Few cinematic subgenres are as thrilling as the heist movie, where desperate men and women endeavor to take what isn’t theirs via elaborate plots that invariably put themselves — and their loved ones — in urgent peril. Sometimes they’re funny (Bad Santa, Bottle Rocket), sometimes they’re fatalistic (Bob le flambeur), and sometimes they’re action-packed (Point Break, Bonnie & Clyde). Yet no matter their tone, at their finest, they generate an adrenalized rush from watching a team of ne’er-do-wells trying to execute schemes that require canny strategy, precise maneuvers and nerves of steel.
To that illustrious group we can now add Logan Lucky, this Friday’s southern-friend tale of two brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) who partner with a wacko safecracker (Daniel Craig) to alleviate the Charlotte Motor Speedway of its considerable loot. Directed by Steven Soderbergh — the man behind all three George Clooney-led Ocean’s Eleven capers — it’s an inventive late-summer blast of humor and suspense. And, as one might expect, it features a prolonged robbery sequence that stands toe-to-toe with any in recent film history. To celebrate its impending release, we thus set about compiling our own list of the 10 best movie heist scenes — a collection of moments fit to raise the pulse (and instigate the nail-biting) of any genre-loving cinephile.
Sterling Hayden is determined to take down a racetrack in Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 film noir, which is as lean, tough and downbeat as they come. Though things eventually go awry thanks to jealousy, distrust and the cruel hand of fate, the heist itself is something of a success, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Hayden, who performs his duties in a clown mask that would later inspire The Dark Knight’s opener.
The Usual Suspects
Bryan Singer’s 1995 sophomore feature has an all-time great twist ending, which reveals that the entire film was, in a sense, a con. Even so, there are actual robberies to be found in Christopher McQuarrie’s Oscar-winning script, including the below scene, in which “New York’s finest taxi service” — an operation in which crooked cops chauffeur drug dealers around the city — finds itself targeted for a stick-up.
Michael Mann’s 1995 epic hinges on a showdown between a cop and a crook played by Hollywood icons Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, whose central scene together — set at a coffee shop – remains the stuff of legend. Nonetheless, the film is also remarkable for its spectacular robbery orchestrated by De Niro and Val Kilmer’s thieves, and which eventually devolves into an intense shootout on the streets of L.A.
Each of Steven Soderbergh’s three Ocean’s films boast elaborately designed plans involving multiple players, inventive disguises and daring feats, not to mention a number of humorous twists and turns. Of the trilogy’s many clockwork ruses, however, the best is found in the 2001 original, in which George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and the rest of their crew set their sights on Andy Garcia’s casino.
The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s 2008 Batman sequel commences with a Michael Mann-inspired bank robbery committed by a group of gunmen in clown masks. As we soon learn, the establishment is actually a front for the mob, a fact about which the perpetrators seem all too aware. And as they soon learn, the biggest threat they face doesn’t come from the individuals they’re fleecing, but from each other.
Jonathan Glazer’s 2000 directorial debut is a blistering crime film about an ex-safecracker (Ray Winstone) whose retirement in Spain is rudely interrupted by the arrival of Ben Kingsley’s psychotic former colleague, who wants his pal to join him on another job — and won’t take no for an answer. A hallucinatory nightmare full of endless F-bombs ensues, culminating in an underwater heist whose tension comes less from the crime itself, and more from the characters’ interpersonal conflicts.
The Asphalt Jungle
The granddaddy of American heist movies is John Huston’s crackerjack 1950s tale about a man who, upon being released from prison, hires three professionals — including Sterling Hayden – to pull off an elaborate jewelry-snatching job. It’s a work of rugged, remarkable artistry, replete with an eleven-minute robbery sequence that set a new standard for edge-of-your-seat thrills.
The Italian Job
Michael Caine can’t leave the criminal life behind in The Italian Job, in which his Charlie Croker decides to undertake a former comrade’s plan to steal gold and then escape with it in three Mini Cooper S cars, all while one of his team members (Bennie Hill!) reprograms the city of Turin, Italy’s traffic systems to their advantage. No matter the American remake’s star power, the 1969 original remains superior in every way.
Dog Day Afternoon
Sidney Lumet’s 1975 masterpiece — based on a true story — stars Al Pacino and John Cazale as amateur thieves who set about robbing the First Brooklyn Savings Bank, only to find themselves in a hostage standoff with police. The entire film is thus one prolonged heist-like scenario, and commences with an initial stick-up sequence enveloped in an air of impending doom.
Jules Dassin’s 1955 classic is arguably the king of the heist-movie hill, thanks in part to a jewelry-store robbery sequence that lasts for nearly 30 minutes — and is orchestrated without music or virtually any dialogue. Detailing its characters’ actions with meticulous intensity, it’s filmmaking at its most taut and dynamic, as evidenced by the above clip, which is only a portion of the famous theft. (No YouTube clip is available, but you can watch at TCM.com.)