Monday, August 31, 2015

Heist Scenes in the Movies: How Plausible Are They?

This is a guest post by Brandon Meagher:

There are countless classic moments in cinema that feature jaw-dropping heists, robberies and crime capers. While watching these shockingly memorable scenes, some viewers might catch themselves wondering, “Could that really happen?” Others, however, might think, “That’s literally impossible!”

Although we could argue both sides of this debate indefinitely, here’s the main point to remember: it’s only a movie. Reality often gets suspended when seen from Hollywood’s exaggerated lens. A blog piecefrom Atlanta Lockmaster states it best by explaining that movie criminals are the career/veteran like crooks while in reality the majority are young petty thieves looking to make a big score.

In fact, based on recent studies conducted around bank heists and robberies, would-be thieves stand a higher chance of receiving a payout in the movies than out on the streets.

Real Bank Heists vs The Heists in the Movies

According to 2009 research compiled by the FBI, an average robbery payout in the U.S. totaled roughly $4,000. You were probably expecting a much larger sum, right?

That assumption likely results from films such as Ben Affleck’s entertaining crime drama, THE TOWN (2010), for example. In the opening scene, Affleck and his gang of Boston thugs steal well over $4,000 with automatic assault rifles and frightening masks. Watch this scene and determine for yourself if such a reckless feat could be successfully replicated off-screen.

Criminals Opening Safes On Screen -- I Can Do That...Right?

Another scenic moment many moviegoers love is an intense safe cracking sequence. Our eyes bulge and spines stiffen as we intently watch the sweat dripping down a character’s face while he or she forces open a deposit box, full of valuable jewels or cold hard cash. One such scene particularly stands out as classic edge-of-your-seat cinema -- Charlize Theron’s pulse-pounding heist from THE ITALIAN JOB (2003). With her enemies on hot pursuit, Theron’s character still manages to crack a safe and escape with the loot in stacks of gold in under two minutes.

In actuality, however, the process of breaking into a lockbox is more complex and time consuming. The World Champion safecracker takes an average time of 5 minutes to open a secure bank vault. You can view his impressive performance on the Discovery Channel.

Moreover, the world’s most secure bank vaults require around 15-30 minutes for even the most experienced safecracker to break open.

Beating The Motion Sensors -- They Make it Look So Easy!

Fans of the crime genre also tend to enjoy scenes involving motion sensors such as this iconic moment in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996) when super-spy Ethan Hunt, played by formidable action star Tom Cruise, repels down a secure vault and catches his own sweat to avoid motion detection.

After watching this far-fetched exploit, you might be shaking your head at the sheer lack of believability. Nevertheless, Cruise’s fictional stunt actually served as inspiration for a real-life robbery in 2010. This case involved a group of South Brunswick, New Jersey, thieves who pulled off a Mission Impossible-esque heist at a local Best Buy. Using power tools, they cut a hole in the store’s roof, repelled through that opening and stole $26,000 worth of laptop computers, while managing to avoid touching the floor. This enabled them to evade both motion sensors and security cameras.

It’s Just a Movie

Although a rare circumstance, this elaborate crime caper suggests that, while they seem virtually improbable, some film heists should not necessarily be discredited as sensationalized box-office drama.   

Regardless of how unrealistic these sequences appear to you, many moviegoers still agree that the image of a stealth crook breaking into bank vaults, avoiding motion detector lasers and walking away with a million dollars is undeniably entertaining.

Are there any scenes from your favorite “Hollywood Heist” that we haven’t analyzed? Tell us about it in the comment section below!


About the Author

Brandon Meagher, a graduate from Georgia State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Film, is a self proclaimed movie junkie and enjoys watching, talking, and blogging about everything film related. You can check out more of his work here at Movies on the Mind. He currently resides in Southwest Florida.

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