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Ten Greatest Gangster Films
I am not sure why we love gangster movies so much but maybe it has to do with our own secret desires to break out of our own monotony and break society rules. Whatever the reason, the gangster movie is one of the most popular movie genres and most new mob movies become blockbuster successes.
The Godfather series is the leader of the category both in terms of total ticket sales, but also in terms of Academy Awards with both The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II winning the Best Picture Oscar. However, there are several other legendary gangster movies that many believe should have won the Best Picture Oscar including Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction.
Most gangster films focus on the American Italian mafia, however, if there are great gangster movies about a number of other gangs including American Gangster, about the Black gangsters in Harlem, City of God, about young gangsters in the streets of Brazil, and Eastern Promises, about the Russian mafia in the US. These are just a few of some other great gangster subjects.
This top ten list is a blended average ranking based on all member rankings at Rankography movies. If you enjoyed this list of gangster films, you might also enjoy this list of the best Robert De Niro movies.
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And Now the Top 10 Best Gangster Films Ever
10. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Gritty Epic about Early 20th Century NYC
This epic film by Sergio Leone (of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly fame), follows the lives of group of Jewish immigrants from there childhood in turn of the century New York City through prohibition and into the Great Depression. Unlike many of the films on this list, it does not glamorize a gangster's life, but rather the movie exposes the ugly underbelly of a hard life of immigrant gangsters in early America. It is a very good film but many women have difficulty watching it because of the general violence and some specific violence against the female star.
The film takes some unexpected twists and turns throughout the movie and as usual, Robert De Niro is brilliant in his lead role. However, this great gangster movie is full of some other excellent cast members including James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Treat Williams and Tuesday Weld.
If you liked Once Upon a Time in America, you should also like Eastern Promises
9. The Godfather, Part III (1990)
Michael returns one more time...
In this third installment of the greatest gangster movies epic of all time, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) tries to pull the family out of organized crime into legitimate businesses. Of course, Michael's rivals have other ideas and in one of the most famous lines of the saga, he proclaims that "Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in."
This third film is not near as good as either of the first two installments. The cast is serviceable with Andy Garcia, Diane Keaton and Talia Shire, but the complex script cannot make up for the fact that they tried one too many times to capitalize on the saga. It still makes it onto the list because so many people love this saga, but I would several of the #11-#20 gangster films on the list, such as The Usual Suspects, City of God and Reservoir Dogs are better films.
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Pacino in Scarface
Pacino and Penn in Carlito's Way
DeNiro and Pesci in Casino
Crowe and Washington in American Gangster
Depp and Bale in Public Enemies
8. Road to Perdition (2002)
The Transformation of a Gangster Hit Man
Set in 1930s Illinois, Tom Hanks stars as Michael Sullivan, a hit man for mob boss, Paul Newman. When his son witnesses one of his father's "hits", Sullivan has a choice to make between family and the mob. After he goes rogue, Jude Law is sent to take him out.
While slow early, this film is a brilliant mob film about moral dilemma, family and gangland life. Paul Newman is excellent as an aging but powerful mob boss and Jude Law is absolutely creepy as a hit man and photographer (yes he lives to photograph his victims).
If you liked Road to Perdition... - You may also like the prohibition era gangster movie, Miller's Crossing
A battle between Irish and Italian gangs during the prohibition. This mafia movie is reminiscent of the popular Boardwalk Empire
7. Pulp Fiction (1994)
"If my answers frighten you, then you should cease asking scary questions"
Quentin Tarantino's crowning achievement to date, Pulp Fiction, weaves three concurrent storylines together into a chilling tale of gangster life. At times you will be so disturbed you will want to look away, while at other times you will laugh at the absurdity and off color dialogue.
It is truly a one-of-a-kind film and one of the best gangster films ever made. Tarantino creates unique characters and then perfectly casts the right actors to portray those characters. This cast is outstanding with the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Harvey Keitel, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, John Travolta, Steve Buscemi and Christopher Walken. In fact, Pulp Fiction single-handedly resurrected John Travolta's film career and catapulted Bruce Willis back to the top of the box office charts.
6. Casino (1995)
The Real Story of Vegas
There are two seminal works that define Joe Pesci's career, Goodfellas and Casino. Casino is the epic tale of how the mafia first took control of gambling in Las Vegas and then later lost it to legitimate business concerns. While the story is interesting and engaging, Pesci steals the show as he degrades into an egomaniacal psychopath beyond anyone's control.
This top gangster film also stars Robert De Niro, James Woods and Sharon Stone. While not a true story, many of the characters and events are based on historical accounts during the 1970s. It is a must see gangland film that is highly entertaining.
5. Scarface (1983)
"In this country, you gotta make the money first..."
One of the greatest gangster films of all time was also one of the most violent. Brian De Palma's Scarface became an instant cult classic among males when it was released in 1983. Al Pacino is brilliant as Tony Montana, a Cuban prisoner/refuge who comes to Miami to make a name for himself. He and his sidekick Manny (Steven Bauer) quickly begin climbing the Cocaine-dealing ladder of success.
Finally Tony reaches the pinnacle of drug-dealing success only to bring down his empire with his own paranoid behavior. It is one of Pacino's most compelling roles and many young males can quote lines word for word from this top gangster classic.
4. The Departed (2006)
Twists and Turns that will have your Head Spinning.
Combine three of the best young actors in DiCaprio, Damon and Wahlberg, with two of the best crusty old veterans in Nicholson and Sheen and you have the start of something big. Add in a true story of gangster and police betrayal all set in the heavily Irish neighborhoods of Boston and you likely have a blockbuster.
The Departed did turn out to be a blockbuster movie and is one of the best gangster films of all time. The film takes many twists and turns throughout and you may need to watch it twice to fully understand it.
If you liked The Departed... - You may also like the gangland film, Infernal Affairs
A Hong Kong film about gangsters, undercover agents, corruption and of course violence.
3. The Godfather, Part II (1974)
A Stunning Sequel.
It is rare that a sequel is as good or better than the original, but that is most definitely the case with The Godfather II. The film adds Robert De Niro to the all star cast to provide a brief prequel about how Don Corleone originally seized power in turn of the century New York City.
Ultimately, the story is about Michael Corleone and the family's move from NYC to Las Vegas. Like the first film, there is brilliant acting, tremendous storyline and world class cinematography. It is no mistake that this films is included as one of the best gangster movies ever.
2. Goodfellas (1990)
One of the Seminal Gangster Films of All Time
Another watershed moment in the history of gangster films, Goodfellas is based on the true story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), an Irish kid that worked his way up the NYC mob world. Ultimately, he turned states evidence because he was worried one of his partners and long time friends, Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), was going to kill him.
This is Martin Scorsese's best film and is truly a gem. The cast is crazy good with Pesci and Liotta both giving their best career performances. De Niro is also outstanding as Jimmy and Paul Sorvino is a very convincing (and lovable) mob boss as Pauly. Like the other members of the Top 5, it is a must see.
1. The Godfather (1972)
One of the Best FILMS of All Time.
If you were to list a handful of legendary films that define a genre and will endure for centuries to come, Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather would have to be on that short list. Many consider it the finest film ever made and it certainly should be in the discussion. Coppola brings Marlon Brando out of his reclusive retirement and he delivers his career performance as Don Corleone - which is saying quite a lot given his resume. Al Pacino (Michael Corleone) and Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen - Consigliere) are both brilliant with Michael portraying the young college-educated brother who is reluctantly pulled into the family business after a family accident.
Many of the other cast members also provide their best career performances including James Caan as Sonny Corleone. If you have never seen this film, then shame on you for missing one of the best films of all time across all genres.
If you liked The Godfather... - You might also like the Japanese gangster film, The Yakuza Papers
This Japanese gangster trilogy is often called the asian Godfather. It is an epic saga that does not glorify gang life but rather presents a stark look at this harsh and dangerous life.