Heist movies promise their characters the ultimate shortcut to the American dream—if they work really hard for one night, then they’re set for life. And perhaps because most of us at some point on a slow Tuesday afternoon have daydreamed about sticking up a bank to facilitate a stylish drop off the grid, films about heists have become an exceedingly popular and fleshed-out genre.
Their plots follow the pre-job, job, then post-job structure, a limitation that pushes directors to reveal their personal creativity in a way that can be compared. For example, Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, and Wes Anderson all made heist films for their debut features, yet respectively crafted, an intricately laid-out classic, a plot-hopping slow-boiler and a beyond-bizarre indie project that leans on the charisma of the Wilson brothers.
The films also usually center around an actor cast as a beyond-confident person that gets rich by breaking the law, yet can’t be touched—an archetype that’s prone to smoldering stares, wry smirks and monologues filled with dope lines: three things that audiences like watching movie stars do.
But which is The Best? To determine, I’ll consider the heist’s mastermind, the size of the score and how desperate I’d need to be to rob a bank with them. In the perfect heist movie, a recently troubled, but deep-down noble thief gets together a likable and capable crew to rob an exorbitantly wealthy, morally compromised person—hopefully for revenge—then after a suitably unpredictable and intricate plan, they make away clean to enjoy their loot—hopefully with each other. The rankings will be based off how well each film executes this ideal, while also factoring in the novelty and necessity of their own specific touches.
In honor of the Ocean's 8 release on Friday, June 8, these are the best heist movies of all time.