This list details the top 10 of the greatest gangster movies of all time. Every title satisfies a different niche including comedy, surrealism, and even kid-friendly fare.
Ditch the bargain bin crime movies and use this comprehensive list as an entry point into the gritty and compelling world of gangster cinema.
I consider these being the best gangster movies the best for anyone passionate about this gender.
10. American Gangster (2007)
If it wasn’t for the talents of Denzel Washington, American Gangster probably wouldn’t be worthwhile.
The biopic of Harlem gangster Frank Lucas moves swiftly with dazzling cinematography, yet the story never explores the depths of the notorious criminal. Washington, though, performs lights out, making up for the superficiality with a raw sense of humanity.
9. The Untouchables
During the era of Prohibition in the United States, Federal Agent Eliot Ness sets out to stop ruthless Chicago gangster Al Capone, and because of rampant corruption, assembles a small, hand-picked team to help him.
8. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
In the wake of the first two Godfather films (ranked better in our top), Sergio Leone showed boldness to attempt a gangster film of this scale and magnitude, but the boldness paid off.
Centered on a gang of Jewish mobsters—played by greats such as Robert De Niro and James Woods—Once Upon a Time in America makes for a violent and haunting social history of crime in America.
7. City of God (2002)
City of God is, at times, not easy to watch because of its honest portrayal of gang life in Rio De Janeiro, where the killers and victims are kids and teenagers. But that’s part of what makes it so enthralling.
Similar to Goodfellas in story, as an outsider makes his way into the world of crime, the Brazilian film moves urgently and gets a beautiful visual treatment from director Fernando Mierelles.
6. Casino (1995)
A three-hour examination of crime and punishment—and loyalty and betrayal—in Las Vegas, Martin Scorsese’s Casino may be long and slow but, at the same time, it’s totally intoxicating, and the experience is rewarding.
Scorsese brings the same style of Goodfellas back—the bravura visuals and rock ’n’ roll soundtrack—and Sharon Stone gives the performance of a lifetime.
5. Scarface (1983)
Other films try to sanitize the brutal life of drug lords and gangsters, and then there are movies like Scarface. The story revolves around Cuban immigrant Tony Montana as he seeks to dominate Miami’s flow of drugs through whatever means necessary.
Brian Depalma’s Scarface may be overrated—hence the reason why it isn’t further down on the list—but it’s a cult classic with, perhaps, the most famous quote from any gangster film: “Say hello to my little friend.”
Many have criticized the movie for its excessive violence, while other such as Roger Ebert commended it for its grotesque thrills.
4. The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese’s first gangster film to be set in Boston isn’t his best, but it won him his first Best Picture Award at the Oscars. Featuring an all-star cast in the likes of Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson, the gangster drama, a remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, upholds the optimum qualities of a classic Scorsese picture: style, morality and grit.
3. A Bronx Tale (1993)
After acting as the centerpiece for so many gangster films, Robert De Niro decided to make his own. In his directorial debut, he spins a gripping coming-of-age story that delves into the depths of family and race.
In A Bronx Tale, De Niro’s character struggles to find meaning in 1960s Bronx, where he weighs conflicting advice from his father and a local mob boss. The dialogue and characters feel refreshingly alive, no doubt because of the story’s real-life roots from the upbringing of writer Chazz Palminteri.
Though honest and brutal, the film has a heavy heart and a sound sense of morality.
2. Goodfellas (1990)
If any gangster film gives The Godfather a run for its money, it’s Goodfellas—Martin Scorsese’s raw and stylish story of real-life mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta).
Fast, violent and funny (“What do you mean I’m funny?”) with riveting performances from Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, Scorsese’s biopic walks a fine line between the glamorization and desolation of crime.
1.The Godfather (1972)
What’s there to say about this cinematic staple that hasn’t already been said? Francis Ford Coppola’s classic crime drama epitomizes the word “epic” in every way.
The performances, the characters, the narrative, the scope, the setting, the score—everything comes to the screen so, well, epically. For that and a whole slew of other reasons, The Godfather should “have your loyalty” as the greatest gangster film of all time.
The Godfather is also number one in our Top 10 best alpha male movies top.
Gangsters Squad (contrib.)
A Chronicle of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) struggle to expel the Mafia from the Los Angeles 40th and 50th Los Angeles coasts. Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), head of the Brooklyn Mummy Cohen, makes the law in Los Angeles, being protected by his men and having the majority of the police and politicians in the city under his guardianship.
A rebellious crew from LAPD led by Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) and Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) are trying to clean the mafia town.
Public enemies (contrib.)
Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, the prominent, bold American bank robber of the 1930s, who became the number one public enemy and watched by a battalion of FBI agents run by agent Purvis (Christian Bale).
A hero of all the Americans satisfied that the bandit was robbing the banks that had cursed them with the tough Depression, Dillinger manages some original escapes from the prison, but also steals the heart of beautiful Billie (Marion Cotillard).
Live by night (contrib.)
Taking fatherly advice is not in Joe Coughlin’s nature. Instead, the WWI vet is a self-proclaimed anti-establishment outlaw, despite being the son of the Boston Police Deputy Superintendent. Joe’s not all bad, though; in fact, he’s not really bad enough for the life he’s chosen.
Driven by a need to right the wrongs committed against him and those close to him, Joe heads down a risky path that goes against his upbringing and his own moral code. Leaving the cold Boston winter behind, he and his reckless crew turn up the heat in Tampa. And while revenge may taste sweeter than the molasses that infuse every drop of illegal rum he runs, Joe will learn that it comes at a price.
There you have it. 10 gangster movies that I recommend you to watch. Pay attention to how they deal with issues that arise and how these actors behave.
What other gangsters movies like this you know?
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