One of the first films ever produced, 1903’s The Great Train Robbery, revolved around a robbery of a steam locomotive train, and ever since then the genre has continued to be one of the most enduring in cinema. It isn’t hard to see why. The core elements of the heist film are some of the most solidly pleasurable devices in big-screen entertainment.
They often consist of the wily and charismatic veteran thief, putting together a crew for a ‘last job’; a love interest who is either unaware of his or her plans or an enthusiastic participant in them; a supporting cast of various degrees of eccentricity or unreliability; an implacable nemesis, whether a lawman or a rival; thrilling action scenes; and exotic locations.
Here are half a dozen of the best, ranging from cutting-edge cool to a Sixties classic.
Heat (1995) - Amazon Prime
Not only does it feature arguably the finest (and certainly most realistic) shoot-out in cinema, but it also delves into a complexity of character and situation that is usually found in a multi-series Netflix show rather than a self-contained three-hour film. The bank robbery scenes are about as realistic as could be imagined, but what makes Heat so compelling is that you feel you know the people involved, meaning that the violence, when it inevitably arrives, packs a considerable punch.
Ocean’s 11 (2001) - Amazon Prime/Netflix
Forget about the intricacies of the convoluted plot and bask in the wit, the charisma of a top-drawer cast (including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Casey Affleck) and the showmanship of Soderbergh at his peak. Unlike most of the other films on the list, it’s not full of shooting and torture, but instead remains the most satisfying of entertainments.
The Bank Job (2008) - Netflix
Jason Statham is required to do more acting than usual as the in-over-his-head small-time criminal who puts together a crew for the bank robbery, and he’s matched by a suave Richard Lintern as his MI5 nemesis, David Suchet as porn king Lew Vogel and Saffron Burrows as the morally dubious woman who sets the whole thing going.
Baby Driver (2017) - Netflix
Wright’s trilogy of films with Simon Pegg often felt too jokey and consequence-free to be entirely convincing, but this superbly executed film shows that he is an action director to be reckoned with, and he also manages to keep it moving with all the speed and flair of a getaway driver – just like Baby, in fact.
The Town (2010) - Netflix
Along with his volatile friend and partner Jem (played, in an Oscar-nominated role by Jeremy Runner), Doug is thereby forced to deal with an implacable FBI agent (Jon Hamm, once again) as well as the manager of a bank that he previously robbed and who he has developed romantic feelings for.
Affleck co-wrote the script and beautifully balances warm Boston humour, of the kind that could be found in his Oscar-winning work for Good Will Hunting the previous decade, with hard-nosed violence and suspense, and it all ends up in a tumultuous gunfight that gives Heat a run for its (stolen) money.
The Italian Job (1969) - Amazon Prime
It was indifferently remade with Mark Wahlberg and Edward Norton in 2003, but this is one of the great films of Sixties British cinema, and endlessly rewatchable as a result. Just don’t forget to blow the bloody doors off.