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Top 10 Most Entertaining Movie Bank Robberies

by Warren Cantrell on Nov.25, 2013, under Film Lists

Back in April of this year, the 10rant spent a little time shining a spotlight on the most outstanding American movie thieves.  10rant loyalist Will Dawson filled in the gaps in the ranking by providing his own British version of the list, yet still, there seemed to be something missing.  Yet another 10rant enthusiast, Mr. Skot Kurruk, recommended the topic for today’s top ten, and by God, it seems like a more than worthy point of debate.  Indeed, while many of the characters featured in the U.S. and U.K. thieves lists dabbled in bank robbery, they haven’t gotten their own discussion on the 10rant, and today’s screed is meant to correct that injustice.  So, to make today’s list, there was no distinction regarding a person’s nationality, thus any American, Brit, and any other globe-trotter was eligible.  It was important that a bank was involved, however, and not a jewelry store, museum, or other high-end locale.  Further, it didn’t matter if the bank robbery was successful, or in any way profitable, so long as it was entertaining and/or memorable from a cinematic standpoint.

 

Thus, we have a fairly wide open field in front of us for this one.  As a result of this generous candidate pool, a number of tough cuts had to be made, though.  Some of these painful eliminations included the bank jobs in Swordfish, Public Enemies, The Mask, Raising Arizona, S.W.A.T., Lightening Jack, Dead Presidents, The Bank Job, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Inside Man.  I know, I know, Lightening Jack should have made it, but what can I say: life is full of shitty choices.  Still, even with all those other mentions, I probably missed a few, so feel free to call me out in the comments section below.  Until then, however, content yourselves with…

 

 

 

10.) Kelly’s Heroes – 

A few quick words for Kelly’s Heroes, which is easily one of the best films from Clint Eastwood’s early years as a leading man.  In the film Eastwood played the recently-demoted Private Kelly, an opportunistic WWII soldier who learned of a massive stash of 14,000 bars of Nazi gold thirty miles behind Nazi lines.  With the war winding down, and little to stand in his way of making a dash for the loot, Kelly recruited the best soldiers from his squad, along with a few members of an eccentric tank crew, and made a go of it.  Although Kelly’s squad hit a few snags en route, they got to the bank by the end of the film, and took on the three Tiger tanks and German infantry left behind to protect the gold.  Yet while Kelly’s boys were able to dispatch two of the tanks, and all the Nazi riflemen, one tank remained in front of the bank.  Savvy American opportunists that they were, Kelly and his boys decided to skip the bloody climax and simply cut the Nazi tank driver in on the score, an offer the weary German gleefully accepted.  Thus, with everybody’s pockets full of gold bars, and a World War about to wrap up, Kelly, his squad, and the German turncoat all made off well, and got out of the conflict in a better place than they were when they got in.  A rare feat indeed, and worthy of a #10 nod.

 

 

9.) Sexy Beast – 

Although this one wasn’t as novel or original as, say, using U.S. Army resources to rob an enemy bank behind the lines in the middle of a full-tilt boogie war, it certainly broke the mold.  For starters, the crew assembled by Teddy (Ian McShane) in Sexy Beast waited until the bank closed to light the fuse on their caper.  Further, to keep with the whole unorthodox theme, the boys also elected to bypass the front door and tunnel right the hell into the vault from the side, using access from a neighboring building’s pool.  Of course, this meant drilling underwater in sweltering temperatures for hours on end, and once through, it required every member of the group to swim into the vault to pry their prizes out by hand.  Still, it seemed to go pretty damn well.  Although it took a while, Teddy’s men got through, pried open a gaggle of safety deposit boxes, and made off like…well, bandits!  The movie’s lead, Gal (Ray Winstone), went through a hell of an ordeal just getting to the job, and endured an even more terrifying night in the hours following the heist, yet got through it all in one piece.  The same can’t be said for the perpetrators of this next series of bank robberies, which may not have been as successful in the long run, but certainly seemed like a hell of a lot more fun!

 

 

8.) Point Break – 

Punks wearing ex-Presidents masks rob banks, don’t hurt anybody (well, mostly), then use the funds to travel the world and catch killer waves afterwards (because they’re surfers, duh!).  Is it any surprise that the Hollywood suits are talking about remaking this gem?  Shit, the story essentially tells itself when you insert a brash, young F.B.I. agent into the mix and get him to infiltrate the surfing community, undercover-like, to draw the baddies out.  Although there are a couple of bank robberies in Point Break, the most entertaining has to be from early in the movie, when the audience got a look at the heist formula used by the ex-Presidents in Southern California.  The Presidents were in and out in just a handful of minutes and used nothing but a lot of tough words and a few threats.  Indeed, except for a little surf wax left behind, and a few strands of hair, the Reagan, Carter, Nixon, and L.B.J. crew were practically ghosts!  What’s more, the guys seemed to be having legitimate hoot while working, which, except for the whole stealing thing, is admirable.  Shit, why rob banks if you’re not going to have a little fun with it, right?  Still, they were thieves, and shot a few people up near the end of the picture, hence their spot near the ass-end of this ranking.  Indeed, if they had been a bit more civil and polite, the ex-Presidents might have edged out…

 

 

7.) Out of Sight – 

Amongst today’s candidates, this robbery was easily the most polite, painless, and slick bank heist.  In Out of Sight, Jack Foley (George Clooney) wasn’t the gun-waving type, yet he was prolific as fuck when it came to bank robbing.  As the opening scene of the movie demonstrated, Jack felt that all bank jobs boiled down to how the thief went about asking for the money.  When Jack walked into the bank in the picture’s opening credits, it took him all of one minute to formulate a plan from scratch that would see him with pockets full of cash with practically no fuss.  He simply smiled, went up to the teller, and calmly explained that the man sitting next to the teller’s assistant manager was his associate (a lie), and that if she didn’t give Jack all the money in her register, the associate would shoot the assistant manager in the face (an even bigger lie).  Jack didn’t scream, or make an angry face, or even directly threaten the teller, no.  He just made up a scary story, smiled, and took all the money he could get in a minute or so.  And Jack would have probably gotten away, too…if his car had started.  Still, for pulling off one hell of an entertaining bank robbery, and remaining gracious all the while, Jack and Out of Sight got a nod.

 

 

6.) Killing Zoe – 

Now, if we’re gonna go the other direction, and chat about a bank robbery that was high-impact and full of stress (pretty much the opposite of Jack’s opening robbery in Out of Sight), we ought to spend a little time on Killing Zoe.  The story of Zed (Eric Stoltz), an American safe cracker in Paris, it followed him as he met up with a prostitute, fell in love in one night, then linked up with an old thief friend.  This buddy, Eric (Jean-Hughes Anglade), had a job lined up for them, and before Zed knew what was happening, he was being hustled into a bank Eric and his crew had just secured.  It was a slick operation, for the squeamish Zed wasn’t especially cool with killing or violence, hence Eric got him down to the vault after the crew had already killed a few people and secured the main lobby.

 

It all went to hell once Zed got to work in the vault underground, however, for the cops showed up, surrounded the bank, and forced Eric to decide on life in prison or a bloody, desperate escape.  Luckily for everyone involved, the cops went ahead and stormed the bank, and robbed the robbers of any initiative in this regard.  What followed was a fantastic firefight between a Parisian S.W.A.T. team and the desperate thieves, the latter of whom quickly found themselves shot to pieces despite their best wild-eyed, scream-shooting efforts.  Well, except for Zed…funny thing about Zed.  You see…wait, you haven’t seen this movie?  What?  It’s been out for almost twenty years!  Okay, I’ll save the ending.  Go see it though!  Besides its kick-ass bank robbery, Killing Zoe is a hell of a flick!

 

 

5.) The Dark Knight – 

Smooth, precise, ruthless, and wildly successful, the bank robbery vignette to open The Dark Knight had everything a candidate for this list could hope for, and more.  Audiences were shoved right into the middle of the caper as it was kicking off, before the credits had fully rolled, before those watching had a chance to truly brace themselves.  A couple crooks zip-lined into the bank from above while another squad charged through the front, guns blazing, an entry plan that more or less locked the building and its occupants down before anyone knew what was happening.  The robbers killed the alarm, cracked the vault, and passively neutralized all hostage resistance with only a few minor difficulties. Hell, the job’s architect even saw to it that all members of the masked crew were eliminated once their role in the robbery had run its course: talk about a tight operation!

 

For added safety, the crooks put live grenades in the hands of all hostages to keep them docile, and even timed their getaway to coincide with a line of school busses passing at the exact moment their own big yellow bus came to pick up the last survivor.  This cunning savagery could only be the work of one man in Gotham: The Joker, who revealed himself at the last moment just so Batman, the cops, and the mob knew who was sticking it to them.  The scene was crisp, the action outstanding, and the execution flawless.  Still, this one is stuck at a respectable, yet meager #5.  In twenty years or so, The Dark Knight might beat out our next contender, which shocked audiences and changed the medium of cinema forever…

 

 

4.) Bonnie and Clyde – 

An out-and-out classic film that entertained the pants off of audiences, made piles of money, and altered the cinematic landscape forever, Bonnie and Clyde had a lot of things going for it besides a kick-ass bank robbery scene.  The United States experienced a lot of changes during the second half of the 1960s, something film historians and even critics of the day have tied into the release of Bonnie and Clyde.  When the film came out in 1967, the shocking violence, sexual undertones, and anti-establishment actions of the title characters connected with young audiences, and signaled a change not just in the movie industry’s landscape, but across the country.  The carnage people witnessed on the nightly news in those years made the old Hollywood style violence in motion pictures seem trite and silly, something Arthur Penn, director of Bonnie and Clyde, sought to remedy with his film.  People didn’t just clutch invisible wounds and crumble in his movie, no: their bodies lit up in a series of bloody wounds that looked as gruesome as they were painful.

 

That, and the “heroes” of the picture were mean!  Like really mean!  Take their bank robbery with Clyde’s brother, Buck (Gene Hackman), when they busted into the joint and started shooting the hats off of guards to make their point.  “Next time I’ll aim a little lower,” Clyde remarked.  It was a smooth operation, and was aided in no small part by the nimble work of Buck, who hurdled counter barriers and intimidated security personnel pretty much all in the same stride.  That, and the gang refused to take any of the customers’ money, only the banks.  Now that’s classy!  Still, it didn’t always go as smooth as this; a bank robbery later in the picture saw Clyde shoot a bank manager in the face.  Even so, when it comes to memorable and generally entertaining movie bank robberies, it is hard to beat out the classics.  Say, if we’re gonna chat about ultra-violent films that changed the cinematic landscape in the 1960s, we ought to take a second to discuss…

 

 

3.) The Wild Bunch – 

“If they move, kill ‘em!”  So said Pike (William Holden), leader of the “Wild Bunch,” and brother, he meant it.  Pike and his men were a salty, black-hearted, old school collection of thieves.  They were desperados, drawn from an era of American frontier gunslingers a-la Jesse James and the like.  Yet these weren’t brash young kids, and it sure as hell wasn’t the 1870s or 80s any longer.  No.  Pike and his Bunch were mostly in their 30s and 40s, and knew that the wide open days of the past century were long gone.  Still, this didn’t keep them from pulling the same mad-cap bullshit that kept them in business all those years.  The Wild Bunch started with Pike and his gang ambling over to a bank, where they hoped to enter incognito since they had dressed up as polite U.S. Army soldiers.

 

Naturally, once inside the bank, Pike and his boys drew iron and got down to business robbing the place.  Although one youngster in Pike’s gang seemed a little on the psychopathic side, and kept tension levels high, things went pretty well until they made for their horses once again.  That’s when the whole town (and a gang of detectives) seemed to spring out of nowhere to gun Pike and his boys down.  It was a hellacious firefight, one that saw a healthy portion of the town’s population shot all to hell.  Seriously, although Pike and his boys got dinged up a bit, the real victim of the robbery and aftermath was the townsfolk, who probably never recovered from the day their streets ran red with blood.  Still, when it comes to botched bank robberies and popular cinema, it’s hard to edge out the gold standard…

 

 

2.) Dog Day Afternoon – 

A cluster fuck has never been this memorable or entertaining, that’s for sure.  When Sonny (Al Pacino) kicked off his robbery of the First Brooklyn Savings Bank in Dog Day Afternoon, he thought he had everything figured out.  As he explained during the robbery, he had once worked in a bank, and knew all the tricks for setting off silent alarms and the like, so he wasn’t to be trifled with.  Even so, a wise man once said that a battle plan is useful right up to the moment the first shot is fired, at which point, it goes right out the window.  This is essentially what happened to Sonny, who watched a third of his crew panic and abandon him seconds after the robbery began.  Yep, although loyal Sal (John Cazale) stayed back to help, Stevie immediately fled once shit went down, something that wouldn’t have been all that bad had this been the only setback to befall the crew.  It wasn’t.

 

Sonny and his crew had just missed a cash pickup, which left a paltry $1100 to steal.  And although Sonny was able to keep the employees from tripping any silent alarms, he inadvertently caused a general panic down the street when he burned a ledger, and smoke began pouring out of a window.  The cops showed up and encircled the bank not long after this, which kicked off a now-predictable shit-show involving demands for a helicopter, pizzas for the hostages, and safe passage to a non-extradition country.  In some ways, this movie provided something of a service, for it taught millions of film-lovers and would-be morons about the utter futility of bank robbery.  It also provided something of a blueprint for screenwriters looking to inject a classic bank heist scene into their picture, one that follows all the familiar tropes set forth in this movie (botched bank job, police encirclement, negotiations, demands, incremental hostage release, kill/capture).  Still, when it comes to lasting impressions on the cinematic landscape due to an endlessly entertaining bank robbery scene (one that also sported a wild-eyed Al Pacino), we need not look further than…

 

 

1.) Heat – 

Was there ever any doubt?  Christ, the bank robbery in Heat was so goddamned monumental that REAL bank robbers stood up and took note (see the 1997 North Hollywood robbery/shootout for more on that).  In a nutshell, Heat showcased the talents Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), who was the A-1, Bull Moose thief of Los Angeles in the film.  McCauley wasn’t just some smash-and-grab hack, he was a seasoned professional who only went into a job after weeks of careful preparation.  For the film’s climactic bank heist, McCauley had timed the job to coincide with a massive cash delivery, and even got the schematics needed to bypass the alarms so that the cops wouldn’t have a clue that anything was going down.  Unfortunately, a former associate had sold McCauley and his crew down the river, and right about the time the heist wrapped up, the Fuzz rolled up.  As anybody who has seen a movie about bank robberies knows, getting in and securing the cash is the easy part: getting out and safely away is the tough bit.

 

True to this formula, McCauley and his boys were like surgeons while in the bank, and got in, grabbed the cash, and exited with only a few warning shots and a manager’s bloody nose to show for it.  As just stated, once outside and in their getaway car, everything went to hell.  McCauley’s right hand man, Chris (Val Kilmer), spotted a cop and unleashed an unholy torrent of automatic gunfire into the streets of downtown L.A., one that clipped cops, cars, and civilians alike.  This seemed to be the plan, too, for unlike most bank robbers, McCauley’s men didn’t panic and hunker down when the police arrived, no: they immediately started shooting.  And since the desperate bank robbers were all armed with automatic assault rifles, a public orgy of violence on a Wild Bunch scale erupted, one that saw half of McCauley’s crew escape through the dragnet (for a time at least).  Thus, for giving audiences a hellacious scene, and for changing the way that audiences and thieves think about bank heists in general, Heat got the ultimate nod.

 

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1 Comment for this entry

  • audrey

    hmph. i do love that you included Sexy Beast–different for you, but no comedy? small time crooks? or bandits (maybe that was just me who liked that movie). now you are going to have to have a heist rant!

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