Den of Thieves concludes with a major twist that reveals the film’s true mastermind. Here’s a complete ending breakdown for the modern heist classic.
WARNING: Spoilers for Den of Thieves.
Directed by Christian Gudegast, Den of Thieves ends with a major twist that reveals the film’s true criminal mastermind. Still, the finale doesn’t necessarily fully explain why a group of criminals betrayed their comrades, or how they were able to flee with millions — well, maybe at least for moviegoers who aren’t playing close attention. Now streaming on Netflix, Den of Thieves originally released in 2018.
Den of Thieves initially appears to subvert the good guys vs. bad guys premise. Early on, Detective Nicholas “Big Nick” O’Brien (Gerard Butler) arrives at a Los Angeles crime scene and offers up a heavy dose of toxic masculinity. Sure, his acquaintances don’t quite like him, but his inner circle of “regulators” are fiercely loyal, evidenced by a party sequence in which they kidnap and question a local bartender named D0nnie Wilson (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). Big Nick declaratively states that he and his crew are the real bad guys, and forces Donnie to give up information about his criminal associate Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber). The primary conflict in Den of Thieves involves Big Nick trying to figure out the scope of Merrimen’s next heist. As it turns out, the Los Angeles Branch of the Federal Reserve is the crew’s next target. Specifically, Merrimen plans to steal $30 million of “unfit” money (with no serial numbers) before it’s shredded.
Merrimen’s Den of Thieves crew consists of Donnie, Levi (50 Cent), Bosco (Evan Jones), and Mack (Cooper Andrews). Crucially, Merrimen doesn’t explain why he knows so much about the inner workings of the Federal Reserve, but everyone trusts him because of their military and high school sports connection (which Big Nick identifies during his investigation). Meanwhile, Merrimen uses his own girlfriend and Donnie to feed Big Nick information about a planned target in Montebello, but that’s just one part of a larger plan.
What Happens In Den Of Thieves’ Ending
At Pico Rivera Savings & Loan, Big Nick expects to arrest Merrimen’s crew but quickly realizes that something is different about this particular heist. For one, the crew threatens to kill civilians, which isn’t part of their usual operating procedure. Still, Big Nick waits it out after Merrimen seemingly blows up a bank vault while waiting for his demands to be met. Big Nick then realizes that the crew has escaped, and that he’d been tricked.
Next, Merrimen’s crew executes the Federal Reserve heist they’d been preparing for all along (more on that below). But after escaping, Donnie is detained by Big Nick and gives up the rally point. Meanwhile, Merrimen drops communication with Mack after learning about Donnie’s detainment, and attempts to escape with Bosco and Levi. Den of Thieves’ climax builds to a massive shootout during a traffic jam, culminating with the deaths of Merrimen, Bosco, and Levi.
Den of Thieves ends with Big Nick’s discovery that the stolen Federal Reserve money was all shredded. He also realizes that Donnie somehow managed to escape. Big Nick then pays a visit to Ziggy’s Hafbrau, the “neutral place” where he initially confronted Donnie earlier in the film. After taking a look around and reflecting about past conversations, Big Nick realizes that Donnie was indeed the true mastermind. A brief montage reveals that Donnie had been collecting information on napkins for an extensive period of time, and then approached his former Marine pal, Merrimen, with a heist plan. Den of Thieves’ final seconds show Donnie working in London and apparently plotting to rob a nearby diamond exchange.
Merrimen’s Federal Reserve Heist Plan
On the surface, Merrimen’s Federal Reserve heist goes as planned. He creates a distraction at Pico Rivera Savings & Loan and successfully escapes through a sewer system. Merrimen and Levi then gain access to the Federal Reserve “nerve center” by disguising themselves and faking a money drop, using the stolen armored vehicle from earlier in the film and money from a rave heist. From there, Merrimen and Levi dump a money tub containing Donnie, who gains access to the count room after Bosco cuts the power. Donnie then locates the unfit money before it’s shredded, and makes sure to drop the bag into a garbage truck that will leave the building.
After Donnie successfully escapes, he locates a boxed meal that he hid earlier while making a fast food delivery. He then uses intel from Mack (the tech expert) and now pretends to be a deliveryman. Donnie manages to get past security on his way out before getting detained by Big Nick. Meanwhile, Merrimen reaches the junkyard rally point while Bosco hijacks a garbage truck carrying the money (the driver is revealed to be one of Donnie’s friends).
Merrimen essentially lives by the gun and dies by the gun in Den of Thieves. Like Big Nick, he stays true to a specific code of conduct, but doesn’t anticipate that Donnie would betray him by manipulating the plan to his advantage (more on that below). In terms of storytelling, Merrimen and Big Nick share similar qualities: they are two masculine men with supreme belief in their skills. Ultimately, they’re merely pawns in the game, which theoretically sets up the premise for Den of Thieves 2: revenge and justice.
How Donnie Ends Up With The Money In Den Of Thieves
In Den of Thieves, Merrimen’s plan is actually Donnie’s plan. Evidenced by the final montage, Donnie orchestrated the entire Federal Reserve heist by collecting information while bartending at Ziggy’s Hofbrau. Of course, he couldn’t execute the plan alone, so he reached out to a military acquaintance, Merrimen, while secretly plotting with his old sports buddies — Mack, Alexi (Oleg Taktarov), and Bas (Max Holloway).
Once Donnie gains access to the Federal Reserve count room, he keeps the money for himself in a secret bag. It’s ultimately revealed that Bas was the driver who left the Federal Reserve with different bags of money, and that Alexi had the unfit and un-trackable heist money sent to Panama. Early in Den of Thieves, Donnie makes a telling statement while bartending kitty-corner from the Federal Reserve: “I’m in complete control of my environment, and people don’t even know.” The final scene in Den of Thieves shows Mack, Alexi, and Bas drinking at a London pub while Donnie bartends and plans the next job.
What Den Of Thieves Gets Right About Real Bank Robberies
Den of Thieves may seem unbelievable at times, but Gudegast did indeed try to make it feel authentic. For a technical advisor, he reportedly hired L.A. robbery expert Bill Rehder — the author of Where The Money Is — and also used sources from the LAPD, the military, and a former leader of Hell’s Angels [via Bustle].
The film’s narrative can be easily and conveniently picked apart by critics, and the focal star (Butler) certainly isn’t known for being one of cinema’s finest actors. Still, the blend of reality and fantasy is what makes Den of Thieves so intriguing and popular amongst general moviegoers. According to Gudegast, “Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it’s much more fascinating than fiction.”
Where Den Of Thieves 2’S Story Goes Next
Gudegast unveiled the plot for Den of Thieves 2 way back in April 2018 for a Screen Rant exclusive. Over two years later, it’s still unclear when the sequel will be released, but the film will apparently take place all over Europe: London, Belgium, Marseilles, the Cote d’Azur, and Montenegro.
In Den of Thieves 2 — according to Gudegast — Big Nick will track down Donnie, who’s part of an international network of jewel thieves called the Pink Panther mafia. Gudegast also revealed that Big Nick won’t just be portrayed as a cop seeking justice and vengeance, but rather an a L.A. detective who’s being tailed by an unknown organization. As the saying goes, Den of Thieves 2 will seemingly be “bigger and better.”