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— Willie Sutton in response to "Why do people rob banks?" (attributed)
Robbing a bank. This crime is about as old as banks themselves, but became a standard when banks evolved into large public buildings. Since criminals tend to want money, and banks usually have a lot of money, it's an obvious combination.
Bank jobs range from a simple stick-up by a lone operator who goes for whatever the Bank Teller has in the cash drawer, to elaborate capers requiring months of planning and preparation carried out by a team of experts. The elaborate versions are often the focus of an entire movie.
A Bank Robbery is often the victim of a Plethora of Mistakes, or it results in You Have Outlived Your Usefulness as the robbers decide to split the proceeds among considerably fewer people.
If the setting includes heroes or villains, and part of the action takes place in a bank, rest assured that the bank will be robbed sooner or later. No matter how innocuous is the action done in relation to the bank (pay taxes, ask for a loan, have a casual talk in front of it), if the hero goes anywhere near a bank, a villain will try to rob it. It's almost the Murphy's Law of superheroes.
Over the years, banks have developed many ways of foiling bank robbers or at least minimizing their take, and stories involving modern banks will have to come up with ways to defeat those measures. Also stealing gold bars and attempting to fence them is nearly impossible for the average joe without a fence. In many jurisdictions, these measures have resulted in organised criminals moving to the less risky and more lucrative drug dealing.
Side note: In the United States, bank funds are insured by the FDIC, which makes Bank Robbery a Federal offense and often leads to FBI involvement. In fiction, this means Jurisdiction Friction.
Compare with Armed Blag.
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Anime and Manga
Tomo's dream sequence in Azumanga Daioh (animated version) has her, as a Mary Sue, foil a bank robbery. For some reason she imagines the crooks as her classmates. (Then again, Kaori also dreams of her classmates—some, anyway—as a street gang. Chiyo is a bad influence!)
One chapter of Crayon Shin Chan has our young fellow asked if he knew what to bring to the bank. He immediately grabs a kitchen knife, as that's the stereotypical bank robbery weapon in gun-scarce Japan.
An episode of Detective Conan had a bank robbery hold up with Conan and his friends including Jodie trapped inside. The robbers plot was to transfer money electronically, use hostages without close friends or loved ones disguised as robbers thinking to have died in an explosion accident, and escape as escorted hostages.
One needs to remember the more important story arc (or arcs) that involves Akemi; she was killed off after a bank robbery.
Many Comic Book supervillains start their careers with a bank robbery or two before suffering Motive Decay and seeking revenge on the heroes that stop them. Indeed, this one's a pretty standard crime to stop for superheroes and antiheroes alike.
Subverted in Runaways; the kids run into some supervillains robbing a bank, only to say that they aren't going to try to stop them, since they know the bank is insured; they just want them to hand over the kid in their ranks. Of course, they don't oblige and the kid turns out to be evil too.
Why do random crooks even bother robbing banks in Metropolis? It never ends well.
The Dalton brothers gang does it frequently in the Lucky Luke comics.
Astérix and Obelix attempted it in "Asterix and the Cauldron", to recover money that had been stolen from Asterix. They failed, since the bank was empty because of the ultra-high Roman tax rates.
It was also Played for Laughs, as they actually spent some time spying on the bank from their inn and finding out the habits of the guards and when they could get in. Asterix developed a rather well-thought-out plan, but when Obelix failed to understand it...
Asterix: Forget it — just get the money and get out.
Obelix: That I understand!
Films — Live-Action
The Dark Knight opens with a gang robbing a bank, with the Joker arranging for each of his accomplices to kill each other off once their usefulness has been expended.
It also varies on the usual formulas since the banks are actually owned by the Mob, and used in their money laundering.
Firewall, with Harrison Ford, involves a bank robbery via electronic balance transfers.
Real Life bank robber John Dillinger was far more successful than the Barrow/Parker gang, and may possibly have survived into a comfortable retirement; his life has inspired at least half a dozen movies, including most recently "Public Enemies" with Johnny Depp.
The Demolition man in the recent version of Ocean's Eleven was working a bank heist the night he was nabbed by Rusty.
Cien A?de Perd?: during the infamous Venezuelan Bank Crisis of 1994, four friends decide to rob via take over the main office of a big bank, only to find that the owner, anticipating the bankruptcy and the Government intervention, fled with all the money. A dark comedy.
The villains' plot in Golden Eye is essentially a massive, countrywide electronic bank heist covered up by the use of a stolen EMP warhead.
The appropriately named How To Rob A Bank.
Bandits features two ex-cons who rob banks to fund their dreams.
Subverted in A Fistful of Dynamite. Juan relieves the bank of all its valuables but unfortunately for him its full of political prisoners, not money.
Heat has a particularly memorable bank robbery in the middle of the film. Its aftermath is regarded as one of the most intense and breathtaking shoot-outs in movie history.
The Parole Officer builds up to this, even though they weren't (originally) there for the money, but for a security tape in a safety-deposit box.
Point Break had bank robbers who were also surfers and adrenaline junkies that rob banks just for fun.
Set It Off: Four women, for their various reasons -money, kicks, revenge- decide to rob banks. They do it quit efficiently, too. Just when they're on top of the world and think they can stop, up comes the need for one final big heist.
30 Minutes or Less is about a pizza boy who gets a bomb strapped to his chest and told to go find one-hundred thousand dollars in ten hours. He decides to rob the local bank and brings his friend into it.
Manny in Hurricane Gold pulled off several bank robberies in the States disguised as a woman, which earned him the nickname "Manny the Girl" from his peers.
Live Action TV
The Dukes of Hazzard: A bread-and-butter trope Hazzard Bank is seemingly the target of a weekly attempt by someone, and given the lax security and Boss Hogg's connections, the bank is often seen by criminal groups as an easy target. (The bank and/or armored cars making deliveries to Hazzard Bank is robbed in at least half of the episodes.) As a plot device, Boss always seems to try to shift the blame from his associates to his nemeses, the Duke family, particularly Bo and Luke – and did so in various ways, whether by trying to discredit their alibi, claiming that a Duke family friend was working with them, hiring actors to rob the bank disguised as Bo and Luke ... the list went on. All attempted and successful robberies at Hazzard Bank are bloodless, with nary a shot fired, although sometimes the armored car drivers were knocked unconscious. In plots where criminals were spending the night at the Hazzard County Jail – where Hazzard Bank may or may not be a new target – it is sometimes implied there were casualties in other unseen (but noted) robberies, and at least one on-screen robbery at the Capital City Bank (in Capital City) did involve shots fired but – at least on screen – nobody getting wounded.
Played for laughs in The Goon Show episode "Dishonoured" (remade as "Dishonoured Again"). The crooked bank manager Grytpype-Thynne gives impoverished new employee Neddie Seagoon the key to the gold vault, knowing that Neddie will steal the gold. Grytpype and his accomplice, Moriarty, then contrive to steal the gold back from Neddie. Hilarity Ensues.
The Nine, a short-lived television series, centered on the survivors of a bank robbery, and the things that had happened during the event.
The third episode of the new season on Heroes featured this. It goes rather horribly wrong...
The LOST episode "Whatever the Case May Be" reveals Kate's participation as inside woman in a bank robbery.
Arnold and family are hostages in a bank robbery in the Diff'rent Strokes episode "The Bank Job."
The Unusuals episode "Boorland Day" opens with one of these being executed by the Boorland crime family...New York's dumbest family-run mob.
Supernatural had an episode where a man runs into a bank with an assault rifle screaming: "This is NOT a robbery! Everybody get on the floor!"
The season two opener of White Collar, "Withdrawal," pits Neal and Peter against "The Architect," a Smug Snake of a bank robber who leaves literal calling cards at the scenes of his heists.
Pops up from time to time in Power Rangers. "The Phantom Phenomenon" in Turbo has Divatox and crew try to rob a bank only to be thwarted by the Phantom Ranger. An episode of Time Force has the villains rob a bank so they'll have cash.
Top Gear used a bank robbery and getaway as the final test of luxury cars for the Albanian Mafia. Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson managed to escape the police. James May...didn't.
The UnSub in the Criminal Minds episode "Psychodrama" started out as a bank robber, but ends up degenerating due to a combination of drugs and trauma.
The Doctor Who episode "Time Heist" has the Doctor, Clara, and two others attempting to rob the Bank of Karabraxos. Subverted when it turns out the entire thing wasn't actually a heist, but a rescue mission.
The subject of Barenaked Ladies's "Bank Job", couched in terms of the blame game in relationships.
The Austrian comedy band Erste Allgemeine Verunsicherung had their first international hit with a song called "Ba-Ba-Banküberfall" which is about someone who is flat broke and desperately needs money, who then tries to rob a bank but isn't taken seriously by anyone. It even has a couple of English lines.
The evil is always and everywhere Ba-ba-bank robbery Ba-ba-bank robbery Ba-ba-bank robbery
One of the ways Doctor Steel financed his giant robot construction, according to his song, "Build the Robots".
I need assembly lines A crew and much more time The money's all mine And my funds are getting thin Probably have to rob a bank again
"Joker's Multiball" in Stern Pinball's Batman begins with the Joker's gang robbing a bank in clown masks.
The backglass for Police Force depict a bank robbery at the First Animal Bank.
In Safe Cracker, the player must break into a bank vault and steal the fortunes within.
This is one of the requirements for starting Stampede Multiball in Cactus Canyon.
In City of Villains: A PC villain will periodically have the opportunity to perform a special bank robbery mission in order to access additional contacts and missions. Heroes have a corresponding set of missions to prevent the bank robberies.
Max Payne stops one of these fairly early in the game.
The Wise Old Man in RuneScape robbed the Draynor bank, killing some guards and Player Characters (Not actual players, it was a cutscene) and stealing an item worth millions of Gp.
In HeroSmash Dr. Insectro tries to rob a bank, with your Player Character (who can be either a hero or a villain) caught in the middle.
PAYDAY: The Heist, like you might guess from the name, is mostly about performing heists. As of the game launch, one of them has you robbing a bank.
Can be done in the western-themed 1866, which features a bank in a few of the big towns of the worldmap. Robbing the bank is an action in the contextual menu when going to one. Then, entering in it is automatic and looting the safe uses the same interface that the battlefield loot after a battle. The main part of the action consists in shooting the men who come in order to escape.
The bank belong to the lawmen / outlaws minor faction which has its headquarter in the same town. Robbing the bank is considered as a declaration of war by the faction. It is actually the easiest way to do it, instead of attacking a party of several dozen of men and risking heavy causualities.
The first Kane and Lynch game has the two committing a robbery so Kane can recover the money he owes the gang known as the 7. It doesn't end well.
In the Web Serial NovelWorm, the first crime of the Villain Protagonist is... a bank robbery. The trope is deconstructed; it's noted that the bank, even the biggest bank in the city that they're about to rob, has a positively tiny output in comparison to other possible targets even if they time their robbery precisely, but also that it puts their names on the front page and is amazing for their reputation.
Almost ubiquitous when a criminal or supervillain is depicted. They're either shown holding the place up, or running out carrying a Thief Bag or nine.
In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Clock King"; this trope is invoked when Alfred informs Batman that there is one in progress in a bank with a time lock. Batman immediately deduces the perpetrator is the Clock King. The Clock King left all the money, he only wants to get Batman locked in the Death Trap he set up in the vault.
There are plenty of humorous bank robberies in the old Tex AveryLooney Tunes short Thugs With Dirty Mugs.
On Spongebob Squarepants, the supervillain Man-Ray has been freed from his frozen-tartar-sauce prison by SpongeBob and Patrick, but they used a tickle-belt to train him how to be good. He escapes, and tries to rob the bank, but just can't stop laughing, even though he is no longer wearing the belt. Man-Ray decides to just open a checking account instead.
In The Little Rascals episode "The Zero Hero", three little men rob a bank while Darla is on her date with Captain Muscles. Darla's hero stops the robbers, but one of them acts Genre Savvy and deflates his costume. Alfalfa as Alpha-Man doesn't fare much better.