Top Gangster Films
Gangster and mafia movies have existed since the dawn of 20th-century cinema, with the 1906 film The Black Hand cited as the earliest surviving movie in the genre. Since then, tales of mobsters and organized crime have risen and fallen in popularity, but the genre has given movie-goers some of the most prestigious films of all time. Whether it’s the excitement and the violence, the mischievous allure of breaking the law, or just plain old good filmmaking, gangster movies have gripped our imagination and offered some exceptionally interesting stories. Today, we’re taking a quick look at 15 of the best gangster movies of all time as we celebrate this beloved niche genre. Watch your back and pay respects to the boss as we list our picks for the top 15 gangster movies ever made!
Top 15 Gangster Movies
Scarface is a notorious gangster movie directed by Brian De Palma and stars Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer, and more. Although this 1983 classic is a remake of the 1932 film of the same name, Scarface has eclipsed the original in almost every way, cementing itself as one of the best gangster movies of all time. Set in the early 1980s, the movie follows the Cuban ex-convict Tony Montana (Al Pacino), who travels to Miami, Florida with four of his friends. The crew quickly become embroiled in a life of crime after appeasing a local drug lord, but Tony’s aspirations rise far above the bottom rung. As Tony and his crew start to climb the criminal ladder, they must deal with opposition from all sides, fending off rival drug gangs and the police alike. Thanks to a brilliant performance from Al Pacino and an unrelenting emphasis on the chaos and violence of the drug trade, Scarface earns its spot on the top of our list and remains one of the most impressive gangster movies of all time.
2. Godfather I
The Godfather is the first film in a trilogy directed by Francis Ford Coppola, based on the 1969 novel by Mario Puzo. Generally regarded as a masterpiece of cinema, the movie stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, and many more. Set in 1945, the story follows Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), the aging patriarch of the Corleone crime family in New York City. As he prepares to pass the torch to his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino), a war breaks out between the mafia families of New York, resulting in a vicious turf war. Packed with classic movie moments that have been etched into the history of film, The Godfather is revered by many critics as one of the best movies of all time. Better than most other gangster movies, this iconic film juggles themes of loyalty, family, and legacy, all while remaining remarkably entertaining and enthralling. When it comes to the best gangster movies ever made, The Godfather sits comfortably toward the top.
Casino is a glitzy and invigorating crime film directed by Martin Scorsese, one of the most respected and influential creative minds in cinema history. Based on a true story of betrayal and competition, the film stars genre favorites Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci. Taking place in the glamorous town of Las Vegas during the 1970s, the movie details a decaying friendship between mobster Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro) and his childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) as the pair run the Tangiers Casino for the Chicago mafia. While their life in the city of sin starts off successfully, the friends soon run into trouble, putting them in the sights of both the law and their bosses back home. Determined to make things right, Sam and Nicky put their friendship to the test amid a sea of temptation. As with other gangster movies directed by Martin Scorcese, Casino is a must-watch, set in a seductive city and packed with exciting violence and fantastic storytelling.
4. Once Upon A Time in America
Once Upon a Time in America was co-written and directed by Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone and stars Robert De Niro, James Woods, and Elizabeth McGovern. Although the theatrical cut failed to live up to expectations in the United States, the original director’s cut is heralded as one of the best gangster movies of all time. This incredibly lengthy film has a runtime of over 4 hours and tells the epic tale of two best friends, Noodles (Robert De Niro) and Max (James Woods), who live in the Jewish ghetto of New York City in the 1930s and begin to ascend the ranks in the city’s ring of organized crime. This epic story tracks decades of the duo’s criminal efforts as they swindle the city during the Prohibition era. With classic gangster themes of loyalty, greed, grief, and pride, Once Upon a Time in America is an extensive tale of crime in New York City that every fan of mob movies needs to watch.
Goodfellas is another fantastic gangster movie directed by Martin Scorsese, based on the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. The film stars Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, and more, and covers the true story of Italian-American mobster Henry Hill. Set from 1955 to 1980, the movie details the rise and fall of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and his group of cronies, including James Conway (Robert De Niro), Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), and his wife Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco). Raised on the streets of Brooklyn, New York, Henry Hill dreams of a life of crime and stops at nothing to obtain it. In order to uphold his reputation and protect his family, Henry navigates the grueling world of organized crime and must eventually pay the price.
6. Carlito’s Way
Carlito’s Way was directed by Brian De Palma, the amazing director behind our top pick, Scarface. Based on two books by author Judge Edwin Torres, the film stars Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, and more. The story follows Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino), a criminal who is released early from a lengthy prison sentence and arrives in New York in 1975. Determined to live the rest of his days in peace, Carlito vows to retire and reject his unlawful past, but falls back into crime after a deadly drug deal. Desperate for cash, he works with his volatile lawyer Klenfield (Sean Penn), who leads him down an escalating path of violence and theft.
7. Godfather II
After the blockbuster success of the first Godfather film, The Godfather Part II was a guaranteed money maker that luckily became one of the most celebrated sequels of all time. Francis Ford Coppola returns to the director’s chair for this ambitious second entry in the iconic series, with star Al Pacino reprising his role as Michael Corleone. The movie offers two storylines, serving as both a narrative sequel and prequel to the first. In addition to continuing the story of Michael Corleone as head of the Corleone crime family, the tale also jumps back in time, recounting the early years of Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) in the early 1900s. With its parallel storytelling and consistent quality, The Godfather Part II is an entertaining extension of the classic gangster franchise.
8. Reservoir Dogs
Reservoir Dogs is not only one of the best gangster films of all time, but it’s also the feature-length debut from one of the most celebrated directors in modern cinema, Quinton Tarantino. This dialogue-heavy crime film has a packed cast of all-star talent, including Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, and more. Set before and after a diamond heist gone wrong, the film follows eight jewel thieves who suspect one of their accomplices is an undercover cop. This slow-burn independent film established Tarantino’s talent for engrossing dialogue, shocking violence, and non-linear storytelling. With an ample amount of suspense, sleek suits, and some unforgettable scenes, Reservoir Dogs definitely makes the cut on our list of the top 15 gangster movies of all time.
9. The Usual Suspects
The Usual Suspects is an award-winning crime film directed by Bryan Singer and starring Kevin Spacey, Benicio Del Toro, Stephen Baldwin, and more. Told through flashbacks during the interrogation of a low-rung criminal named Roger Kint (Kevin Spacey), the film tracks a gang massacre at the Port of Los Angeles. As Roger explains his story to the police, he slowly reveals information about his nefarious boss, Keyser Soze. However, as his story continues, the police begin to question Roger’s confession. With one of the most surprising twists in movie history, The Usual Suspects is a slow but intriguing gangster movie that will blow your mind.
10. King of New York
King of New York is a thrilling gangster flick directed by Abel Ferrara and starring Christopher Walken, David Caruso, Laurence Fishburne, and more. Set in the lively New York City, the movie follows drug lord Frank White (Christopher Walken), who is released from prison and arrives in the city with aspirations to become the mayor. To chase down his dream, Frank teams up with the local mafia, only to quickly get in over his head. As battles break out between rival gangs in the street, Frank’s goal of becoming mayor becomes more and more difficult.
11. A Bronx Tale
A Bronx Tale was directed by and stars Robert De Niro, along with Chazz Palminteri, Lillo Brancato, and more. Based on the 1989 stage play by Chazz Palminteri, this film was Robert De Niro’s directorial debut, and one of two films ever directed by the popular actor. The movie follows Calogero, a young man living in the Bronx in the 1960s. Fascinated by the mafia workings in his neighborhood, Calogero dreams of joining the gang, led by an intimidating don named Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). His law-abiding father Lorenzo (Robert De Niro), clashes with Calogero and warns him of the dangers of gangster life, but he chooses to embrace the underbelly of crime.
12. Donnie Brasco
Donnie Brasco was directed by Mike Newell and stars Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen, and more. Based on a true story, the movie follows Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp), an undercover FBI agent who infiltrates the Bonanno crime family in 1970s New York City. Using the alias Donnie Brasco, Joe becomes entrenched in the life of a gangster and begins to slowly gain evidence to bring the criminals to justice. Despite his success, the rough world of organized crime begins to take its toll, as his relationships are tested and he begins to doubt where his loyalty lies.
13. The Departed
The Departed is the most recent pick on our list and was directed by Martin Scorsese, and has won numerous accolades including four Academy Awards. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Whalberg, and more. Set in modern-day Boston, the movie follows Colin (Matt Damon) a mole for the Irish mob working for the state police of Massachusetts. At the same time, the police send new recruit Billy (Leonardo DiCaprio) to infiltrate the same mob in return. Hefty with suspense, shocking violence, and some fantastic performances, The Departed is easily one of the best modern gangster movies around.
14. The Untouchables
The Untouchables is another epic gangster movie directed by Brian De Palma and stars Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, and more. Set in 1930s Chicago, the film follows the story of Prohibition officer Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner), who prepares to take down local crime lord Al Capone (Robert De Niro). Scrounging up a small team of infiltrators, Eliot takes on Capone across the city as the violence and corruption escalate. With amazing performances from the star-studded cast, The Untouchables is an intriguing look at one of the most notorious gangsters in history.
15. Godfather III
The Godfather Part III is the third and final film in the Godfather trilogy, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Andy Garcia, and more. As the closing tale in the Godfather franchise, the movie wraps up the arc of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), the leader of the Corleone crime family inherited from his father, Vito. Facing the later years of his life, Michael attempts to close out his legacy of crime by pulling off major plays in the criminal underworld. Culminating in a bloody battle at an opera house, this final film in the trilogy closes out the franchise with style and shock. While it’s not as celebrated as the two previous films, The Godfather Part III is still a fantastic movie and one of the best gangster films of all time.
Honorable Mention Gangster Films
– The Irishman. The latest gangster film was received quite well as Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci linked up for another classic.
– Hoodlum. Based on a true story as Bumpy Johnson, played by Laurence Fishburne, fights rival mobster Dutch Schultz who tries to infiltrate onto territory within Harlem.
– Black Mass. Stars Johnny Depp as the infamous Boston gangster Whitey Bulger.
– Killing Them Softly. Starring Brad Pitt as an enforcer for the local Mob whose sole job is to seek revenge and reestablish respect.
– Ghost Dog. A different type of gangster movie as this film stars Forest Whitaker as a hired hitman for the local mob but finds himself having to survive against attacks by the very people that once hired him.
– Kill The Irishman. A true story about an Irishman in Cleveland by the name of Danny Green who gave the local Italian Mob a run for their money.
– The Iceman. The story of one of America’s most ruthless serial killer, an alleged hired hitman by the name of Richard Kuklinski.
– Bugsy. Based on the life of famous gangster Bugsy Siegel, a gangster film that shows another side of Bugsy Siegel, the side of love as the movie depicts his relationship with Virginia Hill.
– Boss of Bosses. Chazz Palminteri, of The Bronx Tale, stars as one of the most reputable Italian Mob leaders of all-time, Paul Castellano.
– The Cotton Club. Featuring the early days of Richard Gere and Gregory Hines, this film depicts Richard Gere’s character Dixie Dwyer and his rise in entertainment with the help of mobsters like Owney Madden, but not after becoming enemies with Dutch Schultz.