Sunday, August 21, 2011

I only lied about being a thief: The final five heist films we remember most

Let the countdown continue.

5. Out of Sight

George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez display great chemistry while respectively portraying a career bank robber who’s on the run and a U.S. Marshal working the case to find him. The dialogue is sharp and slick, and the way the plot weaves and twists through timelines is executed brilliantly by director, Steven Soderbergh, while never detracting from the funny and delightful cast of characters rounded out by Ving Rhames, Steve Zaun, Don Cheadle, Dennis Farina and Albert Brooks. It’s a smart, must-see heist film.

4. The Thomas Crown Affair

In this well-crafted, stylish remake of the popular 1968 caper film, Pierce Brosnan is well cast as Thomas Crown, a sly billionaire businessman and part-time thief. Bored with being able to buy everything he desires, he steals priceless art for sport and adventure. When a priceless Monet painting is stolen from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, investigator Catherine Banning (played strongly and seductively by Rene Russo) is brought in to track down the thief. Banning suspects Crown is the culprit, penetrates his inner circle to get close to him, and winds up falling for him.

3. Inception

Inception is one of those rare films that is smart, original, and brilliantly put together with eye-popping special effects and a visionary original script. It’s the most unique heist film on this list since it also belongs to the sci-fi genre and because its plot about a thief who steals ideas; not objects, differs from classic heist film archetypes. One archetype the film does execute exceptionally well is the “one last big job” element with psychic espionage as the ultimate objective.

2. Ocean’s Eleven

The 2001 remake of the 1960 Rat Pat caper bears some resemblance to its predecessor in lead con man, Danny Ocean, his desire for a new challenge, and the eleven conmen he conspires with to rob casinos in Vegas. But the Hollywood remake is better than the original with a star-studded ensemble cast, impeccably written script, and the heist to end all heists. It’s a witty, clever, entertaining and cool tale with superb dialogue delivery, suave and smooth acting performances and an understated ending that works better than the conventional loud and splashy shootout. The remake effectively maintains the original film’s classy edge while delivering all kinds of entertainment.

1. Heat

It’s a Michael Mann film starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Need we say more? Though DeNiro and Pacino only share but a few minutes onscreen together, there is no denying that their very presence together in Heat is one reason why the film is so compelling. With a running time of nearly three hours, one might expect the movie to lag and drag at the two-hour mark, but it doesn’t. The action builds solidly for the first two hours and ends with a final bank robbery that features a fantastically vivid shootout scene. It’s not just an action picture. It’s a deconstruction of two men – one a cop; one a robber – and the intense devotion they have for their work and the way they need each other in order to maintain a sense of purpose in doing what they love to do.

What are your most memorable heist films? Let us know the comments section.


  1. No love for 3000 Miles to Graceland, JBT? Oh wait, that film was awful. :)

    Some of my favourites include: The Taking of One Two Three, A Fish Called Wanda, The Wilde Bunch, Bottle Rocket,and Sexy Beast

  2. Phips1:32 pm

    oooh! great top 5. i love all of these films.

    your top 10 list of heist films is awesome.

  3. @CS - Good call on Bottle Rocket and Sexy Beast. Anderson's movies are so unique I keep forgetting about the amazing line that highlights it's heist DNA ("They'll never catch me." "Why?" "Because I'm fucking innocent.")

    Interesting conclusion. I love the inclusion of Out of Sight and hate that Jennifer Lopez so thoroughly destroyed her public image because it's hard for me to get people to watch it. Short of Sex, Lies and Videotape it's Soderbergh's best movie.

    I have to admit I'm pretty cold to the rest. Ocean's Eleven is the most entertaining out of the remainders and the iconic battles of Heat bored me more than excited, even if De Niro and Pacino's plot lines did what they could to make up for it.

    Also I've come to accept that Inception is my nemesis, especially when we're talking boring gun battles. I think it's so firmly ingrained in everyone's mind because it starts strong, pauses in the middle for what really is one of the best action scenes, and then concludes with another bang. But between those moments we have endless uninteresting exposition that gets thrown away as soon as the plot proper gets going, rehashed Bond imagery without any of the flair or charm, and a very cheap and irrelevant ending.

    Anyway, overall a good list. It's given me a lot to ponder looking at older versus newer heist films. I might have to take a stab, having already done a thorough write-up of Rififi and would love to revisit The Good Thief (which I still hold is superior to the original and an excellent commentary on remakes overall).

    Thanks for the time and thoughts, I look forward to reading more of ya'lls articles.

  4. dEmon8:24 pm

    Argh! You weren't lying when you suggested I'd be disgruntled. Out of Sight? I can't even watch that movie. Out of all of SS's films, it's my least favourite. The only thing entertaining about that film was Steve Zahn. Thomas Crown Affair... the story is there, but I found it beyond cheesy. Inception was arresting visually and the concept was interesting, but, like Andrew said, it got real boring in places. I'd even forgotten there was a heist involved, that's how much that movie interested me. Heat I haven't seen, so you may very well be right. Out of all of them, Ocean's Eleven is the only one I sort of agree with. It has the story and the right kind of swagger for a heist film. Perhaps what this list points out is that heist films, though they seem to be a dime a dozen, no one has yet to perfect it (though The Good Thief comes close!)

  5. @CS - Whoa, 3000 Miles to Graceland - I couldn't even get through it. Ha!

    A Fish Called Wanda is a great comedic heist movie. It just narrowly missed making the list, but it definitely deserves an honourable mention, so thanks for that. I've never seen Sexy Beast, but intend to now that it's been commented on quite a bit during heist week.

    @Phips - thanks a bunch! I'm thrilled that you liked the 10 selections.

    @Andrew - thanks for the great feedback. I will have to check out Bottle Rocket along with Sexy Beast.

    Out of Sight is a great movie and it should be given a chance. I've run into the same problem where those I recommend it to are quick to dismiss it once there hear that Jennifer Lopez is in it, yet she's actually good in the film.

    Your take on Inception is well put and I can't disagree entirely with you about those moments of exposition that interrupt the superior parts of the film. For me, though, the good aspects of the film far outweigh the negative ones.

    An older versus newer heist films post would make for a great read - I hope you do it!

    The Good Thief is another film I haven't seen, so thanks for the mention. I will be sure to check it out.

    @dEmon - I apologize for leaving you disgruntled at the conclusion of the list. Coming up with a top ten list that's on par with others' top ten is tough business. I appreciate you staying tuned and sharing some great feedback.

    Heat is worth seeing.

  6. If you've read my post then you know that I like Out of Sight a lot.

    I liked both versions of The Thomas Crown Affair, but the remake does show you more of the heist action.

    I never really thought of Inception as a heist film, perhaps because they were putting something in place, not taking it. Interesting take on it.

    I liked the Oceans Eleven remake a lot, even with the plot hole about the stuff in the bags.

    Unfortunately, I can't go five for five. I mostly watched Heat to see Deniro and Pacino together and the few minutes they are on screen with each other they don't even show them in the same shot. I honestly don't even remember the heist, but I do remember the gun battle afterwards.

  7. Bloody good list! THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR is great! "Do u wanna dance or doyou wanna dance???" So much class. Brosnan is brilliant.

  8. Glad to see some love for Ocean's Eleven, a pretty underrated movie IMO. And obviously Heat will always be first. The final heist sequence being more awesome than all the other movies combined!

  9. @Chip Lary - I just read your post on Out of Sight - great review of a great film.

    If Heat is a letdown in some regard, it's in the lack of screen time that Pacino and DeNiro share together. I remember when the film came out and how it was touted as the first film to bring the two heavy-hitting actors together. Of course, upon seeing it, it seemed unfair for it to be marketed that way. Nonetheless, I thought the film as a whole made up for the lack of Pacino/DeNiro onscreen togetherness.

    @simoncolumb - Brosnan's portrayal of Thomas Crown is second only to his stint as James Bond. He was really great in the heist film.

    @Castor - Ocean's Eleven is a fun ride and the final heist sequence in Heat is so darn good.

  10. @JBT - Thanks. I'm glad you liked the review.

    One clarification - I don't dislike Heat; it's just like you pointed out - the marketing made me think it would be delivering something that it did not.

  11. Good list! I love heist films. One of my favorite subgenres. I'd throw in some older titles on my list, like Rififi, Bug Deal on Madonna Street (which is a comedic riff on Rififi), and Topkapi. Great stuff in there. Also, I tend to think of The Great Escape and various other prison break films like heist films in reverse, especially if they have detailed plans and execution for how to break out. The overall structure is pretty similar.

    It is interesting that a bunch of these are remakes, and I actually agree that in some cases, like Ocean's Eleven, the new one is an improvement. Thomas Crown Affair, not sure. The original is pretty slight, but it does have that great chess seduction scene, which I think far outdoes the remake's more overt sexcapades. The actual heist in the remake is awesome, though,

  12. I remember being obsessed with trying to figure out how that how compression-briefcase thing worked in The Thomas Crown Affair.

    Great list. For a slightly more unconventional pick, I'd go with Bresson's Pickpocket. Great, subtle thievery in that.

  13. @Alex Withrow - the painting folded into the briefcase doesn't work. It's a goof. It would have broken the inner frame that is backing the canvas.

  14. @Chip Lary - gotcha. Yes, the marketing definitely gave the impression that the movie was a different kind of movie.

    @Jandy Stone - thanks! Glad you like the list. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the other films you mention. I'll have to add them to the ever-growing "to see" list growing out of comments on this blog.

    Some remakes don't hold a candle to the originals, but Ocean's and Thomas Crown are indeed good ones. I agree - Ocean's is the better remake of the two. The final heist in Thomas Crown is really good.

    @Alex Withrow - the briefcase trick was clever for film.

    I'm glad you liked the list. Thanks for mentioning Pickpocket. I'll have to check it out some time.


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