Underrated Movies About Hustlers And Con-Artists

Over 80 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of Underrated Movies About Hustlers And Con-Artists
Voting Rules

Vote up the movies that pull off great cons.

The con artist is one of the most enduring figures in American cinema. This is understandable, given the extent to which American culture, as a whole, valorizes antiheroic masterminds, praising them for being mavericks and independent agents. Furthermore, there seems to be something innately pleasurable about the con film, as these are the types of movies which often involve quite a few narrative twists and turns as they move toward their inevitable conclusion.

However, just as is often the case with other genres – including the courtroom drama – there are plenty of films about hustlers and con-men which have gone underappreciated and are always worth a little bit of critical reappraisal. Whether it's a memorable twist or just a colorful cast of characters, these flicks give you lots of reasons to rewatch.

  • 1
    14 VOTES

    What's The Con: Both Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren are at the top of their game in The Good Liar, in which McKellen plays Roy Courtnay, a scheming and manipulative con artist who plans to defraud Mirren’s wealthy widow character, Betty McLeish, of her considerable fortune. Dashing and astute, he seems to have it all in hand. 

    How Does It Play Out: Unbeknownst to him, Betty is herself a master manipulator and has been living a false life. In fact, she knew him when he was a translator in Germany in the 1940s, when he not only assaulted one of her sisters but also caused her parents to be executed as traitors. She has known what he was planning to do all along, and she manages to take all of his money, with only enough left over for him to pay his targets back.

    What's The Twist: There is a final twist in store for Roy. After suffering a severe stroke, he ends up in the hospital, with a beach backdrop, an ironic payoff of his desire to end his life on a beach somewhere with his ill-gotten gains.

    14 votes
  • What's The Con: Before he became famous for directing the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson directed The Frighteners. The film focuses on Michael J. Fox’s Frank Bannister, who develops the ability to communicate with ghosts and subsequently sends them to haunt people so he can then charge them a large amount of money to “exorcize” their supernatural presences.  

    How Does It Play Out: Things go haywire when Frank finds himself contending with the spirit of a serial killer as well as his living conspirator. In a bit of a twist, it’s revealed the monstrous spirit was responsible for the murder of Frank’s late wife.  

    What's The Twist: Fortunately, Frank is able to defeat the murderous entity and its accomplice, and they both are sentenced to damnation. After being briefly reunited with his wife in the afterlife, Frank is returned to Earth as his work is not yet finished.

    69 votes
  • What's The Con: Cons abound in A Fish Called Wanda, a skilled blend of comedy and heist film. Most of the film focuses on a group of diamond thieves who constantly double-cross one another in an attempt to get the loot for themselves. At the center of the story are George Thomason (Tom Georgeson), Ken Pile (Michael Palin), Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Otto West (Kevin Cline), as well as John Cleese’s barrister character Archie Leach. 

    How Does It Play Out: Many twists and turns ensue during the course of the plot, particularly once Wanda begins an affair with Archie in an effort to learn the location of the pilfered diamonds. Dogs meet unfortunate demises, a man is tormented by having his pet fish eaten in front of him, and there’s even a courtroom scene. Throughout the film, the characters constantly betray one another. 

    What's The Twist: In a final twist, Wanda betrays her lover Otto and finally ends up with the diamonds, on a plane headed to South America. After a great deal of back-and-forth, Archie ultimately joins her.

    55 votes

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  • 4
    38 VOTES
    Photo: MGM

    What's The Con: A mixture of sports film and comedy, Kingpin focuses on Woody Harrselson’s Roy Munson, a champion bowler whose career was ended when he was attacked by men he attempted to hustle. Years later, he meets a very skilled bowler named Ishmael Boorg, and he uses his skills to attain the career he never had. Once again, he engages in hustling, particularly of a bowler who happens to be very wealthy.

    How Does It Play Out: The con goes badly once the wealthy bowler realizes the money they’ve put up is fake. This is but one of many turns the story takes, and ultimately Roy embraces his ability to bowl.

    What's The Twist: In one of the film’s more notable twists, Claudia, who joined them after their encounter with the wealthy bowler, runs off with their money, though she ultimately returns and rekindles her romance with Roy.

    38 votes

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  • 5
    24 VOTES

    What's The Con: Faith and con artistry go hand-in-hand in Leap of Faith, in which Steve Martin plays Jonas Nightengale/John Newton, a man who, after getting stranded in a small town in Kansas. Stuck out of his element, Jonas decides to hold tent revival meetings, convincing the townspeople he is touched by God in order to gain their donations.  

    How Does It Play Out: Nightengale proves to be quite successful. As a faith healer, he is no stranger in the tricks of the trade. The people of the town prove quite receptive to the message he preaches to them, but matters get a bit more complicated when he tries to form a relationship with a local waitress Marva. 

    What's The Twist: Despite its cynical main character, Leap of Faith does have a hopeful twist. Marva’s brother, who has been on crutches for several years following a mishap, is actually healed, which leads Jonas to have his own faith restored. As he leaves town, the drought which has afflicted it finally comes to an end.

    24 votes

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  • 6
    11 VOTES

    What's The Con: The Grifters primarily focuses on three characters and their fractious relationship: Angelica Huston’s Lilly, John Cusack’s Roy (her son), and Annette Benning's Myra (his girlfriend). All three of them are con artists, and while Roy primarily plays for small stakes, Lilly works for a powerful mob boss. Myra begins trying to scheme against Lilly, while trying to get Rob to engage in a long con. 

    How Does It Play Out: Myra proves to be particularly ruthless, as she betrays Lilly to her boss, as the latter has been pulling a con of her own, taking a cut of his profits and stowing them away.

    What's The Twist: In a gut-punch twist, Lilly ends up killing Myra and staging her body as her own. After a fight with Roy, she accidentally kills him and she flees, taking his money with her.

    11 votes

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