10 Best Con Artist Movies

Nobody likes to be conned by a con artist, but the awards shared by the 10 best con artist movies prove that everybody loves movies about them. These classic films demonstrate that we may hate what con artists do, but we love the way they do it. Especially if they look like Paul Newman, Jamie Lee Curtis or Mel Gibson.

  1. The Sting” If caper movies didn’t already exist, this 1973 classic would have invented them. After a crime lord kills his partner, Depression-era con man Robert Redford wants to get revenge by pulling the ultimate con. When he enlists the aid of semi-retired grifter Paul Newman, the scam shifts into high gear. The film won seven Oscars.

  2.  ”Paper Moon” Nineteen seventy-three was a good year for con artist movies. This film, featuring Ryan O’Neal and real-life daughter Tatum as a father-daughter confidence team, shared the 1930s setting of “The Sting.” It also shared a passel of Oscar nominations, winning Best Supporting Actress for ten-year-old Tatum.

  3. The Hustler” Paul Newman practically invented the con artist movie with his 1961 role as Fast Eddie Felson, a pool-playing con man who meets his match in Jackie Gleason’s Minnesota Fats. The movie was nominated for nine Oscars, winning two. Newman reprised the Fast Eddie character in “The Color of Money,” meaning he played a con man in three decades: the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

  4. The Grifters” Most con artist movies are comedies or at least light-hearted in nature. But this 1987 film based on a Jim Thompson novel is deadly serious. John Cusack is a small-time con artist who gets involved with fellow swindler Annette Bening. Complicating things is Anjelica Huston who got an Oscar nomination for her hard-as-nails portrayal of Cusack’s mother.


  5. A Fish Called Wanda” A bank robbery gone wrong turns into the ultimate crazy con game when Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis have to fool uptight British barrister John Cleese. When Curtis genuinely falls for Cleese, a complicated con gets even more so. The presence of Monty Python’s Cleese and Michael Palin guarantees comedy; the tight script and direction were both Oscar-nominated and Kline won an Oscar as the slimy Otto.

  6. House of Games” Acclaimed playwright David Mamet ventured into directing for the first time with this film in which con artist Joe Mantegna goes into therapy. His therapist, Lindsay Crouse, tries to get him out of the game only to get caught up in it herself. Like “The Grifters,” this is no comedy, but critically acclaimed just the same. 

  7. Maverick” Written by the great William Goldman, creator of “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” and “The Princess Bride,” this con artist movie out-cons the original TV series by several turns. You can count at least half a dozen of Goldman’s famous “reversals” or plot twists in the final third of the movie. And if that doesn’t wow you, Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster as competing-but-undeniably-attracted con artists ought to do the trick.


  8. Catch Me If You Can” Steven Spielberg liked the story of real-life con artist Frank Abagnale so much, he made it his 21st movie in 2002. Leonardo DiCaprio parlays his boyish charm into a con artist career that leaves federal agent Tom Hanks shaking his head in disbelief. But the real twist is at the end of this true tale, which was nominated for two Oscars.


  9. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” Steve Martin and Michael Caine are con artists trying to out-con each other on the French Riviera. Beautiful Glenne Headly is their intended victim, naïve Janet. One swindle tops another in this 1988 film directed by Frank Oz (working without the Muppets for once).


  10. The Third Man” It’s the exact opposite of “lighthearted,” but surely this moody Orson Welles thriller belongs on a list of the best con artist movies ever made. Joseph Cotten arrives in post-World War II Vienna seeking the truth about his buddy Harry’s death. He soon learns Harry was pulling a very nasty con and by the time he finds out what’s really going on, it’s too late to get out. Just a reminder: while con artists may be charming, they often aren’t very nice.

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