Hollywood loves a good art heist. The next real-life museum robbery to make the transition to the silver screen will be the 1985 Christmas Eve robbery of Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City, in a film set to star Gael García Bernal.
It’s a story seemingly designed for the big screen: Robbers snuck into the museum’s basement through an air conditioning vent, stealing 124 artifacts worth millions from three different galleries before leaving as they enter. Because none of the objects were larger than ten inches in diameter, their haul was easy to transport.
Nine police guards on duty that night, but the robbery was not discovered until the next morning. The thieves’ efforts were aided by the fact that the museum alarm system had been broken for three years. The guards were also probably not at their most vigilant due to the holiday—cookies and empty liquor glasses were found at their posts.
In 2008, Forbes called the robbery “the single largest theft of precious objects,” and the crime clocked in at number four on the list of history’s five best museum heists published by Time in 2014. When the majority of the stolen art was recovered in 1989, authorities arrested veterinary school dropouts Carlos Perches Treviño and Ramón Sardina García. There were six other arrests in connection to the theft, including popular Mexican actress Princesa Yamal.
The two men allegedly spent six months casing the joint, making more than fifty trips to the museum before making their move. The priceless stolen artifacts included an important jade mosaic funerary mask and a obsidian monkey-shaped vase reportedly worth more than $20 million.
“The robbery didn’t happen by chance. They stole the best ones (objects) from each culture,” Antonio Camargo, a spokesperson for the museum told the Los Angeles Times in the crime’s immediate aftermath.
Because of the targeted nature of the heist, investigators were convinced they were dealing with the work of professional thieves. “It turned out they were amateurs, two university dropouts who became obsessed first with having and later with selling the archaeological artifacts,” a source at the attorney general’s office told the New York Times following the artwork’s recovery.
The movie version of the heist will be directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios, who won five Ariel awards from the Mexican Academy of Film for his debut feature, 2015’s Gueros. Bernal, the 38-year-old star of the upcoming film, is known for his roles in Babel and The Motorcycle Diaries. He currently stars in the Amazon original series Mozart in the Jungle, and has been cast as one of the thieves responsible for the Mexico City burglary.
According to Posta, the film will be shot on location in Mexico City, Palenque and Acapulco. A set at Churubusco Studios will recreate the interior of the museum as it was in 1985.
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