Best Heist Crime Caper Robbery Movies

Apr 7, 2006

The Bottom Line Those taut, exciting sometimes funny caper movies. Here's the best of 'em.

Here’s a lucky 13 list of best Caper/Heist films I’ve seen.

I’ve not included The Big Con kind of movie such as The Sting, House of Games, Spanish Prisoner etc. or movies that are more character study than caper movies like Out of Sight, Dog Day Afternoon etc. I’ve also not included movies where it is more about the after-math of a caper or movies that are much more character study than caper/heist film eliminating: Reservoir Dogs, Usual Suspects, Fargo, Goodfellas, Out of Sight and Dog Day Afternoon, Bonnie and Clyde, Heat.

You also won’t find hit man or spy movies here so no Le Samourai either (but do see it as soon as you can.) A few films that I admire don’t quite qualify as caper/heist films though you can almost argue them onto the list –The Stunt Man for instance.

Feel free to substitute several of your favorite stylish films if you prefer them over the last four I’ve listed here—but the rest of them I believe represent the best of the genre.

13.The Pink Panther -- 1962 -- Directed by Blake Edwards

Yes, Peter Sellers, Inspector Clousseau—but remember this first movie was very much a somewhat sophisticated caper comedy. Is Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven) ‘The Phantom’ or his nephew the jet setting playboy George (Christopher Plummer) planning to steal the ‘Pink Panther’ diamond? Fun movie—my second favorite in the series behind the following year’s A Shot in The Dark. Sellers is NOT the star of the film.

12. GRAND SLAM -- 1967 Directed by Giuliano Montaldo

G. S. is probably the best caper/heist movie with a recognizable cast that you haven’t heard of. It’s an updated remake of Rififi. A team of experts, Playboy-money man, a safecracker, an expert in electronics and a military/weapons expert plan a jewel heist during Rio’s Carnivale. Entertaining caper flick that should be better known And it has a good Ennio Morricone score, International locations, and an incredible cast that includes Edward G. Robinson, Janet Leigh, Klaus Kinski, and folks you’ve seen in 60’s European and Bond movies. (Far better than the over-rated original version of The Italian Job for instance.)

11. The Thomas Crown Affair -- 1968 – directed by Norman Jewison

It’s all style over substance in this slickly made caper/ cat and mouse flick that drips with late 60s era coolness (including that Windmills of Your Mind song !!!) .Rich mastermind thief playboy Steve McQueen tries to stay ahead of the sexy insurance investigator Faye Dunaway who wants to prove he’s the ringleader behind some robberies. That chess game is a highlight---still. Cars, fashions, jet set lifestyle, ultra chic sophistication, mini-dresses, cool McQueen shades and more. There’s some real chemistry between the leads and the overly showy editing style (by future director Hal Ashby) adds to the fun of the film (provided you aren’t annoyed by style over substance). The re-make wasn’t half-bad…but stick with the original.

10. Brinks Job -- 1978 -- Directed by William Friedkin

Here’s a very suspenseful entertaining crime film with a great cast centering on the actual Brinks Robbery that happened in Boston in the 1940s. The great cast features Peter Falk, Warren Oates, Peter Boyle, Alan Garfield, Paul Servino and Gena Rowlands playing memorable characters. It’s perhaps a bit too light and comedic, but thoroughly enjoyable. Should be better known and remembered.

9. The Great Train Robbery --1979 Directed by Michael Crichton

This is very detailed heist movie based on a true story as imagined by best-selling novelist turned director Michael Crichton (Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park). Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland (and Lesley Ann Down) plan to steal gold destined to pay British troops in 1855 out of the safe of a moving train. The period detail is impressive, the leads are perfectly cast and the fun details leads to an extremely suspenseful climax.

8. The Hot Rock -- 1972 Directed by Peter Yates

Based on a Donald Westlake novel this comedy of errors caper film has several colorful performances from George Segal, Ron Leibman, Paul Sand, Moses Gunn and the one and only Zero Mostel. Robert Redford also does a great job. Suspenseful, funny and very clever film. Not to be missed. It’s about how a crew of crooks heists a large diamond and then loses it and has to re-rob it from a POLICE STATION!!!! Lots of complications and wild scenes.

7. Charley Varrick -- 1973 Directed by Don Seigel

Walter Matthau is a professional thief who robs small banks with small payrolls and tries to stay under the radar. Then he robs a small-time bank and finds himself with a huge cache of cash—because the bank is secretly being used to launder large amounts of Mafia money. Well before long the mob not only wants their money back but also wants to make sure an example is made so that no one else ever thinks of ripping off the mafia. It’s a straight dramatic role for Matthau I this off-beat caper/thriller movie. Joe Don Baker, John Vernon and Andrew Robinson (who played the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry) make a great supporting cast in this exciting, well paced little gem.

6. The KILLING --1956 Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Sterling Hayden leads a meticulously planned robbery of a horse track. It’s told from the point of view of several people who got involved in the heist out of particular needs rather than having criminal experience. Some memorable stand-out sequences. Perhaps not quite as great as some claim—but why quibble.

5. The Lavender Hill Mob -- 1951 Directed by Charles Crichton

Alec Guinness in one of his career defining roles stars as a milquetoast employee who has been in charge or transporting gold bars to banks by armored truck for over 20 years. He decides it’s time for him to get rich and he masterminds a scheme with his friend Stanley Holloway. There are complications and a couple of twists before it’s all over. Very entertaining film produced by Britain’s Ealing Studios that was known for producing some of the best and wittiest British comedies of all time.

4. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three --1974 Directed by Joseph Sargent

Four armed men take a subway train hostage demanding a million bucks or they start killing passengers. I guess technically it is not a caper/heist film, but I’m going to call it one anyway. The tension is taut throughout this thriller full of bad 70s fashion, thick New York accents and great performances by Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw and folks like Jerry Stiller, Hector Elizondo, and Martin Balsam etc. The film shows a major city with lots of problems led by inept politicians trying to deal with criminals and a hostage situation. It’s a gem.

3. Asphalt Jungle --1950 Directed by John Huston

The quintessential American Heist movie that all others are forever judged against. It’s been copied, re-made in whole and in part so many times that it’s somewhat predictable and of course dated—but not completely. It still works very well as an exciting, entertaining film. Memorable performances by Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe, Louis Calhern, James Whitmore and a before she was famous Marilyn Monroe. It remains one of the best.

2. Bob La Flambeur --1955 Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

A near-masterpiece that creates one of the best American styled noir films and is considered a pre-cursor of the French New Wave film (Goddard, Truffaut etc), set in locations throughout Paris. Bob is an aging old-fashioned gangster-gambler who meticulously plans to rob a casino. His code of ethics and loyalty are strongly tested. It’s an off-beat heist film that no one should miss. It was re-made in 2003 into the very well done. The Good Thief with Nick Nolte. See this one first.

1. Rififi --1956 directed by Jules Dassin

The true masterpiece of the crime-heist film is this incredible gem that features the unforgettable, nearly silent 29 minute robbery sequence (no dialogue or music) that is one of the very finest sequences ever put on film. Jules Dassin left America due to being blacklisted by HUAC at the end of the 1940s. He made memorable noirs like Naked City, and Brute Force in the U.S. and Night and the City in England. He set the caper movie masterpiece in the city of lights (Paris). He found a French Bogart in Jean Servais who plays the aging criminal that plans to pull off one last very daring heist. That’s all I’m going to say about it—so see it and discover everything it has to offer for yourself.

Yep, I was inspired to create my own list after reading this one:

I thought it was a good start, but having seen more movies, as I wrote my comment on his review I realized I needed to do my own list.

Do visit his list and load up on all the suggestions for some great movie viewing.

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