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A Heightened Sense of Fear: The Best Scenes from Movie Robberies

by Cineleet on March 27, 2008

This is a guest post written by David Chen from Always Watching.

Update: Always Watching‘s David Chen has updated this post on his own site here. Check it out!

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Anyone who has ever been robbed at gun/knifepoint can tell you that the experience is far from fun or exhilarating. But like many of life’s unpleasant experiences, when robberies are viewed from the distance afforded by film viewing, the results can be far more exciting.

Michael Haneke, director of the recent re-make of Funny Games, said in an interview part of the film’s power comes from the fact that the two main nameless antagonists have no respect for the protagonists’ personal space. When we, as people, don’t respect our personal spaces, the results can be absolutely terrifying, and the implications can be grim.

In a nutshell, that’s what robbery is about. It’s about a criminal violating another person’s space and property. And on film, in the heat of the moment, when characters experience a heightened sense of fear, some of the most intense and affecting scenes are allowed to take place. Here are some of the best scenes from movie robberies. Note: This is not a list of the best robberies on film, but rather, some of the best scenes that have emanated from film robberies.

Dog Day Afternoon

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Once upon a time, before Al Pacino had become a parody of himself, he gave a brave performance as Sonny Wortzik in Dog Day Afternoon. Before ultra-slick scenes of hostage-takers and negotiators, there was the spectacle of the media, the uncontrollable mob, and that famous chant, “Attica!”

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Heat

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And the ensuing shootout…

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No list of robbery scenes would be worth a damn without this iconic scene from Heat. This film presents the ultimate glamorized version of a bank robbery, with extremely efficient perpetrators, brilliantly believable dialogue, and a bloody gunfight at the end. It has informed every single robbery scene that has come afterwards, and for that reason alone, deserves yet another look.

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Pulp Fiction

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As with most of his films, Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue from the final scene in Pulp Fiction transforms this from yet another robbery to something more transcendent. Having seen Samuel L. Jackson loudly kill others in this film, the tension here is almost unbearable as he sits down.

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Raising Arizona

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Before he took place in the creation of atrocities such as Wild Wild West and Men in Black II, Barry Sonnenfield was an extremely skilled cinematographer. This scene from the Coen brothers’ early days shows Sonnefield at his best, employing abundance use of the wide-angle, as well as skewed and wild camera angles.

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Boogie Nights

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This is perhaps one of my favorite scenes of all time: Dirk Diggler, strung out on coke, gets caught up in a drug robbery gone wrong. What makes this scene amazing are all the disparate elements that come together to form a spectacular whole: Alfred Molina wearing pretty much just a bath robe, the Sister Christian blaring uncontrollably in th e background, Mark Wahlberg’s bleary-eyed performance, and some random Chinese dude in the background detonating firecrackers. While many have celebrated P.T. Anderson’s coronation as a respectable filmmaker with There Will Be Blood, I’m definitely going to miss completely over-the-top whacked out scenes like this one.

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Did we miss any of your favorite scenes? Let us know in the comments below!

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  • The Abbot

    How can you forget Swordfish?? Travoltra pays homage to Pacino & Lumet.

  • The Abbot

    How can you forget Swordfish?? Travoltra pays homage to Pacino & Lumet.

  • mike

    You forgot Point Break

  • mike

    You forgot Point Break

  • Josh

    Wow, how about the entire movie “Inside Man?”

  • Josh

    Wow, how about the entire movie “Inside Man?”

  • jason

    i’d say heath ledger in ‘two hands’. only because what happened took me by complete surprise, and i couldn’t stop laughing for a good couple of minutes.

  • jason

    i’d say heath ledger in ‘two hands’. only because what happened took me by complete surprise, and i couldn’t stop laughing for a good couple of minutes.

  • http://cineleet.com/ Cineleet

    Jason,
    I saw that one as well, and yeah, it was pretty unexpected.

  • http://cineleet.com Cineleet

    Jason,
    I saw that one as well, and yeah, it was pretty unexpected.

  • madmonkee

    no mention of killing zoe? for real?

  • madmonkee

    no mention of killing zoe? for real?

  • TimmyIsEvil

    Snatch has a couple good ones.

  • TimmyIsEvil

    Snatch has a couple good ones.

  • nana

    cris farley in black sheep

  • nana

    cris farley in black sheep

  • http://www.Imatruck.com/ Ed

    You forgot Stander, with Tom Jane. One of the best heist movies I’ve ever seen- and it’s based on a true story, which makes it even cooler.

  • http://www.Imatruck.com Ed

    You forgot Stander, with Tom Jane. One of the best heist movies I’ve ever seen- and it’s based on a true story, which makes it even cooler.

  • Yarney

    I always liked the heist in Ronin. I still want an Audi S8 because of that scene…

  • Yarney

    I always liked the heist in Ronin. I still want an Audi S8 because of that scene…

  • http://hubpages.com/hub/My_top_5_Foreign_films Jay

    Bonnie & Clyde is obvious, right?

  • http://hubpages.com/hub/My_top_5_Foreign_films Jay

    Bonnie & Clyde is obvious, right?

  • Matt

    Reservoir Dogs.

    Not so much for the robbery scenes themselves, which are just Tarantino doing what would become his “thing” and splashing corn syrup around, but for the aftermath of a job gone seriously wrong and the way the goalposts move. There’s a rat in the nest and nobody’s free from suspicion. The first scenes in the warehouse with Buscemi and Keitel are especially tense and engrossing.

    Oh and the fact that in a film about a heist, you never see the robbery..!

  • Matt

    Reservoir Dogs.

    Not so much for the robbery scenes themselves, which are just Tarantino doing what would become his “thing” and splashing corn syrup around, but for the aftermath of a job gone seriously wrong and the way the goalposts move. There’s a rat in the nest and nobody’s free from suspicion. The first scenes in the warehouse with Buscemi and Keitel are especially tense and engrossing.

    Oh and the fact that in a film about a heist, you never see the robbery..!

  • http://www.todayslies.com/ Will

    A little seen movie called “Normal Life” is a true-life story of a cop-turned-bank robber. It shows how clearly, the best bank robbers would be cops.

  • http://www.todayslies.com Will

    A little seen movie called “Normal Life” is a true-life story of a cop-turned-bank robber. It shows how clearly, the best bank robbers would be cops.