Top 7 Movies About Con Artists
Although nobody enjoys being the victim of a scam in real life, people seem to enjoy seeing con artists portrayed on film. Besides offering moviegoers an insider’s look at a strange subculture that revolves around defrauding people, many of the best films about con artists also give audiences the pleasure of seeing these tricksters get their just deserts.
While Hollywood has produced a fair number of films about con artists over the years, we have whittled our list down to seven of our personal favorites. From the tragic to the comic, here are seven great films about con artists listed in order of each movie’s critical ranking on Rotten Tomatoes, from lowest to highest.
7. White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson play a pair of deceptive basketball hustlers in this comedy film directed by Ron Shelton. In the film, Sidney Deane (Snipes) and Billy Hoyle (Harrelson) forge a con artist partnership that hinges on other pickup basketball players assuming that Billy can’t play well because he is white. Similarly, the title of the film is derived from Sidney’s belief that Billy is incapable of dunking a basketball.
White Men Can’t Jump was praised by the critics for its sharp dialogue as well as a memorable performance from Rosie Perez as Billy’s love interest. The film currently has a 76% Certified Fresh approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
6. Matchstick Men (2003)
Ridley Scott directed this comedy drama film that is based on a novel of the same name by Eric Garcia. In the film, Roy (Nicolas Cage) struggles with his obsessive-compulsive disorder as he works with partner Frank (Sam Rockwell) pulling off various cons in the Los Angeles area. At the urging of his partner, Roy begins seeing a psychiatrist who puts him in touch with a teenage daughter he never knew he had. Meanwhile, Roy and Frank work to pull off a major con on a wealthy businessman.
Matchstick Men earned praise from many film critics, including Roger Ebert, who awarded it four stars and wrote that “The screenplay for ‘Matchstick Men’ is an achievement of Oscar calibre — so absorbing that whenever it cuts away from ‘the plot,’ there is another, better plot to cut to.” Despite its rave reviews, Matchstick Men failed to garner any Oscar nominations and was only a moderate box office success with a little under $66 million in worldwide gross, according to Box Office Mojo. Matchstick Men currently has an 82% Certified Fresh rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
5. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
Like White Men Can’t Jump, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels puts a comedy twist on a story about a pair of con artists. Directed by Frank Oz and based on the 1964 film Bedtime Story, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is about two professional con artists, Freddy (Steve Martin) and Lawrence (Michael Caine), who make a bet over who can swindle $50,000 from a supposedly wealthy woman (Glenne Headly). As the two men try their best to win the bet, it soon becomes apparent that their mark is not who she first appeared to be.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was well received by most film critics, with many praising the chemistry between Martin and Caine. “Their comic methods are different, but from their first unequal encounter until the very last in a series of twist endings, Mr. Caine and Mr. Martin work together with an exuberant ease that’s a joy to watch,” wrote The New York Times film critic Vincent Canby. The film currently has an 88% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes, although it failed to garner enough reviews to achieve the Certified Fresh seal.
4. The Grifters (1990)
Produced by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese, this neo-noir drama based on Jim Thompson’s novel provides a much darker perspective on the lives of con artists and the lengths that they are willing to go to pull off a job. In this Stephen Frears-directed film, con artist Roy (John Cusack) makes his living by executing minor swindles with sleight-of-hand tricks, while his girlfriend Myra (Annette Bening) manipulates wealthy businessmen with her beauty. After Roy is nearly beaten to death when one of his cons is uncovered, his long absent mother Lily (Anjelica Huston) enters the picture with disastrous results for all of them.
The Grifters received mostly positive reviews from the critics and earned four Oscar nominations in 1991, including a Best Actress in a Leading Role nomination for Huston’s tour de force performance as the unscrupulous Lily. The film currently has a 90% Certified Fresh rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
3. American Hustle (2013)
Loosely based on an actual FBI sting operation conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s, American Hustle tells the true story of how law enforcement used a veteran con artist to trick several prominent U.S. politicians into accepting bribes. The film is directed by David O. Russell and stars Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence. Besides the sting operation, the film also portrays a loan scam that con artists Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) perpetrate on desperate businessmen.
American Hustle was praised by most critics and garnered 10 Oscar nominations in 2014, although it failed to win in any category. The film currently has a 93% Certified Fresh rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
2. The Sting (1973)
Although over 40 years old, The Sting remains one of the most critically acclaimed and best-known films ever made about con artists. Directed by George Roy Hill and starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw, the film tells the story of a group of con artists who set up an elaborate scam to defraud a crime boss who murdered one of their friends.
The Sting was highly acclaimed by the critics and dominated the 1974 Academy Awards with seven wins, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film currently has a 93% Certified Fresh rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
1. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Like American Hustle, Catch Me If You Can is loosely based on the life of a real con artist. Frank Abagnale stole millions of dollars from banks and other businesses by utilizing various check fraud schemes. Many of Abagnale’s scams involved impersonating other people. Over the course of his career as a con artist, Abagnale successfully posed as a doctor, a lawyer, and even an airline pilot. Directed by Steven Spielberg, Catch Me If You Can stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent pursuing him.
Catch Me If You Can was a commercial and critical hit with over $352 million in worldwide box office, according to Box Office Mojo. The film garnered two Oscar nominations and currently has a stellar 96% Certified Fresh rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes.
All movie cast, crew, and awards information courtesy of IMDb.
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