Bank robberies have and probably always will be a cornerstone of crime drama, whether it’s Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid or this week's awesome new release, Baby Driver.
There’s something about the idea of brashly walking into your local bank and leaving with a bundle of cash that’s always going to appeal to movie fans. It’s bold, exciting, and very dangerous, allowing viewers to live out some ill-advised, far-flung fantasy of a life on the wrong side of the law.
But have you ever wondered if you could pull any of the robberies you see in the movies off in real life? Sure, the kind of thing you see in Die Hard With A Vengeance or Now You See Me might be a little far-fetched, but there are plenty of great examples of big screen heists that could actually work. We definitely wouldn't suggest (or condone) doing so, but here are 16 Brilliant Movie Bank Robberies That Could Work IRL.
This often-overlooked Barry Levinson caper centers on criminals Joe Blake (Bruce Willis) and Terry Collins (Billy Bob Thornton) who break out of jail before embarking on a series of seemingly foolproof bank robberies using a modus operandi that’s pretty easy to follow.
It’s simple enough: they disguise themselves, kidnap the manager of the bank they want to rob the night before the heist, and then spend the night with the manager and his family. Early the next day, they take the manager to the bank and get their money, escaping with their stunt man turned getaway driver Harvey Pollard (Troy Garity).
Inspired in its simplicity, the method even sees Blake and Collins earn the moniker of the "Sleepover Bandits" in the film and a hefty reward of $1 million for their successful capture. A simple yet effective method that's grounded in realism. Don't go getting any ideas now...
15 The Place Beyond The Pines
Ryan Gosling’s motorcycle stuntman and banker robber, Luke Glanton, offers up a pretty good example of how to get away with a bank robbery, provided you stay on the ball and are wicked good on two wheels.
It’s simple enough – Glanton robs small, largely unsecured banks in the suburbs, making his escape on motorbike. Having made a speedy getaway from the authorities, he drives his bike up a ramp and into an unmarked truck being driven by his accomplice, Robin (Ben Mendelsohn).
They pull the shutter down on the back of the van and carry on down the road, with the police soon flashing past in search of a bank robber on two wheels. While it might require some considerable talent for motorcycling (and a super trustworthy buddy) to pull off, it’s entirely plausible.
14 Killing Zoe
This location-specific heist was the work of Pulp Fiction co-writer Roger Avary and, while pretty bloody and brutal, it might just be smart enough to work in real life.
In the film, professional safe-cracker Zed (Eric Stoltz) is enlisted by childhood friend Eric (Jean-Hugues Anglade) to pull off a daring heist on a Paris bank during Bastille Day.
A public holiday in France, almost everything is closed for Bastille Day, except for banks and post offices which actually remain open (totally true). Donning carnival masks to both hide their faces and blend in with the many revellers in the Paris streets, the gang infiltrate the bank and quickly go about their business.
Now, while in the film the heist ultimately fail, this kind of bank job is definitely doable. The mistake made by Zed and Eric is attempting to steal from the bank’s vault, rather than taking what the cashiers had available and making a quick escape. They also kill a lot of people, which is really not cool.
13 Sugar & Spice
This Mena Suvari teen crime comedy may miss the mark in a lot of respects, but one thing it definitely nails is a smart bank robbery that could be pulled off by pretty much any cheerleader squad with enough time on its hands.
When each of the members of Lincoln High School’s A-squad find themselves facing one form of economic hardship or another, they hit on the idea of robbing banks to pay the bills. The real innovation comes with their decision to approach the heist like they would cheerleading practice, rehearsing the robbery alongside preparations for their high school winter ball. Finally, when it comes to the heist itself, they wear masks and perform cheerleader stunts in order to cover up the cameras, later burning their disguises.
Now pretty much anyone can cover a camera with a pom-pom and steal the loot, right?
12 The Town
This crime drama sees Ben Affleck show us how to pull of a straightforward enough bank job, Boston-style. In the film, his character, Doug, leads a gang of four machine-gun-totting bank robbers who avoid fancy tricks and gimmicks in favor of direct and effective brute force.
Patrons and bank tellers are beaten to the ground, phones and “Blackberries” are rounded up in a bowl and soaked in water. These guys are no fools, with Doug careful to ensure Rebecca Hall’s bank manager Claire Keesey goes by the book when it comes to opening the safe.
All hard drives containing CCTV footage from inside the bank are nuked in the microwave and bleach is poured everywhere. It’s basic, brutal, and totally believable. This isn’t some slick Ocean’s 11 style heist, just good old fashioned stealing. It's just a shame Jeremy Renner's Gem is such a nutjob.
The concept behind Armoured’s heist is one that must have run through the mind of many a driver transporting high sums of money from one location to another. Basically, a team of six drivers, in two trucks carrying $42 million, decide to fake a robbery and take the money for themselves.
They head to an abandoned steel mill full of old buildings and, crucially, located next to electrical transformers, which mean they lose radio contact. Then, it’s just a case of unloading the money and heading off to another location, where they will eventually get back in touch with their headquarters to say they have been robbed.
Simple yet effective, in the film, the plan goes awry when a homeless man spots the gang up to no good. In real life, that sort of thing would be highly unlikely to happen – provided you chose the right spot…
10 The Lookout
The kind of bank job that’s only achievable if you have no soul whatsoever, in the Lookout a gang of robbers pretend to befriend brain-damaged bank cleaner Chris (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) with a view to gaining entry to the bank during one of his overnight shifts. At one point, a female member of the group even goes as far as seducing him in an attempt to get him to cooperate.
Then, when he then has cold feet on the night of the heist, they hold him at gunpoint and make him open the bank. Now, it’s a bit of a long shot – we’re not sure what sort of schedule overnight cleaners work on – but this is definitely one heist grounded in realism, even if it’s the kind of realism that has you questioning mankind as we know it.
Would you have what it takes to dupe an overnight cleaner into giving you access to a bank? Now there’s a question you probably never thought you’d be asked.
9 Mad Money
Mad Money’s not a film anyone should necessarily watch – it’s the movie Katie Holmes decided to do instead of The Dark Knight, and it kind of sucks– but it does feature an entirely realistic bank heist. It centers on Diane Keaton’s Bridget, who takes a job at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City after being hit by the recession and soon hatches a plan to steal worn-out dollar bills that are slated for destruction.
To do so, she has to convince two of her colleagues, played by Holmes and Queen Latifah, to help her out. Bridget obtains both the cart number and an official lock. Bills are then taken from the cart by one of her colleagues and hidden in a trash can.
Her other accomplice then restores the cart’s official lock and shreds any remaining bills. It’s then on Bridget to take the trash can and money away. A little mundane perhaps but, provided you were super-careful, there’s nothing to say it wouldn’t work to some degree. What you'd then do with all those busted old dollar bills...well you'll have to figure that part out.
8 The Dark Knight
Granted, The Dark Knight’s opening heist may be elaborate, but it’s still drenched in realism, however grim it may be. The plan is simple enough: five masked guys with guns infiltrate a bank, open all of the safes, and ensure no one makes a move or tries to be a hero by giving each and every hostage a grenade, with the pin removed, to clasp.
Then, one by one, the gang is killed off until the one remaining ringleader emerges with the cash, stolen in a school bus that’s been driven straight through the doors of the bank and blending right on in with the fellow yellow buses taking the kiddies home from school. It might require you to threaten people and even murder a few of your fellow criminals, but as bleak as it is, this would be the life you've signed up for.
7 Quick Change
Worthy of inclusion for the sight of Bill Murray dressed from head-to-toe as a clown alone, Quick Change’s central heist really isn’t that complicated. It sees Murray’s character, Grimm, turn up at the bank dressed as clown and carrying a carefully concealed gun along with a vest chock full of dynamite (which turns out to be fake).
He’s able to jostle everyone into the bank’s vault before commencing negotiations and the release of hostages. This is where it gets clever - Grimm then ditches his clown get-up and switches to a new disguise, allowing him to leave the bank with his stolen loot and fellow incognito accomplices Phyllis (Geena Davis) and Loomis (Randy Quaid), who had been posing as customers and hostages the whole time. It's pretty simple, and definitely one you could pull off if you fancy yourself as a good actor.
6 Point Break
The Point Break Ex-Presidents heist is entirely doable, as long as you stick to Bodhi’s golden rules. First, your gang will need to be decked out as four Ex-Presidents, wearing suits and masks depicting Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter.
If anyone asks about the masks during the raid, then Bodhi’s response probably sums it up best: "We’ve been screwing you for years so a few more seconds shouldn’t matter, should it?"
Biting social commentary aside, the robbery should follow a strict rule: only raid the bank’s cash drawers and never, under any circumstances, go into the vault. All told, the robbery should only last a maximum of 90 seconds. It’s about getting in and getting out before the inevitable police response arrives.
Michael Mann’s hyper-realistic style means that this bold and brash heist could totally work for real, provided you have the balls to go through with it.
Suited up and wearing hockey masks, it sees a team of career criminals led by Robert De Niro’s Neil McCauley hijack an armored car carrying $1.6 million in bearer bonds in broad daylight. While some pretty heavy machine guns will be required to pull this one off, it’s definitely a goer, though there are some strict rules to follow.
For example, the actual raid on the car should last no more than three minutes and, ideally, no guards should be killed as that only generates attention - as the gang later learns. Fail in any of these respects and, like McCauley says in the film, you should be prepared to walk away.
4 Hell or High Water
A recent entry into the canon of realistic bank robbery movies, Hell or High Water tells the story of two brothers and their attempt at saving their family’s ranch by robbing a series of banks across Texas. The pair, played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, visit banks early in the morning, approaching the manager and demanding all the small bills they have available – no bundles or large bills.
They then cover their tracks in a variety of ways. One of the cars they used is buried in the desert, on the off chance it ties them to the crime. They also take the money they stole to an Indian casino where they cash it in for a large pile of chips before heading off for a couple of hands of Blackjack. After about an hour of gambling small, they cash their chips out and take the funds to their bank, in an attempt to avoid losing their family property. Think you could manage all of that?
3 Inside Man
Spike Lee’s crime drama begins with Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) explaining how he committed the perfect robbery, and he’s kind of got a point.
There are aspects of Inside Man that would totally work in a real-life scenario, but others might be a bit of a stretch. Robbing the bank and having your gang dress in generic painter overalls, which the hostages are also made to change into, is a good start. By dividing them into smaller groups and keeping them in separate rooms, with gang members regularly inserted into the groups unbeknownst to their quarry, Russell's gang is able to create the perfect escape when the bank is finally raided by the police – no one can tell the robbers from the hostages.
The only real sticking point is the idea of one robber, Owen, remaining hidden inside in a small room that has been constructed to hide both himself and the missing loot. It’s a tricky one, but not something you would necessarily rule out. Do they check for hidden rooms after heists like this?
2 Office Space
Okay, so this isn’t technically a heist in the traditional sense of the word, and it’s probably worth remembering that the guys actually stole the idea for their inside job from Superman III. But where the Man of Steel's adversaries failed, these guys manage to succeed (sort of), and it’s entirely conceivable that someone could do this for real. Led by Ron Livingston’s newly-enlightened Peter Gibbons, fellow Initech programmer’s Michael Bolton (David Herman) and Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu) create a computer virus that infiltrates Initech’s accounting system.
The virus is designed to divert fractions of pennies into a bank account, believing that the transactions are so small, they will avoid detection, but generate a steady buy substantial source of income over time. Unfortunately, a bug in Michael’s code results in the theft of some $300,000 in just a few days. Could it work for real? Even if it had, we'd probably never know.
1 Out Of Sight
Arguably the most dangerous heist on this list, for the fact that it’s totally happened for real, George Clooney’s Jack Foley walks into the bank at the start of Out Of Sight, without a gun or elaborate plan to his name. Instead, he merely observes a man with an open briefcase speaking to one of the managers and calmly approaches bank teller Loretta Randall with an inspired story claiming her colleague is being held hostage and, on his signal, will be executed.
Foley’s quiet, calm, demeanor is crucial to the heist, which is as much a hustle as it is an out-and-out robbery. Either way, he walks out with a shedload of money. The only real requirements to pull this off are the gift of the gab and the looks of George Clooney. The latter might be a struggle.
Did we miss any other memorable heists off the list? Have your say in the comment section.