The Reel Story: As millions of moviegoers know, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and the crew are back with another swinging caper in “Ocean’s Twelve.” The sequel to the 2001 superstar blockbuster takes the gang overseas — and introduces sexy detective Isabel (Catherine Zeta-Jones) into the mix — to pull off an even bigger heist than last time around.
While dodging nemesis Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), Danny Ocean (Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Pitt) plan the biggest and most difficult job of their now-storied careers. As the stakes rise higher and higher, even Ocean’s straight-arrow wife, Tess (Roberts), gets involved. With astronomical amounts being bandied about, we couldn’t help but wonder: What was the biggest heist ever pulled?
The Real Story: There have been quite a few enormous heists over the years, several of which bear mentioning here. Art thieves tend to pull the biggest scores (in terms of dollar value, if not creativity). In 1991, in a heist worthy of Ocean’s crew, thieves made off with 20 paintings worth about $500 million from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Holland. The robbers pulled a basic “smash and grab,” going up a ladder and through a window and heading back out with some of Van Gogh’s most famous works, including “The Potato Eaters” and “Still Life With Sunflowers.” However, in a very un-Ocean move, the thieves — after presumably panicking — ditched the paintings not far from the museum. Still, according to “Guinness World Records,” it was technically the greatest art robbery ever.
The biggest heist in U.S. history — and the biggest “successful” art heist — was a $300 million score from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. The thieves — who pulled the old “walk in the front door dressed like cops” routine — made off with works by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Manet. All of the paintings are still missing, and the perpetrators are still at large. CNN.com reported in 2002 that the FBI is still actively investigating the case, so perhaps that whole “crime doesn’t pay” thing will enter in at some point.
Some thieves prefer to kick it old-school, including the man behind the world’s largest mugging, which took place in London in 1990 (a good year for crime, it seems). In a heist typical of Matt Damon’s Linus, a man mugged a courier carrying a briefcase containing 300 bearer bonds worth a total of $435 million. Pretty impressive, except that within hours every major bank had been informed that the bonds were stolen, rendering them virtually worthless.
Finally, our favorite heist — history’s richest jewel robbery — truly smacks of the skilled Ocean crew. The heist took place at the Antwerp Diamond Center in Antwerp, Belgium, and netted the thieves an estimated $100 million in gems. No alarms were triggered, the bombproof vault doors were not tampered with and there was no sign of a break-in, so no one knows when 123 of the 160 vaults were actually emptied. The crime was discovered on February 17, 2003, and, according to BBC News, is believed to have been carried out by a veteran group of Italian thieves known only as the School of Turin.
While the heists carried out by Ocean and his gang are highly improbable, they are not altogether impossible. And, just like in the movies, things don’t always go in the thieves’ favor. One major difference between reel and real on this one, though: We doubt that any of these professional criminals are as hot as Clooney and Pitt.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Ocean’s Twelve.”
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