There’s no shortage of great heist movies – all of which might inspire you to round up your mates to pull off a grand-slam robbery. (I’m joking. Don’t do this.) Watching the workings of criminals is a fun escape from everyday life, and heist films are in full throttle, with Baby Driver and Logan Lucky being recent offerings.
But which are the best? I’m looking at my favourites, which are mainly films at the hardboiled end of the genre. My picks range from 1975 to a couple of years ago. I wanted to include both contemporary movies and older titles you might not have gotten around to seeing.
Okay, let’s dig in. Here are my top 10 heist movies to stream or catch on DVD.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
The bank robbery in Dog Day Afternoon should have been a simple job; stick ’em up, grab the cash and get out. But when Sonny (Al Pacino) and his partners hold up a bank, the situation gets out of hand and turns into a media circus. They get stuck in the bank with their hostages, and it becomes the hottest thing on live TV.
Police, regular folk and camera crews swarm the bank when news breaks out about the attempted robbery. The film is one long standoff between Sonny and the law enforcement. It’s a pulsating, fun heist film that’s based on a true story.
Straight Time (1978)
Straight Time is something of a lost gem. It stars Dustin Hoffman as Max Dembo, an ex-con trying to go (you guessed it), straight. At the start of the film, he’s out on parole and wants to turn his life around. But his good-guy attempt doesn’t quite work out, as he soon gets involved in an armed robbery. This is a stylish, brisk, well-acted crime caper.
Reservoir Dogs (1991)
The only film on this list where you don’t see the heist itself. Reservoir Dogs shows what you can do on a low-budget. There are no guys with explosives or car chases on a freeway, yet you still feel the tension and anxiety. It focuses on the aftermath of the robbery. One of the gang is a rat. Quentin Tarantino launched himself into the movie world with Reservoir Dogs, introducing a new style of filmmaking.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Anyone who watched The Usual Suspects, having known about the big reveal beforehand, must have been kicking themselves. To me, that twist was incredible. It changes the whole dynamic of the movie. When the penny drops, you realise you were watching something much more complex the whole time. It’s an intriguing story of how a police line-up of criminals ends up working together on a heist-gone-wrong. Enjoyable the first time you see it, even better on the second viewing.
Most reviews of Heat are obsessed with it being the first onscreen pairing of Al Pacino and Robert DiNero. Sure, it was a big deal at the time, but all the focus should be on how it’s a sprawling epic of a crime movie. It’s almost three-hours long and filled with frantic action sequences and enthralling robbery set-pieces. In fact, the robbery scenes are regarded with such authenticity, that it inspired real-life copycat crimes.
Snatch is a smart, energetic film about several crooked characters. It has intertwining stories about a diamond heist and a bare-knuckle boxing contest. It’s my least favourite film on this list, but I like its style and the way each character has a connection to the diamond. Brad Pitt does a weird, gipsy accent. The way he talks is hilarious. You can’t take him seriously, but he adds another element to the comical plot that’s very entertaining.
Public Enemies (2009)
Public Enemies isn’t so much about bank robbing as it is about a bank robber. John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) carried out many different heists in 1930s America. This movie is about his life and if it isn’t obvious already, he wasn’t a nice man. The film shows you how the feds spent years tracking him down, and how Dillinger’s crimes gripped the nation. This is a very good heist, action-thriller.
Inception is a different type of heist movie; it’s about robbing information from the mind. Christopher Nolan assumes viewers are intelligent and crafts a psycho-visual masterpiece. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes through hell in this movie. You know what, he’d have an easier time doing bank robberies because at least then, the memories of his wife wouldn’t keep messing up the operation!
The Town (2010)
The Town is Ben Affleck’s second film as a director and it features some of the most vicious robbery scenes in contemporary cinema. Doug McRay’s (Affleck) Boston gang don’t mess around. When they rob banks, they’ll take out anyone who gets in the way. I like Ben Affleck and I imagine he watched dozens of heist movies before shooting The Town. It’s a brilliant action thriller, with good emotional content and great acting.
Hell or High Water (2016)
Hell or High Water is such an underrated film, man. Only a small crop of audiences took notice of it when it came out. It’s an old-fashioned tale of two brothers, who commit a series of bank robberies to save their family ranch from foreclosure. Set in dusty Texas, it’s one of the many recent Neo-Westerns. This is an excellent film in general and features yet another class performance from Jeff Bridges.
While many of these are character pieces, they all use the “heist” concept. Inception might be a sci-fi thriller, but it’s also a great crime caper movie. The main appeal of these films is you get to see things you would never do in real-life. If there’s a film on this list you haven’t seen, you should definitely check it out. Sit back and enjoy the bad guys wreak havoc.
Your opinions on this list are more than welcome in the comment section!