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Matthew Dowling: My 11 Favorite Heist Movies

by  |  January 8th, 2011  |  Blog  |  6 Comments

My Top 11 Heist Films, by Matthew Dowling

With the success of his recent film The Town (2010), director Ben Afleck has become a Cinema Verite. His follow up to his 2007 Gone Baby Gone, has audiences and critics clamoring to give him praises for his work. This week Ben Afleck “curated his top heist films” for TheDailyBeast.com. I still haven’t seen The Town, but I’ll be attending a screening at Warner Bros. next week for the SAG Awards. Making Afleck’s list was Inception (2010) and Snatch (2000) to name just a few, to see Afleck’s full list click here… Ben Afleck’s Top 11 Heist Films.

Since Ben Afleck did his list, it got me to thinking, what would my top 11 heist films be? Just for fun, I went ahead and “curated my 11 Top Heist Films” right here for all to behold!

1. The Hot Rock (1972, dir. Peter Yates) This is probably my favorite Heist Film, which was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Film Editing. How many times can one group of thieves try to steal the same diamond? I am constantly amazed and delighted by the comedic chemistry of this ensemble starring Robert Redford (Sneakers, 1992) and George Segal. Director Peter Yates has an amazing list of credits to his name including The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) which Afleck has on his list, and Bullitt (1968) starring the legendary Steve McQueen.

2. Kelly’s Heroes (1970, dir. Brian G. Hutton) To women this may look like an ordinary war movie, and there for is probably boring. But don’t let that fool you, Kelly’s Heroes is actually a cleverly disguised Heist Film! Who wouldn’t want to watch Clint Eastwood, Don Rickles, Telly Savalas, Harry Dean Stanton, Donald Sutherland and the guy who played “Uncle Leo” on Seinfeld, conspire to steal Hitler’s gold? Since Hitler stole the gold from the Jew’s in the first place, it’s believed to be a victimless crime.

3. Thief (1981, dir. Michael Mann) Afleck has Michael Mann’s Heat on his list, but for my Michael Mann pick, I choose Thief. Starring James Caan, James Belushi, Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson and the always charismatic Dennis Farina. Thief is a stylistic film with amazing compositions fueled by a compelling music score by Christopher Franke aka Tangerine Dream. Also of note, Thief is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and features William Petersen who would re-team with Mann in Manhunter (click to read Nathan Strack‘s recommendation) and Bruckheimer on CSI: Las Vegas. Fortunately, I met James Caan a few years ago while I was doing some stand-in work for… Wayne Newton of all people on Caan‘s TV series Las Vegas. Caan is an intimidating bad ass in real life, all I kept thinking was, “Holy @#$%! There’s Sonny Corleone!”

4. Renegades (1989, dir. Jack Sholder) Not to much to say here, Renegades reunites Keifer Sutherland with co-stars Lou Diamond Phillips (Young Guns I & II) and Jami Gertz (Lost Boys). Renegades is just a fun movie and leans a little towards the ridiculous, but I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a couple of these types of films on my list. Right?

5. The Pope of Greenwhich Village (1984, dir. Stuart Rosenberg) Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts and Daryl Hannah. The films director Stuart Rosenberg also directed Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Amityville Horror (1979). Enough said.

6. Sneakers (1992, dir. Phil Alden Robinson) Sneakers is like a perfectly well balanced meal. It has all the elements that make for a great movie experience, it delicately balances comedy, suspense, action and drama, complete with a smart script by writer/director Phil Alden Robinson and a sharp cast that includes Robert Redford (The Hot Rock, 1972), Ben Kingsly, Dan Aykroyd, Sidney Poitier, David Strathairn Timothy Busfield, Donal Logue with the late River Phoenix and a cameo by James Earl Jones! Everyone is after the “Janek Box”, a device that can decode any encrypted code on the planet. Who ever gains control of the “Janek Box” can rule the world’s economy and there isn’t a government on the planet that wouldn’t kill the Sneakers to get their hands on it!  Under the skillful direction of Phil Alden Robinson (The Sum of All Fears & Field of Dreams) Sneakers is just a classy film and could be in my top 25 all time best.

7. Sorcerer (1978, dir. William Friedkin) A remake of the 1953 French film Wages of Fear, Sorcerer stars the late Roy Scheider as a man who’s come to the end of the line. Finding himself at a dead end, with nowhere to go, due to a botched heist. Scheider takes a job transporting highly volatile nitro glycerin across the bumpiest rode’s known to man. Along with 3 other guys in the same boat, Sorcerer becomes the road trip from hell in a “man verses nature” premise offering again a haunting score by Tangerine Dream aka Christopher Franke. Roy Scheider and legendary filmmaker William Friedkin (The Exorcist, 1973) teamed in 1971y with The French Connection. I mildly suspect that Sorcerer may have had some influence on Quentin Tarintino’s 1992 Reservoir Dogs (also on Afleck’s list) sensabilities. Sorcerer started out with a budget of 2.7 million dollars, then costs escalated to $27 million by the production’s end. It’s a greatly underrated and under appreciated film.

8. Wonderland (2003, dir. James Cox) Wonderland is based on true events surrounding the massacre that took place on Wonderland Ave in the Hollywood Hills in July of 1981. Even though the film explores the seedy side of Los Angeles in the early 80’s, it still delivers a feel good nostalgia and innocence of the early 80’s too. The story is told through an interrogation of the 2 surviving members of the gang that was massacred, John Holmes (yes that John Holmes) played with scummy perfection by Val Kilmer and David Lind who’s a barely recognizable Dylan McDermott as a bad ass biker. Both men are implicate the other in the money and drug related killings. Police investigators led by Ted Levine try to piece together what actually occured, based on both mens accounts, of the events leading up to the slayings. Also offers a great soundtrack!

9. The Anderson Tapes (1971, dir. Sidney Lumet) Honestly, I haven’t actually seen The Anderson Tapes… that’s not entirely true, I saw part of it on TV a long, long time ago. It has Sean Connery and Christopher Walken and it looked cool. Frankly, I thought you’d excuse Money Train for being on my list if I put The Anderson Tapes before it.

10. Money Train (1995, dir. Joseph Ruben) Come on! Money Train‘s good and you know it! Starring Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, Robert Blake and Jennifer Lopez (Gigli, 2003). Money Train reunites Harrelson and Snipes (Wild Cats & White Men Can’t Jump) as brothers and cops working for the New York subway system. The 2 conspire to steal… well… money off of the Money Train. There’s also a side story of an arsonist play by Chris Cooper (The Town, 2010), who’s targeting ticket attendees in the subway as a plot point. Money Train is just good fun!

11. Quick Change (1992, dir. Howard Franklin) You might think a heist movie starring Bill Murray, Geena Davis and Randy Quaid can’t be all that bad. And you’re right, it’s not bad at all.

Honorable Mention

Reindeer Games (2000, dir. John Frankenheimer) Every now and again you see a film that makes you say, “they must have had a good time making that one.” That’s what Reindeer Games directed by John Frankeheimer (Ronin, Black Sunday & French Connection II) offers. Starring Ben Afleck, Charlize Theron, Gary Sinise and Dennis Farina, Reindeer Games tells the story of an ex-con getting out of prison and walking the straight and narrow. Before long he unwittingly gets pulled into a gang who’s planning a casino heist at Christmas time. You may be reading this and laughing while asking yourself, “Is he serious?” What can I say besides,  yes I am serious, so much so that there’s a directors cut of Reindeer Games that I haven’t seen yet, but would like to. It’s a fun movie with some clever action sequences and good cinematography that I think has been unfairly dismissed!


Matthew Dowling, a native Philadelphian, now residing in Los Angeles, is an actor, writer and film maker. Matt's training with 2nd City, and numerous appearances in TV shows, movies, theater, infomercials, and most importantly... B movies, has prepared him for making B Movie recommendations.


  1. Tweets that mention Matthew Dowling: My 11 Favorite Heist Movies | AwesomeBMovies.com -- Topsy.com

    January 10th, 2011at 5:10 AM(#)

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AwesomeBMovies, AwesomeBMovies. AwesomeBMovies said: Good list! RT: @Matthew_Dowling Matthew Dowling: My 11 Favorite Heist Movies http://ow.ly/3AJbK #Heist #Afleck #Action […]

  2. Piotr

    January 25th, 2011at 11:43 AM(#)

    About the Thief – stylish character drama is that is extremely well directed and acted by the cast. Caan’s performances makes this fascinating film works. It’s certainly one of his best roles to date. The supporting cast are excellent as well, including Willie Nelson in a small role. This film was a box office disappointment, when it was first released. Now it’s a cult classic…

  3. Mike White

    September 6th, 2011at 8:14 PM(#)

    Glad to see The Anderson Tapes on the list but I tend to go more for classic French heist films a la Rififi, The Red Circle, Bob Le Flambeur (which is kind of an anti-heist film), etc.

  4. Matthew Dowling

    September 6th, 2011at 8:28 PM(#)

    Hey Mike!

    Good list dude! Feel free to round it out to your Top 10 if you’re inclined? I’d love to know the rest, you had me at Rififi! -Matt

  5. CitizenScreen

    October 22nd, 2011at 4:06 PM(#)

    Hi – I am much more familiar with Ben’s list than I am with yours. Several films on your list I haven’t seen. Food for thought and sight. But, if I may suggest a pretty good heist film from Argentina called “Nine Queens,” (Nueve Reinas) don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. Lots of twists and turns. I’m not that into foreign films but saw this in a film course and really enjoyed it. Just tossing it out there.



  6. Matthew Dowling

    October 23rd, 2011at 5:20 AM(#)

    Nine Queens? I’ll have to check that one out on your recommendation Aurora. Always have time for a good heist story. As an aside, I would have liked to put Killing Zoe in there too… another great heist film – just not enough space.

    Please, check back in with us and let us know what you think of some of these when you do see them, and I’ll do the same with Nine Queens! -Matt

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