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An Overview of Heist Movies in Hollywood


What Makes A Heist Movie?

Critics have described a heist movie as the shortcut to the American dream: if the characters work hard for one night, they’ll be set for life.

The films typically center around a character that’s highly confident yet down on his luck, leading to smoldering stares and cool lines, clever comebacks, and a rallying cry in the face of adversity. The protagonist also gathers a motley crew of people with varying talents and personalities that often clash with one another.

There’s probably a car chase or at least one vehicle blowing up over the course of the story, too.

As for the plot, a heist movie is typically broken down into the pre-job, job, and post-job structure. While it does make the story easier to follow, the limitation also serves as a challenge to the director’s creativity.

Many leading directors, like Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and Wes Anderson, for example, made heist films that follow the common tropes yet still have an intricate plot with complex scenes.


The Heist Movies Starter Pack

With its consistent popularity for more than a century, the catalog of heist films has been a sizable one.

For those curious about the genre, here are critically acclaimed heist films to get you started:


Reservoir Dogs

The film that made Quentin Tarantino a household name, Reservoir Dogs, documents the gripping tale of the before-and-after of a bank robbery.

With the main cast clad in black-and-white suits, most of the film takes place inside a warehouse where the plans eventually go awry. More twists occur, leading to an epic standoff that leaves the audience breathless.

Coupled with the director’s clever dialogue, amazing soundtrack, and gratuitous violence, Reservoir Dogs breathes new life to the classic elements of a heist film.


The Usual Suspects

What makes this 1995 noir thriller different from a typical heist movie is that it starts after the job is completed.

It has a lineup of characters that fits together like an NBA All-Star team and a swirling script that cultivates a sense of mystery for the entire movie. It culminates in clarity only at the very end.

It may not be the best example of a heist film, but it has the best story of them all.


Ocean’s Eleven

No heist movie list would be complete without Ocean’s Eleven (and sequels) at the top.

It checks all of the boxes of a classic heist flick, including a wisecracking lead role with George Clooney, a rogue’s gallery of accomplices, and a successive string of events that leads to disaster for Andy Garcia’s villainous character.

What truly sets it apart is its almost-perfect delivery of what every viewer looks for in a heist film—starting from nothing to acquiring everything in one big job.

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