Spencer’s Top 5 Heist Movies

Written by Spencer Sterritt July 25, 2014

Ocean's Eleven, Steven Soderbergh

There’s something about a good heist film that gets me going. I would argue that for the purest form of entertainment you should turn to some sort of heist movie, whether they are robbing a bank, a shipment, a person, anything. As long as someone is taking from someone else, it’s all good in my eyes. Since it’s such a varied genre, I thought I’d do my best to get it down to the Top 5 heist movies.

5.”The Lookout” (2007, Scott Frank)

The Lookout, heist, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matthew Goode

“The Lookout,” a fairly low-budget crime thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Matthew Goode, plays out like most low-budget bank robbery films for the first half, but then shifts gears nicely as it goes into the final third of the film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Chris Pratt (unfortunately not this one), a former hotshot hockey player who’s now a janitor at a bank. Due to his own arrogance, and a car crash, he has anterograde amnesia, which makes him the perfect accomplice for small town schemer Gary (Matthew Goode) who wants to rob the bank.  Written by Scott Frank, who clearly adores the heist and crime thriller genre, “The Lookout” is smart about it’s characters, and throws all of the normal heist movie stuff into the first third, leaving us with a suspenseful final twenty minutes that bucks convention.

4. “Die Hard” (1989, John McTiernan)

Not exactly the Christmas John McClane expected.

Not exactly the Christmas John McClane expected.

“Die Hard” is a hardcore action flick, with an unrelenting pace, standout action scenes, and bellyful after bellyful of laughs. What most people gloss over though, in favor of focusing on all the “Yippie ki-yay’s” and the constant shouting of “motherfucker,” is that Hans Gruber is just a bank robber. A meticulously dressed bank robber. I argue that “Die Hard” is a heist movie at heart with the way it lays out Hans’ plan incrementally, leaving us to put it together in our heads exactly like most heist films do (number 1 is also a great example of this).

3. “Reservoir Dogs” (1992, Quentin Tarantino)


“Reservoir Dogs” is one of the only heist films I can think of where you don’t see the actual robbery. Some films will pick up in the immediate aftermath, or a few days later, but rarely will a movie ever withhold the heist, especially since the one in “Reservoir Dogs” goes wrong. It’s a ballsy move from a ballsy filmmaker, and though this movie isn’t a typical heist film in any sense of the word, it still deserve to be on this list.

2. “Heat” (1995, Michael Mann)

As my second favorite movie ever, it’s only appropriate that “Heat” is also my second movie in this list. A sprawling LA melodrama/crime thriller, “Heat” was the first movie to unite Al Pacino and Robert de Niro on screen, in an unforgettable and quiet scene at a dinner. Any other time they meet, it’s chaos. There’s an opening robbery of an armoured van that only lasts three minutes, and then at the hour and a half mark of this three hour epic there is another four minute bank robbery. “Heat” is more concerned with the cops vs. robbers drama than the heist itself, giving it a weightier feel than most slick heist films.


1. “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001, Steven Soderbergh)

Speaking of slick heist films, we have “Ocean’s Eleven,” Steven Soderbergh’s dazzling remake of the Rat Pack not-classic from 1960. Though “Heat” is a better all around movie, “Ocean’s Eleven” is the better heist film because it embodies everything about the genre. It’s quick but thoughtfully paced, dazzling but not overdone, smart but not pretentious, complex but not exasperating. Everyone is on the top of their game, and even smaller tier thieves like Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison) get their time to shine and are rich characters. And the actual heist is incredibly clever and well-done, piling on layer after layer of deception but never losing focus. Incredibly watchable and enjoyable from the first viewing to your twentieth, “Ocean’s Eleven” is my pick for best heist movie ever.



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About Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt: former Editor-In-Chief for We Eat Films, future President of the Men With Beards Club, and hopefully candidate for ruler of the world.

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