What Makes The Ocean Film Series So Good?

Some people consider Ocean’s Eleven to be the pinnacle of Steven Soderbergh’s career – a high stakes, exciting and glitzy heist romp with a star-studded cast.

Ocean’s Eleven was the fifth highest grossing movie of 2001, and there is so much going for it. Stunning Las Vegas scenery, the cream of Hollywood stars, and a twisting and turning plot makes this remake of the 1960 Rat Pack classic the inspiration for a film series that still draws audiences more than two decades on. Casino games and Vegas glamour are an irresistible draw, even without the twisting plot and big-namestars.

An iconic movie – that still doesn’t seem dated – Ocean’s Eleven is more than the sum of its parts.

More Than Just a Heist Movie

An exciting plot about a heist plus a cast made from bona fide Hollywood A-listers equals the perfect equation for a box office smash, but this isn’t always the case. 

What sets the Ocean’s series apart, then, is the golden touch of Soderbergh himself. Taking the original idea of the Rat Pack movie from 1960, Soderbergh followed the formula of choosing the most well-known and universally loved actors to play the leading roles. Frank Sinatra became George Clooney, supported by an all-star cast. 

In an environment dripping in luxury, the casinos in the Ocean’s Eleven are sparkling and exquisite, the perfect place for a well-planned heist to snare more than $150 million dollars. Three casinos are featured; the MGM Grand, the Mirage, and the Bellagio (where most of the action takes place). The realism of the casino surroundings is a crowning glory in a stunning movie.

Why do we love Danny Ocean and his crew? Because they are a supergroup in the way that the superhero movies collect heroes – each with their own particular talent that is pivotal to the success of the plot. We each have a favourite, but we mustadmit that they would not be able to pull off the task at hand without using each person in the right way. 

The time spent finding the right members for the crew doesn’t focus on the past – we don’t get much of a backstory for any character except Danny Ocean – but on the interesting and intriguing characters who provide both action and comedic relief in various ways. This is a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, so as viewers we might not be watching for the details that hint at the final twist. The seemingly impossible task is surrounded in mystery until the very end when the plot twist is revealed.

The casino is the heist location, and a perfect combination of gorgeous set building and real-world location shooting combine to make the casino floor (and the vault) of the Bellagio complex a snapshot of Vegas glam. 

On the floor we see well-dressed players engaged in our favourite games, blackjack and craps, baccarat, slots, and even a glimpse of a roulette wheel. The excitement is palpable, not only for the big fight which is the reason there is so much money on the premises, but as a general atmosphere for a casino where big money can be won (and lost) on the luck of the draw. 

Playing the Casino

A big part of the film is getting to know the casino floor and the way the security operates. Having a casino as the location for this high-stakes heist is an excellent way of getting us to root for what are essentially criminals – even if they are suave and smooth talking. 

We don’t like the slimy casino owner, and we like him even less when we find out he is dating Danny’s ex-wife – so we want our ragtag band of charming crooks to succeed.

Throughout the movie, there are references to the casino games that we know and love playing ourselves, and for those that have had the experience of playing blackjack or slots in a real Las Vegas casino, it is a pleasurable rush that we enjoy replicating at home. 

The Franchise

Although the sequels (Ocean’s Twelve/Ocean’s Thirteen) and what is considered a ‘sidequel’ (Ocean’s 8) have been less well-received by critics and filmgoers, the franchise as a whole is still popular. 

Taking the heist movie ingredients and adding even more star power has been a move of epic proportions that still pays off even today. Out of the trilogy, Ocean’s Twelve is probably the weakest, with the heist relying on the idea that Julia Roberts’ character looks like, well, Julia Roberts (a cute joke, but hammed up a bit too much). 

Although under a different director, Ocean’s 8 has taken the franchise through another twist, focusing on a supergroup of actors that epitomise the range of the female lead. Still with the same impossible task, and the same level of charm, wit, and intelligence, Ocean’s 8 goes a long way to demonstrate that girls can do it just as well if not better than the boys. 

For viewers who are looking for an easy to watch romp with comedy and star power, the Ocean’s series is an obvious choice – but that doesn’t mean that it leaves out the requirements of the serious movie buff who is looking for excellent filmography and directorial nuance. 

You know what you are getting with a Soderbergh film – and the Ocean’s franchise is a perfect choice for your next movie night in.

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