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Ten Greatest Gangster Films

Updated on September 21, 2014

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.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2011 Rankography

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.

Legendary Gangsters: 5-Movie Collection
Legendary Gangsters: 5-Movie Collection

Buy this Collection of the greatest mafia movies for a top gangster fan

 

Collection of the Best Gangster Films - Great Holiday Gift for a Mob Movies Fan

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

Miller's Crossing
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

Infernal Affairs (Wu jian dao)
Infernal Affairs (Wu jian dao)

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

The Yakuza Papers: Battles Without Honor & Humanity (Complete Boxed Set)
The Yakuza Papers: Battles Without Honor & Humanity (Complete Boxed Set)

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.

 

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Your turn to sound off about Gangster Films and this lens - Are you a fan of the Mobster movie genre?

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    • profile image

      Roby 2 years ago

      What's it take to become a sublime exnpouder of prose like yourself?

    • profile image

      Niktravelfit 3 years ago

      Great lens and really good list, good job!

    • pumpum profile image

      pumpum 4 years ago

      Awesome list, I love it!

    • EricKnight profile image

      EricKnight 4 years ago

      Love gangster movies. Great list!

    • Eric Mayo profile image

      Eric Mayo 4 years ago

      Where is "Dillinger" with Warren Oates?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Very good list but I would have included John Woo's, "The Killer" and "Hardboiled". Also would have included "The Long Good Friday."

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great list, but I would have to say that "The Departed" while good, is an inferior film to the original "Infernal Affairs" Also another Hong Kong film "Election" and it's sequel Election II (aka Triad Election) are very good Chinese mafia films that are great character studies and brutal.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Scarface and the Godfather but again most of them are amongst my favourites. Al Pacino is one of my favourites too.

    • Jo-Jackson profile image

      Jo-Jackson 5 years ago

      Great Selection.

    • shawnhi77 lm profile image

      shawnhi77 lm 5 years ago

      Love the gangster movies.

    • profile image

      termit_bronx 5 years ago

      Top movies, thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Returning with fresh angel dust for this gangster film excellence, I was looking at the list again and remembering favorite scenes and have watched some of them again after being here.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      I was huge fan of all gangster movies for some time, mainly because I was reading this genre and studying dialogues, with Phil Marlowe as my favorite character. It is interesting to see how gangster movies evolved through years, from more action to more psychological and with addition of special effects to more documentary style.

      Nice list. A must see for every beginner!

    • raelcalu profile image

      raelcalu 5 years ago

      so many gangster action movies...i guess nothing can top the godfather movies...thanks for the share, i am enjoying your lenses.

    • sudokunut profile image

      Mark Falco 5 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      Wow, so easy to forget how many simply amazing Gangster movies have been made over the years. It's tough to pick a favorite and a whole bunch of others like Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Angels With Dirty Faces or The Untouchables or...well, so many great movies! Goodfellas and Once Upon A Time In America are personal faves for me.

    • profile image

      wpmaniac 5 years ago

      The Godfather remain classic. amazing movie.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      just imagine pinhead vs godfather check this out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01ddcgU6sGU

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Shht! Thanks for reminding me about a couple of gems that I missed from the list!

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 5 years ago

      For me Godfather and The Departed. Great lens

    • William Conners profile image

      William Conners 5 years ago

      Awesome list. For me its Scarface and The Godfather.

    • Tugee profile image

      Tugee 5 years ago

      Pulp Fiction is my favorite.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      ever heard of Johnnie To?

    • profile image

      PaulRyan 5 years ago

      +1 for Casino, but love Scarface, The Departed and Goodfellas, too. No British Gangster films thrown in?? Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels springs to mind.

    • durham profile image

      durham 6 years ago

      Casino just for Joe Pesci's performance.

    • harty5680 profile image

      harty5680 6 years ago

      Great list! I am just finishing reading the Godfather. The book is absolutely amazing and I have to recommend it!

    • kerryhrabstock profile image

      kerryhrabstock 6 years ago

      Love your list. I think I was a mafia princess in a former life.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      To me it's between Scarface and The Godfather. I can't decide!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I think one of the reasons that we like gangster movies so much is that gangsters live life on their own terms. Doesn't mean that gangsters aren't evil - they are - but, living life on your own terms is attractive.

    • EMangl profile image

      EMangl 6 years ago

      I still like the movies with Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart most of all gangster movies, then comes Pulp Fiction and Godfather and and and ...

    • profile image

      healthandsick 6 years ago

      Godfather of course..

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      Great picks - I personally like Godfather Part 2 more than the first, but that's just personal preference. :)

    • profile image

      Shadrosky 6 years ago

      Many props for this lens!

    • profile image

      PUDDLES3156 6 years ago

      The Godfather definitely deserves the number one spot but I think Goodfellas is my personal favourite.

    • profile image

      iwrite4cash 6 years ago

      Great list of gangster movies another one I recommend to the visitors is American Gangster with Denzel Washington, Great lens packed full of legendary movies!

    • profile image

      gravityx9 6 years ago

      I loved watching many of the gangster movies and I don't feel like it glorifies mobsters, as some of the people around me think. I still watch them when I can. I need to get over to the new Mob Museum that recently opened up in Las Vegas!

    • profile image

      gravityx9 6 years ago

      I loved watching many of the gangster movies and I don't feel like it glorifies mobsters, as some of the people around me think. I still watch them when I can. I need to get over to the new Mob Museum that recently opened up in Las Vegas!

    • webcodez lm profile image

      webcodez lm 6 years ago

      Great lens, I love mafia/gangster movies. My favourite still has to be Scarface though! Would've ranked that one a bit higher along with Casino, but other than that I agree fully on your list.

    • gamecheathub profile image

      gamecheathub 6 years ago

      This was a great lense. Nice breakdown too. Godfather is definitely deserving of #1. I thought Casino would rank higher, though.

    • dwnovacek profile image

      dwnovacek 6 years ago

      Great list! I haven't seen some of these, and now I've added them onto my "movies to watch list." Love this lens!

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Godfather is the best. I also liked Goodfellas and Road to Perdition...Scarface was too much blood and profanity. It was supposed to be based on a real character but don't remember who that was. Fun lens!

    • profile image

      GeoffSteen 6 years ago

      Although Pulp Fiction is my favourite, I also love the Godfather. Not so sure about the sequel, though...

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      To be frank, I have not seen the entire list of movies you have stated in this lens, but Godfather is the one I would vouch for and recommend people to see.

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 6 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      really a wonderful gangster movies list. particularly the godfather is one the best.

    • LissaKlar LM profile image

      LissaKlar LM 6 years ago

      These are all definitely classic gangster movies. Great lens. Blessed by a squid angel.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Awesome movies, a tough choice and have 5 favorites here...not a single one that I don't like and wouldn't mind seeing again.

    • profile image

      GrowWear 6 years ago

      Have seen almost all of those in the poll. Wonderful, all. Reservoir Dogs got first pick, though. One gritty movie with Madsen playing one psycho individual. ...Aw, now Paul, Travolta is OK. :)

    • Rankography profile image
      Author

      Rankography 6 years ago

      @Paul Ward: Wow harsh words for Mr. Travolta. I actually do think it was a good this. Shortly after this film we got his performances in Get Shorty, Phenomenon, Michael and Face/Off. I thought all of those were excellent films.

      There is a link in the intro to the full list where you can see all 40 of the films that were ranked.

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 6 years ago from Liverpool, England

      You say "It also resurrected John Travolta's film career " like that was a good thing :)

      Good list, not too many complaints - I'd be curious to see your films 11-20

    • rootadesigns lm profile image

      rootadesigns lm 6 years ago

      All Awesome movies!

    • JublyJem profile image

      JublyJem 6 years ago

      haven't seen them all but still was very hard to choose a fav. great lens.

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 6 years ago

      Two of these I have not (yet) seen. Great list. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      poutine 6 years ago

      I like Godfather 1 the best here.

    • Krafick profile image

      Krafick 6 years ago

      Another great list. Again seen all of them, and many of them are my favorites. Rafick

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Terrific lens--I agree with your choices. Great work here, with just enough information about each film!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      So wonderful work of you.. Rankography :) I absolutely agree with your top 10 gangster movies here.. I love all of them. My favorite is The Godfather.. One of my greatest movie all the time. 5 stars for you. Have a wonderful time.. always :)