Heist Movies, Part 2

Heist Movies, Part 2

howdy there,

hope you all had a very festive New Year’s! this week I’m going to be finishing up my essay on the Heist movie. if you missed last weeks, read Part 1 here.

this week we pick up with the character that often sets it all in motion…The Big Boss!


The Big Boss
often even though the team has a Leader, the strings are really being pulled by the Big Boss. they could have originated the plan for the Big Score (RESERVOIR DOGS), or they could have co-opted the Team after seeing their successes with the Small Scores (THIEF, THE TOWN). either way, the Big Boss gives the Team an “offer they can’t refuse,” this is often both rewarding and punitive, e.g. “do this for me and get rich, or don’t do it and you & your loved ones will suffer.”

those ultimatum can happen before the Caper (THE TOWN, LOCK-STOCK) or as a result from the items taken in the Big Score (THE BANK JOB, THIEF). either way, this puts the Protagonist into their main DRAMATIC DILEMMA. they are now on a one way, express train towards the climatic action that will begin in The Shit Goes Sideways and resolve in The Get Away.

The Investigators
the other frequent form the Antagonists take is the Investigators. these can be Lawmen (THE TOWN, THE BANK JOB, TOPKAPI) or Freelancers. the Freelancers could be either legitimate private investigators (THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR) or outright criminals (THE BANK JOB, RESERVOIR DOGS, A FISH CALLED WANDA, LOCK-STOCK).

while the Lawmen are bound by a legal code of conduct, the Freelancers does not have to follow any code of conduct as they try and find the Big Score. the techniques they use might take the form of the Woman of Loose Morals seducing someone for information (A FISH CALLED WANDA, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR). the Loose Canon torturing someone (RESERVOIR DOGS), or the Big Boss killing a member of the Team (THIEF, THE BANK JOB). the goal in all these cases is to find the evidence that will lead to the defeat of the Team, either by putting them in jail or by securing the Big Score.

The Caper
but there will be no Big Score without The Caper to take it. during this movement the Team will put into action the Plan. all their research, planning, and training will now be put to the test. the Caper is a highly complex operation with multiple moving parts and it is essential that each member not only knows their part, but is extremely proficient in their skills, whether they be safe-cracking, electronics, explosives, or driving.

occasionally the Caper will be pulled off without a hitch and the Team will make a clean getaway with the Big Score (THE BANK JOB, THE ITALIAN JOB, THIEF, LOCK-STOCK). other times there will be complications that arise during the Caper most often because of action from the Investigators (THE TOWN, RESERVOIR DOGS).

the next two movements, The Shit Goes Sideways and The Get-Away will change order depending on the success of the Caper.

if the Caper goes smoothly, The Shit Goes Sideways won’t happen until The Get-Away has begun (THEIF, THE BANK JOB, THE ITALIAN JOB). if The Caper goes poorly, The Shit Goes Sideways starts immediately and The Get Away happens later (THE TOWN, RESERVOIR DOGS).

The Shit Goes Sideways
this is the beginning of the end for the Team and the Leader. the Team will be decimated by either the Big Boss (THIEF, THE BANK JOB) or the Investigators (THE TOWN) or by conflicts between themselves (A FISH CALLED WANDA, RESERVOIR DOGS). in the rare case that the Team emerges unscathed, everyone else meets an unpleasant end (LOCK-STOCK).

causes for this movement vary. often it is a result of the Loose Cannon (RESERVOIR DOGS) or the Woman of Loose Morals (THE TOWN). their recklessness puts the Team at undue risk and clues the Investigators in to the Caper. another potential cause for the Shit Going Sideways is the Big Score itself. Sometimes the Big Score is so valuable that it brings undo complications from the Big Boss (THE BANK JOB, THIEF, and in some ways LOCK-STOCK).

when the Shit Goes Sideways many members of the Team will be killed or captured. this can happen due to actions from the Investigators (THE TOWN), the Big Boss (THE BANK JOB, THIEF), even from members of their own team (A FISH CALLED WANDA, RESERVOIR DOGS). whatever happens to the Team, the Leader is left to deal with the fallout in The Get-Away.

this trailer for THE BANK JOB does a good job of showing the complications that can arise.

The Get-Away
after the Shit Goes Sideways it’s time for the Team, or what is left of them, to make The Get Away. often this involves tying up Loose Ends. the Leader is so invested in the Caper and the Big Score that they are willing to risk their freedom (THE TOWN) or their life (THIEF) in order to accomplish these character goals. these are not necessarily PLOT related. they have either achieved the Big Score, or they have not, tying up these Loose Ends will not further that pursuit.

these goals often involve either revenge on the Big Boss (THE TOWN, THE BANK JOB, THIEF), romance (THE TOWN, A FISH CALLED WANDA). after the Leader has accomplished these goals he is free to Get Away, to escape to a “far away land.” sometime with his romance or family, sometimes just with the Big Score. In the case of LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS the Protagonist ends up in basically the same place he started out at.


in conclusion, like the actual Caper itself, the Heist movie has many moving parts and different elements. some films follow the basic blueprint, other diverge and spend the majority of their time in different movements. A FISH CALLED WANDA takes place mostly in the Get Away, RESERVOIR DOGS is set in the Shit Goes Sideways. LOCK, STOCK, AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS has a series of progressively complex Capers performed by different groups which each build to their own Shit Goes Sideways.

many times the Protagonists will be squeezed in a pincer movement by multiple Antagonists. these include the Big Boss that put them after the Big Score, and the Investigators who are trying to stop them. it’s important to remember that the Investigators are not limited to Lawmen, often they include Freelancers operating outside the law. this creates a great “rock and a hard place” for the Protagonist to trapped between. rarely will the Protagonist be able escape both of these forces. in fact, often they end up losing both the Big Score and their Team.

when they do manage to make it out, they emerge having learned a valuable lesson and grown as a character. now more than ever they appreciate the steadfastness of their friends, the love of their family, and the promise of a new and better life.

what are your favorite Heist movies? do you think they fit in with the outline I’ve created or do they break off in interesting ways?


  • Allen
    Posted at 01:32h, 15 March Reply

    Great breakdown of the heist genre. I’m writing a heist feature and this helped me be sure I was on the right track. Thanks for being so detailed and using layman’s language. It actually pretty close to the beats laid out by Blake Snyder in Save the Cat.

    • Luke
      Posted at 07:24h, 15 March Reply

      thanks Allen! glad that is was helpful.

  • Ethan Medick
    Posted at 20:17h, 11 July Reply

    Well I really enjoyed reading it. This article offered by you is very helpful for good planning.

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