In the age of sequels, prequels and reboots, coming across original film content is pretty rare. In the exceptional occasion that Hollywood produces a film that’s so enthralling, so captivating that we as an audience can’t look away, it quickly becomes iconic. Many of the films on this list have reached this status.
While the con artist film isn’t necessarily original, the following list of films have taken the trope and turned it into a series comedic, dramatic and unbelievably entertaining movies that viewers watch again and again. From films of the past to some recent, Oscar-nominated films of the past few years, the con artist film has impressed for generations.
So without further ado, here are the 15 Best Con Artist Movies Of All Time.
16 American Hustle (2013)
Nominated for ten Oscars, American Hustle is a fictional film that follows con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) as he is forced to enter the world of Jersey powerbrokers by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), but becomes quickly engrossed. He, along with his partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), must navigate this new world without getting caught, and hope that his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) doesn’t tear it all down in the process.
The film has some of the most brilliant performances ever in a con movie, and the setting, as well as the captivating storyline and unbelievable casting, all combine to create a film that keeps you entertained in its entirety.
15 21 (2008)
Kevin Spacey is the most believable bad guy in the world, and he absolutely kills it in his role as a twisted college professor in 21. The fact-based story follows six MIT students that Micky Rosa (Spacey) recruited to learn the illegal art of card counting and take their learning to casinos in Vegas to rob them for millions of dollars.
Also starring Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth, the story has emotional levels and puts the audience in the perspective of one of the students who happens to really need the money. This bind between right and wrong and necessary creates a morally ambiguous film that leaves you rooting for the criminals.
14 Confidence (2003)
Confidence follows Jake Vig (Edward Burns), a grafter on the verge of pulling one of the biggest cons to date, in which he will also avenge his friend’s murder. But, because his last scam backfired after he conned his way into thousands of dollars, he’s indebted to a mob boss (Dustin Hoffman), which makes everything much more difficult.
Directed by James Foley and also starring Rachel Weisz and Paul Giamatti, Confidence aligns the audience with the criminal in a dramatic, thrilling chain of events that takes tons of twists and turns to keep the plot moving, making this con artist film one of the best.
13 Diggstown (1992)
Starring James Woods and Louis Gossett Jr., Diggstown follows Gabriel Caine (Woods) after he’s been released from prison. He immediately sets up a bet with a businessman who happens to own most of Diggstown (known for it’s boxing). The bet? That Gabe can find a boxer that can knock out ten of the town’s boxers within 24 hours.
The film is certainly a new take on the con artist film, as it’s largely defined as a sports film. With the surface story as well as a champion boxer story in the background, this film has layers of action and drama throughout, making it one of the most compelling.
12 Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
More a comedy than anything else, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels stars comedian Steve Martin alongside Michael Caine in a con film that’s fun for everyone. The duo play two con men, Freddy Benson (Martin) and Lawrence Jamieson (Caine), that are attempting to settle a rivalry. To do so, they bet on who is able to con an American heiress (Glenne Headly) out of $50,000 first.
The film is classically funny, showing the humorous side of con artist films and revealing a lighter tone that’s become so common in more recent con artist films. The film, directed by Frank Oz and nominated for a Golden Globe, is an absolute classic in the genre, and one that future films will continue to draw from.
11 Focus (2015)
A movie centered on deception and misdirection, Focus stars Will Smith as Nicky Spurgeon, a very accomplished con man who takes an amateur con artist, Jess (Margot Robbie), under his wing. The duo quickly realizes the difficulties involved with balancing their criminal life with their personal life, and before long, love seems to only get in the way.
Robbie and Smith are incredible in this crime drama, injecting it humor, emotion and raw, sexual chemistry, transforming the film from just another con movie into one so gripping that it’s impossible to look away, putting the audience in the position of the conned.
10 The Grifters (1990)
Starring John Cusack as Roy Dillon, a small-time con man, this film portrays the pull of personal and criminal life in a very dysfunctional familial relationship. Roy finds himself stretched thin between his estranged mother (Anjelica Huston) and his current girlfriend (Annette Bening), both of which are grifters that happen to be playing their own angles.
The film delves more into personal relationships and the strains therein, with the thrilling twist that all parties involved are con artists with their own, personal agendas. Family and love run deep, but do the cons run deeper? In this who’s-conning-who film, it’s hard to take any of the characters at face value.
9 Inception (2010)
Perhaps one of the most innovative con artist films on this list, Inception adds an unreal, almost unbelievable element to the trope that makes it stand out above all else. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a thief that uses new, dream-stealing technology to steal from large companies. In his latest con, he must pull off the biggest heist yet by planting an idea inside a big-time CEO’s mind.
Directed by Christopher Nolan and also starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine and Marion Cotillard, Inception is fantastic at bringing the audience along for the ride of a lifetime, being sure to leave plenty of room for interpretation. Inception is so full of action that it’s one of those films that you’ll need to watch more than once just to catch everything.
8 Matchstick Men (2003)
One of the Nicolas Cage films that’s without a doubt worth watching, Matchstick Men follows Roy Waller (Cage), a neurotic, phobia-prone con artist, as he and his protégé are just about to pull off a con when Waller’s teenage daughter unexpectedly shows up, foiling everything.
Ridley Scott directs this con film following the two, small-time con artists as everything they’ve been working towards seemingly falls apart right before their eyes. And on top of it all, Roy’s obsessive-compulsive, agoraphobic lifestyle doesn’t do anything to help. This is a film where the con artist has a difficult time balancing personal and professional life, leading to a chain of events that you won’t want to miss.
7 Ocean’s 11 (2001)
A remake of the 1960 film starring an all-star cast, including Frank Sinatra, James Dean and Sammy Davis Jr., 2001’s Ocean’s 11 was without a doubt worthy of the title. Following in the original’s footsteps, the all-star cast for the remake includes George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon, and that’s only including a few. The film follows the same general plot, as Danny Ocean and his team of con men (all skilled in different areas) team up to steal money from a chain of Vegas casinos – at the same time.
The con itself is worth watching play out on screen, but with the addition of the cast, the comedy and the never-ending action, this film is easily one of the best and, again, worth more than one watch. And the sequels, Ocean’s 12 (2004) and Ocean’s 13 (2007), are worth the watch as well.
6 Snatch (2000)
Another star-studded con artist film starring Jason Statham, Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro, Snatch takes place in the world of match boxing, where two, simultaneous stories occur including an underdog boxing story and an elaborate diamond heist. These two stories converge somewhere along the way, leaving the audience with an action-packed con film.
Snatch is often found on top movie lists, as the plot is so intricate and the characters so well done that every aspect of the film feels perfect. The R-rated film directed by Guy Ritchie exceeded expectations and if you haven’t seen it yet, we recommend checking this one out.
5 The Sting (1973)
Starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, The Sting takes place in Chicago, Illinois, September of 1963 in the age of mobsters. Two con men (one with experience and one without) have a mutual friend who has just been killed by a mob boss, and they must team together to avenge his death by pulling off a large-scale con on him.
There are twists to the plot along the way, and with stellar performances and an underlying revenge plot mixed in with the action-packed world of cons and mobs, this film has it all. And to top it all off, the relationship between the two wronged men is strained and heartfelt at the same time, adding a depth that propels the plot forward.
4 Trading Places (1983)
The John Landis film starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd is yet another spin on the con man movie, taking it a direction that you don’t see very often. In Trading Places, a wealthy investor and a street con artist that live very different lives are transplanted in the other’s life as part of a bet made by two millionaires.
Watching one fall from the top as the other rises from the bottom is entertaining enough, but with the many layers of the film and the constant humor throughout, audiences can’t help but be entertained all the way through this comedic con film.
3 Wall Street (1987)
The original, Oliver Stone film starring Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen and Tamara Tunie follows Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), a Wall Street stockbroker in New York in the early 1980s. All Bud wants is to get to the top, so he spends his spare time working with successful, greedy broker, Gordon Gekko (Douglas) and quickly learns his philosophy: “greed is good.”
This change in personality as he dabbles with shady business puts Bud at odds with his family, causing dissonance between his personal and professional lives. While the film is certainly dated (a large reason for the 2010 remake starring Shia LaBeouf alongside Douglas), it’s still a fantastic adaptation of dirty, white collar business.
2 Catch Me If You Can (2002)
A film starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio should be enough to convince you that you need to watch, but just in case it’s not, here’s a little bit more: the film tells the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr. (DiCaprio). For those unfamiliar with his story, before the age of nineteen, Abagnale conned (successfully) millions of dollars in checks, posing as a pilot, a doctor and an attorney. And Tom Hanks plays the FBI agent that attempts to bring him down.
With this duo in and of itself, Catch Me If You Can is a con movie worth watching. But aside from that, the film’s a fast-paced, entrancing chase that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.
Have a favorite con man movie that we missed? Let us know in the comments!
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