Heist film

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The heist film or caper film is a subgenre of crime films and the caper story, focused on the planning, execution, and aftermath of a significant robbery.


One of the early defining heist films was The Asphalt Jungle (1950), which Film Genre 2000 wrote "almost single-handedly popularized the genre for mainstream cinema". It featured robbers whose personal failings ultimately led to the failure of their robbery. Similar films using this formula were Armored Car Robbery (1950), The Killing (1956), and The Getaway (1972). By the 1990s, heist films began to "experiment and play with these conventions," incorporating elements such as comedy into their stories.

Characteristics of the genre

While there is no unanimous agreement on what constitutes a heist film, there are some common characteristics that most films in the genre share.

The most basic is that films in the genre tend to follow the planning, execution and aftermath of one large robbery. [1] While there can be smaller crimes leading up to the major crime, this major crime is the centerpiece of the film and is the event which informs much of the film's plot. [1] As a result of this, heist films tend to focus on the process of the crime, often planned in great detail, followed by extended exposition of the heist itself.

The genre is also distinct for almost exclusively following those committing the crime rather than whoever is trying to stop them. [2] This often leads to the viewer building some form of sympathy or respect for the criminals. [2] Another common characteristic is the assembling of a team to complete the heist, [2] with each member contributing a unique skill or trait needed to complete the job. [2]

Over time filmmakers have taken these characteristics and changed them to create interesting plays on the genre. For example, Reservoir Dogs (1992) skips the execution of the heist and most of its planning, choosing instead to focus almost exclusively on the aftermath. Another example of this is The Italian Job (1969), which shows the planning and execution of the heist but doesn't fully show the aftermath.

Other tropes of the genre include the failure of the heist due to fate, or the traits of the criminals involved. Among them is one of the participants getting injured during the heist, or betraying the others during or after. [3] This trend started as a result of the initial films in the genre being made in Hollywood during the Motion Picture Production Code, [4] which prohibited criminals from getting away with their crime. While this has changed since the disappearance of the code, [4] the trope of failed heists still remains. One of the most dynamic examples is Reservoir Dogs, which focuses solely on trying to figure out which of their group members betrayed them after a failed heist. Another popular trope is "one last job", whereby a criminal looking to quit the life enlists the team to commit one last heist so they will have money for the rest of their days. This can be seen in early films such as The Asphalt Jungle (1950) as well as more recent like Heat (1995).


While elements of the heist film can be seen in movies as early as The Great Train Robbery (1903), the genre didn't become fully fledged until the late 1940s and the early 1950s. [5] The film widely agreed upon as the first to do so is John Huston's 1950 The Asphalt Jungle, starring Sterling Hayden and Sam Jaffee (with Marilyn Monroe in a supporting role). [1] It contains many of the heist hallmarks, focusing from the criminal's perspective on the elaborate planning, flawed execution, and calamitous aftermath of a single heist. [2] It also devotes a large amount of time to the recruiting of variously skilled criminals to form a team.

Two earlier films that some consider prior examples of the genre, and others just key to its development, [1] are Criss Cross (1949) and The Killers (1946). While these do follow the planning, execution, and aftermath of a single heist from the criminals' perspective, some critics argue that they devote too much time to the planning and aftermath of the crime and too little to the actual job. [1] All of these films are also notable for having elements which are indebted to film noir, including their moody, expressionistic black and white cinematography and dark fatalistic tone. As a result, scholars such as Daryl Lee refer to such examples as “noir heists”. [5] Anne Billson of the BBC cites Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) as an influence on the "assembling the team" trope that later became a common characteristic of heist films. [6]

The period between 1955 to 1975 is considered by scholars to be the most productive for the heist genre. It began with American filmmakers continuing the noir heist trend in films like 5 Against the House (1955) and The Killing (1956). The ‘50s also saw the release of the first international heist films. Notably, a handful made in France were influenced by and responding to the American style. Two notable examples are Rififi (1955), which is known for its detailed 30 minute heist sequence, and Bob Le Flambeur (1956), known for an ending which plays with the conventions of the genre. [5] The 1950s also marked the beginning of British heist film, including The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and The Lady Killers (1955), pictures which introduced comedy to the genre. [5] A notable Italian heist film from this period is Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958), a parody of the genre. [5]

In the 1960s heist stories became more mainstream, with glossier and higher-budget heist films which moved away from the fatalism and darkness present in the earlier noir heists. [5] Two examples of this from the early 1960s are the British film The League of Gentlemen (1960) and the American film Seven Thieves (1960). Despite having conventional heist plots about gathering together a group to commit a heist, both films balance comedy and drama, unlike the darkness of the earlier noir heist films. [5] The mainstream shift as well as a growing cultural interest in travel led to a wave of glossy heist films involving exotic international locals, such as Topkapi (1964) and How to Steal a Million (1966). In France Rififi spawned a number of lower-budget crime films which often used Rififi as part of their title. These include films such as Rififi in Tokyo (1963) and Du rififi à Paname (1966). As the decade continued, the French also began to produce more glossy heist films which served as star vehicles for big names of the time, such as Any Number Can Win (1963) starring Alain Delon and Greed in the Sun (1964) starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. [5] The most celebrated French heist films of this time where directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, whose heist film Le Cercle Rouge (1970) is often regarded as one of the greatest heist movies of all time. [5] This expansion of the genre in the 1960s also led to remakes of older heist movies, with an early example being Cairo (1963), which is a remake of The Asphalt Jungle. [1] In 1968, the motion picture production code was abolished, paving the way for a number of heist films that didn't shy away from portraying graphic violence. This included films like Charley Varrick (1973) and The Getaway (1972).

The period between 1975 and the early 1990s is considered a low point for productivity in the heist genre. [5] While some were made, such as Thief (1981) and a remake of Big Deal on Madonna Street called Crackers (1984), some critics do not consider them as meaningful developments of the genre. [5] The 1990s would see the return of the heist film, with a number creating new interest. While pictures like John Woo's Once a Thief (1991) and Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (1998) would bring some attention to the genre, the three returned the genre to prominence were Reservoir Dogs (1992), Heat (1995) and The Usual Suspects (1995).

This led to a large output of heist films throughout the 2000s. These range from British efforts like Snatch (2000) and Sexy Beast (2000) to kids' films like Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) to popular Hollywood films like Inside Man (2006) and remakes of heist classics like The Italian Job (2003). [5] Some of the most popular heist films of this era are the remake of Ocean's 11 (2001) and its sequels Ocean's 12 (2004) and Ocean's 13 (2007), which remain so today.[ citation needed ]

List of heist films

11 Harrowhouse 1974 [7]
80 Million 2011 [8]
Armored Car Robbery 1950 [9]
Army of the Dead 2021 [10]
Army of Thieves 2021
Dog Day Afternoon 1975
The Asphalt Jungle 1950 [11]
Baby Driver 2017 [12]
The Bad Guys 2022 [13]
Bande à part 1964 [11]
The Bank Job 2008 [12]
Big Deal on Madonna Street 1958 [14]
Blue Collar 1978 [15]
Bob le flambeur 1956 [15]
Bottle Rocket 1996 [12]
Le Cercle Rouge 1970 [11]
Dead Presidents 1995 [16]
Den of Thieves 2018 [17]
Le deuxième souffle 1966 [15]
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves 2023
Entrapment 1999 [18]
Fast Five 2011 [12]
A Fish Called Wanda 1988 [12]
Flawless 2007 [7]
Gambit 1966 [19] [20]
Gambit 2012 [20]
The Getaway 1972 [15]
Going in Style 1979
Going in Style 2017 [21]
Gone in 60 Seconds 2000
Grand Slam 1967 [15]
The Hatton Garden Job 2017 [12]
Heat 1995 [12]
Heist 2001 [22]
Hell or High Water 2016 [23]
Hell's Angels '69 1969 [24]
The Hot Rock 1972 [7]
House of Games 1987
How to Steal a Million 1966 [15]
Hudson Hawk 1991 [25]
Kshana Kshanam 1991 [26]
Inception 2010 [11]
Inside Man 2006 [12]
The Italian Job 1969 [12]
The Italian Job 2003 [12]
Jackie Brown 1997 [27]
The Killing 1956 [12]
King of Thieves 2018 [28]
The Lavender Hill Mob 1951 [15]
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels 1998 [12]
Logan Lucky 2017 [12]
The Maiden Heist 2009 [29]
Mankatha 2011 [30] [31]
The Misfits 2021 [32]
Museum 2018
Now You See Me 2013 [21]
Now You See Me 2 2016
Ocean's 8 2018 [15]
Ocean's 11 1960 [14]
Ocean's Eleven 2001 [11]
Ocean's Twelve 2004 [15]
Ocean's Thirteen 2007 [33]
Out of Sight 1998 [27]
The Perfect Score 2004
The Pink Panther 1963 [34]
Point Break 1991
Quick Change 1990 [27]
Reservoir Dogs 1992 [11]
The Return of the Pink Panther 1975 [35] [36]
Rififi 1955 [11]
Ronin 1998 [27]
The Score 2001 [37]
Set It Off 1996 [12]
Sexy Beast 2000 [11]
Snatch 2000 [12]
Sneakers 1992 [38]
South of 8 2016 [39]
The Split 1968 [40]
The Sting 1973 [12]
Thief 1981 [11]
The Thomas Crown Affair 1968 [12]
The Thomas Crown Affair 1999 [12]
Three Kings 1999 [27]
Topkapi 1964 [14]
The Town 2010 [12]
Thunivu 2023
Tower Heist 2011
Triple Frontier 2019
The Usual Suspects 1995 [12]
Vinci 2004 [8]
Widows 2018 [11]
Wrath of Man 2021 [41]

Related Research Articles

The caper story is a subgenre of crime fiction. The typical caper story involves one or more crimes perpetrated by the main characters in full view of the reader. The actions of police or detectives attempting to prevent or solve the crimes may also be chronicled, but are not the main focus of the story.

<i>The Killing</i> (film) 1956 film by Stanley Kubrick

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Crime film</span> Film genre

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<i>The Asphalt Jungle</i> 1950 film by John Huston

The Asphalt Jungle is a 1950 American heist film noir directed and co-written by John Huston, and starring Sterling Hayden and Louis Calhern, with Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, and Marilyn Monroe in one of her earliest roles. Based on the 1949 novel of the same name by W. R. Burnett, it tells the story of a jewel robbery in a Midwestern city.

<i>Heist</i> (2001 film) 2001 film by David Mamet

Heist is a 2001 American heist crime drama film written and directed by David Mamet and starring Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito and Delroy Lindo, with Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay, Patti Lupone and Sam Rockwell in supporting roles.

<i>Rififi</i> 1955 crime film by Jules Dassin

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<i>Armored Car Robbery</i> 1950 film by Richard Fleischer

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<i>Bob le flambeur</i> 1956 film by Jean-Pierre Melville

Bob le flambeur is a 1956 French heist gangster film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and starring Roger Duchesne as Bob. It is often considered both a film noir and a precursor to the French New Wave, the latter because of its use of handheld camera and a single jump cut.

<i>Le Cercle Rouge</i> 1970 film

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<i>Dollars</i> (film) 1971 film by Richard Brooks

$, also known as Dollar$, Dollars or $ (Dollars), and in the UK as The Heist, is a 1971 American heist comedy film starring Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn, written and directed by Richard Brooks and produced by M.J. Frankovich. The supporting cast includes Gert Fröbe, Robert Webber and Scott Brady. The film is about a bank security consultant (Beatty) who develops a scheme with a prostitute, Dawn Divine (Hawn), to steal several criminals' money from a bank vault.

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<i>5 Against the House</i> 1955 American heist film

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Further reading