C’mon – we’re all friends here so let’s admit it: the idea of successfully pulling off a great bank robbery or art gallery heist is exciting in so many ways. Who doesn’t want a black velvet pouch filled with glittering diamonds?
For the really big ones you need to put a gang together – think Ocean’s Eleven (first made in 1960 with five of the Rat Pack members, and again in 2001 with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and a host of Hollywood heavyweights), Twelve and Thirteen – and have a grand and complicated plan, which can go wrong at any time.
Extra points are scored for “one last job” or escapades that will solve all the money problems in life; a getaway car with a hot-shot driver is essential, and there should be at least one veteran who has seen and done it all. Don’t forget a safe cracker and an explosives expert, and if you can find someone who just got out of prison where he or she was cell mates with another someone who has valuable inside information, you’re well on your way. Oh, and definitely some really cool masks. Which makes me wonder if the golden age of bank robberies can be relived in 2020…
Maybe I’ve thought about this a bit, but I’m not the only one. Heist and robbery movies are virtually a trope all on their own, and contain tropes within time-tested tropes: “The planning montage, the inevitable need to change plans on the fly, the high-speed getaway — have thrilled audiences for over half a century,” says Time, in its list of 25 heist movies.
We’ve refined our list to just 10.
(Also, Time – you may want to revise your statement: The Great Train Robbery, a silent short film, was capturing attention all the way back in 1903.)
Additional points can be unlocked for movies that are based on true stories, loosely or tightly. This one is about a group of college students who decide to steal some valuable books from the library.
They come across as not really bad guys who are perhaps a little bored, and there’s a fair amount of bumbling humour as they try to find a fence. Evan Peters of American Horror Story fame stars.
Baby Driver (Netflix)
The brilliant soundtrack hooks you in from the opening scene and sets up the theme of Baby (Ansel Elgort), who is the driver, and how music rules his world as it has shaped him since he was a child. The leader of the gang, Doc, is played by Kevin Spacey, who controls Baby because of a debt that is owed.
When Baby meets a girl, he sets out to go straight. Obviously, there are great car chase scenes. John Hamm (Mad Men) is in it too.
How To Steal 2 Million (Showmax and Netflix)
A South African movie, the title is probably as misleading for an instruction manual as How To Get Away With Murder. You’re going to have to look elsewhere for those tips and handy hints.
“The movie tells the story of Jack, an honourable thief who has just emerged from five years in prison for robbery. His partner in crime and best friend Twala was never caught, and Jack never talked. But Twala has proved as treacherous as Jack is loyal by marrying Jack’s former fiancée during his prison term.
“On his release Jack decides to go straight. He wants to start a construction business, but when a loan is denied he must find another source of capital.” – Gauteng Film Commission.
I nearly overlooked this one but thanks to Time, I’ve added it to my watch list. “Soderbergh returns to what he does best with Logan Lucky, a movie about self-proclaimed hillbillies who are smarter than they let on. The film reunites Channing Tatum with his Magic Mike director and adds Daniel Craig, Adam Driver and Riley Keough to the crew that hatches a plan to rob a motor speedway. With self-aware humor — at one point the heist is dubbed Ocean’s 7-11 — and emotional heft in the form of a young daughter for Tatum, Soderbergh expands on the genre by introducing characters who are rarely allowed to outwit the authorities.”
In case you missed it, Soderbergh – in his prolific career – directed the Ocean’s franchise.
Also: Channing Tatum. And cars. Say no more.
Money Heist (Netflix)
This Spanish series in four parts has been a hit for Netflix, and it’s been announced that a finale is on the cards. The initial target is the Royal Mint of Spain, with an intricately planned offensive masterminded by a professor who carefully recruits his team.
“The series was as slickly executed as the heist. It had everything a heist needs; wild ingenuity, loveable rogues and a clear sense of physical geography. Except for The Professor, the gang were inside, surrounded by the cops. It was a post-crash thriller, with a Robin Hood moral angle. Not only were we rooting for them, but they might actually be the good guys,” teases Independent UK.
Sandra Bullock stars as Danny Ocean’s sister in this one, which sees an all-women gang targeting the lavish Met Gala. It’s a great opportunity for fabulous fashion and never pretends to be anything it’s not. Variety called it “a heist caper that’s clever enough to get by and sly enough to treat its female cast as a natural spin on the ‘Ocean’s’ brand.”
Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindi Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Dakota Fanning … it’s a Hollywood who’s who of a cast, plus there’s a list as long as your arm of celebs who cameo as themselves.
For all intents and purposes, this is the movie that put Quentin Tarantino on the writing and directing map. Made in 1992, it’s about a jewellery store heist, and the heisters refer to each other by code names like Mr White, Mr Pink, Mr Orange and so on.
The cast is stellar, with some of these actors going on to appear in future Tarantino projects: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen … even Tarantino, who is never shy to insert himself, with his giant chin, in his own films. Standout scene: the ear in the warehouse. If you know, you know.
Fun fact: Harvey Keitel and Michael Madsen appeared together in Thelma & Louise as well.
Robert Redford’s The West (Netflix)
Cowboys and Indians (pre-PC days), outlaws and sheriffs, train robberies and daring escapes…the Wild West of the USA is the stuff of legends. Legends like Jesse James, Billy The Kid, Wyatt Earp and many others who have been immortalised on celluloid (once upon a time) but their stories never grow old and die, like they did.
How can you not be intrigued by this piece of historical information? “On February 13, 1866, several men believed to be members of the James-Younger Gang robbed the Clay County Savings Association in Liberty, Missouri, shooting a 19-year-old student and escaping with $60 000. This is claimed to be the first successful peacetime bank robbery in US history.”
Fun fact: Redford played the Sundance Kid opposite Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, a classic movie about two train robbers.
Former models in those photo books we used to read in the 1970s, even though our mothers sternly forbade us, Lulu and Faith, now in their golden years, are robbed of their life savings by a corrupt pension boss played by none other than musician Chris Chameleon.
If that alone isn’t a reason to watch this deliciously South African film, I don’t know what is. Maybe the fact our heroines are played by acting legends Brümilda van Rensburg and Lillian Dube? Or that Tobie Cronje is also in the cast?
Enlisting some help, they set out to steal back the money.
The Town (Netflix)
Google has the question: what is the movie where they rob a bank? Before you fall about laughing at such a sweeping generalisation, there is an answer, and the answer is The Town. Which suggests it’s the bank robbery movie to top all bank robbery movies.
There might be a point here. The National Board of Review listed it in its top 10 for 2010, Jeremy Renner got an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor, and Pete Postlethwaite was posthumously recognised for a best supporting actor BAFTA.
The Boston setting and robbing of Fenway Park sees Ben Affleck headlining (and directing, as well as co-writing the screenplay) in the tale of four lifelong friends tackling one final score. “Affleck captures telling, novel moments… the little details that tell you that this gang are driven to keep things clean. None of the action in The Town is overblown or movie movie-ish,” says Empire.
Plus, a bonus series pick…
Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist (Netflix)
On an afternoon in August 2003, pizza delivery man Brian Wells walked into a bank, handed the teller a note demanding money, and after informing her he had a bomb strapped to him, left. He was soon apprehended, but it didn’t end well. Because, you know, bomb (not for sensitive viewers). This isn’t a spoiler, as, believe it or not, the documentary series is based on a true story. There are way more questions than answers, even all these years later, and it could be subtitled “strangest” rather than “most diabolical”; although it was that, too.
“The case is truly bizarre, and the shocking details are enough to make Evil Genius worth watching,” says GQ.