Your favorite heists!
May 9, 2020 2:58 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by the whodunit question, and also that I am almost done watching the Americans and know I will miss it sorely...

There was a joke on Twitter like: Heist movies are popular because they offer a fantasy of being incredibly organized and detail-oriented

That's what I want! The broad tent version-- robberies, cons, intricate spycraft. Give me all the planning and technicalities!

The less obvious scratchers of this itch, the better. I was thinking about movies but maybe there are some books in this vein that you would also recommend?!
posted by athirstforsalt to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
The Little Drummer Girl is good for this, also the TV series looks absolutely gorgeous. Books and films-of-books by John Le Carré in general, if ethically-ambiguous tradecraft is your cup of tea.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:04 AM on May 9, 2020

Money Heist on Netflix. All of the Oceans 11, 12, 13 etc movies. The Italian Job is the classic of this genre.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:33 AM on May 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

From Rotten Tomatoes: "Rififi depicts the perfect heist in more ways than one, telling its story so effectively that it essentially provided the template for an entire genre to follow." I agree.

1955, French, but the long heist sequence is wordless. Good luck finding it.
posted by Homer42 at 3:55 AM on May 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth. Most of the book is the detailed planning of mercenaries who are funded and tasked to take over a small African country. Their patron wants to control the country for it's mineral rights of which only he is aware.
posted by Homer42 at 4:17 AM on May 9, 2020

> Good luck finding it.

In the US, Rififi is streaming on the Criterion Channel.

My suggestion is Sneakers. Everyone should watch Sneakers.
posted by bluecore at 4:21 AM on May 9, 2020 [11 favorites]

Logan Lucky, Widows, Reservoir Dogs, Inception (intricacy cubed).
posted by cocoagirl at 4:24 AM on May 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

King Hu's The Fate of Lee Khan (1973) is an assassination plot + heist movie, set entirely at an inn in 1366 where a high-ranking official is expected to visit. There's a clear set-up phase, e.g. introducing the women working there and their skills/talents, and a good bit of tension as it unfolds. It's free on Hoopla via local libraries.

His later film Raining in the Mountain (1979) is a remarkable heist movie and also a slow burn political intrigue story set at a Buddhist monastery. It doesn't offer a fantasy of being well-organized--more a fantasy of being spiritually enlightened--but it still falls well within the realm of competency narratives. Great stuff.
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:43 AM on May 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

The Killing - directed by Stanley Kubrick, his third feature film. Story is one man assembles a 5 man team to plan and execute the robbery of horse racing track. It's on Amazon Prime.

One reviewer said in retrospect: "A clever and timely film noir that marks the real beginning of Kubricks recognition as a great filmmaker. This film stands as evidence that the talents of visionary were always there. He just needed the right tools to bring them to fore."
posted by Homer42 at 4:44 AM on May 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

Man on Wire is a classic heist with a very unconventional kind of prize- a plot to tight rope walk between the tops of the twin towers.
posted by hotcoroner at 5:15 AM on May 9, 2020 [5 favorites]

It's been a long, long time but Money to Burn is an early 70s heist film where a prisoner has made a fortune of counterfeit bills inside the prison, has to get them out, then into a facility where old, worn out bills are being destroyed and make a swap. IIRC it involves magnetic shoes at one point.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:39 AM on May 9, 2020

I've always enjoyed Inside Man starring clive owen. Doesn't appear to be streaming on netflix or amazon prime currently however. (the "sequel" is, but i dont know anything about that).

Thomas Crown Affair, the remake with Pierce Brosnan and renee russo is another of my favorites. I'm not as familiar with the steve mcqueen original
posted by TheAdamist at 5:42 AM on May 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

The Sting Is a good exemplar of a movie about a con (since you mentioned that being included).

Set it Off is entertaining.
posted by zorseshoes at 6:34 AM on May 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

How has nobody recommended Leverage yet? Five seasons, top-notch acting, writing, and directing, and such good found family.
posted by Tamanna at 7:04 AM on May 9, 2020 [12 favorites]

Millions should scratch your itch. It's a kid's movie so not big on the glam or the noir. The money in the heist is on its way to the central mint to be destroyed before Britain gives up on the pound and switches to the Euro. A big sack of money is thrown off a train and before the criminals can retrieve it found by a couple of schoolboys who decide to give it all away and make good progress on methodically improving the lives of their neighbours, before they join an impromptu team making sure the bills get to bank before the final day to exchange them for Euros occurs. There are a lot of careful planning and impromptu teamwork and scenes.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:04 AM on May 9, 2020

Topkapi is a classic.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 7:12 AM on May 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Sting holds up, imo. Redford and Newman kill it, but the whole cast is good and fun.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:22 AM on May 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

You may enjoy The Heist Podcast. Each episode they describe a real-life heist and discuss how “heisty” it was. The hosts are a little annoying but they have uncovered some amazing stories - their tagline is “the true crime podcast without the murder” although there is often a non-zero amount of murder.
posted by AndrewStephens at 7:26 AM on May 9, 2020

posted by Green With You at 7:34 AM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Mr. liet is a big fan of the genre, but his tastes run to more modern stuff. Oceans 11 (previously mentioned) is his favorite, though he feels the sequels don’t hold up.

Other he mentioned when I asked him about this AskMe (trying not to repeat): The Usual Suspects (so so good), The Score, American Animals, Heat, Ant Man (really a heist movie), Die Hard, Entrapment, Ronin, Widows, Confidence (more of a con movie, but still worthy)

Stupid but fun: Hurricane Heist, Oceans 13
posted by liet at 8:58 AM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Some good suggestions above. Here are some additional thoughts

The Silent Partner

I enjoyed the Canadian movie Foolproof quite a bit.

On the comic side, How to Steal a Million

A war movie and a heist movie Three Kings

Not a great movie, but diverting in Covid times: Man on a Ledge
posted by gudrun at 8:59 AM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed the tv series Sneaky Pete. It's about a con artist. Good acting, complicated plot involving lots of intricate cons and lies and double-crosses.
posted by aka burlap at 9:00 AM on May 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

Inside Man, staring Clive Owens, Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster is great!
posted by walkinginsunshine at 9:03 AM on May 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

oh my god, The Spanish Prisoner
posted by Brittanie at 9:24 AM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

David Mamet’s Heist is another example of intricate planning, plotting, execution.

Second Rififi, The Spanish Prisoner, Three Kings, Inside Man, Sneakers, The Killing, Ronin … lots of great, tense filmmaking
posted by lasagnaboy at 10:14 AM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Donald Westlake's "Dortmunder" novels are great! A few have also been made into films, with various degrees of success.
posted by The otter lady at 10:21 AM on May 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Westlake also wrote a rather more grim series of heist novels about a professional thief named "Parker" under the pen name Richard Stark.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:34 AM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Grifters if you enjoy seeing it go wrong. It's a real downer but for me it was also an interesting glimpse of what seems plausibly like the sleazy, dangerous reality of being a con artist. Bonus: stylish, fabulous performances.
posted by less of course at 10:48 AM on May 9, 2020

Also nthing The Spanish Prisoner or, alternately, House of Games. (If you've seen one, the other will strike you as wholly unsurprising. You're basically choosing between a wooden performance by Mamet's first wife and a wooden but somehow also interesting performance by Mamet's second wife. I'd say Spanish Prisoner has more going for it, on the whole.)
posted by less of course at 10:51 AM on May 9, 2020

Oh, also, if you want a TV series, there's 8 entire years of Hustle, which very much follows the format of the setup, the con, the reveal, and the redeux-reveal which is usually very well done. It's a nice ensemble cast too.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:41 AM on May 9, 2020 [4 favorites] The Caper
posted by WCityMike at 11:50 AM on May 9, 2020

Came here to recommend Rififi, which is stunning. If you do get the Criterion Channel, Big Deal on Madonna Street is also gold, a late 50s Italian comedic satire of the heist genre, as is Le deuxième souffle by Melville, a cat-and-mouse thief/detective movie with a great heist scene, and the original Italian Job, which has both a young Michael Caine and a Quincy Jones sountrack that the remake can't touch.
posted by lhputtgrass at 11:55 AM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Hopscotch should fit the bill, with some good comedy to boot - CIA field agent retires and decides to write his memoirs of life in the business. Has to keep ahead of the CIA, KGB, and other intelligence agencies who don't want their dirty laundry aired. His strategy is all planning and cons - rarely breaks a sweat, whistles all the while - and makes his former bosses and adversaries look like fools.

Leverage is lots of fun too, though personally I find the character/team development most interesting. The cons themselves rely a bit much on "Hardison can hack anything" and "sure, we can get past the laser grid by reflecting lasers with tinfoil." Still, Nate's endless contingency plans might fulfill that fantasy of being incredibly organized. I think of it as being close to the later Star Trek serieses in the "competence porn" genre.

For books, maybe the Phryne Fisher novels by Kerry Greenwood?

OH! And the Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein, if organized, detail-oriented investigation will do.
posted by sibilatorix at 12:08 PM on May 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

One of my favourite heist films is from Argentina: Nine Queens.

Beautiful Italian art heist, English language: The Best Offer
posted by lemon_icing at 12:49 PM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

There's a heist movie club over on Fanfare!

In my opinion, the genre was first brought into recognizable modern form (not the only valid/enjoyable form) by the French, notably but not exclusively Jean-Pierre Melville. In addition to the already-mentioned Rififi (not by Melville), you want Bob le Flambeur and Le Cercle Rouge, which originate a lot of the tropes. Trouble in Paradise and (to a lesser extent) Jewel Robbery are charming pre-Code American proto-versions and will introduce you to the fabulous and sadly-forgotten Kay Francis.

In modern times, Duplicity is also sadly underrated, though to some degree it brought that on itself. Julia Roberts's deconstruction of Julia Roberts makes up for her miscasting in Ocean's Eleven.
posted by praemunire at 1:06 PM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Happy New Year is a heist film combined with a dance competition film, from Bollywood! As IMDB says, "A gang of amateur dancers takes part in a dancing competition to avenge their personal vendetta." The cliches of both genera are well-represented and it is so very funny. I love it so much!
posted by SandiBeech at 2:37 PM on May 9, 2020

I recommend the book Lies of Locke Lamora for enjoyable heist planning!
posted by past unusual at 2:48 PM on May 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Most of Steven Soderbergh's filmography is heist movies, and they're reliably good.

The Score had an amazing cast and is well-plotted within the confines of the hackneyed "one last job" sub-genre, but it didn't make much of a splash. Recommended.
posted by adamrice at 3:28 PM on May 9, 2020

For sheer entertainment value you can't beat the Dortmunder novels by Donald Westlake, such as "Drowned Hopes" and "Good Behavior". A sub-genre of the heist novel or movie deals with people finding, say, a bag of cash. The movies "No Country For Old Men" and "Simple Plan" come to mind. Billy Bob Thornton's performance in the latter movie is quite splendid.
posted by Agave at 3:33 PM on May 9, 2020

How has Heat not been mentioned yet? Maybe not a “heist” movie but so much crime and gangster shit.
posted by jasondigitized at 5:06 PM on May 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Illusionist (2006). Paul Giamatti for the win.
Also, The Prestige (2006).

Are we including girl gangs? Let's include them.
Sandra Bullock does this - Speed and Speed 2, Miss Congeniality 1 and 2, The Heat (2013), Ocean's 8 (2018).
Melissa McCarthy does this - Bridesmaids (2011), The Heat (2013), Spy (2015), Ghostbusters (2016).
Rebel Wilson does this - Bachelorette (2002), How to Be Single (2016), The Hustle (2019).
Whoopi Goldberg does this - Jumping Jack Flash (1986), Burglar (1987), Fatal Beauty (1987), Sister Act 1 and 2.

And if you like The Taking of Pelham 123, you need Donald Sutherland, who does this - The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Great Train Robbery (1978), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Murder by Decree (1979), The Italian Job (2003).
posted by TrishaU at 6:35 PM on May 9, 2020

Grifters is pretty good except you feel like you need a shower after. Heat was a bit over the top for me but I did like Michael Mann's earlier effort Thief not really a caper movie as much as a "you cannot win if you care about anything" underworld anti-glam glam.
posted by Pembquist at 6:36 PM on May 9, 2020

It should be mentioned that both versions of The Italian Job are top notch. I’m partial to the 2003 version because I’m partial to Charlize Theron.

Also, Fitzwilly, with Dick Van Dyke and Barbara Feldon, might scratch the itch as well.
posted by lhauser at 8:08 PM on May 9, 2020

Asphalt Jungle.
posted by moons in june at 4:49 AM on May 10, 2020

No one has mentioned the Ocean's movies (11, 12, 13)? I mean the George Clooney / Brad Pitt ones, although the original Sinatra one might appeal to some people.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:34 AM on May 10, 2020

For books, try Metzger's Dog. Some of Perry's other early work also qualifies.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:39 AM on May 10, 2020

What you need is Sexy Beast!
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 7:33 AM on May 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oh, also, if you want a TV series, there's 8 entire years of Hustle, which very much follows the format of the setup, the con, the reveal, and the redeux-reveal which is usually very well done. It's a nice ensemble cast too.

And then you can watch its (kind of) spinoff, The Real Hustle! it's a factual version with three 'hustlers' scamming the public, seen via hidden cameras. They do a few cool pub tricks as well. Lots of fun!
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 9:49 AM on May 10, 2020

Surprised no one's mentioned The Bank Job, set in '70s London. It's definitely a bit laddish at times, but fun.

Also, Fast Five puts the street-racing Fast and the Furious crew into a caper in Rio, and it's many people's favorite of the series for that reason.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 11:12 AM on May 10, 2020

If people are putting up Leverage and working on the assumption TV is okay (instead of moves), I have to counter with White Collar. There may not be as much detailed planning outlined as the original asker may like, but there are plenty of long and short cons and cons within cons, as well as a very likable cast.
posted by sardonyx at 2:27 PM on May 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Distance! (trailer)

Synopsis from MUBI:
A performance artist is being held in a deserted Siberian power station following the unexpected death of his oligarch patron. The result is a heist film unlike any you’ve ever seen. In his second film, Sergio Caballero plays fast and loose with all the laws of genre filmmaking.
More, kinda spoilery synopsis here, but I'll include the detail that I love about this movie that sets it apart from other heists:
The fact that everyone communicates by telepathy enables Caballero to ‘speak’ a lingua franca made up of many different languages: from the Russian of the dwarves and the guard, to the German of the artist and the Chinese of the guard with the brazier.
posted by chinesefood at 6:31 PM on May 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

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