10 Heist Movies Based On True Stories

There are at least 10 heist movies based on true stories; the only thing better than watching likable rogues pull off a daring caper is knowing that it really happened. Of course, most of them didn’t get away with it…but there are a few exceptions. D.B. Cooper, if you’re out there reading this somewhere, here’s to you.

  1. “The Brink’s Job.” Irony surrounds this 1978 picture, directed by William Friedkin of “The Exorcist” fame. The gang, headed by Peter Falk in the film, stole millions from the Brink's headquarters in Boston and eluded police for six years. They were caught when one man confessed just weeks before the statute of limitations ran out. During production, the film itself was stolen by armed robbers who demanded a ransom, not realizing they had taken hundreds of worthless outtakes.
  2. “The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper.” In 1971, a polite gentleman hijacked a jet airliner, parachuted out over Washington State with $200,000 in ransom, and was never seen again. Ten years later, Treat Williams played D.B. Cooper in a fanciful exploration of his successful heist and its aftermath. The whereabouts of Cooper remain a mystery; an equal mystery is why no other movies have been made about this famous case.

  3. “The Great Train Robbery.” Best-selling author Michael Crichton was clearly fascinated with the Gold Robbery of 1855, when 200 pounds of gold were stolen from a moving train. He wrote a novel about the crime, then wrote and directed the 1979 film version, starring Sean Connery as the heist’s mastermind. In real life, the criminal was eventually caught, but in the movie…well, it’s Sean Connery.

  4. “The Great Riviera Bank Robbery.” The French Riviera, playground for the world’s wealthy, is just lousy with money. Albert Spaggiari was an anti-capitalist who decided to make the redistribution of wealth more than just a theory. His 1976 heist inspired three films, including this 1979 British movie; captured, Spaggiari escaped, and his loot was never found.

  5. “The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.” Immediately after his first starring role in “The Blob,” Steve McQueen made this 1959 film. Shooting in St. Louis, the filmmakers hired many of the cops and bankers who were on hand for the actual 1953 robbery. McQueen plays the getaway driver, the first of his many “fast car” roles.

  6. “The Bank Job.” Part of the fun of this 2008 heist film is trying to figure out how much is true. In 1971, criminals broke into a British bank vault and pilfered safe-deposit boxes. Their take included compromising photos of police officials, Parliament ministers, and even a member of the royal family. The filmmakers claim one of their producers had inside knowledge of the case; the British government remains mum on the subject.

  7. “Dog Day Afternoon.” Al Pacino starred in this acclaimed, Oscar-winning 1975 film as Sonny Wortzik. In 1972, Sonny tried to rob a Manhattan bank to pay for his lover’s sex-change operation. The robbery was a failure from the start, but the film was a success, cementing Pacino’s stardom with memorable moments like the “Attica” scene.

  8. ”The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid.” Most heist movies based on true stories are 20th century cases. But this 1972 Western recreated the famous 1876 robbery by the James-Younger gang, including legendary outlaw Jesse James. This was the first film from director Philip Kaufman, who went on to such acclaimed hits as “The Right Stuff” and “Henry & June.”

  9. “The Newton Boys.” Maverick Texas director Richard Linklater made this 1998 film about the most successful outlaw gang in history. In the tradition of true outlaw heroes, the Newtons robbed 87 banks, but never killed a single person. Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke led a cast of young stars as the charismatic crooks.

  10. “Heat.” Michael Mann’s stylish thriller was a huge hit in 1995. It’s loosely based on the experiences of a Chicago cop and his criminal nemesis. But its detailed heist sequence inspired several real-life criminals to pull copycat crimes. These became heists based on a heist movie that was based on real heists!

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