring John Cleese Brit-com involves four crooks of various skill recruited for a diamond heist who all end up going into business for themselves, with hilarious results. The double-crossing is too knotty to properly summarise, but plot is almost secondary to the characters, which include Jamie Lee Curtis as a gangster’s moll perhaps overconfident in her feminine wiles, Kevin Kline as a weapons expert who’s equally hotheaded and dimwitted, and Cleese himself as an upstanding barrister around whom the scheming swirls. 

The mark: Valuable diamonds in a safe deposit box.

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The most shagadelic heist movie in film history, Mario Bava’s super-kitsch comic-book adaptation bends all the rules of the genre (the plot, for one thing, is absolute nonsense) but has so much fun doing it, reels you in from the moment its Ennio Morricone theme kicks into gear. Its hero, Diabolik (John Phillip Law), is a robber with a superhero’s prowess as getting out of tight scraps, a goddess for a girlfriend (Marisa Mell) and a penchant for high-concept theft. His crowning glory involves stealing some emeralds, shooting them at a notorious gangster from an actual gun, and then collecting them again from the mobster’s just-cremated body. The guy has serious pennacchio

The mark: An emerald necklace.

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The Angels’ Share (2012)
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Ken Loach doesn’t often do lighthearted, but this good-natured caper about a group of petty criminals in Glasgow plotting to steal the world’s rarest whiskey is appropriately soul-warming. Paul Brannigan plays Robbie, a thief and new father determined to go straight after discovering he has a nose for identifying good scotch. That is, until he’s pressured into performing one final job: nicking a barrel of valuable alcohol that’s about to go to auction. Loach’s knack for social realism elevates what would simply be a cute redemption story in the hands of other directors into a poignant moral message.

The mark: A cask of ultra-rare whiskey.

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Two years after Dirty Harry, director Don Siegel returned with a different kind of violent genre picture – and a very different protagonist. Walter Matthau is Charley Varrick, a wrinkly, rumpled small-time crook who knocks over a small-town bank in New Mexico and gets away with a lot more than he bargained for, in terms of both payout and the baggage that comes with. See, the bank was loaded because the local mafiosi had been using it to launder money, meaning that Varrick and his partner now have both angry mobsters and police on their tail. Matthau, as usual, is drolly hilarious in the title role – slumped, sarcastic but maybe smarter than anyone chasing after him.

The mark: $750,000 in Mob money.

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American Animals (2018)
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  • Drama

A blurring of fiction and documentary – but not exactly ‘docufiction’ – this indie sleeper depicts a real-life rare-books heist unsuccessfully committed by a group of college students in Lexington, Kentucky. Starring a cast of vaguely recognisable, if not exactly nameable, young actors, director Bart Layton (The Imposter) takes a Rashomon approach, replaying the crime from different perspectives and interweaving interviews with the actual perpetrators. The end result is an utterly unique, sometimes disorienting viewing experience that nonetheless still works as a captivating little thriller.

The mark: A first edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America.

Mesrine (2008)
  • Film

It’s not hyperbole to place Jean Francoise-Richet’s two-part biopic of French gangster Jacques Mesrine somewhere close to Goodfellas and Scarface on cinema’s list of crime epics. Running from the ’50s through Mesrine’s violent death in 1972, the combined 246 minutes are sprawling but never boring due to the spellbinding work of actor Vincent Cassel. Mesrine spent most of his ‘career’ robbing banks and casino, before landing in prison, then escaping, then fashioning himself into a pseudo-revolutionary cult hero. It’s a crazy ride that’d be hard to believe if it didn’t happen.

The mark: Banks and casinos.

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Good Time (2017)
  • Film
  • Thrillers

There are thrillers, and then there are the Safdie brothers’ movies, which seem designed to overwhelm audiences with enough anxiety to land them in the hospital. Before Uncut Gems, this crime drama teased what they were capable of in the field of panic-attack cinema. After a bank robbery goes awry and his developmentally disabled brother lands in jail, Costantine Nikas (Robert Pattinson in the role that, for critics, finally drove a stake through the heart of Edward Cullen) spends an evening burrowing ever deeper into the heart of the New York criminal underground in an attempt to free him. Have a defibrillator to hand, just in case.

The mark: $65,000 from a New York bank.

Fast Five (2011)
  • Film

It wasn’t until its fifth instalment, when it shifted focus from car porn to elaborate heists involving cars, that the Fast & Furious franchise went into overdrive. Introducing Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as a US Marshal hunting Vin Diesel’s band of fugitive autophiles and moving the action to Brazil, director Justin Lin ups the insanity level several notches above ‘over the top’, reaching a bonkers high point with a set piece involving a massive safe chained to a pair of Dodge Chargers getting dragged through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. If that doesn’t convert sceptics to the House of Toretto, nothing will. 

The mark: $100 million belonging to a corrupt businessman.

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Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958)
Photograph: Lux Films

49. Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958)

Years before Jules Dassin decided to spoof his own heist classic Rififi with Topkapi, Italian director Mario Moncicelli beat him to the punch with this crime comedy in which a dream team – maybe make that ‘nightmare’ – of putzes attempt to pull off what should be an easy pawn shop robbery. Whereas in most heist movies, each member of a criminal team has a special skill to the table, each one here has a personal deficiency that ends up foiling the plot. The plan is to dig an underground tunnel from a nearby apartment into the business, but that, of course, looks easier on paper than it does in practice. 

The mark: A Rome pawn shop.

Hell or High Water (2016)
  • Film
  • Thrillers

It might give off the vibes of an old-school western, but the story of this leftfield gem from Yellowstone director Taylor Sheridan is borne straight from late-stage capitalism. After the matriarch of a West Texas family passes on, her down-and-out sons (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) commit a string of bank robberies in hopes of saving the ranch they inherited from her from foreclosure. Every character is painted in shades of sympathetic grey, including Jeff Bridges as the Texas Ranger pursuing the two brothers. It’s as smart as it is devastating.

The mark: Banks in rural Texas.

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JCVD (2008)
  • Film

Imagine Dog Day Afternoon, only one of the hostages turns out to be Jean-Claude van Damme. It sounds like the set-up for some serious ass-kicking. But this isn’t the one-man wrecking crew of Bloodsport and Kickboxer fame. It’s the ‘real’ JCVD: an ageing, divorced action star who can barely afford to pay the lawyers in his child custody case. Instead of ‘Die Hard in a bank’, this metafictional curio is a sad, funny, surprisingly well-acted rumination on the illusion of celebrity, with just enough heist-y tension and roundhouse kicks to satisfy those who came expecting something completely different. 

The mark: A post office in the Muscles’ hometown of Brussels.

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Alec Guinness anchors this British crime caper, which is something of a spiritual precursor to a later Guinness vehicle, The Ladykillers. Here, he plays a meek bank clerk who, after years of going through his career unnoticed, hatches a plan to change his life dramatically by stealing a transport of gold bullion. Of course, the plot goes haywire in a most unexpected way, causing Guinness and his cohorts to scramble to set things back on course. Audrey Hepburn, pre-Roman Holiday, makes a blink-and-miss-it cameo.

The mark: £1 million in gold bullion.

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  • Film
  • Comedy

The loot doesn’t have to be Italian Job-huge in a heist flick. Before he made Local Hero and Gregory’s Girl, Scottish great Bill Forsyth was turning out a sly crime film about a bunch of Glaswegian teenagers trying to fleece a warehouse of a few sinks. The result is somehow both hilariously mean-spirited and kinda sweet. It was made for £5000 and earned a decent return from cinemagoers keen to see a Glasgae crime caper in which a bunch of loveable no-hopers try to fence a van full of worthless basins – not that Forsyth ever saw a penny it. Someone got robbed.

The mark: Some stainless steel sinks.

Villain (1971)
Photograph: © StudioCanal

54. Villain (1971)

Though under-seen compared to the likes of Get Carter and Performance, Michael Tuchner’s engaging character study is up there with them as cynical, rough-edged ’70s gangster pictures. The villain in question is Vic Dakin, a sadistic gang leader with omnivorous sexual appetite. The plot centres around the robbery of a plastics factory, but things get a bit twisty and convoluted as it goes along. But Richard Burton is memorably vicious as Dakin, a character as amoral and nearly as frightening a figure as Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange

The mark: A factory payroll.

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Dhoom 2 (2004) 
Photograph: YashRajFilms

55. Dhoom 2 (2004) 

This high-octane sequel brings one of Bollywood’s hottest pairings of all time: Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, together as a shapeshifting thief and his devoted lover. Watch them spar verbally, while pulling off elaborate thefts of antique swords and coins using cutting-edge technology and cool bikes in Mumbai, Durban and Rio de Janeiro. The opening scene, involving a moving train in the Namib desert and the theft of the Queen’s crown, is a stupendous reason to suspend disbelief entirely, while. Dhoom's infamous cop duo, Jai and Ali, combine sleuthing with some the kind of rambunctious songs you won’t find in, say, Heat. Ashanti Omkar

The mark: The Queen’s crown.

  • Film
  • Drama

With its mixture of war movie, heist film and satirical comedy, Kelly’s Heroes sometimes struggles to make its disparate elements cohere, but it’s still a wild blast for the most part due primarily to the oddball cast. Clint Eastwood is the titular World War II lieutenant who becomes disillusioned enough with his mission he decides to sneak behind enemy lines and steal a clutch of gold for himself. Joining him in the mission are Telly Savalas, Don Rickles and Donald Sutherland as a proto-hippie named Oddball.

The mark: A consignment of Nazi gold.

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The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Photograph: Edison Manufacturing Company

57. The Great Train Robbery (1903)

How deep rooted are heist movies in film history? Around the same time as Georges Méliès was voyaging to the moon, audiences were clutching their satchels over a group of bandits sticking up a passenger train. Edwin S Porter’s short wasn’t the first narrative film, but it introduced several other firsts to the cinematic canon, including title cards, panning shots and an actual script. Seventy-five years later, Michael Crichton kinda-sorta ‘remade’ the movie with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland, proving that, while the art movie making had come a long way, even the most basic crime stories can still shake audiences.   

The mark: An old-timey locomotive.

  • Film
  • Drama

Sweet, funny and understated, this humble British comedy came and went from theatres, but it deserves a second look from anyone who missed it. Starring Helen Mirren and Jim Broadment, it tells the true story of Kempton Bunton, an ageing taxi driver who, in the early ‘60s, and with genuinely good intentions, stole a Goya painting from the National Gallery. The Duke turned out to be the final feature film from director Roger Michell, who specialised in these kinds of subtle, uplifting little movies. It’s a fitting cap to his career.

The mark: A portrait of the Duke of Wellington.

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Bad Genius (2017)
Photograph: Jor Kwang Films

59. Bad Genius (2017)

Taking a test is not usually a white-knuckle ride, so it’s something of a minor miracle that director Nattawut Poonpiriya manages to make the act of sitting at a desk and filling in answer bubbles as stress-inducing as any safecracking heist. In this exhilarating Thai thriller, a teenage brainiac develops a lucrative scheme helping the rich kids at her prestigious high school to cheat on their exams, culminating in a plan to smuggle the answers for a college admissions test out of Australia and back to Thailand. The movie takes a No. 2 pencil to the eye of a corrupt global academic system that saves educational opportunity for the already-privileged. 

The mark: The answers to an exam.

Robbery (1967)
Photograph: Oakhurst Productions

60. Robbery (1967)

In historical terms, Robbery’s greatest impact is getting director Peter Yates hired to helm the much better remembered Steve McQueen car-chase classic Bullitt. But this crime thriller – a heavily embellished account of the real-life ‘Great Train Robbery’ of 1963 – deserves some reappraisal as one for containing some of the more technically thrilling action sequences of its era, including the intricately arranged opening heist of a British Royal Mail train and the ensuing getaway, which piqued the interest of McQueen enough to recommend Yates to the producers of Bullitt.

The mark: £2.6 million in jewels on a London-bound train. 

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