When Michael Mann’s Heat arrived in the waning days of 1995, audiences came for a showdown between two acting titans and walked away having watched a reinvention of the heist genre. Bigger, more sprawling, and more ambitious than the competition, Heat layered multiple subplots and fringe characters into its tale of a master thief hunted at every turn by a cop who’s just as obsessive as he is—a trope that has since become a staple of the genre.
Mann’s masterwork is known for its incredible action sequences and masterful performances from Robert de Niro and Al Pacino, who appeared on screen together for the first time. The two play opposite sides of the coin: de Niro’s Neil McCauley is a cold and calculated career criminal devoted to his craft above all else, while Pacino’s Lt. Vincent Hanna’s fixation on police work has left a trail of failed relationships in his wake. Naturally, both men respect the hell out of each other.
With its deep cast and story boiled down from Mann’s script for an aborted TV series, Heat quickly entered the pantheon of crime films as well as Los Angeles epics. While there are certain films whose directors have stated outright they were influenced by Heat, other choices on this list are more subtle in how they reference or subvert Mann’s work. So grab your rival and square up over a cup of coffee as we dive into the best Heat-like movies since Heat.
9. Takers. If there’s one worthwhile takeaway from Takers it’s that T.I. absolutely gives good villain. With his trademark flair for high-value thesaurus words and an almost reptilian energy, Tip is charming in the way the best bad guys should be. Unfortunately, the film around him isn’t quite as captivating. There’s an eight-figure armored truck heist that grinds the city to a violent halt, a crew of rogues that gets betrayed by one of their own, and a dogged cop on their trail. But it’s a strange state of affairs when T.I. is the best actor in a cast that includes Idris Elba, Matt Dillon, Zoe Saldana, Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen (OK, that one’s not a surprise), all of whom spend most of the film’s many face-offs and action sequences sleepwalking. That’s likely because the script gives them little reason to tap in—Takers is about as paint-by-numbers as heist movies get.
8. Triple 9. The line between heroes and villains blurs together in John Hillcoat’s 2016 robbery movie Triple 9. Led by an all-star cast of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr, Norman Reedus, Aaron Paul, Casey Affleck, Gal Gadot, Woody Harrelson, and an unrecognizable Kate Winslet, the film’s ensemble aims to outdo Heat just by stacking the deck with sheer talent. The hook involves a group of crooked police and career criminals pulling off a heist in Atlanta by killing a fellow cop — the titular 999 is code for “officer down” — and hoping their comrades will be distracted long enough to finish the job. The same overwhelming masculinity at the core of Heat is front and center of Triple 9, but your mileage may vary on whether it's done with a knowing wink or far too self-serious— critics were decidedly mixed.
7. Grand Theft Auto V. Yes, Grand Theft Auto V is a videogame. But Rockstar’s totemic masterpiece is deeply cinematic, and the fifth edition wears its Heat influences on its sleeve. Aside from the general premise of driving around LA committing crimes and encountering weird people, protagonist Michael De Santa looks and dresses eerily like McCauley and the game pulls from Heat directly for one of its playable heists. It’s not the first time the GTA series has drawn from movies, but it might be the most blatant.
6. Baby Driver. When director Edgar Wright couldn’t film his 2017 action-movie-musical in Los Angeles, he reworked his script to focus more on Atlanta in a way that’s just as effective as the work Mann did. While Baby Driver has more in common with Walter Hill’s The Driver, there’s elements of Heat there, too (“Heat, obviously, is like the grand-daddy of heist movies,” Wright told CinemaBlend). Of course, there’s an armored truck and bank robbery, a tense diner conversation with opposing players sizing one another up, a getaway with a love interest, and even a play on the famous “the action is the juice.” While Wright is never shy about wearing his influences on his sleeve, Baby Driver’s strength sits in how it literally sings its own song—it’s the closest thing Wright has done to a musical in his career so far.
5. The Town. The Town charts a lot of the same beats as Heat: An intense heist goes awry, a hot-headed crew member stirs dissension in the ranks, dogged law enforcement hunts the thieves at every corner. Yet, this Ben Affleck-directed and written feature ultimately falls short of capturing the true spirit of Mann’s film. Sure, Affleck’s eye for action is impressive, and the claustrophobia of Charlestown, Massachusetts makes for an inspired swap from the sprawl of Los Angeles. But none of the central relationships in The Town come close to the complexity at the core of McCauley and Hanna’s relationship. Instead of standing apart from Heat, The Town feels stuck in its shadow.
4. Den of Thieves. You have to admire the bold way in which 2018’s Den of Thieves just fully commits to stealing from Heat at every single turn. The first hour or so is almost a beat-for-beat remake of Mann’s thriller: A botched armored truck robbery, an unhinged Los Angeles Sheriff's (the genuinely fantastic Gerald Butler), a methodical ex-con (Pablo Schreiber) prepping his crew for one last score — on and on the parallels continue, almost to the point of parody. That’s best illustrated by the way director Christian Gudegast puts Butler’s Big Nick and Schreiber’s Merrimen in spaces together not once, not twice, but five times throughout the movie, each more absurd than the last. The back half of the film climaxes in a legitimately tense sequence that evokes the masterwork of Sicario’s bridge scene, only to be undercut by a truly silly twist ending. Also, no amount of movie magic can make Atlanta convincingly double for Los Angeles.
3. The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan has been pretty straightforward about how Heat influenced The Dark Knight, telling IGN in a 2007 interview that Mann’s epic “was sort of an inspiration” as it related to telling a “very large, city story or the story of a city.” We disagree on the “sort of” part of Nolan’s quote; when you go so far as to cast William Fichtner and stage shots in an eerily similar way, the line between tribute and rip-off begins to blur. Nolan’s superhero masterpiece draws from Mann in its icy cinematography, the protagonists’ all-consuming quest for justice, and a showdown between competing ideologies. Hell, there’s even a famous face off over a shared table.
2. Out of Sight. There are no epic shootouts filmed with military precision in Out of Sight, but bear with me. The respect McCauley and Hanna have for one another even as they work at cross-purposes is one of Heat’s most rewarding features. That relationship is inverted into a bad romance in Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight. Charming thief Jack Foley (George Clooney) and determined U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) can’t help but be drawn to one another, despite their conflicting career choices. The hotel bar sequence in Sight mirrors Heat’s sit down in so many ways; a shared conversation over drinks, a time-out before shit completely hits the fan. In these quiet moments, the crime fades away and the obsessive intimacy at the core of both films into clear focus.
1. Widows. Widows feels like the spiritual successor to Heat because of its scope. Working off a script he co-wrote with Gillian Flynn, director Steve McQueen is intensely focused on more than just the action, using the trappings of a pulpy genre film to explore race, class, politics, and gender relations in Chicago. Just as Mann’s script allowed Pacino and de Niro to put on an acting masterclass, Viola Davis, in particular, finds a perfect balance between laser-sharp determination and cascading amounts of grief. The same can be said for Daniel Kaluuya’s Jatemme; his magnetic performance as a Terminator-like enforcer is far more dangerous and scary than anyone in McCauley’s crew. Widows knows a flashy heist doesn’t mean anything if you don’t care about the characters caught in the crossfire.
Originally Appeared on GQ