The Best Diamond Heist Movies You've Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You've Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies.)

Ocean's 8 hits home video next week, and while I'm not the biggest fan of the film I'm always happy to see another heist movie. (I've even done one of these on oddball heist films!) They're typically organized by charismatic criminals who make elaborate plans and try to avoid violence, and while they're still crooks they're usually the film's protagonists. Audiences actively root for the crime to be a success, and that's an attitude you just don't see enough of in this country.

There are plenty of beloved examples in the subgenre from classics like To Catch a Thief (1955) and Rififi (1974) to more modern gems like A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and Snatch (2000), but there are also plenty of entertaining ones that haven't quite found an audience. So how about I steal some of your time to share some examples of those diamonds in the rough?

Keep reading for a look at six good to great diamond heist movies you've probably never seen (but should).

Dark of the Sun (1968)

A mercenary squad is sent to a small Congolese community to rescue its inhabitants from an encroaching rebel force... at least that's the cover story. In reality, the mercs are entering the fray to secure millions of dollars in diamonds from a mining company caught in the crossfire. It should be a simple job for these efficient soldiers, but the plan goes well, until it doesn't.

Everything I said in my intro above about nice crooks and elaborate heists? You can ignore that for this first entry as this late 60s picture is about the guts, glory, and gunfire. It's action-packed and thoroughly exciting as the squad goes toe to toe with rebels who greatly outnumber and townspeople who just get in the way. There's even a chainsaw fight! The script brings everyone and everything into a collision complete with a ticking clock scenario and an angry Rod Taylor.

Depending on your own temperament the film's action might be more gratuitous and gritty than simply fun, and there's no denying that our enlightened "heroes" are having a blast mowing down the darker-skinned locals. It's clearly a product of its time, but to be fair the actual "Congo Crisis" happening at the time was filled with acts of horrendous violence, barbarity, and cruelty. War is hell, as they say, and its participants act even eviler when there's greed involved too. It's a big, violent blast, and I can't recommend it enough for film fans who don't need nuance and wit in their "heist" movies.

Dark of the Sun is available to stream from Amazon and elsewhere.

The Pink Jungle (1968)

A fashion photographer heads to a South American jungle for a photo shoot, but while his model shows up so does trouble in the form of mistrusting military officials, gangsters, an immoral treasure hunter, and more. He lets his assignment slide and instead sets off on an adventure in search of a fabled diamond mine. The plan goes well, until it doesn't.

Okay, to be fair this is the one film on the list that's not technically a heist per se, but while the diamonds aren't being stolen from a central location they do get swiped more than once between the characters — so I'm including it! There is planning involved, albeit mostly focused on securing some chapstick and sturdy mules, but the scenario and geography see it play out as more of an adventure than a caper. It's a fun adventure to boot as our intrepid heroes engage in fist fights, gun fights, and more.

Even better, there's a fun sense of humor running through the film too, and both James Garner and George Kennedy take full advantage of the tone. Garner in particular channels the same kind character and energy as he demonstrates in The Rockford Files and elsewhere, and it works to build a casually humorous atmosphere even as things turn deadly. It's ultimately a fun movie with a little zinger of an ending that in a better world would have led to a sequel, but as it stands this is 104 minutes well spent for fans of jungle romps.

The Pink Jungle is unavailable to stream.

The Hot Rock (1972)

John Dortmunder is newly released from prison and freshly involved in plans to steal a big, fat African diamond currently on display at a museum. A four-man team executes a near flawless heist with just a single hitch that forces them to resolve one more problem. And then another. And then one more. Again and again, the plan goes well, until it doesn't.

This early 70s thriller is a terrific watch for numerous reasons, but chief among them is the way it draws out the heist into multiple smaller gigs. The museum is just the beginning as they're then forced to break someone out of jail, break into a police station, rob a bank's safety deposit box, and more. It's a near-endless string of misfires and mistakes leading Dortmunder to the belief that this rock has cursed him somehow and he won't be free until he finally secures it.

The talent roster on this one is ridiculous, and it makes its general unavailability that much more mind-boggling. Robert Redford and George Segal headline alongside supporting players Rob Leibman, Paul Sand, and Moses Gunn. The offscreen names are even more impressive as director Peter Yates (Breaking Away) and composer Quincy Jones bring William Goldman's script — an adaptation of a Donald E. Westlake novel — to energetic life.

The Hot Rock is unavailable to stream but was recently released to Blu-ray by Twilight Time.

11 Harrowhouse (1974)

Chesser is an American diamond broker making his annual trip to London to buy overpriced stones from an elite diamond exchange, but the way things are going this will probably be his last visit. He's robbed and soon finds himself roped into a massive heist to save his own neck, get back at some British twats, and make a fortune. The plan goes well, until it doesn't.

This comic thriller from the UK is a steadily paced flick that doles out laughs and character beats en route to a fairly thrilling third act complete with a car chase involving horses and dogs. A sharp script keeps things moving throughout, and the cast is just icing on the cake as Charles Grodin (Seems Like Old Times) stars as the not-so-hapless broker, a sharply energetic Candice Bergen brings life to his highly capable girlfriend, and James Mason, Trevor Howard, and John Gielgud round out the players.

I'm not typically a fan of narration in films as I'd rather just see what's happening and intone the characters' thoughts through action, expression, and dialogue. This is especially the case with excessive narration, but this low-key caper is a rare exception for s single reason — Charles Grodin. He narrates like a sad puppy dog, and while the film's funny elsewhere much of the humor comes from his sarcastic, "woe is me" voiceover observations. It kills some of the suspense to hear him talking in the past tense, but the film isn't reliant on that side of things.

11 Harrowhouse is available to stream from Amazon and elsewhere.

Flawless (2007)

1960s London is a swinging place for international men of mystery, hip cats, and stylish mods, but it's no great shakes for a woman trying to climb the corporate ladder at a diamond exchange. Frustrated by the lack of promotion, Laura Quinn takes up an equally disgruntled janitor named Hobbs on his plan to rob an unnoticed fortune in gems. The plan goes well, until it doesn't.

There are far flashier movies about diamond heists from ones with high-tech gear to others featuring incredibly elaborate plans, but there's something to appreciate about the confident simplicity of this British thriller. It's told in flashback and moves from workplace drama to planning stage to heist and beyond, and that last bit is a stretch many of these films don't bother touching. The investigation here is where the suspense kicks in as motivations and story turns are revealed, and it's just a classy and finely crafted affair.

The other big draw here is the cast. Michael Caine is no stranger to movies about heists and thefts — The Italian Job (1969), Deadfall (1968), King of Thieves (2018) — and he brings gumption and authenticity to the old laborer here. Just as good, and far too often undervalued, is Demi Moore who does great work as the woman trapped beneath the glass ceiling. Her participation is fueled by a need for fairness, but it's clear she's not necessarily cut out for the criminal life as her nerves begin to frazzle when the walls close in. She balances the nervousness, though, with a determination built on integrity, and the result is a real sense of humanity as a backdrop to the suspense.

Flawless is available to stream from Amazon and elsewhere.

Sushi Girl (2012)

A man is released from prison for his role in a diamond heist years prior, and he's soon summoned to a meeting with the other thieves. They're happy he didn't squeal to the police, but now they want the diamonds they believe he hid before his arrest. The plan goes well, until it doesn't.

This tight and cruel little thriller was dismissed by many as being too "Tarantino-esque," but that doesn't mean it's not a good time at the movies. The dialogue is mean-spirited and snappy, and the characters are a fun mix of over the top tough guys and almost comical caricatures. It hits some familiar beats as the crooks start to turn on each other, but there's personality to spare as the story moves forward, hits some bumps, and delivers a solid and satisfying ending.

It's a fun B-movie cast headlining the film too starting with Cortney Palm as the girl of the title. She's not a known name, of course, but with a genre-heavy career including a fantastic turn in Zombeavers (2014) she deserves to be. (I'm not joking about Zombeavers.) Far more recognizable are Mark Hamill (Watchers 4, 1998) and Tony Todd (Shadow Builder, 1998) playing crooks with mean streaks, and familiar faces pop up in smaller roles too including Jeff Fahey (Body Parts, 1991), Michael Biehn (Cherry Falls, 2000), and Danny Trejo (Reindeer Games, 2000).

Sushi Girl is available to stream from Amazon and elsewhere.

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