Synchronize your watches and take a look at the coolest, the funniest, and the most action-packed heist movies ever made.
Lots of movies are about criminals committing crimes, but heist movies are a particularly special breed. The thieves in heist movies aren’t (usually) violent monsters hellbent on destroying society, but rather brilliant professionals who put in the legwork to pull off nearly impossible feats of skill. We may not like that they’re stealing stuff, but we can – if only in a movie – respect the heck out of their ability to accomplish a seemingly impossible task.
Heist movies have been around since nearly the dawn of cinema, but they truly flourished from the 1950s onward as a series of hardboiled American and French film noirs codified all the famous tropes that now permeate through almost every entry in the genre, from Oscar-nominated dramas like Hell or High Water to blockbuster larks like Solo: A Star Wars Story and Ocean’s 8.
So take a journey through the history of heist movies with us and explore the very best the genre has to offer, from modern blockbusters to classic cinema, from cult favorites to hilarious comedies. These are our picks for the 25 best heist movies ever!
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
The directorial debut of Guy Ritchie is an intricate and riotous comedy about a heck of a lot of small time London criminals whose lives, crimes and acts of violence are unexpectedly interconnected. The way Ritchie weaves his action and comic set pieces together is nothing short of remarkable, and 20 years later the film still feels as explosive as ever.
The glamorous life of the high stakes heist trade attracts a gang of well-intentioned amateurs in Wes Anderson’s first feature. The film stars an ambitious but delusional Owen Wilson who recruits Luke Wilson and Robert Musgrave for a charmingly naive crime wave. Anderson usually makes films about dreamers trying to recreate the world in their own skewed self-image. but that story never felt more plausible, or more tragic, than it does in his debut.
Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers who have to rob banks to pay off their bank loan in David McKenzie’s topical, stylish and expertly executed heist drama. On their trail is Jeff Bridges, Oscar-nominated for his performance as a grizzled veteran with old-fashioned ideas. McKenzie’s film evokes old-fashioned Westerns and modern economic anxiety, and finds a middle ground that’s intensely universal.
Edgar Wright adapted his music video for Mint Royale’s “Blue Song” into a feature-length film about a music-obsessed getaway driver who may be talented behind the wheel but is unable to steer clear of an increasingly volatile gang of expert – and violent – thieves. Ansel Elgort stars as the title character, but the real star is the film’s unique marriage of old-fashioned car-chase action and an unexpected, catchy soundtrack, expertly combining 1970s pulp with MTV storytelling.
A gang of thieves pulls off the heist of a lifetime, but a series of double-crosses leaves everyone flying off the handle. A sultry Jamie Lee Curtis has to seduce a mild-mannered barrister, played by John Cleese (who also wrote the screenplay), an incompetent Michael Palin has to kill the only eye witness, and Kevin Kline makes a mess of every single scene as a dangerously stupid weapons expert. Kline won an Oscar for his brilliant comedic performance, and the whole movie is still, after all these years, a fresh and unusual take on the heist genre.
Walter Matthau plays a brilliant thief who accidentally steals mafia money, and goes on the run from a dangerous goon played by Joe Don Baker, in Don Siegel’s brilliant but rarely discussed crime thriller. Charley Varrick is stylish and smart, as immersive as any great crime movie, with unexpected twists, great performances and a climactic chase between a car and an airplane that would be worth the price of admission alone.
A bank heist transforms into a complex hostage crisis in Spike Lee’s sharp and suspenseful thriller, which stars Clive Owen as the cunning thief and Denzel Washington as the detective trying to solve the mystery. The film is full of ingenious reveals and impressive acting, but most impressive of all is Lee’s ability to interweave thoughtful sociopolitical commentary into a film that might otherwise have been nothing more than an entertaining thriller.
Kathryn Bigelow’s ultra-outlandish crime caper stars Keanu Reeves as a hot young FBI agent who goes undercover with a daredevil crew of bank robbers led by a charismatic Patrick Swayze. Plausibility isn’t on the menu, and that’s a good thing. Point Break is an adolescent scream of a movie, the kind of raw and sincere over-the-top storytelling that’s easy to do badly, but extremely difficult to make as wonderfully as Bigelow makes it.
Bill Murray, dressed like a circus clown, pulls off the perfect bank heist along with his accomplices Geena Davis and Randy Quaid. Everything goes without a hitch until the time comes to flee the scene. Anything that could possibly go wrong with their escape plan does in fact go hopelessly, hilariously wrong, and the comedic tension builds and builds to such an overwhelming degree that it begins to feel like a Kafkaesque existential crisis. Murray co-directed Quick Change with Howard Franklin, and his commitment to the material shows. It’s one of his funniest roles, in one of his funniest movies.
Sir Alec Guinness starred in some of the most eccentric British comedies of the 1950s, and this ghoulish crime caper is one of the best. Guinness plays Professor Marcus, a criminal conspirator who rents a room from a kindly old lady, and has to weave a web of complicated lies to distract her from his felonious plans to rob a nearby railway station. When she finally catches wind of his schemes, he and his cronies decide to murder her, but it’s easier said than done. Darkly comic and cleverly constructed.
George Clooney plays a smarmy thief who breaks out of prison and falls in love with the determined U.S. Marshal on his trail, played by Jennifer Lopez. Steven Soderbergh’s slick adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s heist novel keeps the focus squarely on the characters, all of them played by talented actors giving some of their best performances. Clooney and Lopez have never been better, and their smoldering chemistry provides the perfect counterpoint to the complex plot, which keeps them as far apart as possible. Crime movies don’t get much more alluring.
Stanley Kubrick’s first great movie is an ambitious, labyrinthine heist thriller about a group of criminals who put together the perfect plan to rob a race track. The story is full of hardboiled characters and tense reversals of fortune, and the decision to show the heist multiple times, from multiple perspectives, is an inventive play on the genre that many other filmmakers would emulate (and rarely match).