Heist movies are a dime a dozen, but a truly good movie heist is something you don’t forget. While plenty of great movies have situated themselves among con men and robbers, and luxuriated in the satisfaction of a good grift, not as many take the time to take us through the play-by-play of a heist — whether its a mere bank stickup or something requiring more time and planning and laser-dodging acrobatics. And you need only see one movie that thinks it can get away with hand-waving its entire heist to recognize how rewarding it is when a filmmaker actually takes its time to show how the whole crime sausage is made.
What follows is an extremely scientific grading of some of the best and most memorable heist-movie heists, graded not for cinematic quality, but on the strength of the execution of the people doing the heist. My criteria include Finesse and Planning (how detail-oriented our crew is, and the degree to which they’ve thought of everything, as well as physical grace) and Style (aesthetic elements such as wardrobe and props, as well as more immaterial qualities like charisma and team chemistry). Weighed less in the grading but still crucial are the stakes of the mission, and how much collateral damage is accrued (the less, the higher the score — in this house, we like a clean heist!).
And, of course, we’ll be grading the actual success of the heist — not only if our heroes get the money/gold/diamonds, in the short term, but whether or not it measurably improves their lives. You may be as surprised by the results as I was — a couple of scenes I assumed were classics come up short, and a bunch of surfer goons pull off what, for my money, is one of the slickest bank robberies in contemporary cinema.
12. The Killing: The Racetrack Job (1956)
The Target: $2 million
Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden)
Randy Kennan (Ted de Corsia)
George Peaty (Elisha Cook, Jr.)
Mike O’Reilly (Joe Sawyer)
Nikki Arane (Timothy Carey)
Maurice Oboukhoff (Kola Kwariani)
The Killing, a classic heist film and an early Kubrick highlight, is one of those movies that you can imagine working a lot differently with modern-day technology and/or security protocol. But for this racetrack in the 1950s, career criminal Johnny Clay has just about all of his bases covered. Everything seems to be obscured through layers of plausible deniability, from Maurice’s fake-out fight at the bar, to the gun Johnny eventually uses to stick up the attendants in the money room. A good 90 percent of the energy of this heist is distraction, which is why it’s still fun to watch unfold. The only thing that seems grossly negligent is sharpshooter Nikki’s getaway plan after shooting the racehorse in broad daylight — and he takes the hit for that negligence.
The whole point of The Killing’s premise is, “What if four average-joe, noncriminal, middle-class schlubs pulled off the most meticulous heist of the year?” So naturally, this is not the most inspiring bunch — a cashier, a bartender, a cop, all with faces that look like they’ve done their share of worried scowling.
They aren’t necessarily all life-and-death matters, but everyone involved has a reason for being in on Joe’s plan: bills to pay, sickly wives to take care of, evil wives to placate. Poor George is particularly feeling the crunch — little does he know that even if he does pull off the heist, his deliciously over-it wife Sherry is still going to leave him.
Lack of Collateral Damage: 7/15
There’s a lot of human bloodshed on this list, and yet somehow the shooting death of racehorse Red Lightning feels like one of the more gnarly ones here. Nikki, the horse’s shooter, also doesn’t last long, perhaps divine retribution for his crime (and for being shown to be a racist toad in the final moments of his life). Sherry’s sidepiece Val, while trying to hijack the gang after the heist, catches a bullet from George. Some security guards probably take some bruises during the pandemonium around Maurice’s fight. All in all, things devolve pretty quickly after the masterfully executed robbery itself.
You’ll see a theme among the heist films of classic Hollywood (and France, and Britain), which is that criminals will rarely be shown to be successful or gratified by their crimes. No matter how brilliant and calculating the crew is, karma will find its way back to them before they’ve had a chance to truly enjoy the spoils of their efforts. The Killing is no different, but there’s something especially dispiriting about the penultimate scene, in which the suitcase full of money is knocked off onto the airport runway due to a runaway miniature poodle, and all the 2 million goes flying like confetti across the tarmac.
Final Score: 46/100
11. Set It Off: The Second Bank Robbery (1996)
The Target: Balboa Savings and Loan
Cleopatra “Cleo” Sims (Queen Latifah)
Francesca “Frankie” Sutton (Vivica Fox)
Lida “Stony” Newsom (Jada Pinkett Smith)
Tisean “T.T.” Wallace (Kimberly Elise)
There are bank robbers that move so silently nobody but the teller even knows they’re being robbed … and then there are the women of Set It Off, who are more from the school of Pulp Fiction’s Honey Bunny. The bank robberies of Set It Off really are smash and grab — the team cases one bank, but then mostly relies on former teller Frankie’s general knowledge of banks to wing their way through the other robberies. The pièce de résistance in their audacious second outing is Queen Latifah’s Cleo, charging her stolen Suburban through the glass window of the bank into a tower of promotional teddy bears while the cops stand right out on the sidewalk, backing into the wall into some kind of tropical-themed grill next door, and then driving out through a different window back out onto Wilshire. Smooth.
This is only the ladies’ second bank robbery, but they’ve already tidied up nicely since their first outing — they’ve certainly upgraded their wig game, at least. But otherwise, their looks are all over the place — Stony’s the most unobtrusive in a black hoodie, T.T. is wearing a flannel I’m pretty sure I had in 1996, and Frankie’s rocking a quasi-mod jacket and crop-top set. They’ll get a unified look going for their final robbery, but this is still a work in progress.
The film spends a lot of time making sure that we believe why these four South L.A. women would resort to violent crime (except for Cleo, who apparently just wants to work on her car and buy nice clothes for her girlfriend — certainly understandable!). They’re all at dead ends — Frankie’s lost her job, T.T.’s son has been taken by CPS, and the police shooting of Stony’s college-bound brother makes the issue of whether or not to stay poor and stay in the projects a life-or-death issue.
Lack of Collateral Damage: 9/15
Miraculously, nobody gets hurt that we see — though someone should check on that grill cook. But the bank itself certainly does not make it out in one piece.
Despite the considerable mess, the getaway is a success, and the crew takes home $296,000 — not bad for a day’s work! Unfortunately, their boss steals it and blows it on watches and hookers. Men!
Final Score: 60/100
10. Rififi: The Mappin & Webb Jewel Heist (1955)
Target: 220 million francs in diamonds
Tony “Le Stéphanois” (Jean Servais)
Jo “Le Suedois” (Carl Möhner)
Mario Ferrati (Robert Manuel)
César “Le Milanese” (Jules Dassin)
Though the Rififi heist scene, famously free of music and dialogue and lasting nearly a half-hour, is intricate in its detail, it’s kind of easy to forget that Tony’s crew is just tunneling their way to the diamonds, literally cutting through any wall that stands between them. But each of those cuts is so deliberate and planned-to-the-millisecond that it feels a lot more graceful than that. The one bit of pre-robbery planning we really get in-depth with is their handling of the store’s security system; by buying a duplicate, they’re able to figure out what exactly they can get away with before they trip the alarm. (In the end, they just shut it up with what appears to be some kind of spray insulation.) Overall, this is a masterfully executed heist, though I will dock one point for leaving the store such a mess — the longer it takes for the store to realize it’s been robbed, the more lead time you get!
Tony’s crew has plenty of personality, particularly the safe breaker César (played by director Jules Dassin), and they work together like clockwork. They show up to the robbery looking as dapper as a bunch of rough-n’-tumble jewel thieves can, dropping into Mappin & Webb in their suits and ties. The black umbrella — which catches the debris as the group tunnel down from the upstairs apartment — is an unforgettable flourish. If only Tony himself wasn’t such a piece of shit, they might be easier to root for … see below.
Tony is one of countless just-out-of-prison career criminals looking for their next score, but he’s wary at first of ripping off the jewelry store. He changes his tune once he realizes that his old girl Mado (Marie Sabouret) has shacked up with a well-heeled gangster in his absence. After beating her up for her lack of faithfulness (bonjour, 1950s!), he’s suddenly all-in — so we can only conclude that his motivation for the robbery is … to win back the girl … he gave a black eye to? Not feeling this one so much in 2019, my dude.
Lack of Collateral Damage: 4/15
The robbery itself is virtually clean as a whistle, but once our heroes are in possession of the diamonds, they’ve dug their own grave. With both police and local gangsters closing in around them, Tony; Jo; Mario; Mario’s wife, Ida; and César all pay for the robbery with their lives before anyone even has a chance to enjoy the spoils.
While it’s certainly fun watching the criminals of Rififi plot out their daring heist, and bask in their momentary success, the film makes sure that by the end there’s no confusion: Crime doesn’t pay! So don’t even think about trying anything this obviously cool and fun-looking!
Final Score: 64/100
9. The Italian Job: The Italian Job (1969)
The Target: $4 million in gold bullion from an armored truck
Chris Croker (Michael Caine)
Camp Freddie (Tony Beckley)
Bill Bailey (George Innes)
Professor Simon Peach (Benny Hill)
Chris (Barry Cox)
Tony (Richard Essame)
Dominic (David Salamone)
“Big” William (Harry Baird)
Arthur (Michael Standing)
Frank (John Forgeham)
Rozzer (Derek Ware)
Coco (Stanley Caine)
Yellow (Robert Powell)
Roger (Frank Jarvis)
Dave (John Morris)
Lorna (Maggie Blye)
Caine’s Croker already had half the job taken care of courtesy of Roger Beckermann (Rossano Brazzi), who plotted the robbery of a regularly scheduled armored van but was killed by mafiosi before he could carry it out. The joint — in this case a bustling piazza in Turin — had already been studiously cased. Somewhat ironically, the part of the heist that takes place in the square has the least finesse — all fisticuffs and water cannons in the middle of a crowd in broad daylight. Most of the finesse that Croker & Co. bring to the game is the getaway, a complicated maze of back alleys and sewer tunnels and cars inside cars, which is pulled off more or less capably.
The Mini Coopers alone would carry the day here, but the mise-en-scène of the whole eponymous job is why this heist paved the way for decades of stylish dudes doin’ crimes. Start with the gang’s morning huddle at an abandoned, crumbling villa outside Turin — beautiful! Slippin’ and slidin’ through the arcades and galleries, yoinking a whole chicken off a café table? A+! Even the plans, as delivered via film reel by a debonair, smoking Beckermann, ooze panache. On the fashion side, Croker eventually swaps out his natty three-piece suits for a blue jumpsuit to match the rest of the crew, and while it’s perhaps a downgrade from the rest of the movie’s swinging London style, they really do look like a well-oiled machine, all, uh … 15 of them. The biggest downside of this heist is that there are way too many personnel, and only about three of them get anything like a personality — which makes it hard to track who’s who and why we should care about any of them.
Once the threat of the mafia looms over them, there’s a little more of a vise around Croker’s gang. But for the most part, this is a heist for heist’s sake — money is fun and stealing it even more so.
Lack of Collateral Damage: 13/15
The fact that all of Turin is snarled in a massive traffic jam (courtesy of genius proto-hacker Professor Peach. Mr. Robot, eat your heart out) helps keep the grievous bodily harm to a minimum here. The actual jacking of the armored van is the most violent the scheme gets, and a few Italian cops may not make it out alive. But considering the scope of the plan and the amount of vehicles in play, it could have been a lot worse.
Or more like 50/50 — literally. The Job ends in one of the most ridiculous literal cliffhangers ever, with the entire crew and their loot on the verge of teetering over a cliff in the Swiss Alps. Whether or not they make it out depends on exactly how great that idea Croker has is.
Final Score: 65/100
8. Heat: The Armored Truck (1995)
The Target: 1.6 million dollars in bearer bonds in an armored truck.
Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro)
Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer)
Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore)
Trejo (Danny Trejo)
Waingro (Kevin Gage)
No, we’re not talking about the perhaps more famous bank robbery midway through the film, because when was the last time you watched it? It’s a mess, and a pretty average bank holdup as well, until McCauley and his gang make their exit and the bullets start flying. The opening robbery, which kicks off the cat-and-mouse game between McCauley and Al Pacino’s Lt. Hanna, is brisk and brutal and inspired a zillion Grand Theft Autos to come. Trejo tracks the armored truck and radios its approach to Cheritto and Waingro, who are waiting in an underpass under the 110 freeway in a big-rig tow truck. McCauley and Shiherlis, in a phony ambulance, block the truck’s way long enough for the big rig to charge in and knock the armored truck over and off the road. The doors are blown open, and the loot is stolen before the police arrive. The only unplanned element, which is a thorn in McCauley’s side for the rest of the movie, is the lunatic Waingro, who goes off script and murders the three guards.
This heist is all about efficiency, and everyone in the crew gets a jumpsuit, a bulletproof vest, and a hockey mask, resulting in a pretty damn intimidating visual effect. With the obvious exception of Waingro, everyone works together like a dream and is able to hit their marks without dillydallying or discussion. The precision and uniformity suits the rest of the film, which is less about how fun and swanky a life of crime is (or a life chasing criminals) and more about what a dehumanizing effect it has on all involved.
The later bank robbery has somewhat higher stakes — once the crew realizes they need to disband and do one last job to fund their lives on the run. But this one just seems like a run-of-the-mill job — even the loot, the bearer bonds, could ostensibly be victimless if their owner, Roger Van Zant (William Fichtner) played ball.
Lack of Collateral Damage: 7/15
The team strategically picks a pretty barren block in the middle of nowhere outside Downtown L.A., so there aren’t really any bystanders to speak of. Those three guards, though — whoops.
In the long term (and by long term I mean as in run time — approximately three hours later), the heist can be seen as the beginning of the end for McCauley. On the other hand, the heist draws the attention of Hanna, a worthy adversary for McCauley, and maybe secretly the best friend he never had? Put it this way: If it weren’t for Waingro, McCauley wouldn’t have died … but he also wouldn’t have had someone there to hold his hand while he died. <3
Final Score: 66/100
7. Point Break: The Ex-Presidents (1991)
The Target: A bank, somewhere in West Los Angeles
“Ronald Reagan”/Bodhi (Patrick Swayze)
“Richard Nixon”/Roach (James LeGros)
“Jimmy Carter”/Nathaniel (John Philbin)
“Lyndon B. Johnson”/Grommet (Bojesse Christopher)
They lose their touch down the road — in a later robbery that goes hellishly awry — but when we meet the Ex-Presidents bank-robber gang, they are at the peak of their powers. In Point Break, the Ex-Presidents are supposed to be infamous for how quickly they get in and out of the scene, and that’s proven out here — look at the run time on this more-or-less continuous clip. They also only take from the drawers, which, after watching a certain number of bank robberies, seems like doing anything else would be asking for trouble. But more than anything, the advantage lies in how physically agile this gang is — they are all surfers, after all.
The personas are what sell the hell out of this bit — and probably makes gang even harder to track down. Everyone knows their role — Ron, Jimmy, LBJ, and Dick — and plays their part. We see them on the approach, adjusting their ties and fitting their masks on, and the attention to detail goes a long way; even if it is an old-fashioned stickup, it feels like more of a production. They somehow have time for quips and one-liners (“We’ve been screwing you for years, so a few more seconds shouldn’t matter,” “I’m not a crook!” etc.), but they come fast and relentlessly, and by the time they’re out the door you’re left spinning. Could have done without the mooning at the end, but those ass cheeks end up being a case-cracking clue for Keanu Reeves’s Johnny Utah.
They just wanna ride those waves, man.
Lack of Collateral Damage: 14/15
It’s noisy and obviously terrifying for everyone not wearing a rubber mask, but nobody gets hurt, and again — they’re in and out in 90 seconds.
It’s never said what their take is from this particular outing, but clearly it’s enough to keep them ridin’ those waves for the time being.
Final Score: 78/100
6. The Dark Knight: The Great Clown Robbery (2008)
The Target: A mob bank, somewhere in Gotham City
The Joker (Heath Ledger)
Five Random Clowns
Yes, okay, The Dark Knight isn’t really a heist film, but I could already hear the cries of a million commenters asking where this contemporary classic of an opening scene was. And, well, The Dark Knight’s structure is actually not that different from Heat, and Heat’s on here, so there you go. Anyway, it can’t be said too many times what a fabulously placed domino line of a robbery scene this is, featuring both the kind of heist hardware we love (zip lines! Alarm hacking! Drilling through safes!), as well as more bombastic touches (gotta love a surprise vehicle crashing in on the scene). The final step — the Joker more or less seamlessly joining a line of school buses on the street, is one of the best kinds of heist grace notes — the rattling vase that goes still, the evidence of the light-footedness of the entire operation.
The clown masks are pretty unsettling, as is the Joker’s clown face under the clown face. The other four clowns may be clueless hoods, but as players in their boss’s scheme, they serve their purpose well. The aerial fly-in and the school bus are the bookends that give the razzle-dazzle to an otherwise aesthetically familiar bank robbery.
For the lulz, of course.
Lack of Collateral Damage: 13/15?
The henchmen who off each other can’t really be considered collateral damage because their murders were intrinsic to the plan itself. The only possible improvisational murder is William Fichtner as a crooked banker (not the only time the inimitable Mr. Fichtner has met his end in a film on this list) who takes two bullets and a grenade in the mouth. It is unclear whether or not the grenade is an explosive or just a poison-gas thing or what — but we never see or hear an explosion. If we did, it would be pretty safe to assume that the other bystanders didn’t fare too well, but for now, I’m going to assume the banker is the only one outside the gang who goes down.
It turns out, when you don’t believe in anything and only seek to cause chaos and destruction, you’ve got a pretty clear path to success. When the Joker later lights an entire pile of stolen cash on fire, his nihilism broke with just about everything we’d come to expect from supervillains, and for better or worse, he became one of the more culturally influential fictional characters of the last decade.
Final Score: 75/100
5. The Great Muppet Caper: The Mallory Gallery Baseball Heist (1981)
The Target: The fabulous baseball diamond
The Crew: There are actually two competing crews here: The Muppets, who are legion, and with whom I hope you are familiar, and sexy cat burglars, led by Nicky Holiday (Charles Grodin) and consisting of embittered supermodels Marla, Carla, and Darla. We’ll grade the Muppets since they’re our protagonists, but please let it be known that the cat burglars are extremely cool.
The Muppets are not here to burgle so much as prevent their foes from burgling — but the preparation and derring-do looks much the same. But, well … nothing says finesse like an entire hive of Muppets descending from the ceiling in a clump of bats — though you do have to appreciate their all-for-one-one-for-all ethos in getting things done. The Muppets bring a spirit of friendly chaos to the Mallory Gallery, which ultimately wins out in the end when the entire robbery devolves into a game of baseball, complete with live commentary and snack vendors. Not finesse, but not not entertaining.
Here you have two great examples of heist aesthetics side by side. The cat burglars, clad in sleek black and utility belts, look just as likely to break out into interpretive dance as steal a priceless gem. They are a child’s image of glamour and danger, and every scene with them is iconic. The Muppets, meanwhile, are the Muppets, an inimitably colorful motley crew, and Fozzie’s one-liner when they take the burglars by surprise: “Excuse me, but I don’t think that belongs to you”? Ice-cold. Admittedly, the team is not terribly incognito, nor straying much outside their stylistic comfort zones. But they’re the Muppets, and they make up for it in good vibes. And Miss Piggy reliably brings some razzle-dazzle when she arrives in her spangly motorcycle outfit.
Take it from Fozzie Bear: “We’ve gotta do this for justice, for freedom, for honesty!” Are there any higher stakes? Well, yes: clearing the name of one Miss Piggy, who has been unjustly framed for the crimes of the cat burglars. A world where Miss Piggy is behind bars is not a world I want to live in.
Lack of Collateral Damage: 12/15
It’s a bloodless heist, arguably until Miss Piggy arrives on the scene, causing some last-minute bodily harm to the cat burglars and property damage to the Mallory Gallery.
The cat burglars are stopped, the bad guys go to jail, and the diamond is returned to its rightful owner. A massive win for the Muppets — but their magnanimity means that they are still too poor to afford a plane ticket back to the States, and must once again parachute back to their homeland.
Final Score: 76/100
4. Sexy Beast: The Spa Job (2000)
The Target: Imperial Emblatt’s vault
Teddy Bass (Ian McShane)
Gary “Gal” Dove (Ray Winstone)
Stan Higgins (Darkie Smith)
An assortment of very English goons
There certainly could have been more time devoted to the planning of the robbery in Sexy Beast’s slim run time, but as it’s presented to us, it’s a pretty ingenious plan: tunneling through the pools of a men’s spa into a neighboring high-security bank vault, which both grants access to the deposit boxes and shorts out the security system that keeps them locked. As long as you’re fortunate enough to find a hot tub adjacent to your target, and as long as you remember to bring in the scuba gear along with the giant drill, it’s a seamless premise for a robbery. Winstone’s seen-it-all retiree Gal, in the midst of his own crisis, practically sleepwalks through it.
The gangsters of Sexy Beast, perhaps with the exception of the malevolent leader Teddy Bass, are purposefully drawn as tubby louts. But the grottolike spa and the underwater element add a dreamlike sheen to the job, rendering even the gang’s neon speedos kind of cool, in a way. By the time the gang is in their scuba gear, scooping up the loot, there’s an almost balletic quality to the heist.
For the majority of the crew, this is just another robbery. But Gal, we can reasonably assume, will not fare so well if it doesn’t go off without a hitch — prior to the job, he’s accidentally-on-purpose killed Teddy’s henchman Don (the deliriously unhinged Ben Kingsley), and he’s pretty sure Teddy’s onto him. As it stands, even with the heist a success, Teddy only pays Gal a lousy ten quid — but he does let him get back to retired bliss, alive. And that’s worth more to Gal than anything else.
Lack of Collateral Damage: 12/15
Teddy makes a pit stop with Gal on the way to Heathrow to kill the bank’s owner — which seems grossly unnecessary, but ratchets up the body count to a grand total of one.
Again, Gal doesn’t exactly make out like a bandit, but he’s trying to give up the bandit life, so perhaps that’s only fair. The rest of the goons, we can assume, get their share of jewels and cash and dirty photographs.
Final Score: 81/100
3. Fast Five: The Rio Bank Vault (2011)
The Target: A vault containing $100 million of crime lord Hernan Reyes’s money
Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel)
Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster)
Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker)
Han Seoul-Oh (Sung Kang)
Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson)
How much finesse is actually involved in dragging an entire bank vault down the streets of Rio? This is more of a chutzpah-and-muscle heist than anything else. Still, it helps to have those hairpin driving skills to avoid spikes, cop ambushes, and anything else that may come your way. And this may be the only heist on this list where the loot itself becomes a weapon — which is a pretty cool trick, you must admit.
The Fast movies aren’t exactly fashion movies, but style isn’t limited to looks. There’s a reason Five is considered by many the peak of the Fast franchise, and it’s the collective effervescence between our key players, particularly Dom, Mia, Brian (RIP), Han (RIP!!!), and (sigh, I guess) Roman. Each one of them represents an integral part of a sandwich: Dom’s the bread (it’s not a sandwich without him, and if you fuck with the bread, as in The Fate of the Furious, you have some weird lettuce wrap on your hands). Mia’s the cheese (something for the bread to hang on to). Brian is the mayo (deceptively boring, but it all goes down not-so-great without him). Han is the pickle (fun and surprising, a make-or-break crowd-pleaser). Roman is the onion (comes on a little strong, and you always wonder if it would be better without him, but in the end you’re glad to have him around). The moment when Han and Roman bust into the cop cars is the moment that sandwich is all together in perfect proportion.
The gang’s members are all wanted international criminals now, so they’re gonna need a pretty big nest egg to fund their various escapes off the grid. Add to that the fact that Mia is expecting — Brian is going to be a dad — and there are big long-term #adulting stakes to this heist. When things get sticky on the bridge out of town, Dom makes him cut the cord — literally — with the heist and let him finish the job. Brian’s gotta stick around to take care of his family, and nobody understands family better than Dominic Toretto.
Lack of Collateral Damage: 2/15
I mean, there had to be a cleaner way to do this. I’m sure that way wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining as this way, but there’s no way this score is anything higher than a two. The whole crew makes it out alive, at least.
See: The Intro of Fast & Furious 6. Turns out $100 million buys an awful lot of happiness and domestic bliss. Of course, none of that lasts for too long, but the success of the heist is certainly enjoyed by all involved.
Final Score: 82/100
2. Widows: The Mulligan Heist (2018)
The Target: $5 million in a safe in Jack Mulligan’s home
Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis)
Linda Parelli (Michelle Rodriguez)
Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki)
Belle (Cynthia Erivo)
As with several classic movie heists, the plans for the robbery of Chicago alderman candidate Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) was inherited — in this case, from Veronica’s husband Harry (Liam Neeson). He gives them everything they need to gain access into Mulligan Manor, but Veronica’s a stickler for details in her own right, and puts her crew through the ringer in order to ensure that they have all their bases covered. The most “I wouldn’t have thought of that” heist prep moment is the weight training — making sure the team has the strength and stamina to run with a bag of money containing the highest possible volume of bills that would make up $5 million. It pays off, and virtually every other aspect of the heist goes through as planned — until it’s time to make their escape.
Veronica’s crew goes with all-black and balaclavas to match the tough-as-hell, no-shits-given vibe of the entire movie. But no outfit will ever amount to the dazzling insta-movie-star cool of Cynthia Erivo running.
These aren’t the only life-and-death stakes on this list. But Widows gets to 15 because it makes you feel in your bones that the idea of American justice itself hangs on the outcome of this job. The money being stolen is meant to pay off crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) after the late Harry’s crew robbed him of $2 million. The remaining $3 million will go toward ensuring that these four women have some security in the cold, corrupt, unfair world their husbands left them in. Of course, there’s a twist, but not enough people saw Widows for me to spoil it here — go rent it and find out for yourself.
Lack of Collateral Damage: 8/15
Debicki’s Alice takes a bullet from Jack’s dad (Robert Duvall) and Jack’s dad gets shot and killed by Linda. I almost don’t want to count that as collateral damage, since clearly the only reason he shows up during the robbery is so he can get shot (because he sucks). But a body count is a body count, I suppose. Jamal’s henchman Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) also tries to hijack the heist unsuccessfully, further proving that it’s unwise to take on an aggrieved Viola Davis & Co.
What does success in 21st-century America even look like? Steve McQueen would ask. The ladies get the bag, and in turn get some of their lives back, but the status quo of Chicago politics remains more or less intact. But after two hours of the hard-boiled Veronica looking out for No. 1, the final scene suggests that maybe the real widows … were the friends we made along the way?
Final Score: 83/100
1. Ocean’s Eleven: Terry Benedict’s Vault (2001)
The Target: The vault of the Bellagio, Mirage, and MGM Grand casinos
Danny Ocean (George Clooney)
Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt)
Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould)
Frank Catton (Bernie Mac)
Virgil Malloy (Casey Affleck)
Turk Malloy (Scott Caan)
Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison)
Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle)
The Amazing Yen (Shaobo Qin)
Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner)
Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon)
This heist has everything — and has subsequently become a benchmark of sorts for all contemporary heist movies. There are acrobatics and zip lines. There are disguises upon disguises. There’s a whole fake vault constructed to practice in and create phony surveillance camera footage with. Some of it stretches the suspension of disbelief when you really get down to it, but the trick of Ocean’s Eleven is to have so many enjoyable moving parts that you never have a chance or reason to scrutinize any one of them for too long. The heist, and by extension, the movie, feels like one big magic trick, and the final fake-out is just audacious enough to be rewarding.
The greasy early-2000s Vegas bro-vibe has certainly soured in the real world, but there’s no getting around the fact that Steven Soderbergh knows how to shoot handsome men. He knows how to shoot all kinds of men, really — particularly eternal handsome man Elliott Gould — casually mythologizing them with a few quick strokes. There are probably about three too many in the titular obligatory 11 (the number is one of the few things Ocean’s Eight nailed), but most everyone, from the mystifyingly Cockney-accented Cheadle to the gravity-defying Qin get their moment in the sun. Still, for all Danny and Rusty’s exquisitely tailored, period-perfect suits, the image that lingers is Clooney and Damon, in their Mission: Impossible–ready tight black tees and leather vests, cracking their glow sticks in the elevator shaft like they were about to go to the kinkiest, most high-security rave ever.
Most of the key players have something in it for them when it comes to ripping off casino boss Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) but most of it comes down to petty revenge — Reuben was driven out of business by Benedict; Benedict is now dating Danny’s ex-wife, Tess (Julia Roberts). Most of it is an excuse for chronic criminal Danny to scratch his heist itch again after being released for prison.
Lack of Collateral Damage: 14/15
The most violent episode of the entire heist is the EMP that Basher activates in order to deactivate the motion sensors in the vault’s elevator shaft — and which also happens to knock out all power in Las Vegas for 30 seconds. That in itself isn’t violent, but it appears that 30 seconds in the dark is all it takes for all decorum to go out the window in Sin City. A couple guards are knocked out, but nobody has to die for Danny Ocean’s pettiness.
Docking one point for Danny’s (apparently very contracted) jail stint after the robbery, but this is otherwise an extremely aspirational, happily-ever-after heist, complete with that wistful farewell in front of the Bellagio fountain. Because money comes and goes, but memories with your cool criminal boyfriends are forever.
Final Score: 84/100
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