30 Minutes or Less: 5 Bank Robbery Movies Inspired By Real Life

Tuesday, November 22 by Joshua Wade

Unlike the 2011 comedy “30 Minutes or Less,” Hollywood has produced a number of bank robbery movies inspired by real life events, all of which include daring escapes, brilliant characters and impossible events as convincing and awe-inspiring as the real life crimes and the robbers who attempted to get away with them. Featuring Oscar-winning actors at the height of their fame, as well as memorable films that have gone on to become cult and critically acclaimed classics, these films depict the dark and light side of crime and offer a glimpse into the tangled psyches of not only of the robbers themselves, but of those affected by their crimes.

“The Wrong Man” Based on the 1953 case of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero, “The Wrong Man” was produced and directed by master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock in 1956 and follows the events of an armed bank robbery after an innocent man is accused of the crime. Unlike many films “inspired” by actual events, Hitchcock followed Balestrero’s story to the letter and changed very little of the actual events. The film was characterized by bleak cinematography, which highlighted many of the film's closed spaces to heighten the frustration of an innocent man mistaken for an armed robber in a successful attempt to fuel the suspense and uncertainty of the story. A commercial failure in its time, “The Wrong Man” remains an underappreciated classic.

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” One of the all-time greatest bank robbery movies inspired by real life, this 1969 film follows the titular characters, a pair of bank and train robbers who rose to fame in the old west in the early 1800s. The film features the wise-cracking pair on Paul Newman and Robert Redford in two of their most iconic roles and has consistently ranked as one of the greatest films of all time be the American Film Institute. As hilarious as it is brilliant, the film features a stellar performance by Katharine Ross and provided the name for the Sundance Film Festival, created by Redford and held annually since 1978.

“Dog Day Afternoon” Based on the 1972 real-life bank robbery by John Wojtowicz and Salvatore “Sal” Naturile, “Dog Day Afternoon” was released in 1975, was directed by Hollywood legend Sidney Lumet, and starred Al Pacino just after the success of "The Godfather" when the actor was at the height of his fame. Pacino plays Sonny, a first-time robber modeled after Wojtowicz, who robs a Brooklyn bank in order to fund corrective surgery for his pre-op transsexual partner, Leon. Expertly crafted by Lumet and often cited as a response to the Attica prison riots in 1971, the film features an incredibly dark and disturbing portrayal of Sal by actor John Cazale and was one of six films the actor made in his brief career before his death from bone cancer in 1978.

“The Bank Job” A fast-paced, moody thriller starring British superstar Jason Statham, 2008's “The Bank Job” was based on the 1971 robbery of Lloyd’s bank in London. The film follows the robbers as they tunnel under the bank and features notable performances by Statham and actress Saffron Burrows. The film stays close to the actual story, featuring actual lines overheard by the robbers via ham radio as they communicated with one another through handheld radios. An unsolved robbery to this day, the heist was allegedly covered up by the British Secret Service.

“Public Enemies” One of the best bank robbery movies inspired by real life to be produced in recent years, the 2009 film “Public Enemies” follows the bank robberies and unexpected fame achieved by criminal icon John Dillinger in the 1930s. The film delivers powerful performances by Christian Bale as FBI agent Melvin Purvis and Johnny Depp as Dillinger, and was made following the major successes of Bale’s “Batman” films and Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. While not entirely accurate in respect to Dillinger’s final years, "Public Enemies" offer breathtaking scenery and cinematography, expertly crafted 30s era costumes and fine performances by the lead cast as well as supporting cast including Billy Crudup and Oscar-winner Marion Cotilard as Dillinger’s love interest, Billie Frechette.