5 Real Bank Heists That Inspired Movies

Film, News

There are a number of real life heists that inspired movies, from bank robberies to airplane hijackings and train robberies.  Some got away with the money, while others didn’t get away with anything.

Boys in the Bank (1975)

John Wojtowicz

John Wojtowicz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

source: Wikipedia

This 1975 movie was based on a heist at Chase Manhattan Bank on the 22nd of August 1972.  The true story is that John Wojtowicz, Salvadore Naturile and Robert Westenberg attempted a robbery at the bank. Westenberg fled when he saw a police car in the road, leaving the remaining two robbers holding seven hostages for fourteen hours.  Salvadore was killed by the FBI in the final moments of the heist, while Wojtowicz was sentenced to twenty years in prison, of which he served ten. They didn’t get away with any money.


  • Woitowicz made $7,500 selling the movie rights of the story plus an additional one per cent of the profits.
  • The plan was based on scenes he had seen in The Godfather
  • The bank manager and staff claim that it was a funny experience and the robbers would have made entertaining house guests.

Robbery (1967)

source: Wikipedia

The Great Train Robbery was based on a robbery on a train on Bridego Bridge in England on the 8th of August 1963, the robbers got away with £2.6 million. Bruce Reynolds orchestrated the robbery based on information he received from an unidentified source.  He put a gang together who met with the source in Hyde Park on the 31st of July to discuss the final plans. The train left Glasgow on the 7 August heading for London.  The second carriage was the high value carriage.  The train was forced to stop at Bridego Bridge after the robbers had changed the lights to red using a battery; they then boarded the train and stole the money.


  • Only £400,000 was recovered, the balance is still missing today
  • The informant was never identified or found
  • Robert Cordrey was the first member of the gang to be caught, he was found in Bournemouth

The Bank Job (2008)

source: Wikipedia

This well-known movie was based on the Baker Street Robbery of 1971.  The robbery took place at Lloyds Bank in Baker Street in London on the 11th of September 1971. A gang rented a shop two doors away from the bank and dug a tunnel fifteen metres below the Chicken Restaurant that stood in their way. They then cut through the concrete floor of the bank.

The mistake was that they used walkie talkies to communicate to each other during the heist, which was picked by Robert Rowlands who informed the policy. The police thought Rowland’s call was a hoax after they checked over seven hundred branches. The amazing thing is the gang escaped without setting off any alarms.


  • The authorities issued a “D Notice” demanding media reports to be discontinued as a matter of national security
  • One of the robbers left a note suggesting that Sherlock Holmes should try and solve the case
  • There are other beliefs that one of the boxes contained compromising photographs of Princess Margaret and that M15 were behind the heist.

The Pursuit of D.B.Cooper (1981)

source: Wikipedia

The movie starred Treat Williams and was based on an airplane hijacking which took place on the 24th of November 1971. The heist took place on a Boeing 727 flying from Portland to Washington DC and Cooper got away with $200,000 in unmarked bills which he demanded as ransom. Cooper is believed to have boarded the aircraft and later passed a note to a flight attendant advising that he had a bomb and the plane was being hijacked.  He asked for $200,000 in unmarked bills, four parachutes and a fuel truck to meet them on landing.

The FBI paid the ransom when the plane landed in Seattle, which was refueled and headed for Mexico City.  Cooper jumped from the plane at 8pm and when the plane landed in Reno at 10.15pm they obviously couldn’t find him.


  • D.B. Coopers real identify was never revealed
  • Many believe that he would never have survived the jump from the aircraft
  • The ticket was actually purchased under the name Dan Cooper, which was an alias, but through miscommunication it was reported as D.B. Cooper

The Great Riviera Bank Robbery (1979)


A movie based on the heist which took place at Societe Generale Bank in Nice on the 16th of July 1976.  The robbers got away with sixty million Francs and an assortment of valuables. Spaggiani, an ex-paratrooper found that the sewer lines ran close to the vault of the bank, grabbing the opportunity he put a team together.  He rented a box at the vault, where he placed an alarm clock which could be picked up by the detection equipment they used.

The gang drilled a tunnel from the sewer lines to the vault, which took them an exhausting eight months, but they got in and managed to open four hundred boxes. They left a note saying that they did it without weapons, hate or violence.

Spaggiani was arrested but made a dramatic escape out of the courthouse window and remained wanted for the remainder of his life, it’s believed he died in 1989, but there is no proof of this.

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