No one quite puts together a heist scene like Steven Soderbergh, but he has plenty of company. Soderbergh is back to his heist roots this week with the release of “Logan Lucky,” which injects some “Ocean’s Eleven” style into a homegrown robbery cooked up by the Logan brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver), who set out to drain a local speedway during one of its biggest race days of the entire year. Aided by a predictably motley crew, including the wild-eyed Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and their talented driver sister (Riley Keough), the Logans’ plan is ambitious and fun, but it also seems like the kind of thing that only Soderbergh could cook up (it involves digging, vacuuming, cake and prosthetic arms, of all things).
It’s a terrific entry in a subgenre with a grand tradition. Here are 7 other great modern heists that are just as nail-biting and inventive as Soderbergh’s latest (and a few with even more boom). Of course, Soderbergh is so good at this genre that he still gets one entry all to himself.
“Ocean’s Eleven” — Vault Heist
Each of Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” movies has a heist scene worthy of celebration, from the more action-intensive charms of “Twelve” to the back-to-basics bank-busting of “Thirteen” (with bonus pissed off Al Pacino as, of course, Willy Bank). But even Soderbergh fans who favor the later films can’t deny the pure craftsmanship of the big vault heist from “Ocean’s Eleven,” which is a self-contained Soderbergh masterpiece. All the traditional pieces are there, from a seemingly unbeatable vault to the wild scheme to take it out anyway, to a sprawling cast hitting every damn beat, and a grand twist that explains how the entire thing actually worked. Best of all, there’s high tension dominating every moment, from worries revolving around a nimble man in a box to concerns that even the most even-keeled of its players might not last. (Brad Pitt looking addled? Gold, and rare, too.)
“Point Break” — The First Robbery
Kathryn Bigelow’s Keanu Reeves-starring surfer-criminal classic is rife with bank robberies that run the gamut from the sublime to the disastrous, all fueled by equal parts bravado and just plain idiocy. When we first meet the so-called Dead Presidents, they’re at the height of their powers, smoothly moving through a now-rountine heist that remains engaging and entertaining because of its ruthlessly high energy. And don’t forget the high jinks, care of those damned masks and a literally cheeky approach to the crime. While the dudes appear to relish their little side hustle, Bigelow doesn’t shy away from also showing off the fear and confusion of the bank’s patrons. They might not want to know more about these merry robbers, but we sure do.
“Heat” — Final Job
Michael Mann’s 1995 crime masterpiece is a cat-and-mouse game pushed to unnervingly high stakes, as professional criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and hardened cop Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) tangle over the course of 170 brain-bending minutes. McCauley is, of course, very good at what he does, and the film’s most compelling heist sequence follows him through a brazen bank robbery that doesn’t really seem to be taxing him in the slightest. He’ll learn, and so will the audience, as Elliot Goldenthal’s propulsive score keeps the tension high even when McCauley and his goons are convinced they’re in the clear — a brief moment blown to absolute hell by an ear-splitting shootout that rocks downtown Los Angeles and sets Hanna and McCauley on a path neither will be able to escape. It’s a riveting combination of perfectly planned heist and blood-soaked shootout, best case scenario crashing into worst. Hope the money was worth it.
“The Dark Knight” — The Joker’s Bank Robbery
Christopher Nolan kicked off his second Batman film in high style, thanks to a stylish heist scene that introduces both The Joker and his nihilistic worldview, though first-time audiences don’t realize who they’re dealing with until Heath Ledger pulls off his mask and goes on his merry way (after stealing a busload of money, offing his helpers, and letting William Fichtner’s bank manager in on the gag). It’s a fine enough heist scene on its own, requiring a slew of moving parts (and people), the busting of an amusingly rigged bank vault, and a freneticism that’s infectious, but that it’s also the first time we meet The Joker makes it an all-timer. If only every baddie got an intro so expressive.
“The Thomas Crown Affair” — The Last Heist
You could argue that the entirety of John McTiernan’s 1999 remake is a heist scene — Pierce Brosnan’s eponymous bad boy thief is stealing art and hearts — but the big final sequence is original and inventive enough to ensure its place as the film’s signature jam. Crown is a wily thief, that we know from our first glimpse at his prowess with a briefcase and a priceless painting, but his last job (dazzlingly set to Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman”) shows off his pure imagination and wit to an even higher degree. Blending good old-fashioned misdirection (inspired, of course, by Rene Magritte’s “The Son of Man,” a nifty nod to the art world) with some well-laid smoke bombs, Crown and his cronies dip and twist throughout the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a grace that borders on dance. And that’s not even the best part of the heist — and it’s certainly more than enough — as the heist’s last twist unveils a truth that’s been literally obscured throughout most of the film. Sometimes, the pleasure is only in the pursuit (and maybe, just maybe, another grandly designed grift).
“Mission: Impossible” — The Vault
As the “Mission: Impossible” franchise has advanced in both age and inventiveness, its large-scale action setpieces have become the stuff of modern movie legend. There’s Tom Cruise hanging off the 123rd floor of a Dubai skyscraper! There he is outracing a plane! Now it’s time for the dust storm battle and the twisty-road motorcycle race or whatever he’s attempting in the franchise’s sixth iteration that recently landed him an injury! But even though the stakes have gotten higher, some of the series’ earliest stunts remain the most iconic, like Ethan Hunt’s wild-eyed and sweat-laced attempt to zip into an impenetrable vault, aided by a crack team and an oddly creaky piece of nylon rope.
“Baby Driver” — Opening Robbery
Earlier this year, genre auteur Edgar Wright finally premiered his long-gestating, music-jamming, car-chasing, bank-robbing baby: “Baby Driver.” In the film’s six-minute opening scene the titular Baby (Ansel Elgort) jams out to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion‘s “Bellbottoms” (just one of of many key jams on Wright’ predictably great soundtrack) while evading the police and driving three bank-robbing criminals to safety. Wright’s practical effects and razor-sharp editing elevate a traditional car chase into something far more exciting and reckless, and there’s nothing quite like a switcheroo that hangs on something as simple as finding a pair of red cars trucking along on the freeway.