Why Ocean's 8 Is Different From Every Women's Heist Movie That Came Before It

In the trailer for Ocean’s 8, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) stares at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the same gleaming confidence that her brother, Danny Ocean (George Clooney), looked at casinos in other installments in the Oceans franchise. The entire plot of Ocean’s 8 is predicated on a dare that Debbie, a freshly released convict, makes to herself. Can she steal a $150,000,000 diamond necklace off Daphne Kluger’s (Anne Hathaway) neck at the Met Gala? Of course she can. The staples of all heist movies — hijinks and blueprint plans — are certain to ensure.
For Debbie, part of the heist’s allure surely comes in the tremendous financial payoff. But judging by the cool, steely eyed hunger exhibited in the trailer, Debbie and her fellow women masterminds are taking down this cultural institution just because they can, just to prove they’re smarter than the organizers. Debbie’s heist is motivated by ego, not financial necessity. Like the enviably smooth gang seen in Ocean’s Eleven, Debbie’s crew are glamorous, seasoned professionals. You get the sense they don't need the money. They want it. Ocean's 8 allows women to act like men have acted in prior movies: ambitious, logical, ready to beat the system with bravado.
Advertisement
In this regard, Ocean’s 8 deviates from most other women-led heist movies and TV shows. Heist movies starring an ensemble cast of women are rare to begin with. Almost uniformly, though, these movies have one element in common: The women protagonists are not professional criminals, but regular people pushed to criminality by dire — though not exceptional — circumstances. These are women trapped by unwanted pregnancy, bad marriages, and horrible bosses. By staging a heist, the women choose to drill an exit route into a system that had never given them a chance in the first place.
Let's take a look other women-led heist movies and compare. In each, you'll see that the women in the movies are compelled to the heist because of external factors, not internal motivations. In each, crime is a way of liberating an already unfair system.
In the eight days leading up to this summer's first women-led blockbuster, we're spilling everything you want to know about it — from Rihanna playing a hacker to the great Met Gala heist.
1 of 7
9 to 5 (1980)

The Smooth Criminals: Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda), Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin), and Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton) are fed up with their boss, Hart's (Dabney Coleman), arrogant, sexist ways. They hatch a plan to get rid of him.

The Heist: It's simple. The women want to kill their boss and run the company themselves. They know they could do a better job, anyway. But the plan goes awry. Hart, their boss, lives — and then wants to prosecute them for attempted murder. Luckily, the women find out that Hart has been embezzling money, and use this information against him. Judy, Doralee, and Violet ultimately prove themselves to be just as smart as they'd suspected all along.
2 of 7
D Stevens/New Line/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Set It Off (1996)

The Smooth Criminals: Set It Off begins with an incident that sends bank teller Francesca "Frankie" Sutton's life (Vivica A. Fox) into a downward spiral. After witnessing a robbery, Frankie is fired because she happens to know the robber. After weeks working at a janitorial service, Frankie's friend Cleo (Queen Latifah) gives Frankie the idea to rob a bank herself. Their friends Stony (Jada Pinkett Smith) and T.T. (Kimberly Elise) are convinced to join the heist after they end up in terrible situations — Stony's brother is a victim of police violence, and T.T. loses her son in a custody battle.

The Heist: The four women go on a series of bank robberies with some minor successes, and some very devastating losses. Heist movies often position a crime as one glamorous game. Set It Off contains reminders of a heist's inherent danger.
Advertisement
3 of 7
Dino De Laurentiis/Summit/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Bound (1996)

The Smooth Criminals: Violet (Jennifer Tilly) lives with danger. She's been dating Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), a mobster, for the past five years. When Corky (Gina Gershon), an ex-con, moves into her apartment building, Violet sees another life opening up. Corky and Gina start an affair. Then, they incite something better: A plan to take mob money.

The Heist: Using her insider knowledge of Caesar's allies and enemies, Violet stages an exchange of briefcases. After a suitcase with money is dropped off, Violet and Corky run away with the money and frame it so Caesar blames the empty briefcase on another mobster. The best part? After some twists, Violet and Corky actually get away with it.
4 of 7
Sugar and Spice (2001)

The Smooth Criminals: Don't underestimate teenage girls' ability to stand by each other. When Diane Weston (Marley Shelton) gets pregnant, her fellow cheerleaders rally to give her the financial support she and her boyfriend, who are living on their own, need desperately. So, they turn to robbing banks.

The Heist: The cheerleaders prepare for their crime with the only material they have available: heist movies. Each girl, naturally, gets their own nickname, like "the mastermind"and "the rebel." As it turns out, movies provide pretty good preparation. They get away with cash.
5 of 7
Big City/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Mad Money (2008)

The Smooth Criminals: After her husband loses his job and sends them spiraling into financial instability, Bridget Cardigan (Diane Keaton) has to take a job as a janitor at a federal bank. There, she recruits two coworkers, Nina (Queen Latifah) and Jackie (Katie Holmes), into her scheme.

The Heist: Bridget has a pretty golden plan. She, Nina, and Jackie intend to salvage dollar bills slated for destruction and, well, use them. They're doing a humanitarian deed! Saving dollar bills from a worse fate. While the women are eventually caught by the IRS, they manage to have saved some of the cash.
6 of 7
Good Girls (2018)

The Smooth Criminals: The women in Good Girls, a new NBC show, are pushed to crime because of the struggles of 21st century, lower middle class daily life. Mother of four Beth Boland's (Christina Hendricks) husband cheated on her. Annie Marks (Mae Whitman), Beth's sister, is in the middle of a costly custody battle. Ruby Hill (Retta) and her husband can't afford to pay her daughter's medical bills.

The Heist: The ladies successfully rob a grocery store and walk away with $500,000 dollars. And yes, while the money causes problems for them, it also helps solve the problems they knew it would.
7 of 7
Oceans 8 (2018)

The Smooth Criminals: The women of Oceans 8 are the smoothest criminals of them all. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is a professional criminal, and she hires other equally skilled masterminds to help her. She's joined by her chief parter-in-crime Lou (Cate Blanchett) and former partner-in-crime Tammy (Sarah Paulson), jewelry maker Amita (Mindy Kaling), costume expert Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), thief Constance (Awkwafina), and of course Nine Ball (Rihanna), hacker extraordinaire.

The Heist: Debbie wants to steal a $150,000,000 dollar necklace off the neck of Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) at the Met Gala. Her goal isn't financial liberation. It's pulling off the heist of the century. It's becoming a legend.
Advertisement

More from Movies

Watch

R29 Original Series