Army of Thieves (2021), the prequel to Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead (2021), was recently unleashed on Netflix, giving us a detailed look into Ludwig Dieter’s (Matthias Schweighöfer) world before he ventured into Las Vegas. At the time of writing this article, it has received favorable reviews. In my opinion though, despite checking all the boxes for making a successful heist film, Schweighöfer has failed to turn it into an engaging experience. That said, if you’re in the mood to watch other heist movies that are better or just like Army of Thieves, then I have just the list for you.
Now, before delving into my suggestions, I would like to let you know that I have constructed this list whilst following some self-imposed parameters inspired by the ‘Army of Thieves’. Because a “heist” or a “caper” has become a broad term and anything with a MacGuffin (a plot device used in films or books that sets the characters into motion and drives the story) can be called a heist film nowadays. So, for the sake of simplicity and specificity, the heist in a film needs to be literal. It can’t be metaphorical. Therefore, no Tenet (2020) or Inception (2010). The robbery has to take place on-screen. Hence, no The Old Man and the Gun (2018). The heist has to involve a vault/room with valuable items in it i.e. money. I can stretch it to jewelry. But no artwork or something that cannot be easily exchanged for money. Ergo, no Ocean’s Twelve (2004) or American Animals (2018). And last but not the least, the thieves/robbers must be pursued by a competent enough antagonist.
Alright. All set? Then let’s begin.
10. Aankhen (2002)
Hey, remember the time when Bollywood used to make good movies with actors delivering good performances instead of being the government propaganda machine that it is right now? To be a little more specific, do you remember that period when Bollywood used to care about filmmaking, despite the plot being an adaptation, instead of relying on cheap theatrics? Well, if you don’t, then you must watch Vipul Amrutlal Shah’s Aankhen. Because this movie absolutely rules (especially if you can look past the current, real-life personas of Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, and Paresh Rawal).
The plot revolves around Vijay Singh Rajput (Bachchan) who loses his job at the bank after brutally beating up an employee who was swindling their customer. Since he thinks he did the right thing and that he has been treated unjustly, he decides to take revenge by robbing the bank. After running several simulations, he realizes that the best way to successfully conduct the heist is with the help of three blind men i.e. Vishwas (Kumar), Arjun (Arjun Rampal), and Illyaas (Rawal). Because who is going to believe that three blind men robbed a bank? What follows is a tense and rigorous training program by Neha (Sushmita Sen) to acclimatize the trio to the bank’s surroundings so that they can do the robbery without anyone realizing that they cannot see. And a gut-wrenching third act to appropriately complement the heist.
Watch Aankhen on Prime Video
9. Fast Five (2011)
It’s customary for franchises to try and make their latest entry bigger and ballsier than its predecessor. The Fast and Furious series started off with illegal street races and modded cars and went beyond the stratosphere in F9: The Fast Saga (2021). But it hit the sweet spot in Fast Five by keeping the plot and the action fairly grounded and practical and topping things off with one of the greatest heists in cinematic history. So, let this be a reminder for the brains behind the franchise to watch this movie multiple times before they lose their core audience in their attempt to come up with the most physics-defying stunt of all time.
You might have to watch the incredibly boring Fast and Furious (2009) to understand why Dom (Vin Diesel) is being taken to prison and why Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) are on the run. But it’s fine if you don’t because once the plot kicks in and Dom and his crew make Hernan Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida) their #1 target, that aspect becomes secondary. The build-up to the actual robbery is really good as it reintroduces the characters we are familiar with. It isn’t afraid to poke fun at the absurdity of the whole situation while looking badass. It features one of the best performances of Dwayne Johnson’s career. And, as mentioned before, the final act of the heist is unique, edited beautifully, and done practically!
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8. Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
Look, I am a Steven Soderbergh fan. I am a fan of the Ocean’s trilogy. And even if many disliked Twelve and Thirteen and are still out to convince others that they are some of the worst heist movies, I am not going to budge. Because I truly think it’s one of the best heist movies of all time and it caps off the trilogy by sweetly walking the line between keeping the stakes of the robbery personal while upping the complexity of the process. On top of that, it has Al Pacino, the king of the heist/robbery sub-genre as the main villain, looking and acting just like the former president of the United States of America. What are you complaining about?
I’m not lying when I say that I choke up every time I see Reuben (Elliott Gould) on his deathbed. It didn’t hit me as hard during the first few viewings because I was around 14 or 15 back then. But as I have seen people grow old and die, the gravitas of Ocean’s Thirteen’s throughline has become apparent. You can feel the sensitivity that comes with age from scenes like Linus (Matt Damon) reading the letter or Danny (George Clooney) and Rusty (Brad Pitt) weeping while watching Oprah. So, in a way, the audacious-as-hell heist is a bonus, which by the way involves busting through eighteen inches of concrete and a simulated earthquake. You come for the robbery and you stay for the feels.
Watch Ocean’s Thirteen on Prime Video
7. Don 2 (2011)
It has become somewhat of a joke to inundate director Farhan Akhtar with requests to make Don 3. But I think that only shows how much people like these two movies. And it’s worthy of a lot of applause because the duology (hopefully it will be a trilogy one day) manages to bypass a lot of the problems that plague Bollywood. First of all, the first movie is a good remake. You don’t get a lot of that nowadays. Secondly, Don 2 is a brilliant sequel. If you know anything about sequels in Bollywood, you know what a big compliment that is. Thirdly and finally, it’s a brilliant (and frankly underappreciated) heist film, which is a rarity in Bollywood, and hence should be included in more “Best Heist Movies of All Time” lists!
The plot of Don 2 goes something like this: Don (Shah Rukh Khan) is planning to take over Europe after conquering Asia. In order to do that, he has to financially annihilate those who are controlling the cash flow of Europe and set himself up as the #1 provider of said cash. And he intends to do that by stealing the plates that are used to mint money. Now, the first two acts of the movie are about getting the aforementioned plates. Standard stuff. But the beauty of the film is that it manages to turn the third act, which could’ve been a regular hostage situation, into a second heist, with Don assisting Roma (Priyanka Chopra) and the police to retrieve the plates that he couldn’t get in the first attempt. The movie oozes style, looks gorgeous, and has Khan absolutely relishing his time on-screen.
Watch Don 2 on Netflix
6. Thief (1981)
Directed by the one and only Michael Mann, Thief follows Frank (James Caan), a jewel thief and an ex-convict who runs a bar and a car dealership to maintain his clean image. But he intends to settle down in the most heteronormative way possible by marrying a cashier that he’s dating, Jessie (Tuesday Weld). Things go awry when his latest job (the one the movie opens with) takes a turn for the worse with the death of the man who was supposed to pay him. Frank’s attempt to get that money and his inherent greed to earn more in order to achieve stability, push him into an alliance with Leo (Robert Prosky) who has a high-profile job lined up for him.
Most heist movies romanticise the part where the robbers have to come up with a plan to break the centerpiece of the plot i.e. the safe. But Thief goes in the opposite direction and treats it as a patient on an operating table. Everything is so methodical and precise and professional that you cannot help but respect it. And that level of seriousness is evident in the act of the robbery itself, which I must say is one of the prettiest safe-cracking scenes put to film. The fog from the fire extinguisher. The sparks. The framing. Simply immaculate. In fact, that’s why the final betrayal feels personal. Because you see Frank and his friends go through this strenuous ordeal only to be shot in the back for no particular reason. Is the end cathartic though? Or bittersweet?
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5. Point Break (1991)
The movie had me at Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, and the line, “You’re a real blue flame special, aren’t you, son? Young, dumb, and full of cum”. I mean, this Kathryn Bigelow directorial is a classic. The story about a cop going undercover to catch a bunch of robbers only to align with their agenda has been unofficially remade a couple of times. But to be honest, none of them is as good as Point Break. This movie is yet another example of the tension and thrill of the heist being elevated by the emotional threads connecting all the characters. And no, not just friendly emotions. I am talking about queer emotions.
Yes, in the past couple of years, many readings of Point Break have emerged, interpreting the love and angst between Bodhi (Swayze) and Johnny Utah (Reeves) to be borderline homosexual in nature. And it’s not accidental at all like War (2019). Bigelow is a smart director. I think she understood that the action genre, in general, is a safe space for men to express their love for other men, appreciate their bodies, and eventually feel a form of catharsis without any judgement. So, she went ahead and made a romantic thriller. Do you doubt me? Well, go and rewatch that scene where Utah is about to shoot Bodhi and they lock eyes for a long time before Utah climaxes with his gun and tell me that there are no gay undercurrents.
4. Heat (1995)
Is this a great segue or is this a great segue? Because there is no way in the world that anybody is going to convince me that Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) weren’t lovers. There’s no way in the world. I think something definitely happened between 1991 (i.e. the year Point Break came out) and 1995. And people were more open to the idea of a cop and a robber being in love with each other as the very nature of their job forces them to be together and away from heteronormative setups. So, kudos to the one and only Michael Mann for completely embracing the idea and giving us one of the best romances masquerading as a masterful heist film.
I must emphasize that the heist is brilliant and Mann moves his characters with the same level of precision that he showed previously in Thief. But he dedicates humongous chunks of Heat’s nearly three-hour-long runtime (which is paced so perfectly that it feels like a one-hour movie) to deciphering why these people do the things they do. What are their inadequacies? Who is the hero and who is the villain (apart from Waingro, of course)? Why are they looking to get fulfillment elsewhere when the answer to all their problems is right in front of them (the cuts between Hanna and McCauley during the stakeout scene is a clear indicator of that)? And Mann answers all those questions by saying that maybe we are allowing ourselves to be governed too strictly by genre (i.e. societal) norms. Instead, we should just hold hands and reject heteronormativity.
Watch Heat on Netflix
3. Logan Lucky (2017)
There is a line at the tail-end of the movie where a news reporter describes the heist as “Ocean’s 7-Eleven”. Which means one of two things. Logan Lucky, a movie directed by Steven Soderbergh, exists in the same universe as the original Ocean’s trilogy and Ocean’s Eight (2018). Or Logan Lucky, a movie directed by Steven Soderbergh, exists in a universe where the Ocean’s movies are a film franchise, also directed by someone called Steven Soderbergh that’s not the Steven Soderbergh who has helmed Logan Lucky. Are we ever going to know which one’s canon? Probably not. What we do know for certain is that Logan Lucky is an amazing heist movie and it deserves more mainstream attention.
It features Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, who plans to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway, after being fired from the construction crew of that very speedway. There’s Adam Driver as his brother, Clyde Logan and Riley Keough as their sister, Mellie Logan. On top of that there’s Daniel Craig as Joe Bang, an arsonist who can make a bomb out of a plastic bag, gummy bears, bleach pens, and fake salt. The movie boasts of some of the most exquisite cinematography, courtesy of Peter Andrews. The editing is crisp. I am going to argue till my dying day that it is one of the funniest heist films of all time. It has a twist that you won’t see coming. And the subversion of that twist is so wholesome that you’ll be in tears, singing ‘Take me home, country roads’ by John Denver.
Watch Logon Lucky on Prime Video
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2. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
If you haven’t figured out till now that I am not just a Steven Soderbergh fan but a Steven Soderbergh fanboy, then you are definitely not looking closely. That said, I am probably not exaggerating when I say that this is the gold standard of heist films, right? Yes, it needs a sizable amount of effort to get used to Don Cheadle’s accent. But apart from that, it’s a perfect film. No other heist movie that came after Ocean’s Eleven (and there are plenty) has the right to be qualitatively lower than this when it essentially lays out the blueprint for modern blockbusters, modern heist films, modern ensemble films while keeping you entertained from the start to finish.
The biggest mistake that most modern heist films make is that they fail to tether the heist, the robber, and the one who is being robbed in a cohesive fashion. There has to be a clear connection. If there is no connection, the underlying metaphor has to be dynamic and interesting. If you take a look at any of the movies on this list, you will notice that that’s the common factor, with the peak being Ocean’s Eleven. Additionally, it cannot be too in your face. The feeling has to be palpable but not at the cost of the movie’s swagger. And despite featuring a wide variety of characters who don’t necessarily align with the sentiment behind the heist, by the end of the said heist, they must. Am I starting to sound like Rusty (Brad Pitt) from the moment where he schools Linus (Matt Damon)?
Watch Ocean’s Eleven on Prime Video
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1. Army of the Dead (2021)
I am sorry for being Captain Obvious, but if you liked Army of Thieves, you will like Army of the Dead. The movie has its fair share of problems, especially with the cinematography, the pacing, and the dialogue. But Zack Snyder tries to make up for it with the help of the production design, VFX, SFX, and costume design departments. Because there isn’t a single frame of this movie where it seems that Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) and his team aren’t in a zombie-infested Las Vegas. The attention to detail is truly worthy of all the applause.
Planning a casino heist in the middle of a zombie apocalypse doesn’t exactly sound like an original idea. But I was surprised to find out that it’s in fact a unique narrative. And seeing how capitalism has cheapened the value of human life, sending a group of mercenaries to rob one’s own vault, and the mercenaries agreeing to it in the hopes that the heist will make their already miserable lives a little better, made total sense. You can say that the booby traps around the vault are a little too much. However, if you are willing to give smart zombies (with some of the zombies having robot skeletons?) a pass, then you shouldn’t question the over-the-top booby traps.