No style has actually influenced audience perception more than gangster movies – in this genre there are some of the best movies of all time. For more than 80 years, gangster movies have captivated and seduced the minds of millions; from the pre-code criminal activity of the Prohibition era to the gangster life of the 21st century. This list of the 30 best gangster movies consists of films that were created over various periods, with very different budgets. Whether it’s as electrifying as De Palma’s Scarface or Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood, target markets have actually expanded to see gangsters in new ways.
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King of New York (1990)
King of New York is a film that matches the stylistic tone of various other films about the New York City abyss, Escape from New York and Good Time. The use of shadow, neon, blues, provide this subgenre with a fascinating aesthetic tone.
King of New York is a film with an all-star cast, led by protagonist Christopher Walken. This gangster movie makes an argument about the “Robin Hood” nature of gangsters, just as the mobsters in some cases envision themselves as heroes.
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The Untouchables (1987)
Played by incredible actors and directed by Brian De Palma, The Untouchables is among the most famous gangster films ever made. Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Robert De Niro give us extraordinary interpretations. The Untouchables is a crime film from the Prohibition era that combines drama, crime and thriller in a fantastic way.
The Killing (1956)
There are break-in movies and gangster movies, and then there’s The Killing’s Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick’s third film, The Killing, provided substantial inspiration for the likes of The Hyenas, The Usual Suspects and Logan Lucky.
Kubrick’s film tells of a scammer who wants to steal $ 2,000,000 at the racecourse. However, of course, difficulties arise. The Killing also shares several similarities with the 1955 film, Rafifi; both movies exist in a transitional space between “Hollywood” gangster movies and film noir. Funny truth: Rafifi was a French film, however it was made by a blacklisted Hollywood director.
Mafioso is the movie that started the American attraction for mafia movies. Alberto Sordi delivers an extraordinary performance that combines comedy and drama. At nearly 60, the themes of Mafioso still resonate today. In the initial part of the movie, the cultural and social differences between the North (Milan) and the South (Sicily) are perfectly represented.
From costumes to dialogue, every little thing is skillfully crafted. In the second part, a tonal change causes the character of Sordi to despair, haunted by the ghost of a criminal life. In Mafioso, the mafia puts a person in a gear within a diabolical mechanism.
Brian De Palma’s film, inspired by the 1932 film of the same name, is bigger, bolder and even much better. Pacino gives a memorable acting performance. The direction is extraordinary, brilliant. TV series like Miami Vice as well as games like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City certainly drew strong inspiration from Scarface in building their own vision of crime in Miami.
Mean Streets (1973)
The third film to be directed by Martin Scorsese Mean Streets is just one of its most influential. Scorsese said he was drawn to the idea of making movies about him and his good friends. He even confronted De Niro’s character Johnny Boy, the film’s irresponsible fool.
The movie takes place in the Little Italy area, New York, in addition to highlighting Scorsese’s experiences. There is the mafia, the corruption of policemen, as well as crime in spades. What more could you expect from a Scorsese gangster movie?
Donnie Brasco (1997)
Donnie Brasco is a great gangster movie starring masterfully by Johnny Depp and Al Pacino. It tells the story of the criminal activity in the 70s from 2 perspectives; the FBI and the mafia. Depp discovers an unusual balance of psychological depth in playing a dual role of FBI agent (Joseph Pistone) who changes identity after breaking into the mafia (Donnie Brasco). The movie is inspired by a real story that gives a sense of credibility and authenticity to the tale.
The Harder They Come (1972)
The Harder They Come is perhaps best known for its infectious reggae soundtrack, which holds its own against the finest songs. The protagonist Ivan, played by Jimmy Cliff, wants to be a reggae singer but corruption and difficulties prevent him from being successful.
Instead, Ivan finds himself gratified in a life of criminal activity. Become famous for killing a law enforcement officer. As a result, his former record publisher launches his song and raises big money with his stardom. Ivan chooses the gangster life which inevitably causes his downfall.
Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)
Presented as “the most destructive explosion of the drama, “Angels with Dirty Faces mostly makes his claim true. It’s the spiritual sequel to Public Enemy; the main difference is that Angels With Dirty Faces was created after the establishment of censorship guidelines.
The movie condemns gangster lifestyle much more than before. This is also one of the very first gangster movies to include a lot of Catholic belief, which would end up being an important attribute of mob movies.
The Long Good Friday (1980)
The Long Good Friday is the quintessential British gangster movie. Bob Hoskins plays the leader of a British gangster gang who plans to start a partnership with the American mafia in the hopes that he can become a legitimate businessman.
But things they begin to get complicated when problems emerge between the British, American and Irish gangs. Long Good Friday is also famous thanks to its in-depth reconstruction of Cockn’s criminal offense ey.
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
John Singleton’s directorial debut Boyz n the Hood is a movie success. A whole art sub-movement began dealing with street life in Los Angeles during this time of riots and worries. Boyz n the Hood is a sign of things to happen on the gangster lifestyle.
The movie is also a warning about the effects of gentrification and also how institutions are fairing criminal gangs. Several movies prior to Boyz n the Hood explored the idea of community gang life, but none put into words its effect as Laurence Fishburne’s Furious Styles on a Compton roadside.
Touch of Evil (1958)
Touch of Evil by Orson Welles is one of the best gangster movies ever made. The movie functioned as a return to Hollywood for Orson Welles, albeit a short one. The original story of the film was partially rewritten and re-shot after Welles was fired from his job. Despite the arduous production, Touch of Evil became the seminal gangster movie about the corruption of the drug trade on the US-Mexico border.
The French Connection (1971)
In part thriller , partly gangster drama, The French Connection is among the most praised films. Gene Hackman plays New York detective “Popeye” who discovers a drug trade in New York City with a French connection. This story is unique in the gangster genre because it is told from the point of view of the cops, who solve the case of a gang with one clue at a time.
By the year 2000, world film production expanded to produce gangster movies as a thrilling genre. Popular gangster movies teemed with ethical praise. Gomorrah, which is based on a book of the same name about a Neapolitan Camorra family, and has no intention of making gang life fascinating. Indeed, Gomorrah is an indictment of gangster movies that influenced young people to lead a life of crime.
One movie in particular condemned in this way is Scarface. The young people in the film claim they want to be like Tony Montana, however the criminal life they discover is not what they actually saw in the film.
A Prophet (2009)
Jacques Audiard directs this hilarious gangster movie about a boy who finds himself recruited into the underworld while serving a prison sentence. A Prophet is an extraordinarily modern gangster film.
At the heart of the tale is a struggle between Muslim and Corsican French societies. The main character, played by Tahar Rahim, is a boy who is caught between these cultures. On the one hand, it has its ancestors. On the other hand, it has the impression of a future. This is a film that has roots in classic gangster movies like The French Connection and The Godfather. Similar themes are developed, but original lights come on.
City of God (2002)
City of God is a one-of-a-kind gangster movie for a couple of reasons. It is told by a storyteller. Use photography to develop the story. It is one of the famous Brazilian gangster movies. We checked gangster movies from the point of view of the criminal, the police officer and the viewer. But what about a gangster movie from the point of view of someone who records it?
City of God has to do with the fluctuation of gangsters throughout the Cidade de Deus favela in Brazil. It has a cast made up largely of individuals who lived in that favela. The whole movie has a documentary vibe despite being a thriller.
The Public Enemy (1931)
The pre-code era of cinema from the late 1920s to 1934 produced many of the Hollywood never made. The pre-code exists after the silent era, however before the advent of censorship standards. Perhaps no film is more iconic of this period than The Public Enemy.
This was a pivotal transitional age for American individuals. The wealth and well-being that animated the 1920s were totally exhausted in the years to come. The Great Depression was a time of extreme rivalry and complicated ethical decisions. The Public Enemy put these concerns at center stage while telling one of the first major gangster stories in film.
Once upon a time in America (1984)
Once upon a time in America is among the greatest movies ever made. It was the last movie of Sergio Leone’s career, as well as the only movie he finished in the last thirteen years of his life.
He originally wanted the movie to be split into 2 three-hour feature films, but the studio informed him that it was to be cut into one film. Leone edited up to 269 minutes, but the studio was dissatisfied with his efforts to reduce it. He granted a 229-minute version, but the US version was further reduced without his approval to 139 minutes.
The result of the cuts was a complication among the target markets. Only in 2012 was the reported 255-minute version made available to the public. Some of the content is very heavy and pushes to the border, even for a gangster movie. The full version of Once Upon a Time in America is one of the best gangster movies of all time.
The Godfather (1972)
Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic masterpiece is an adaptation of Mario Puzo’s short story of the same name. Marlon Brando gives one of his best performances of all time as Don Vito Corleone, the patriarch of the mafia family members in Corleone.
This is the most famous gangster movie ever made. Every movie buff will recognize the image of Don Vito holding the cat or Michael closing the door to his former life. The Godfather encompasses some of the most expressive moments in film history. Puzo and also Coppola’s dazzling screenplay are a perfect basis for an equally perfect cinematic creation.
Goodfellas is a movie that you can see loads of times and find a new way to enjoy it every time. Martin Scorsese used an adaptation of Nicholas Pillegi’s novel Wiseguy for the screenplay.
The film begins with Liotta as the narrator saying “as far as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster”. From there, the movie takes you on an excursion into the world of Italian criminal activity in Brooklyn, and by mid-viewing, you probably want to be a gangster yourself.
There is sex, drugs and addictions in abundance. By the end of the film, Scorsese eliminates the glamorous vision of gangsters and displays his main character with the one thing every gangster despises: a rat.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
Another masterpiece in the history of cinema, with Michael Corleone played by Pacino. Unforgettable songs swell and the tragedy of both Godfather movies engulfs you like a storm. Probably no character demonstrates the phrase “power hurts” more than Michael Corleone.
Over the course of 2 movies, we see how his rise as a mobster is directly related to his moral descent. Both movies are masterpieces, but it is The Godfather II occupies the first position for its extraordinary staging on the world of gangsters.
Directed by Howard Hawks and produced by Howard Hughes, this gangster movie, vaguely influenced by Chicago gangster king Al Capone, is among the classics of the gangster movie. Paul Muni stars as Tony Camonte, whose warm temperament and great ideas make him a criminal talent.
Made during the pre-code era of the very early 1930s, when what was shown was not very regulated, the movie was welcomed without controversy for its depiction of violence.
Little Caesar (1931)
Considered the first all-out gangster movie, Edward G. Robinson would become a celebrity playing the title character, a con man who becomes the head of an organized crime syndicate. Another title that benefited from the Pre-Code era, this is just one of the films that laid the foundation for how gangster movies would surely be told as the genre progressed.
After the success of “Goodfellas”, Scorsese, De Niro, Joe Pesci and even writer / writer Nicholas Pileggi have teamed up again to tell the story of Las Vegas and Sam “Ace” Rothstein, and how he and his connections with the public controlled gambling in the 1970s.
Carlito’s Way (1993)
Having made “Scarface”, Al Pacino and director Brian De Palma have once again teamed up for a different kind of gangster movie. Pacino plays Puerto Rican outlaw Carlito Brigante who aims to seize power now that he is out of prison.
De Palma is in his element in this movie, with extraordinary directing work consisting of a thrilling cat and mouse chase that begins with a trip on the subway and ends at Grand Central Station.
White Heat (1949)
This timeless movie by James Cagney by director Raoul Walsh is still one of the best gangster movies ever. Cagney plays Cody Jarret, a psychotic gangster who is obsessed with his mother. So much so that his last words before his death when the huge gas storage tank he is on top of explodes are now popular: “Made it Ma! Top of the world!” Cagney’s performance would influence numerous stars who played psychotic characters.
Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973)
The first scene of “Battles Without Honor and Humanity” promptly engages the audience with a disconcerting opening shot of a mushroom cloud, with an appearance at the Hiroshima nuclear wreck. . What follows is a continuing carnage, which we see through the eyes of pimp Shozo Hirono and even his friends as they fight for dominance in the black market.
Le Deuxième Souffle (1966)
The esteemed and devoted gangster Gu Minda is tasked with one last job before attempting to flee to Italy: collaborating with a gang to rob a truck he was carrying gold bars. Obviously, the police go on high alert, with Commissioner Blot gradually approaching the criminal gang with clues.
What happens is a game of deception, with Minda uninformed about what she can absolutely rely on. “Le Deuxième Souffle” is slow, just like its characters. Isolation is always present in this grim legendary gangster, which makes physical violence on screen that much more brutal. Pair it with Bernard Gérard’s flamboyant soundtrack, and this classic French gangster movie burns in the ashes.
Infernal Affairs (2002)
Infernal Affairs follows the lives of two boys: Chan Wing-yan, a cop who infiltrates a neighborhood gang, and Lau Kin-ming, a member of the mafia who ends up being a mole under pressure from the police.
Hon Sam sends Lau Kin-ming, a young gangster, to the Academy of Authorities to work as his mole. Around the same time, Chan Wing-yan, a young police cadet, is apparently eliminated from the police academy. In truth, Chan has become an undercover agent who only obeys Superintendent Wong Chi-shing, who sends him to infiltrate the Hon triad. Over the course of ten years, Chan experiences the tension from his undercover work as Lau climbs the ranks in law enforcement.
Featuring a protagonist who is among rock’s greatest icons, “Performance” is a trippy, genre-bending cult classic. Chas Devlin is a violent man on the run from the mafia. He hides in the basement of a ruined rock celebrity, played by Mick Jagger. Filled with just the right amount of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, this is a joyous hallucinogenic ride disguised as a gangster movie that also manages to strike a balance between genres. Jagger proves that he can act too, although we also get a lot of rock celebrities, most notably through his fine piece of music, “Memo from Turner”.