Thief! 10 Films Where Theft Changed Everything #1 (1960-2001)

“Thief! Thief!” We’ve probably all heard that, right before getting shot down in a bloody blaze of glory. Wait, are you saying we haven’t all been riddled with bullets over thievery? Oh well, here are 10 movies where some thief at least ran the risk. Should we lock ’em up and throw away the key? If so, it’s a bit ironic, considering how much thieving is done by the rich and powerful throughout human history…buuut here’s the list!

1. Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” was undeniably a landmark. Considered one of the first slasher films, the creepy, fractured yet lovable Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) made taking a shower seem potentially frightening. However, it’s interesting to think that, had Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) not foolishly absconded with $40,000, she likely wouldn’t have shown up at the Bates Motel. Of course, we also wouldn’t have had this movie. In fact, let that be a lesson to you: If you steal, it can put you in places you don’t want to be — and not only a concrete cell. Interesting little side fact: Marion Crane’s boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin) is also the name of the Psychiatrist in John Carpenter’s “Halloween” franchise. Played by Donald Pleasence, Dr. Loomis is very often a thorn in silent stalker Michael Myers’ side. Of course, there’s also the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter of Janet Leigh.

2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

Chuck Jones’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” easily rivals “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “A Christmas Story” for best holiday viewing. Part of that appeal is The Grinch himself. Voiced by Boris Karloff (who also narrates), people love to see him slither and sneak through the Whoville houses, stealing their toys and sabotaging their good cheer! At the same time, who can forget that iconic moment when The Grinch has that revelation, seeing the error in his ways and still being accepted by the readily-forgiving Whos. At only 26 minutes long, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is nevertheless jam-packed full of goodies, like a timeless stocking stuffer of quality. In fact, it’s not too crazy to watch this movie any ol’ time of year, is it? It’s also fun to narrow down which lyrics one loves most in “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

3. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” is a rather straightforward rendition of the infamous thieving couple (Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty). Along for the wild ride are the Barrow gang (Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, and Estelle Parsons). There honestly isn’t that much to the story, but it’s still an impressive film somehow. In fact, there’s no need for a spoiler alert, either. If you’ve read up on true crime history at all, you’ll know that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were eventually chewed up by bullets, making them almost martyrs to some. All these years later, there still could be a debate on whether criminal suspects could be apprehended in a more peaceful manner.

In any case, this film was controversial in its day, being accused of ushering a new era of bloodletting in American (and presumably international) cinema. That being said, Bonnie and Clyde were thieves and murderers, so not everyone was particularly well-informed by this almost too sympathetic depiction. Their wild ride had to end at some point. Interesting facts: 1. Hackman received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for this film; 2. This was the film debut of Gene Wilder, who portrayed one of Bonnie and Clyde’s hostages, Eugene Grizzard.

4. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Years after creating “Night of the Living Dead,” George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” took the zombie apocalypse scenario into a shopping mall, and horror was never quite the same. While this film does offer plenty of gore, there’s also a steady supply of social commentary as survivors decide whether to defend their shopping center or flee to survive a military-style assault by professional marauding bikers. Along the way, one can ask basic questions like, “Is it stealing anymore if society has collapsed and even the concept of ownership is more tenuous than usual?” After all, don’t most societies establish themselves through theft as they battle for supremacy over territory and (usually floundering) ideals? Even Rotten Tomatoes gets it right, calling it “one of the most compelling and entertaining zombie films ever made.” This film stars David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, and makeup effects wizard Tom Savini as “Blades” (Savini also does stunt-work in the film).

5. Thief (1981)

If nothing else, you gotta’ love the poster!

Michael Mann’s “Thief” stars James Caan as Frank, a jewel thief trying to break the habit. Unfortunately, he gets enticed into a partnership with Leo (Robert Prosky), a mobster. At first, Leo seems generous, but may as well be a low-down con artist when all is said and done. It makes one ask, “Whatever happened to the idea of honor among thieves?” “Thief” also explores the interesting relationship between Frank and Jessie (Tuesday Weld). As one might expect, Frank’s life complicates things, and his brash and borderline abusive nature always puts their partnership on thin ice.

Possibly the most impressive aspect of “Thief” is Robert Prosky as the villain. If one has seen him in “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” or “The Great Outdoors,” they wouldn’t likely imagine him playing such a nasty bad guy. Still, Prosky had the skills to pay the bills, so to speak. That’s not to say Caan’s performance is lacking, but Prosky definitely transformed for the role! “Thief” also features James Belushi and Willie Nelson as Frank’s criminal pals. Like Frank, they seem slow to realize the error of their ways, which was never only about risking life and limb. Can people like Frank find a smidgeon of order amidst the chaos?

6. Goodfellas (1990)

Although “Casino” is another Martin Scorsese masterwork, “Goodfellas” will always be recognized as one of his great gangster films. With Robert De Niro as James “Jimmy the Gent” Conway, Ray Liotta as Henry Hill and Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito, “Goodfellas” looks at the good, bad and ugly aspects of “the life.” You can say what you want about such people, but there’s never a dull moment. In fact, by the time the movie’s over, it seems Henry Hill almost craves dull moments! There are so many classic characters here that, at times, one almost forgets these characters are lowlife criminals.

Joe Pesci has a lot of shining moments here. Who can forget his “What do you mean I’m funny?” moment or his reaction to someone bringing up his “shine box” from when he shined shoes as a kid? There’s also a brilliantly creepy moment where Jimmy offers a blue dress to Henry Hill’s wife and possible witness(Lorraine Bracco), telling her to visit a bombed-out looking storefront to pick it up. Is it a genuine gift or possibly a “hit” location? It’s actually one of the best moments in the film.

7. Home Alone (1990)

Speaking of Joe Pesci, here he is again, only a little less violent, Nevertheless, he does threaten little Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), the hero of the piece. Specifically, Pesci does so as Harry Lyme, paired with the other lovable miscreant, Marv Murchins (Daniel Stern). Though this movie probably gets trash-talked by cool kids, at the time it was a raging torrent of popularity. It produced video games and made lots of kids wish they could be left home alone to set up traps against thieves. How wouldn’t that be fun? However, at the end of the day, “Home Alone” is also about family togetherness and all that holiday crap. It also features John Heard as Kevin’s dad, Catherine O’Hara as his mom, “Succession’s” Kieran Culkin as the bed-wetting Fuller and Roberts Blossom as Marley, the elderly, snow-shoveling neighbor who Kevin thinks is a serial killer.

8. Jurassic Park (1993)

Wayne Knight in Jurassic Park ( Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment)

Though “Jurassic Park” is mostly about the dinosaurs, it’s also partly about a thief. Specifically, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), who sabotages the park’s security systems to steal some profitable dino eggs for a rival company. Roughly this translates to: No Dennis, no deadly dino chase. Of course, as everyone knows by now, Dennis faces a deadly dinosaur on his own, proving his efforts to be utterly wasted ⁠— aside from the cool action scenes we see as a result, and the additional food certain dinosaurs get as the events unfold. This makes “Jurassic Park” another tale about the deadly nature of greed. On the bright side, it never gets too preachy about it. Also, let’s face it, when most people steal stuff, there’s very little danger of having a T-Rex biting their heads off. They may die in one way or another, but most of those are substantially less cool.

9. Heat (1995)

Another Michael Mann film? Sure, why not?! This one stars Al Pacino as LAPD Lieutenant Vincent Hanna, who is investigating an armored car heist perpetrated by Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) and a slew of others. Like “Thief,” this movie isn’t solely about robbery but has some key scenes where Hanna and McCauley interact, discussing their differences in philosophy and what it means to have honor. Of course, Pacino wins extra points for delivering that line about a “great ass.”

10. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Ever wanted to rob a casino? Well, Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven” doesn’t make it look easy. In fact, they need eleven fine thieves to pull it off, and that’s if they’re lucky! A remake of Lewis Milestone’s original 1960 film, this film not only has big stars but is actually quite fun to watch. It features George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy García, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Shaobo Qin and Julia Roberts (among others). Unlike some other films listed here, this one is undeniably mostly about the heist itself. In fact, some of the best moments are when the acrobatic Shaobo Qin works his magic in thwarting a security system. Fun stuff!

About Wade Wainio

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