Feature:Most Elaborate Heists In History

The Blu-ray, DVD and Ultraviolet release of Contraband is upon us – we can now watch Marky Mark carry out extraordinary heists from the comfort of our couch. The lengths his character goes to save his family, and the thrilling nature of the contraband got us thinking whether such elaborate operations happen every day under our very noses. Turns out many thieves, robbers and smugglers have successfully done the ‘seemingly impossible’. Here are some of the most remarkable heists and robberies in history:

Great Train Robbery – 1963

This is the stuff of legends. The story of the Great Train Robbery of 1963 has touched nearly all ears in England and abroad. On August 8that a railway bridge in Buckinghamshire, England, a 15-member gang tampered the signals and stole £2.3 million from the train– the equivalent of more than £40 million today. The most impressive part? No guns were used in the robbery at all. Only the train driver was hit on the back of the head with an iron rod and suffered minor facial bruising. Not a bad deal to us.
Thirteen of the gang members were caught after fingerprints were found in their hideout. Naturally they were sentenced, imprisoned and… well …that’s not the end of it. Lead robber Ronnie Biggs escaped from prison only 15 months after his sentence and settled in Australia and later Brazil after police found his down under hideout. He eluded police for more than 35 years until he voluntarily surrendered himself in 2001. He only spent a few years behind bars – he was released in 2009 and recently released his autobiography.

The Louvre – Mona Lisa

This one is a knee slapper. The most renowned, prestigious and secured museum in the world was made a joke of by one of their own. Leonardo Da Vinci’s magnum opus was stolen out of Paris’ gem in 1911 – right off the wall without a trace of evidence or struggle. The museum was closed for visitation under the excuse of cleaning – one janitor took his duties just one step too far. He simply removed the Mona Lisa from the frame and took it home. Better yet, he tried to sell the painting (worth well over £100 million) for a measly 95 thousand American dollars. Eventually police caught him and he was sentenced to a short one year in prison. His excuse for stealing it? He wanted to return the painting to its homeland, Italy.

The Central Bank of Iraq Heist

Saddam Hussein was the mastermind behind this famous robbery – and unlike usual, he did this one simply and with no casualties. Go figure it was the largest robbery in history. Saddam considered Iraq and everyone and everything in it his property, so it’s no surprise he thought the same of the Central Bank. Before the Coalition started dropping bombs the country in 2003, he simply sent his son Qusay on his behalf to make a little withdraw – he had a handwritten permission note! Wish our dads would have given these out when we were little. In five hours, Qusay and his operation withdrew over $1 billion US dollars. They didn’t get to spend it all though. His son was killed by US forces and Saddam himself hid away in a hole. The US found $650 million of it but the rest is still incognito.

Boston Museum Art Heist

If you thought the Mona Lisa theft was a big deal, wait until you hear this. The Boston Museum heist of 1990 is the biggest art heist in history, with over $350 million worth of art stolen. Following the trend of the other great robberies, this one was done without weapons or violence. Two men dressed as police officers and persuaded two foolish security guards to let them onto the premises. The (soon to be fired?) security guards were later handcuffed in the basement and made even more useless (if possible). Taking their sweet time, the men leisurely spent over an hour and a half hand selecting 12 paintings they wanted to steal. The art was valued well over $350 million. They covered their tracks by taking all the surveillance footage and were never caught. The case has never been solved. They stole two of the most priceless paintings known in the art world – ‘The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” by Rembrandt, and “The Concert” by Vermeer.

The Knightsbridge Security Deposit Robbery

A more local one for us London folk. The legendary Knightsbridge Security Deposit robbery of 1987 created quite the stir. Two gentlemen entered the Knightsbridge Safe Deposit Centre in the heart of Westminster. They requested to rent a safety deposit box and after being escorted to the vault, produced handguns and stunned bank security. They hung a sign outside saying the bank was closed and did their dirty work, and dirty it was. They walked out with more than £60 million! Mastermind Valerio Viccei was later arrested and imprisoned, but he got a sweet book deal out of it.

Check out the swag Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) attempts to get away with in Contraband – available on Blu-ray, DVD and Ultraviolet on July 16th from Universal Pictures UK. Read our Contraband review here.

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Paul Devine


The founder of The People's Movies, started the site 20th November 2008.The site has excelled past all expectations with many only giving the site months and it's still going strong. A lover of French Thrillers, Post Apocalyptic films, Asian cinema. 2009 started Cinehouse to start his 'cinema education' learning their is life outside mainstream cinema. Outside of film, love to travel with Sorrento, Guangzhou and Manchester all favourite destinations.Musically loves David Bowie, Fishbone, Radiohead.

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