One of my favorite film genres is the heist – a team gets together, hatches a plan, executes it, and deals with the consequences. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a terrible mess that leaves everything in the air. Much of the same elements that make heist films interesting are also present in almost every Shadowrun adventure, a role-playing-game about a cyberpunk future where globe-spanning corporations have replaced governments.

It’s a setting I’ve been familiar with for nearly thirty years, and it’s always fantastic when I can point to a particular Hollywood movie and say “that’s what I want out of a mission.” I took some time this weekend and drew up an incomplete list of different films that I think fit the bill, and should yield great inspiration for any would-be Shadowrun players.

In no particular order, I present to you the following:

  • Heat
    One of my hands-down favorite films, Heat truly exemplifies the meticulous planning and execution which goes into a heist, and what happens when things go wrong. It details the kind of mental strain that life puts on everyone involved, and how both sides of the law can share common ground.
  • Sneakers
    A true heist-film classic, many attempts have been made to recreate it but none have come close. A team of professionals gets involved in something far above their normal pay grade, having to deal with their own history and baggage along the way. Additionally a great back-and-forth scene between the main characters about the nature of their work and the world at large.
  • Ronin
    Another of my all-time favorites, Ronin is all about the job, the people employed in shadowy lines of work, and the limits of trust. A very great movie for “what happens when everything falls apart?” and of course the all-star cast.
  • John Wick
    Much less focused on the logistics and tactics of a shadowy life than others on this list, I would still be remiss in omitting it. Non-stop action start to finish, it portrays a great through-and-through view of how organized crime and secret societies operating under the public’s radar can influence everything in the city.
  • Free Fire
    Not everything goes smoothly. Free Fire tells the story of a gun deal gone bad, with shifting loyalties and overlapping contingencies. Plenty of humorous banter, this one has plenty of thinking-on-their-feet when expectations are thrown out the window.
  • Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
    A slight departure from the rest of this list, this movie represents a street-level crew getting in far, far over their heads, caught up in events and organizations beyond their understanding. There are many other British crime dramas that could fit in here, but I think this is the most suitable of the lot.
  • Cowboy Bebop (the movie)
    While a fantastic show in its own right, the stand-alone movie is a great introduction to the series and to the life of bounty hunting. The characters’ lives get complicated as their target turns out to be far more dangerous than expected, and have to race against the clock to stop even greater tragedy from befalling the city.
  • Die Hard
    My favorite holiday movie, Die Hard can be viewed from two different perspectives: John McClane as the lone agent trying to deal with a tense and unrelenting situation, or from Hans Grueber’s angle where he tried to pull off the perfect crime. Both sides play well when looked at for character inspiration.
  • The Losers
    Based off of a comic series of the same name, The Losers follows a small unit of US military operatives who are betrayed and left for dead. The whole of the film focuses on their many and varied plans to get revenge, or at least understanding, and to bring their lives back into order. The characters’ banter, the office scene (you know which one), and conflicting loyalties make this a truly enjoyable heist film.
  • Confidence
    A little-known movie, Confidence focuses on the interactions of a small team of con artists who, you guessed it, get caught up in events they can’t control, being forced to work for and with individuals they neither trust nor respect. Pursued by the law, they have to play a non-stop cat-and-mouse game both internally and externally to survive. Good performances all around, and I genuinely did enjoy the plot.
  • Inside Man
    Talk about planning and execution. I’m not usually big on Spike Lee’s movies but this one really nails the heist genre. Clive Owen and Jodie Foster absolutely sell their individual take on what it is to be a “face.” If you’ve seen this movie you know why it’s on the list. If not, you really fix that.

Obviously there are movies I left off the list, and sharp-eyed readers may have noted that none of the above take place in the future, deal with magic, or have many of the other elements which truly define the Shadowrun universe. While very integral parts of the setting and overall story, for me it’s the interaction between characters, put into diverse and unique situations, that really makes the game sing. All of the aforementioned movies do a great job of showing different team and character dynamics, and I heartily recommend any or all of them for players wishing to get into the mood.

Honorable Mentions:

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lucky Number Slevin, Brick, Johnny Mnemonic, Strange Days, Transporter, Cypher, Total Recall (2012), The Big Hit, Burn Notice (TV show), Collateral, Enemy of the State, A Fish Called Wanda, Four Brothers, The Town, Leon: the Professional, The Maltese Falcon, Mission: Impossible, Shoot ’em Up, Spartan, Spy Game, Suicide Kings, The Third Man, and many, many others.