Five Classic Heist Movies to Watch Before American Animals

Bart Layton’s American Animals comes to Screen25 this month, bringing with it a fresh taken on one of Hollywood’s most under-appreciated sub-genres – the heist movie.

As with his previous effort, the critically lauded documentary The Imposter, the Hammersmith-born filmmaker flips things on their head with a fact-based docu-drama blending fiction and reality to thrilling effect.

Led by stand-out turns from rising stars Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan, it’s a worthy addition to the crime drama genre, and well worth watching on the big screen.

To get you in the mood for American Animals, here are a few other classic heist movies both old and new to seek out and watch.

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Point Break

Kathryn Bigelow’s big and brash 90s thriller represents a notable high point in a decade of testosterone-fuelled buddy cop action movies and proved to be the inspiration for the first Fast and Furious movie. Keanu Reeves stars as the ridiculously named Johnny Utah, an FBI agent who goes undercover to infiltrate of a gang of surfers led by Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi. They are suspected of being “the ex-Presidents” – a group of bank robbers who have gained notoriety for pulling off a series of heists while wearing rubber masks depicting former US presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter. Romance, bromance, high-octane action and extreme sports follow in a combination that’s every bit as ridiculously brilliant as it sounds.

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Out of Sight

Three years before they combined to great effect with Ocean’s 11, George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh teamed up for this effortlessly cool adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name. Clooney plays Jack Foley, a smooth-talking career bank robber capable of pulling off the perfect heist with little more than a wink and a smile. He soon meets his match though in Jennifer Lopez’s US Marshal Karen Sisco whom he kidnaps after a successful prison escape. Set in the same cinematic universe as Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, it’s not long before sparks are flying between the pair and Foley is plotting his next big score…

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Dog Day Afternoon

Al Pacino and his late Godfather co-star John Cazale lead the way in this Sidney Lumet-directed heist favourite inspired by the real-life robbery of a bank in Brooklyn in the early 1970s. Pacino is Sonny Wortzik, one of two hapless robbers whose plan to rob a local bank in order to pay for his lover’s sex reassignment surgery quickly goes awry after he discovers just $1,100 waiting for them in the bank’s vault.

Taking hostages alongside partner-in-crime Sal (Cazale) the pair find themselves at the centre of a media storm as the situation escalates further. Boasting impressing central performances from Pacino and Cazale, Dog Day Afternoon is the classic heist movie gone wrong and represents essential viewing for any self-regarding cinephile.

Hell Or High Water

In recent years, writer Tyler Sheridan has carved out a niche for delivering crime dramas of the highest order. And while the likes of Sicario and Wind River are well worth seeking out, Hell or High Water is arguably the pick of his efforts to date. It stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as two down-on-their-luck brothers that  hatch upon a seemingly failproof system for robbing banks in West Texas. Stealing funds to help save their family ranch, it’s not long before the boys attracted the attentions of two US marshals (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) intent on bringing them to justice. Part of the burgeoning sub-genre of neo-Westerns emerging out of the US, Hell or High Water was nominated for a glut of Oscars and Golden Globes but ended up empty handed in both regards. Pine shines in the lead role but it’s the down and desperate Foster who proves the most watchable in what is just the latest in a string of impressive turns from the underrated Hollywood star.

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Heat

Michael Mann’s atmospheric heist epic is most famous for bringing Robert De Niro and Al Pacino face-to-face for the first time on the big screen in a match-up that lives to the billing but that only scratches the surface. Pacino plays Lt Vincent Hanna, an obsessive LAPD robbery homicide cop on the trail of sophisticated career criminal Neil Macauley (De Niro) and his crew of bank-robbing cohorts. It’s a crew packed full of memorable character actors like Danny Trejo and Tom Sizemore, though it’s Val Kilmer’s Chris Shiherlis that steals the show with one of the best performances of his career in a film full of scene-stealing turns. Another heist movie with roots in fact rather than fiction, Heat was inspired by the exploits of the real-life Macauley, who operated in the late 1950s and 1960s before his arrest. Mann’s is a suitably modern affair though with the director delivering a visually-stunning crime epic full of striking imagery and some sophisticated action set-pieces.

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Words by Jack Beresford.

American Animals screens on Friday 22 February. Book now.

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