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The Ending Of Den Of Thieves Explained

Executing a genuinely shocking twist ending is no easy feat. There are fake stakes that need to be created, actors doing the work of playing characters living double lives, and lots of intricate set up to be done throughout any film hoping to pull off a big surprise. Den of Thieves, a 2018 heist movie starring Gerard Butler and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, achieved all of this this. While the movie didn't make much of a cultural splash upon its initial release, its wild revelations in its final moments have led to a resurgence of interest now that it's available to stream on Neflix.

The first few acts of Den of Thieves will feel familiar to fans of heist movies. A gang of criminals, led by former Marine Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), is planning to rob the LA branch of the Federal Reserve to the tune of $30 million in money that has been stripped of its serial number in preparation for shredding. Detective Nick O'Brien (Gerard Butler) is onto their plan but, as he quickly learns, is always one step behind the cunning criminals.

In the last act of the movie, however, things reveal themselves to be not quite as they seem. Let's break down everything and explain the wild ending of Den of Thieves.

The crew pulls off a heist on the Federal Reserve

For much of the movie, Merrimen's gang has been planning a heist of the Federal Reserve. Detective O'Brien knows they have something big brewing, but hasn't been able to determine exactly what, even after interrogating Donnie (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), who he sees entering the Federal Reserve building under the pretense of delivering food. On the day of the heist, O'Brien's team arrives at the scene of the robbery, which is not the Federal Reserve, but a small savings and loan bank nearby.

Of course, this robbery is just a distraction and, after entering the bank, Merrimen's crew escapes through the sewers to begin their actual plan. Earlier in the film, we saw them steal a small amount of cash and an empty armored car, which they are now using to enter the Federal Reserve. They have the manager at the bank they pretended to rob call the Federal Reverse and schedule a cash drop off, and the team enters dressed as security guards with the cash from their previous robbery. Donnie is hiding in one of the bins full of cash. Once inside, he sneaks out, bags up the money the gang was targeting, shoves it down the trash chute, and slips out through the air ducts.

Things fall apart at the last minute

Donnie then dons his previous disguise of a food delivery guy and exits the building, while the rest of the team transports the stolen money in a garbage truck typically used for removing shredded bills. O'Brien and his team, however, have finally caught on, and intercept Donnie when he tries to get away.

O'Brien beats Donnie, who eventually relents and leads O'Brien's team to Merrimen and the rest of the gang. After handcuffing Donnie to the car, O'Brien and his team give chase and catch up with Merrimen and company, who are stuck in LA traffic. A firefight ensues, leading to the deaths of Merrimen and the rest of his crew. When O'Brien opens up the garbage bags full of money with which they were escaping, however, he finds that they weren't transporting the bills marked for destruction, but rather bags of already shredded, and therefore worthless, cash.

When O'Brien goes back to his car, he finds that Donnie has escaped. And it's at this point that we find out that neither Donnie nor the heist the planning of which we've spent the entire movie watching are quite as they seem.

The shocking Den of Thieves twist that has everyone talking

After the Federal Reserve heist, O'Brien goes back to the bar where Donnie works, which we saw several times earlier in the movie. It's conveniently close to the Federal Reserve and, while he's there, O'Brien has a realization. Through a series of flashbacks, we see Donnie dutifully taking notes while listening to Federal Reserve workers, security guards, bank employees, and cops blabbing about their jobs after knocking back a few beers.

It's then that we realize that the Federal Reserve job wasn't set up by Merriman; it was set up by Donnie, who hired Merriman to be his figurehead. Unbeknownst to Merriman, this also included taking the fall for the plan after Donnie deliberately doubled crossed him so he could get the actual haul of cash away while the cops were distracted dispatching of the rest of the crew.

In the final moments of the film, we flash to Donnie, who now owns a bar in London. Across the street is a diamond exchange, which we can now surmise is both his next target, and possibly the set up for Den of Thieves 2.