50 Best Gangster Films of All Time
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50 Best Gangster Films of All Time

Gangster movies are often covert critiques of American capitalism. They
are often vehicles for exploring rebellion myths and are especially popular
during periods of social breakdown. The protagonists — usually played by small
men — are likened to ruthless businessmen, their climb to power a sardonic
parody of the Horatio Alger myth.
Louis Gianetti


We have prepared a great list that you will see plenty of mobsters, gangsters, bandits, criminals and yakuzas. You will also discover based on true story movies of famous gangsters such as John Joseph GottiHenry HillAl CaponeKray twins


Gangster Genre and It's History


It's almost 50 years since one of the greatest gangster movies of all time Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972) film was released. The film was based on Mario Puzo's novel of the same name and depicted the story of the American organized crime family of Sicilian origin. The movie is still one of the highest-ranked films.


The word mafia also originally refers to the Sicilian mafia, but its meaning has expanded to refer organized crime groups in time. Even though these criminal organizations call themselves with their own terms like Sicilian Mafia, Cosa Nostra, Yakuza, Bratva, we generally call them Mafia. They operate in hundreds of legal and illegal sectors such as gambling, commerce, drugs, finance, construction, protection racketeering, smuggling, kidnapping, etc.



Because of the possibility of earning quick money, this kind of illegal jobs can be attractive for people who mostly come from economically lower classes. Due to the socio-economic origin of people, characters speak slang and foul languages abundantly in mob movies. Sanitized dialogues mostly have seen as aesthetic dishonesty. Characters are very problematic when it comes to relations with women. In Brian de Palma's Scarface (1983), the main character Tony Montana follows these rules: we see a vulgar person and often hear swearings, and his relationship is very problematic.


The Best Gangster Movies - The Godfather (1972). Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and his sons.

Don Vito Corleone and his sons. Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), Santino Corleone (James Caan), Fredo Corleone (John Cazale) ~ The Godfather (1972)



Of course, there are exceptions to that. One of those exceptions can be The Godfather (1972). The leader of the mafia family Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) appears to be a character who emphasizes the importance of being a family, that a man is meant to spend time with his wife and children, and we do not hear any vulgar words and do not see any problems with his wife. Moreover, the Corleone family is a far more high-class crime family. We could not say all these exceptional attitudes are also valid for Michael Corleone who is performed by Al Pacino.  





What are those top gangster movies?


In the US, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) had a remarkable effect on the gangster movie genre. Later on, Martin Scorsese filmed  Mean Streets (1973) and also established his reputation.  Goodfellas (1990) is another Scorsese movie based on a true story which is an adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi's non-fiction book Wiseguy. Pileggi and Scorsese co-wrote the screenplay of Goodfellas (1990) which stars Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci who won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award with his role Tommy DeVito. The film told the story of mobster Henry Hill and his circle of criminals: his friends and family from 1955 to 1980 in New York City.

Additionally, You will see 4 more Martin Scorsese films on this list. In chronological order, they are Casino (1995), Gangs Of New York (2002), The Departed (2006), and The Irishman (2019).



The Irishman (2019) is Martin Scorsese movie which stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci



The Irishman (2019) is also one of the best gangster movies in 2019 with three and a half hour duration with great actors like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci. It had a limited theatrical release in November 2019, then followed by digital streaming on Netflix starting at the end of November of the year. Scorsese and Robert de Niro came together 9th time for this film. Two people in Hollywood always compared in real life: Alfredo Pacino and Robert De Niro. Both are born in New York City and Italian-American actors. We first saw Al Pacino and Robert de Niro together in The Godfather II (1974). Since that time, this is the fourth movie we can see both of them in the same movie. Also, Guy Ritchie's The Gentlemen (2020) is a noteworthy new gangster film that has a powerful cast like Matthew McConaughey, Collin Farrel, and Hugh Grant.



It is worthwhile to mention other great masterpieces of the gangster and mafia movies. Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In America (1984) is a four-hour epic tale of Jewish gangsters in New York with an 8.4 IMDb rating. John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950) is one of the heist classics. A Coen Brothers movie Miller's Crossing (1990), Andrew Lau and Alan Mak 's Internal Affairs (2002), British crime movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) which is directed by Guy Ritchie, David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (2007) are also successful gangster films.



Above all, Quentin Tarantino made the biggest impact on the gangster genre. Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) is regarded as a classic and cult film and also one of the greatest independent movies of all time. Pulp Fiction (1994) is an American crime movie that won the grand prize of the Cannes Film Festival (See other winners). The cult film tells several criminal stories with strong dialogues and complicated plots. Critics describe the movie as a touchstone of the postmodern cinema. In the US, NFR selected the movie as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Many people agree that Pulp Fiction (1994) is the magnum opus of director Quentin Tarantino.



The list of the best gangster films are mostly Hollywood production movies that cover the stories about organized crime syndications, gangsters, criminals, mafia family and members. The list is mostly unordered. 

The Godfather poster

The Godfather (1972)

Godfather is one of the greatest movies of all time. When the aging head of a powerful crime family chooses to pass his position to one of his successor, a series of events begin to happen to the family. A war begins between all the well-known crime families leading to exile, assassination and revenge, and eventually ends with the selection of the suitable successor.



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Pulp Fiction poster

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) are two hit men who are out to pick up a suitcase stolen from their employer, Mob Chief Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). Wallace also asked Vincent to take out his wife Mia (Uma Thurman) a few days later, when Wallace will be out of town himself. Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) is an aging boxer who gets paid to lose his fight by Wallace.



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The Irishman poster

The Irishman (2019)

The latest Martin Scorsese film with three and a half hour. World War II veteran and mob hitman Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran recalls his alleged role in the murder of Jimmy Hoffa, a union leader.



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Goodfellas poster

Goodfellas (1990)

Another Martin Scorsese movie which is based on a true story. Henry Hill may have been a small time gangster, who may have participated in a robbery with Jimmy Conway and Tommy De Vito, two other gangsters who may have set their sights a little higher. His two partners were able to kill everyone else involved in the robbery, and slowly start thinking about climbing up through the Mob hierarchy. However, Henry might be badly affected by the success of his partners, but will he consider stooping low enough to cause Jimmy and Tommy's downfall?



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Reservoir Dogs poster

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The state police force is waging war on organized crime in South Boston against the Irish-American one. Young undercover cop Billy Costigan is assigned to infiltrate the gangland boss Frank Costello's mafia organization.



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The Departed poster

The Departed (2006)

In South Boston, the state police force is waging war on Irish-American organized crime. Young undercover cop Billy Costigan is assigned to infiltrate the mob syndicate run by gangland chief Frank Costello. While Billy quickly gains Costello's confidence, Colin Sullivan, a hardened young criminal who has infiltrated the state police as an informer for the syndicate is rising to a position of power in the Special Investigation Unit. Each man becom...



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Once Upon a Time in America  poster

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

The epic story of a group of Jewish gangsters in New York, from childhood, through their years of glory during prohibition, and their reunion 35 years later.



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Miller's Crossing  poster

Miller's Crossing (1990)

Tom Reagan (played by Gabriel Byrne) is the right-hand man, and chief adviser, to a mob boss, Leo (Albert Finney). Trouble is brewing between Leo and another mob boss, Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito), over the activities of a bookie, Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro) and Leo and Tom are at odds on how to deal with it. Meanwhile, Tom is in a secret relationship with Leo's girlfriend, Verna (Marcia Gay Harden), who happens to be the sister of Bernie. In t...



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Scarface  poster

Scarface (1983)

Tony Montana manages to leave Cuba during the Mariel exodus of 1980. He finds himself in a Florida refugee camp but his friend Manny has a way out for them: undertake a contract killing and arrangements will be made to get a green card. He's soon working for drug dealer Frank Lopez and shows his mettle when a deal with Colombian drug dealers goes bad. He also brings a new level of violence to Miami. 



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Bonnie and Clyde  poster

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Bonnie and Clyde is based on the true stories of the gangster pair Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow who in the 1930s began robbing banks in U.S. cities until they were eventually killed. The film is a major landmark in the aesthetic movement known as the New Hollywood.



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Bronx Tale, A  poster

Bronx Tale, A (1993)

Gangster Sonny is the big man in the Bronx neighborhood of an Italian small boy named Calogero. A shooting witnessed by the boy (nicknamed C) is the starting point of a lasting bond between the gangster and the boy. Father (bus driver Lorenzo), however, disapproves. C grows up under the wing of both men, torn between his own natural honesty and his fascination with Sonny. C's neighborhood cronies get involved in theft, use of guns, and racial fig...



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Donnie Brasco  poster

Donnie Brasco (1997)

This true story follows FBI agent Joe Pistone as he infiltrates the mafia of New York. Befriending Lefty Ruggiero, Pistone (under the name Donnie Brasco) is able to embed himself in a mafia faction led by Sonny Black. Ruggiero and Pistone become tight as the group goes about collecting money for 'the bosses'. Eventually, the group become big-time when Black himself becomes a boss; all the while, Pistone collects evidence. However, the trials and ...



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Infernal Affairs  poster

Infernal Affairs (2002)

Chan Wing Yan, a young police officer, has been sent undercover as a mole in the local mafia. Lau Kin Ming, a young mafia member, infiltrates the police force. Years later, their older counterparts, Chen Wing Yan and Inspector Lau Kin Ming, respectively, race against time to expose the mole within their midst.



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Eastern Promises  poster

Eastern Promises (2007)

In London, the Russian pregnant teenager Tatiana arrives bleeding in a hospital, and the doctors save her baby only. The Russian descendant midwife Anna Khitrova finds Tatiana's diary written in Russian language in her belongings and decided to find her family to deliver the baby, she brings the diary home and ask her uncle Stepan to translate the document. Stepan refuses, but Anna finds a card of a restaurant owned by the Russian Semyon inside t...



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American Hustle poster

American Hustle (2013)

A fictional film set in the alluring world of one of the most stunning scandals to rock our nation, American Hustle tells the story of brilliant con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), who along with his equally cunning and seductive British partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) is forced to work for a wild FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia that's as dangerous as it is encha...



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Black Mass  poster

Black Mass (2015)

Based on a true story of James "Whitey" Bulger, an Irish Mob godfather and FBI informant who had a "secret trading" deal with his brother, William "Billy" Bulger, a state senator and a Boston public figure, and John Connolly, an FBI agent. They planned to take down the Italian mob and mafia in Boston, which went awry and things turned massively violent. When the credence for each other began fading out, drug dealing, murders, and extortion starte...



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Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels poster

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

Four Jack-the-lads find themselves heavily - seriously heavily - in debt to an East End hard man and his enforcers after a crooked card game. Overhearing their neighbours in the next flat plotting to hold up a group of out-of-their-depth drug growers, our heros decide to stitch up the robbers in turn. In a way the confusion really starts when a pair of antique double-barrelled shotguns go missing in a completely different scam.



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Public Enemies  poster

Public Enemies (2009)

This is the story of the last few years of the notorious bank robber John Dillinger. He loved what he did and could imagine little else that would make him happier. Living openly in 1930s Chicago, he had the run of the city with little fear of reprisals from the authorities. It's there that he meets Billie Frechette with whom he falls deeply in love. In parallel we meet Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent who would eventually track Dillinger down. The F...



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American Gangster  poster

American Gangster (2007)

Following the death of his employer and mentor, Bumpy Johnson, Frank Lucas establishes himself as the number one importer of heroin in the Harlem district of Manhattan. He does so by buying heroin directly from the source in South East Asia and he comes up with a unique way of importing the drugs into the United States. As a result, his product is superior to what is currently available on the street and his prices are lower. His alliance with th...



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Snatch  poster

Snatch (2000)

Turkish and his close friend/accomplice Tommy get pulled into the world of match fixing by the notorious Brick Top. Things get complicated when the boxer they had lined up gets badly beaten by Pitt, a 'pikey' ( slang for an Irish Gypsy)- who comes into the equation after Turkish, an unlicensed boxing promoter wants to buy a caravan off the Irish Gypsies. They then try to convince Pitt not only to fight for them, but to lose for them too. Whilst a...



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Gangs of New York poster

Gangs of New York (2002)

Having seen his father killed in a major gang fight in New York, young Amsterdam Vallon is spirited away for his own safety. Some years later, he returns to the scene of his father's death, the notorious Five Points district in New York. It's 1863 and lower Manhattan is run by gangs, the most powerful of which is the Natives, headed by Bill "The Butcher" Cutting. He believes that America should belong to native-born Americans and opposes the wave...



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Gomorrah  poster

Gomorrah (2008)

"Gomorra" is a contemporary Neapolitan mob drama that exposes Italy's criminal underbelly by telling five stories of individuals who think they can make their own compact with Camorra, the area's Mafia.



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The Untouchables  poster

The Untouchables (1987)

1920's prohibition Chicago is corrupt from the judges downward. So in going up against Al Capone, Treasury agent Eliot Ness picks just two cops to help him and his accountant colleague. One is a sharp-shooting rookie, the other a seen-it-all beat man. The four of them are ready to battle Capone and his empire, but it could just be that guns are not the best way to get him.



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The Long Good Friday  poster

The Long Good Friday (1980)

Harold, a prosperous English gangster, is about to close a lucrative new deal when bombs start showing up in very inconvenient places. A mysterious syndicate is trying to muscle in on his action, and Harold wants to know who they are. He finds out soon enough, and bloody mayhem ensues.



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References: Louis Gianetti - Understanding Movies, 9E, p368. Case Western Reserve University., Ronald Bergan - The Film Book, 2011.


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