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The five best heist films of all time

An inch-perfect plan, a prize like no other, and a whole lot of time spent assembling the right crew, only for it to all go wrong… that’s right - it’s the heist film.

The five best heist films of all time
Ross Hindle
· 7 min read

An inch-perfect plan, a prize like no other, and a whole lot of time spent assembling the right crew, only for it to all go wrong… that’s right - it’s the heist film.

A subgenre of crime cinema that has become an exhilarating staple of filmmaking over the past 60 years, the heist film is now a formula that most audiences are familiar with. From classics like the Rat Pack’s Ocean’s Eleven to modern takes like Baby Driver and Logan Lucky , there have been dozens of these over the years.

The heist film is a slick, smooth, satisfying, and sometimes hilarious template that’s incredibly difficult not to enjoy. Read on for a list of the five best heist films ever made.

#5 - Heat

Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer 
Released: 1995
IMDb Score: 8.2

Heat marks only the second of four occasions in over 45 years that Pacino and De Niro have shared the big screen. It follows Detective Vincent Hanna (Pacino) as he tracks down stone-cold professional thief Neil McCauley (De Niro) and his crew while they attempt to plan one last big robbery.

Heat is strictly speaking, a heist film, but it’s the least formulaic of the five on this list. It’s long - almost three hours long - and famous for the incredible performances by Pacino and De Niro, as well as its intelligently-written heists and a long, intense shootout with sound design that has never truly been replicated since.

#4 - Ocean’s Eleven

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts

Released: 2001 

IMDb Score: 7.7

Probably the “truest” heist film on this list, the Ocean’s Eleven remake is smooth, suave, and sexy. Its ensemble cast is led brilliantly by George Clooney in what might be the best performance of his entire career; but if that wasn’t enough, he’s also backed up by some little-known contemporaries such as Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, and Casey Affleck.

Ocean’s Eleven is propelled by sheer star power and incredible pacing; it never moves quickly enough that you feel lost, but it’s not so slow that assembling the cast feels like a drag. Of course, at times, it’s a touch unrealistic - like when an EMP is used to knock out everything electrical in Las Vegas - but it breezes past the science with a classic dose of 2000s Hollywood arrogance.

Ocean’s Eleven isn’t going to set the world on fire, and it might not be a film that will leave you thinking for the next three days, but it’s possibly the most watchable two hours on this list.

#3 - Baby Driver

Director: Edgar Wright

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm

Released: 2017

IMDb Score: 7.6

Baby Driver redefined how films could use music. The plot follows Baby (Ansel Elgort), the best-damn-getaway-driver-in-the-business, as he earns his freedom from heist kingpin Doc (Kevin Spacey).

Baby Driver ’s frenetic pace keeps everything moving along in an incredibly satisfying way, while its eclectic soundtrack storyboards everything from car chases to bank robberies. Drum beats become gunshots, guitar riffs predict swerves and handbrake turns… even a morning coffee run is set to the Bob & Earl song Harlem Shuffle.

By no means a perfect film, Baby Driver is an experiment that nobody asked for, which paid off in ways nobody expected. Non-traditional and fundamentally incredibly enjoyable, Edgar Wright’s 2017 magnum opus is well worth a watch.

#2 - The Sting

Director: George Roy Hill

Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw

Released: 1973

IMDb Score: 8.3

The Sting is one of the best collaborations between actor Robert Redford and condiment magnate Paul Newman, despite paling in comparison to Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid . It is a wonderfully composed cross-section of the perfect con, a scam comprising thousands of little threads all to pull one over on Irish crime boss Doyle (Robert Shaw).

A heartwarming and funny story of two conmen coming together to create a completely fake off-track betting parlor, The Sting is smart and has aged surprisingly well, despite the fact that it’s almost 50 years old.

Deservedly, it swept the Oscars in 1974, picking up a staggering seven wins (including Best Picture) and three further nominations. In contrast, the previous three entries on this list only totalled three nominations between them - all of which were technical nods for Baby Driver (Film Editing, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing).

#1 - The Usual Suspects

Director: Bryan Singer

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri

Released: 1995

IMDb Score: 8.5

A neo-noir heist film that could also easily be classed as a mystery and a thriller, The Usual Suspects has become such a hallmark of 1990s cinema that it’s impossible to really explain it without giving the game away.

Comprised of flashbacks, voiceovers, flashbacks within flashbacks, and cryptic accounts from unconscious henchmen, The Usual Suspects follows US Customs Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) as he interrogates Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey), a small-time conman with severe cerebral palsy.

What follows is a retelling of a convoluted series of events consisting of a disgraced detective, the story of a near-mythical Hungarian crime lord, witness protection, and a series of jewel heists. Its compelling cast of career criminals also includes Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), Michael MacManus (Stephen Baldwin), Fred Fenster (Benicio del Toro), and Todd Hockney (Kevin Pollak).

It’s difficult to really do The Usual Suspects justice in written form, and if you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why. Arguably one of the best-written films of the late 20th century, it picked up two Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Spacey). If you haven’t already seen it, then set aside an afternoon this winter and make sure you do.

There you have it - our five best heist films of all times, all complete with memorable crews, precise plans, and a whole raft of Plans B through Z for when things inevitably go wrong. So, next time you’re after a crime film, look no further than Pension Times ’ five best heist films of all time.

Image Credit: GroupEditor , CC-SA 4.0 .

Ross Hindle
Ross Hindle
Ross Hindle is a content writer based in London. He has previously worked on content and reports with organisations including Gallagher, First Abu Dhabi Bank, Indeed and Maersk. He is also a freelance novelist and short story writer.