Ah, the cinematic bank heist. Always meticulously planned, manned with the best thieves money can buy — and yet, as the new movie "Inside Man" reminds us, it almost never goes according to plan. In tribute, then, we offer our list of the top 10 bank-robbery movies.
10. Sugar & Spice (2001)
Diane (Marley Shelton) is a bubbly, popular cheerleader who gets knocked up by her quarterback boyfriend, Jack (James Marsden). The couple try to do the right thing, but making ends meet on Jack's video store salary is tricky. So, inspired by the Keanu Reeves flick "Point Break," Diane decides that bank robbery is the answer. Enlisting the other cheerleaders (who, after all, are all for one, etc.), Diane studies caper movies such as "The Apple Dumpling Gang" and the #1 film on our list for heist tips — which, if she were paying attention, she'd know is a bad idea. This satire of the high school caste system is an acquired taste, but a pep squad in cheap Halloween masks robbing a bank is a sight to behold.
9. The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959)
Fresh off "The Blob," Steve McQueen starred in this heist flick based on a true story. McQueen plays George Fowler, who, recently expelled from college, shifts his focus to a life of crime. George joins a motley gang of crooks planning to hit the local bank, but mistrust, jealousy and greed make for a rusty machine, and things don't go so well. The movie's feeling of authenticity is accentuated by the use of actual locations and performances by some bank guards and customers who were involved in the real-life story. The film's also notable for its influence on one of the greatest crime movies of all, Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs."
8. Sexy Beast (2000)
Gary "Gal" Dove (Ray Winstone) is a happily retired British safecracker, living in Spain with his vivacious wife, enjoying the company of friends and the high life bought by a fruitful career in crime.
But it all comes crashing down like a boulder into a cool, blue swimming pool when mobster Don Logan (a riveting, feral Ben Kingsley) shows up to recruit Gal for one last bank job. Gal has no interest, but Don's not taking no for an answer. The bank robbery, complicated as it is, is actually just the film's MacGuffin (see any film-history guide or Hitchcock bio if that term's unfamiliar), but the movie is such a crackling good neo-noir that we couldn't leave it off the list.
7. The Bank Dick (1940)
W.C. Fields was near the end of his career when he played Egbert Sousé, a (surprise!) drunk who, after rolling blotto out of a bar called the Black Pussy, accidentally foils a bank robbery, subsequently landing a job as a security guard. In typical Fields fashion, the film is loaded with shrewish women, rotten kids and lots of hooch (as well as some unfortunate racist humor). As bracingly black as comedy gets.
6. The Getaway (1972)
Movies don't get more testosteroney (our word) than this heist/chase flick, adapted from a Jim Thompson novel by Walter Hill, directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Steve McQueen and Ben Johnson (we feel like a little girl just typing those names). In the movie, Carol McCoy (Ali MacGraw) makes a deal under the sheets with a Texas politico to get her robber hubby Doc (McQueen) paroled from prison, in exchange for a cut of their next heist. Double crosses abound, and a torrent of bullets, car chases and blood follows (this is a Steve McQueen film, after all). Plus: Sally Struthers gets a smack!
5. Take the Money and Run (1969)
Woody Allen's hilarious mockumentary about petty thief Virgil Starkwell (Allen) could be considered a cautionary tale of how not to rob a bank. Rule #1: Make sure your penmanship is up to par, because no teller is going to be threatened by your possession of a "gub."
4. Heat (1995)
Michael "Miami Vice" Mann is practically infamous for style over substance, and this thriller is as slick and shiny as a snakeskin suit. But under the surface lies some intense character drama as L.A. police detective Vince Hanna (Al Pacino) matches wits with bank robber Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro). The movie's marketing focused on the fact that it was the first (and, to date, only) time the two movie legends appeared onscreen together, which must have driven both the director and the rest of the cast nuts. But the movie is perhaps best-remembered for its blistering, "last big score" bank robbery and subsequent shootout on the sun-drenched, midday streets of L.A. (a scene blamed by some media watchdog groups — without evidence — for inspiring real-life bank robberies).
3. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway star as the Depression-era bank robbers, with some stellar supporting performances by Gene Hackman, Michael J. Pollard and Denver Pyle. At the movie's release, director Arthur Penn was widely criticized for romanticizing the criminals and, more so, for putting more blood onscreen than any other movie to date. With time, however, the film's visceral images, razor-sharp acting, writing, direction and editing have ushered "Bonnie and Clyde" into the pantheon of groundbreaking classics.
2. Quick Change (1990)
Bill Murray co-directs (with Howard Franklin) and stars in this black comedy that's gradually been gaining cult status. Murray plays Grimm (just "Grimm"), a fed-up New Yorker who enlists the aid of his girlfriend Phyllis (Geena Davis) and high-strung pal Loomis (Randy Quaid) to pull off a clever bank job involving a clown suit, the threat of vomit and a monster truck. Getting away with the cash proves to be far, far easier than getting out of New York, however, as the fleeing trio encounter a stream of urban nightmares. Ostensibly "The Out-of-Towners" as crooks, this funny charmer is also a nice visual time capsule of NYC on the eve of its Disneyfication.
1. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Not putting "Dog Day Afternoon" at the top of a list of bank heist flicks is like not putting "Citizen Kane" at the top of a list of movies about power-mad newspaper magnates. Al Pacino stars as Sonny Wortzik, a man so desperate to pay for his lover's sex-change operation that he resorts to robbing a Brooklyn bank. But when he and his accomplices are cornered by the NYPD, the ensuing media frenzy turns Sonny into an unlikely anti-hero, a voice of the frustrated common man. Filmed on location, the movie captures the sweltering, oppressive heat of summer in New York, and as in other great films of the time ("Taxi Driver," "Midnight Cowboy") the city is as much a character as any role played by an actor. Directed by Sidney Lumet, the film is a prime example of why the gritty, character-driven movies of the 1970s have led some critics to label that often-vilified decade as American film's greatest era.
Certain genres that held movie audiences rapt in the 20th century have been rendered obsolete by technology and changing times. You don't see too many musicals about café society any more. Still, as long as we live in a capitalist society with an ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, the Bank Robbery Movie is sure to evolve with the times.
But geez, online bank heist flicks sure are gonna be dull!
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