Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Heist Movies

Something tells me that this weekend’s theatrical release of the heist comedy ‘Masterminds’ won’t be a classic for the ages. Let’s look instead at some heist movies that better stand the test of time.

Tom Landy

Heat‘ has just about everything you could want in a heist film – a superb star-studded cast, snappy dialogue, sleek cinematography, and the mother of all shootouts. For me, that scene alone makes Michael Mann’s crime epic one of the best action movies of all-time.

Luke Hickman

I’m a huge fan of Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Ocean’s Eleven‘ remake. While the Rat Pack original is a fantastic movie on its own, Soderbergh did a wonderful job of making it his own and making it a whole lot of fun. I can pinpoint a few great aspects that add to its greatness:

  1. The characters: Not all filmmakers know how to make an ensemble work, but Soderbergh does. Each of the titular eleven characters (and more) have complete characters of their own. You know them. You understand them. You’re invested in them. Look no further than the recent ‘Magnificent Seven’ remake for an example of a movie that has no idea how to handle seven characters, much less eleven!
  2. The actors: Great chemistry exists between all of them. They’re so much fun to watch.
  3. The screenplay: Not only is the comedy wit spot-on for the entire film, the story is solid too. The first time I watched it, I had no idea how the characters were going to pull off the heist. It was executed with precision editing that led to misleading conclusions.

If only the two sequels could have held up to these standards.

Mike Attebery

My brain sure seems to go to the 1999 remake of ‘The Thomas Crown Affair‘ a lot for these Roundtables:

Movie Recasting
Movie Nit-Picks
Movies About Money and Business

I guess I should stick with tradition and mention it again here. Back in college, this Pierce Brosnan remake was always a favorite at my apartment. We’d get subs at Dibellas, head home, and almost always put on ‘Thomas Crown’ while we ate. John McTiernan’s direction, the globetrotting lifestyle portrayed on screen, the heist itself and the eventual twist… There’s just something about this movie I find infinitely rewatchable (except that ending, which I’ve mentioned before). The ‘Ocean’s Eleven remake’ is a close second, but this one holds the crown.

Brian Hoss

On the one hand, when it comes to heist films, I can think of plenty of stinkers. On the other, I’ve submitted gems like ‘Heat’ and ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ for other recent Rountables. Fortunately, one ensemble heist film that has stuck with me ever since seeing it in the theater is available on Blu-ray now to prove its entertainment worth. That would be ‘Sneakers’. Other films from Robert Redford’s repertoire may feel more substantive, but the cast in this one are really having fun. (The notable exception being Sir Ben Kingsley, who really plays it cool.)

Josh Zyber

With ‘Thief‘, his first feature film, Michael Mann proved himself to be a master of the cinematic heist picture. James Caan stars as an aging criminal looking to set himself up for retirement. The movie is sleek and suspenseful, with just as much attention paid to its character development as its stylized visuals. Mann’s ‘Heat’ may be a more ambitious and ultimately better film, but ‘Thief’ is a great movie in its own right and set the template for countless “One Last Job” movies to follow.

I also want to throw some honorable mentions to Jules Dassin’s ‘Rififi‘ (a true classic of the genre), ‘The Italian Job‘ (both the 1969 original and the 2003 remake are very entertaining), and David Mamet’s simply-titled ‘Heist’.

Tell us about your favorite heist movies in the Comments below.


  1. Chris B

    The Usual Suspects is an absolute masterpiece. With an incredible cast, score, screenplay and phenomenal editing. It’s everything a heist movie should be and more. It doubles as a horror-thriller-whodunit. An amazing piece of work that director Brian Singer has yet to top.

    • DarkMonk

      Acting is waaaaaay too hammy in Usual Suspects. 5 minutes of Stephen Baldwin and Benicio Del Toro and I have to shut it off. They are cartoons in that.

  2. StingingVelvet

    Glad Sneakers was given some love. I have loved that movie since seeing it as a teen and it’s still the highlight of the genre for me. Heat and Ocean’s are also brilliant of course.

  3. Csm101

    Heat being one of my favorites, along with Usual Suspects and John McTiernan’s Thomas Crown Affair. So to dig for one that hasn’t been mentioned yet I’ll go with Dead Presidents. I like how it’s a friendship story, a Vietnam flick and a heist movie all into one. I wonder if that one will ever make it to blu?

  4. EM

    The Lavender Hill Mob is a 1951 Ealing Studios comedy starring Alec Guinness as a mousy bank clerk who masterminds a robbery of gold bullion from his own bank. While the humor is solid throughout, the film cements its status as a comedy classic later in the film when a madcap chase begins on the Eiffel Tower. A few years later the same studio and the same star would make The Ladykillers, another classic comedy which also features a heist, if not as a heist film per se.

  5. Bolo

    ‘The Getaway’, Sam Peckinpah, Steve McQueen, and Walter Hill all at their best. Solid supporting cast. The part where McQueen is tearing it up with that shotgun against the cops raises my pulse every time. A totally different ending than Jim Thompson’s source novel, but in the film I think it works.

  6. The Sting remains a classic and perhaps my favorite heist film…though I’m not sure if it’s purely a heist film. As mentioned earlier, The Thomas Crown Affair remake with Brosnan and Russo is right up there on my list…lots of chemistry, fantastic film score and music, and even Dennis Leary is a revelation.

  7. Chris

    O have to go with The Score with Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton. Great performances from everyone in it, especially Norton

  8. Does Dog Day Afternoon count? That’s an amazing one from Sidney Lumet. Heat is a great pick, and Point Break has always been a favorite of mine. Theoretically Die Hard should be the winner here-Hans and co trying to steal all those bonds from Nakatomi Tower’s vault.
    Also really enjoy David Mamet’s Heist with Gene Hackman.
    And no one has mentioned Inside Man yet? Maybe not truly a “heist” film, but it has some of the same elements.

  9. JERP

    I like Josh’s selection. It may not qualify but I’d like to add the train heist sequence in the Wild Bunch which is awesome and funny and the bridge blowing up with men and horses on it wasn’t CGI back then. Inside Man was a different heist film and I liked the robberies depicted in Bonnie and Clyde.

  10. Bill

    I’d like to single out the last segment of How The West Was Won., the gold train robbery. It’s really not that good but just about every cliché/stereotype/situation from dozens of train robbery movies are condensed into about 30 (?) minutes. After you’ve seen it nothing can be original.

    Also agree with Kubrick’s The Killing. It is just fascinating as we watch what seemed to be a well planned robbery going bad. Great acting by mostly “B” level actors. A classic film of its genre. Wish it was on BD.

    • Csm101

      Criterion has it on blu, but it’s region A locked. I’m not sure if that would be a deal breaker for you. That one has been on my radar for a long time.

  11. William Henley

    My first thought was that I am not a heist movie fan, then I thought what a heist actually was. Immediately two films came to mind, and I bet your first reaction is “What the heck?” because they are not classified as heist films.

    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

    No, hear me out.

    In a heist, you go through an elaborate planning stage, training stage, and usually a bunch of obstacles trying to get to your goal. Whether anyone recognizes that a heist has occurred depends on the framework of the story and how much destruction or attention the people wanted.

    So in the first Harry Potter movie, the trio finds out about the Stone. They assume that the protection of the school is not good enough to keep Snape from getting the stone, so they decide to steal it first. Now the planning stage is not that elaborate, but the training (which happens before the planning in this case) is a good half of the book. They go through all these obstacles just to find out that someone else (not who they expected) had already gotten there first. However, due to sentimental magic, Harry does end up with the Stone and successfully keeps the enemy from acquiring it. While it did not go as planned, the heist was successful.

    In the Deathly Hallows, we have objects that are protected by specific witches and wizards, so we see a planning stage of breaking into the Ministry, in disguise, and actually stealing the object. Later, we see the trio break into a bank vault, and destroy the bank in the process, and finally they break into the Ravenclaw common room. In two of these three instances, they are stealing an object.

    So I will argue that these two stories are great heist films.

      • William Henley

        My first thought was yes, as the looting is the climax of the story. However, there really is not much preparation for the looting – rather Disney’s Robin Hood is a series of loosely connected events. In the Harry Potter world, this would be like adding in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – them going to the Ministry was a fairly last minute decision. You could argue that in the first movie, them stealing the stone is a last minute decision, but the difference is that half the movie is them learning about the history of the stone while learning magic.

        I would also say that the difference between a robbery, looting and a heist is that usually in a Heist, you have a specific item you are trying to steal from a specific location. In looting (Disney’s Robin Hood), you go in and grab whatever you can get your hands on. Planning is rarely done in looting. In a robbery, you take anything of value from a person, with force or violence, or with the threat of force or violence. A robber will generally not break in. A burglery usually involves breaking and entering, but is also done with stealth. A burglery usually has planning limited to how to get in and how to get out, and is looking for items of value, but usually has little idea what specifically they will find.

        So yes, I would say to qualify as a heist, you need to be going after a specific object (gold is acceptable), and a plan needs to be involved

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