Without question, the heist movie is the epitome of the "guy movie." There's nothing more appealing to a daydreaming man than the lure of being part of a crew that knocks off a bank or pulls one over on the Man. Sure, the fantasy of the financial gain is nice, but little else beats the idea of being a part of a band of brothers on a mission no one else can know about. In addition, to most laymen there's something sexy about the planning and plotting of a great caper.
Then again, carefully calculated police response times and religiously rehearsed escape routes aren't the only winning ingredients of a heist movie. Sometimes cracking a vault or hijacking a transport just needs to be flat-out fun, which is precisely what Nimrod Antal's Armored (opening this week) looks like. And while I must give a tip of my hat to great, strictly dramatic heist films like Dog Day Afternoon, The Asphalt Jungle, and Set it Off (kidding), it's the more energetic side of a life of crime that this list is paying ordinal tribute to.
Ronin features a car chase across the streets of France that is, even a decade later, rarely matched on film; more double crosses than you can shake a mysterious briefcase at; and Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard and Robert De Niro, the most definitive heist ringleader there is. Ronin is the kind of hardboiled, tightly plotted film I imagine anyone plotting a real heist would watch and take notes on.
9. Quick Change
Kudos to Quick Change for giving a refreshing spin on the robbery formula. Making it out of the bank is surprisingly easy; making it out of the city, however, isn't. Given how comedic it is, and how Bill Murray and Co. are relatively skill-less, Quick Change doesn't conform to the chief appeal of the heist film (being a part of the crew), but we can all still sympathize with Murray's character, a man who has just had it with life in NY and has decided to do something about it.
8. Panic Room
I don't know anyone who actively hates Panic Room, yet I also know few who sing its praises, but damn if it isn't one of the best pot-boiler heist films around. As with The Good, the Bad, the Weird, David Koepp's script wastes no time with establishing the ways and means of the heist, rather it just sticks the besieged mother and daughter right on top of the riches the trio doing the sieging covet.David Fincher's omnipresent style transforms the simple premise into a truly visually stimulating thriller that is often imitated but rarely matched. And, of course, we can't forget Raoul, a fascinating scumbag whose implacable motive and unwavering voice make him one of the most ominous robbers to ever don a ski mask on film.
7. The Italian Job
By opting for the remake of The Italian Job over the original I have no intention of disparaging the source film, it's simply that the update is an over-the-top, couldn't-possibly-happen heist film, which is a rarity. Roads are blown up, armored trucks are dropped into sewer systems, and Mini Coopers actually look cool for once, all in the name of revenge. The action is a trip, but what makes the film is the cast, particularly Charlize Theron, Mos Def, Seth Green, and Edward Norton.
6. The Good, the Bad, the Weird
It's typical for the audience to spend the better portion of a heist film watching the actual act being meticulously planned out. That's not the case with the freak of nature that is South Korea's riff on spaghetti westerns, The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Ji-woon Kim's film opens in the middle of a heist that finds our titular triumvirate trading bullets on a train as it speeds through the desert: the Bad is after a treasure map, the Good is there to stop him, and the Weird (who is arguably the most enjoyable wild card in any heist film) just happens to be robbing the train when they both show up, oblivious to how valuable said map actually is. Movies shouldn't be allowed to be this damn cool.
5. Office Space
Yes, Office Space. Mike Judge's film is universally adored for how expertly it eviscerates the monotony of cubical life, but one must keep in mind that the actual plot of involves three friends stealing millions upon millions of dollars from a soul-crushing corporation. And while it may be fun to imagine being a member of a group that commits its crime with machine guns and smoke grenades, the grand larceny at the core of Office Space is the only crime most of us could feasibly attempt; which is why we root for the underdogs in Office Space just as hard as we do in any of the above films, despite the absence of a single firearm.
4. Inside Man
Spike Lee's Inside Man requires no explanation; all it needs is a defiant shout of "This ain't no bank robbery!" Great script, great actors, but what really makes this a winner is the fact that even with dozens and dozens of heist films making its existence possible, it can still pull one over on the audience while having them rooting for both the crook and the cop.
3. Point Break
While the over-the-top, couldn't-possibly-happen heist film is a rarity, this special breed does appear twice on this list. Point Break is so wild it makes The Italian Job look like Ronin, but it's impossible to not fall in love with a movie whose criminals are surfers. It's easily the most ludicrous heist film on this list, but hell if it isn't a riot to watch. And as a bonus, one can peg Point Break as the starting point of Kathryn Bigelow's examination of man's addiction to adrenaline rushes, which took on a visceral sci-fi approach in Strange Days, before culminating in the powder keg of tension that is The Hurt Locker.
2. The First Great Train Robbery
Gotta love a title that throws down the gauntlet. Sure, other people have robbed trains, but not like this. This is The First Great Train Robbery, and unlike any of its peers on this list, is based on an actual heist. Written and directed by Michael Crichton and based off his book of the same name, The First Great Train Robbery is almost fetishistic with how it approaches pulling off a caper that seems downright impossible, particularly when considering the Victorian England setting. Plus, Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland make a great team on screen.
While this list has had fun tasting the many flavors of the heist film, there's no bullshitting about who reigns as King. Michael Mann's Heat is so damned good I'm honestly shocked it didn't inspire a rash of robberies when it came out back in 1995. Heat sets the bar for robbery scenes, for escape scenes, for cat-and-mouse cop games, and for cold-hearted badasses. Every line of dialogue that comes out of Robert De Niro's is practically a recruitment video for a life of crime, and Mann doesn't pull a single punch throughout its appropriately extraordinary run time. Heat is the manliest film ever made. End of discussion.