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.

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