/Answers: The Greatest Movie Heists

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. Tying in with the upcoming release of Logan Lucky, this week's edition asks "What is your favorite movie heist scene or sequence?"

Ethan Anderton: Mission: Impossible III

The Mission: Impossible franchise may not immediately come to mind when you think of heist movies since they're action adventure and spy movies first. But each of the Mission: Impossible moves involves at least one heist where the cast breaks into a seemingly impossible to penetrate facility. While the original is a staple of cinema, it's been a little hard to appreciate as much knowing that the room containing the NOC list has every security measure imaginable, except video surveillance. But I digress.

For me, I think one of the best heists comes from Mission: Impossible III, when the IMF team has to break into the Vatican City in order to retrieve the MacGuffin known as the Rabbit's Foot. The only way to do that is to kidnap the man who has it in his possession, the dangerous, underground criminal Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman). It's a task that requires Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his entire team to pull it off, and it also requires the use of the staple IMF mask technology, which makes for a great scene where Tom Cruise slowly is transformed into Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The scene is exciting, suspenseful, and makes great use of the team dynamic that all Mission: Impossible movies have at their center, despite being considered Tom Cruise vehicles. Plus, there's a great moment of levity when Ethan Hunt, as Owen Davian, and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) have a casual exchange right in the middle of the heist.


Jacob Hall: Rififi

Like the grizzled, older gangster coming out retirement to teach the young punks a thing or two, Jules Dassin's Rififi remains one of the greatest crime movies ever made over 60 years after it was made. Released in 1955, this noir classic is a noteworthy heist movie for two reasons. First, the big job isn't the climax of the film – it takes place in the second act, with the rest of the film dealing with the fallout of the "perfect crime." Second, the big job practically is the entire second act of the film, running 28 minutes and showcasing a jewel heist in such agonizing detail that the film was reportedly banned by French police for being a little too real.

It's a remarkable heist (sandwiched in a remarkable movie), made all the more breathless and intense because it plays out without dialogue or score. To slip past a vibration-sensitive security system, the crew of criminals use a specialized set of tools to break in through the ceiling and proceed to not make a peep as they carry out the robbery. This means every sound we do hear – a deep breath or the tap of a hammer or even a misplaced footstep – is enough to make you leap out of your seat.

It's a thrilling experience to watch characters who are good at their jobs do them well. And while Rififi ultimately punishes its characters for their crimes, for 30 minutes, we're on their side, on the edge of our seats, watching as they showcase true professionalism. Sure, it's professionalism in service of illegal activity, but you have to admire the nerve and the precision. And that applies to Dassin's filmmaking, too.

Vanessa Bogart: The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

"Do you wanna dance? Or do you wanna dance?" Aside from being one of the sexiest movies ever made (That sheer dress! Those marble stairs! Is it getting warm in here?), the 199 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair boasts not one, but two of the greatest art heist scenes in cinema. And although there is a lot to admire about the opening heist of the $100 million San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight by Monet, the heist that has never been matched in my mind,is the one at the end, the one that adds insult to injury: the theft of The Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil by Edouard Manet.

The heist of the Monet that the film is centered round is impressive, and definitely an intricate affair. It is executed so meticulously that even though the detectives on Crown's tail know it was him, they can't seem to prove it. And yet, somehow, this $100 million job isn't the most impressive heist in the film. The whole film is a perfect game of cat and mouse made even more enticing with a passionate love affair. Watching Rene Russo and Pierce Brosnan toy with one another almost makes you forget about the expensive object at the film's center. However, Catherine is a serious woman, and through several misunderstandings, Crown knows, anticipates, and counts on her betraying him to the police. He tells her the exactly when he will return to the museum to replace the stolen Monet.

Upon entering the museum in a grey overcoat and red tie, Crown makes sure all eyes are on him, before placing a bowler hat on his head, the perfect image of the figure in The Son of Man, a painting by Rene Magritte that has been shown more than once throughout the film. Crown utters "let's play ball," and walks calmly but purposefully into the crowd. To the police, this seems like it will play out as a simple arrest, but that calm sense of inevitable victory is quickly shattered when they realize that Crown has no intention of being caught. Set exquisitely to the tune of 'Sinnerman' by Nina Simone, men with grey overcoats, red ties, and bowler hats fill the corridors of the museum, making it impossible to determine Crown from the lookalikes. It is a perfectly orchestrated dance. Once the distraction is set, Crown changes clothes and sneaks into the impressionist wing under the cover of smoke bombs and a fire alarm.

The metal guards close over the paintings to protect them from the sprinklers, but they stop just shy of the Pissaro painting that Crown had so generously donated just three days following the Monet heist. The water begins to wash away the paint exposing the stolen Monet beneath it. That son of a bitch. Before the detectives and the audience can even begin to comprehend the fact that the painting had been there the whole time, the metal gates open, and the Manet that Catherine had admired earlier was gone.

The key to a great heist film is to fool the detectives and the audience. Thomas Crown managed to do so with class and a wicked sense of humor. You can't help but smirk and applaud. You have been fooled in the most delightful way.

Chris Evangelista: Jackie Brown

What's the best Quentin Tarantino movie? I'm sure everyone has their own particular answer for that question, backed-up with compelling reasons. But the older I get, the more convinced I am that that distinction belongs to Tarantino's 1997 follow-up to Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown. It's certainly one of the filmmakers most mature movies – a melancholy meditation on aging and watching your the glory days of your youth slip through your fingers.

There's a heist at the heart of Jackie Brown, but it's one of the most casual, laid-back heists ever captured on film. Flight attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) has been caught-up in a scheme running money for arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). An ATF agent (Michael Keaton) catches Jackie red handed and tries to convince her to help him apprehend Ordell, but Jackie has other plans: she and bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) will con both Ordell and the ATF and make off with all of Ordell's money in the process.

The big heist moment involves switching some shopping bags at the Del Amo Mall and involves two of Ordell's associates: Louis (Robert De Niro) and Melanie (Bridget Fonda), who may or may not want to double-cross Ordell themselves. Tarantino stages all of this by returning to the same moment three times from three different perspectives: Jackie showing up at the mall, stealing away into a dressing room and waiting for Melanie to come in and take a shopping bag that's supposed to contain all of Ordell's money but is actually filled with paperback books, only to then run out and tell the law enforcement agents watching her that Melanie stole the money; Melanie and Louis showing up at the mall, bickering, taking the dummy bag and bickering some more in the parking lot, at which point Louis kills Melanie in a rage; and finally, Max, calmly coming to the mall, watching everything play out a distance and then making off with the bag that contains the actual money.

It all culminates in a moment where Ordell and Louis, parked in van, realize they've been scammed. It slowly dawns on Ordell that Jackie has conned him while also dawning on him that his old friend and partner Louis was too slow-witted and old to realize he was being ripped off. This lengthy block of scenes is done without the usual kinetic flash that Tarantino specializes in and instead handled with a cool, effortless calm that must be seen to be believed.

Ben Pearson: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight might be one of the most recent choices on this list, but that doesn't make it any less impactful. I still remember the feeling of awe that swept over me when I first saw the film's opening helicopter shot with superb clarity on an IMAX screen, and the shot of Heath Ledger's Joker (before we know he's the Joker) standing on the street corner, back to the camera, with the clown mask dangling from his hand is an indelible image in a film absolutely jam-packed with them.

Part of the enjoyment I get from movie heists is about watching all of the key players pull off their parts to perfection, but this film plays with that notion a little by having the players all be scumbags who are just in this to increase their eventual payday. We hear them talk about the Joker in hushed tones, learning about the man before we discover that he's been one of them the whole time. William Fichtner's bank manager tries to intercede, and his whimper when the gas canister in his mouth goes off is one of those little acting choices that's burned into my brain.

Sure, the Joker's plan might be a little too perfect, but there's no denying that it's immensely satisfying to see his dust-covered bus pull out into the line of other buses as he makes a totally clean getaway.

Matt Donato: Snatch

If the words "favorite" and "heist" are used to formulate a question, nine-times-out-of-ten my answer will be Snatch-related. Guy Ritchie's fly-by-disaster comedy is, itself, one continuous criminal treasure, but I'll play by the rules and single out my favorite sequence. Not a hard task.

It begins with Sol (Lennie James), Vinny (Robbie Gee) and Tyrone (Ade) preparing for a diamond swipe/holdup. There's a gypsy dog, Tyrone's struggle to fit through his driver-side door, Vinny's "anti-aircraft" shotgun – Ritchie's signature brand of Brit-wit chaos. Then Tyrone botches a parking job, pinning Franky Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) – their target – inside his "4-ton" truck. "It was a funny angle," Tyrone says. "It was behind you," Vinny retorts. "Whenever you reverse, things come from behind ya." Now they must wait for the diamond carrier who will never show, spelling failure from the start.

Cue nightfall and the amature robbers think their mark has arrived to place a boxing wager (with collateral in-hand). Sol and Vinny storm the "Bookies," and within seconds, Vinny finds himself caught dangling in a closed security shutter. Sol blasts a few rounds to scare the clerk. "All. Bets. Are. Off," she repeats after letting Vinny down. Translation: Sol and Vinny are robbing an empty Bookmakers location with only a sack of coins to offer (thanks Mickey O'Neil).

No bother – what they really want is the four-fingered man's briefcase (and what sits inside). Too bad the man in the betting establishment has five-fingers. Strike, like, five? Then the spunky clerk steals their shotgun, Sol and Vinny find themselves unable to exit, Sol fires a pistol round that ricochets off bulletproof glass and spills their only loot all over the floor. From bad to awful to worse. What's next, removing their masks without checking if they're out of security camera range? You guessed it! Say cheese, boys.

Good thing Tyrone is there to let Sol and Vinny out (door pops right open from the outside). Then he moves the car, snags a now-freed, stumbling Franky Four Fingers and speeds away with the goods. A small, fleeting moment of victory that's soured by Brick Top's unannounced pawn shop visit.

Jack Giroux: The Hot Rock

I love the simplicity of The Hot Rock's heist. Dress up as guards and fool the real guards into thinking you're on the job. That's it. From the start of The Hot Rock, Dortmunder (Robert Redford) couldn't come off calmer, cooler, or more calculating. His master plan to steal the diamond doesn't involve gadgets, guns, or anything like that, but a charismatic crew mostly playing dress up. How long they can keep the act going creates great suspense and laughs.

When Redford's team is caught in the middle of the act, a clumsy foot chase around a museum ensues. There's nothing smooth about it, although Peter Yates' direction is the opposite: so precise, clean, and efficient. The combination of Yates' taut filmmaking, screenwriter William Goldman's ingenious heist, and Redford and the ensemble adds up to a hugely entertaining heist. I also love the heist is only 20 or 30 minutes into the movie and creates a whole mess of problems for the team to solve. The museum heist ends up looking like a cakewalk for Dortmunder and everyone by the end. The museum heist and the movie is just a blast.

Hoai-Tran Bui: Ocean's Eleven (2001)

Sleek, propulsive, and deliriously fun, Ocean's Eleven is arguably the pinnacle of the heist movie genre. It's certainly the first movie my mind goes to when I think of a heist flick, bringing the crime caper to modern day and setting the standard for how heist flicks would be viewed in the 21st century. And its formula never gets old, even two sequels — with a gender-bending spin-off on the way — later.

Led by George Clooney and Brad Pitt oozing with celebrity charisma, Ocean's Eleven assembled a team of highly skilled misfits including Matt Damon's quick-handed thief, Bernie Mac's blackjack dealer, and Don Cheadle's horribly accented demolitions expert. As important as they were for their separate talents, however, it's the rapport between the eleven thieves that elevate the movie. Steven Soderbergh's direction encourages the actors to not so much disappear into their characters rather than bring their own separate star power to the movie, which is an old-fashioned approach in the age of Method acting, but one that recalls the original Rat Pack-led Ocean's 11 as well as the power of the celebrity image in Classic Hollywood. Ocean's Eleven is a movie about beautiful people doing beautiful things first, an action movie second.

But, oh the action. The last act when Ocean's Eleven kicks into high gear and the team's plan unfolds is everything that heist movies should aspire to be. That element of cartoonish fantasy that goes into heist films, grounded by a thrilling suspense that builds until an explosive finale, is what I go to heist movies for. Ocean's Eleven wears that escapism on its sleeves and will gladly give you that, along with Brad Pitt continuously chewing things, and more.

Christopher Stipp: Bottle Rocket

There are heist movies and there are heists gone wrong movies. Even though I'm a fan of films where things go off with the kind of precision and smoothness that only exist in cinema, I do have a soft spot for flicks where everything spins out of control. That's where you can really delve into the messiness of a reality that assumes that nothing is going to according to plan and where everything is on the table.

For a movie like Bottle Rocket, the first film from Wes Anderson, it was all about the characters surrounding and their ill-fated attempt at being criminals. These three friends have no business being involved in a life of crime. They all live lives of quiet desperation, looking for that one thing that could help make sense of lives not yet lived, with bullies around every corner looking to take them down a peg. That it fits in a sweet love story as these three misfits attempt to broker the terms of a heist that will turn out to be a tumultuous donnybrook of epically comedic proportions only reinforces that what matters here isn't what they're after but what they fully realize once the proverbial dust has settled.

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