13 Great On-Screen Heists
Clooney, center, with cohorts Cheadle, Qin, and Casey Affleck
”Ocean’s Eleven”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP Smooth con Danny Ocean (George Clooney) assembles a diverse group of professional thieves, including partner-in-crime Rusty (Brad Pitt), a boyish pickpocket (Matt Damon), a cockney explosions expert (Don Cheadle), and a Chinese acrobat (Shaobo Qin).
THE JOB Break into the underground vault of three Las Vegas casinos owned by the sleekly dangerous Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), the beau of Danny’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). Danny hopes to steal back his girl as well as $150 million from Benedict.
THE CATCH The vault is the most heavily guarded area in Sin City, with a security system that supposedly could protect a nuclear missile silo. And Benedict, protective of his assets and his girlfriend, makes sure Danny is watched at all times.
DOES CRIME PAY? Usually, the house wins. This time, it’s the audience, and not just because the movie stars two of PEOPLE’s Sexiest Men Alive. The plot twists alone are delicious fun.
EW GRADE A (Read the review)
Image credit: A Fish Called Wanda: Kobal Collection FRIES WITH THAT? Kline and Palin
A Fish Called Wanda
”A Fish Called Wanda”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP Lusty American crooks Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto (Kevin Kline) team up with a pair of Brits: ringleader Georges (Tom Georgeson) and tongue-tied animal lover Ken (Michael Palin).
THE JOB A jewelry store heist
THE CATCH Wanda and Otto double-cross Georges and turn him in to the authorities. When they learn that he’s moved the stolen goods to an unknown location, Wanda cozies up to Georges’ lawyer Archie Leach (John Cleese) — and that doesn’t sit well with a crazed, jealous Otto.
DOES CRIME PAY? Not for the fish called Wanda, who pays the price for her inadvertent involvement in the criminal hijinks. However, the performers fared well: Kline nabbed himself an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
EW GRADE C (Read the review)
Image credit: How to Steal a Million: Kobal Collection DYNAMIC DUO O’Toole and Hepburn
How to Steal a Million
”How to Steal a Million”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP Nicole (Audrey Hepburn), the daughter of a millionaire art forger, teams up with dashing cat burglar Simon (Peter O’Toole).
THE JOB Steal a purportedly valuable ”Cellini Venus” statue that Nicole’s father lent to a museum, before the sculpture is appraised and outed as a fake.
THE CATCH The immediate sparks between Nicole and Simon threaten to distract them from the job at hand.
DOES CRIME PAY? Yes — not only does Nicole fall in love, but she also gets to traipse around Paris wearing fabulous Givenchy fashions. And winsome Hepburn pulls off the best heist, stealing hearts every time she’s on screen.
EW GRADE B (Read the review)
Image credit: David Lee ‘INSIDE’ MEN Owen and Washington
”Inside Man”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP Mastermind Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) and his band of painter’s-jumpsuit-clad thieves plan a seemingly foolproof bank heist scheme, one that involves dressing hostages in the same jumpsuits to confuse the police. But what is Russell really after, and who does he work for?
THE JOB Knock over a bank vault in lower Manhattan
THE CATCH Pitted against Russell are wily, troublemaking cop Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington); bank founder Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), who has something in a safe deposit box that he doesn’t want anyone to find; and power broker Madeline White (Jodie Foster), whom Case hires to keep both Russell and Frazier from unlocking his secret stash.
DOES CRIME PAY? Well, it certainly pays for first-time screenwriter Russell Gewirtz, who stole from some of the best New York crime thrillers of the 1970s (particularly Dog Day Afternoon and Marathon Man); for director Spike Lee, who enjoyed a career-revitalizing critical and commercial hit; and for viewers who enjoy twisty, puzzling plots and actors at the top of their game.
GRADE B+ (Read the Review)
Image credit: The Italian Job: Kobal Collection ODD JOB Caine (left) with his gang
The Italian Job
”The Italian Job”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP Charlie (Michael Caine), freshly released from prison, gets funding from a faiBOLD underworld boss (Noel Coward) and enlists help from a gang that includes a computer whiz (Benny Hill).
THE JOB Stealing $4 million in gold that’s being transported to Italy from China.
THE CATCH To make his plan work, Charlie needs to bring traffic to a standstill in the populous city of Turin.
DOES CRIME PAY? In a big way. So big in fact that The Italian Job was remade in 2003 with Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron. The new version scored more than a $100 million at the box office, and both films must have boosted sales figures for the makers of Mini-Coopers — which play a prominent role as zippy getaway cars.
EW GRADE B+ (Read the review)
Image credit: Barry Wetcher LOVE ‘AFFAIR’ Russo and Brosnan
The Thomas Crown Affair
”The Thomas Crown Affair”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP In this stylish remake of the 1968 Steve McQueen movie, Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) is a self-made billionaire and adventurous playboy who amuses himself by stealing high-priced artwork.
THE JOB Steal the Monet painting San Giorgio Maggiore At Dusk — which is valued at $100 million — from a heavily guarded museum, in broad daylight.
THE CATCH The insurers of the artwork hire beautiful and intelligent investigator Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) to assist the police in solving the crime, and she suspects Crown from the get-go.
DOES CRIME PAY? When it comes to Thomas Crown, it sure does. The cat-and-mouse game between the thief and detective as they try to outwit each other turns into a heavily charged love affair.
GRADE B+ (Read the review)
Image credit: The Lavender Hill Mob: Kobal Collection TOWER OF POWER Holloway and Guinness
The Lavender Hill Mob
”The Lavender Hill Mob”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP After loyal bank employee Henry Holland (Alec Guinness) meets souvenir maker Alfred Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway), Holland hatches a plan to steal the gold from the place he’s worked faithfully for 20 years.
THE JOB Melt a million dollars worth of gold buillion into Eiffel Tower statues and transport them from England to France.
THE CATCH English schoolgirls accidentally buy a few of the Eiffel Towers.
DOES CRIME PAY? It’s a worthy payoff to see Guinness play a comic character that’s light-years away from his most famous role, as Star Wars mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Image credit: The Usual Suspects: Linda R. Chen GUILTY PARTY Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Byrne, and Spacey
The Usual Suspects
”The Usual Suspects”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP Five criminals — among them ringleader Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) and crippled Verbal (Kevin Spacey) — are dragged into police custody after a robbery; while in lock-up they decide to pull a heist.
THE JOB Steal $91 million worth of cocaine belonging to legendary fearsome mobster Keyser Soze.
THE CATCH Where to begin? Verbal, narrating events to an investigating cop, tells a tricky, complicated tale of shifting identities and double-crossing, all of which hinges on the single question: Who is Keyser Soze?
DOES CRIME PAY? The ”usual suspects” meet a fiery, violent end at a San Pedro pier, but at least Kevin Spacey was able to walk away with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
GRADE B (Read the review)
Image credit: The Asphalt Jungle: Kobal Collection LAW OF THE JUNGLE The suspected jewel thieves join the lineup
The Asphalt Jungle
”The Asphalt Jungle”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP To pull off a meticulously plotted robbery, criminal mastermind ”Doc” Erwin Reidenschneider (Sam Jaffe) rounds up a gang that includes hired gun Dix (Sterling Hayden), professional safecracker Louis (Anthony Caruso), getaway driver Gus (James Whitmore), and shady lawyer Emmerich (Louis Calhern).
THE JOB Steal $1 million in jewels that Emmerich will fence for a half-million in cash.
THE CATCH Emmerich tries to make a getaway with his mistress (Marilyn Monroe, in a small but star-making role). But with the cops on their trail, the crew starts to crack from the pressure and from their own moral failings.
DOES CRIME PAY? Not for these robbers, but the film — directed by John Huston — inspired nearly every caper movie ever made (including the ones on this list).
Image credit: Nine Queens: Silvio Benitez STAMP ACT Leticia Bredice, Tomàs Fonzi, and Darin
”Nine Queens”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP A pair of grifters, good-natured Juan (Gastón Pauls) and conniving Marcos (Ricardo Darín), are enlisted for a con job.
THE JOB Sell the Nine Queens, a forged sheet of exceptionally rare and valuable stamps.
THE CATCH Juan falls hard for Marcos’ sister (or is she?) and might be getting set up as a stoolie. But it’s the viewer who’s going to have the most problems figuring out the wonderfully complicated twists and turns (the plot has shades of David Mamet’s House of Games).
DOES CRIME PAY? Writing about crime does. Nine Queens was the winner of an Argentinian version of Project Greenlight; writer/director Fabian Bielinsky’s script beat out 350 screenplays in a competition that awarded Bielinsky funds to make the film.
EW GRADE A (Read the review)
Image credit: Everett Collection THE ‘HEAT’ IS ON Pacino
”Heat”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP After an armored-car robbery goes wrong, professional thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and his longtime crew of career criminals plan a daring robbery that will set each of them up for the rest of their lives. All you really need to know about McCauley is that he is a brooding perfectionist who believes in not getting attached to ”anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat.”
THE JOB A large and busy bank in downtown Los Angeles. Guns — lots and lots of ’em — will be fired in one of the greatest (and loudest) shootouts in film history.
THE CATCH Neil’s crew is being followed by Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino, pictured), a weary but determined detective who works in the Robbery-Homicide division of the LAPD. He and Macauley will sit face to face in one of the greatest coffee meetings in film history.
DOES CRIME PAY? Yes… and no. Director Michael Mann’s sleek and brutal crime drama also functions as a character study of two obsessive individuals — so expect moral ambiguities.
EW GRADE B- (Read the review)
Image credit: The Killing: Kobal Collection SHOOTING OFF HIS MOUTH Cook
”The Killing”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP Ex-con Johnny Clay (Asphalt Jungle‘s Sterling Hayden) rounds up a crew of ordinary guys — including henpecked racetrack employee George (Elisha Cook Jr.) — for what he promises his girlfriend will be his final caper.
THE JOB Steal $2 million from the racetrack betting room while a sniper creates a diversion by shooting one of the horses during the race.
THE CATCH George spills the beans about the heist to his scheming shrew of a wife. She informs her thuggish boyfriend about the heist, and he wants in on the action. The ruthless couple interferes with Johnny’s best laid plans.
DOES CRIME PAY? Only if you keep your mouth shut. In any case, The Killing was director Stanley Kubrick’s breakthrough film.
GRADE A (Read the review)
Image credit: Reservoir Dogs: Linda R. Chen DOG DAYS (From left) Madsen, Tarantino, Keitel, Chris Penn, Lawrence Tierney, Roth, and Buscemi
”Reservoir Dogs”: Why it’s a great heist movie
THE SETUP Eight assorted crooks are identified by their colorful pseudonyms: Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) and Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) — who complains about not getting a cooler name. Mr. Brown (writer/director Quentin Tarantino) gets a chance to memorably deconstruct Madonna’s ”Like a Virgin.”
THE JOB Steal a load of ice from an L.A. jeweler.
THE CATCH The sudden arrival of the fuzz makes the thieves wonder if there’s a stoolie in their midst.
DOES CRIME PAY? After the paranoid crooks finger the traitor among them, the movie ends with a spectacularly bloody surprise.
GRADE A (Read the review)
— Additional reporting by Wook Kim, Lindsay Soll, and Gary Susman