Gangster movies have always been a favorite genre of the general public. Known for their graphic depictions and intelligent scripts, these films incorporate some of the most jaw-dropping pieces of cinema ever created. Whether it’s waking up to a bloody horse head or snorting a mountain of cocaine, these films rarely hold anything back. Gangster movies have accumulated many Academy Awards over time, making them possibly the most critically acclaimed movies ever. Employing stellar casts, witty dialogue, and realistic components, there is nothing like these films. For this list, movies like “Heat” and “Reservoir Dogs” have been left out because they are considered to be more of heist movies rather than gangster, mob, or mafia films, which are the factors that this list is exhibiting. With that being said, here is the list of the Top 10 Greatest Gangster Movies.
10. American Gangster
Released in 2007 and directed by Ridley Scott, “American Gangster” follows a Harlem drug lord by the name of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) during the Vietnam War era of the 1970s. Lucas is on the rise in the Harlem drug scene, moving his way up the ladder and passing traditional Italian mafia families as one of the biggest drug lords in all of the town. Lucas takes advantage of the ongoing war in Vietnam during the time, smuggling heroin produced in Bangkok through United States military transports and deceased soldier’s coffins. As Lucas grows his empire, he becomes more susceptible to law enforcement, which is why local police officer, Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), is assigned to handle the Lucas case. With a very complicated yet fascinating game of cat and mouse between the two, Lucas always seems to be a tad bit more knowledgeable in certain situations than Roberts, as all mobsters and drug lords typically are. “American Gangster” provides ample amounts of intriguing dialogue as well as tense and suspenseful situations, showcasing the life of a very powerful individual. Overall, “American Gangster” is a great depiction of Lucas’s mob, how it operates effectively, and how it is policed in a more modern-day Harlem, New York. A great film depicting the true story of Frank Lucas.
9. Donnie Brasco
Released in 1997 and directed by Mike Newell, “Donnie Brasco” follows an undercover cop in New York City, named Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp), who has infiltrated a very powerful mafia family and is tasked with collecting enough illegal intel on them to bring them down. Brasco gets in good with Lefty (Al Pacino), who is one of the major players in the family that Brasco is investigating. After spending a great deal of time together and discovering similarities between himself and Lefty, Brasco begins to understand that he may not be so different from the guys that he is trying to arrest and begins to question his orders as a whole. From ambushes and firefights, to gripping situations and growing relationships, “Donnie Brasco” is somewhat underrated among gangster movies with all of the fascinating events that take place. With fantastic acting and writing, “Donnie Brasco” shows awesome features of how a tight-knit organized crime family gets along with each other, how they endure some very bizarre situations, and how it overall operates while trying to ironically avoid the law.
8. The Untouchables
Released in 1987 and directed by Brian De Palma, “The Untouchables” follows the ultimate American crime legend, Al Capone (Robert De Niro). Capone rules Chicago with an iron fist during the time of prohibition, taking nonsense from no one. Capone is brutal and very powerful, and is becoming rich off of bootlegged alcohol, providing Americans with a desire that their government will not grant them. Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is the federal agent tasked with bringing Capone down, but with a large percentage of the police force serving under Capone, Ness finds an abundance of obstacles and challenges during his investigation and pursuit. It seems as if no one could be trusted with information, mainly because it would in some way or another get back to Capone, ruining all the forward progress made. Incorporating an epic story through gruesome and riveting events, this film captures Capone, his organization, and his suitors fittingly. In short, “The Untouchables” is a very entertaining depiction of Al Capone’s empire and the federal agents who are attempting to bring it down. From baseball bats and luxurious dinners, to an intense investigation, this movie does a great job capturing the true story of Al Capone and how powerful he really was.
7. The Departed
Released in 2006 and directed by Martin Scorsese, “The Departed” follows Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who is the head of a modern-day Irish gang located in Boston. Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an undercover cop who has successfully infiltrated Costello’s gang and it actively recording vital information in attempt to bring them down. While Costello may have a rat on the inside of his gang, he also has an informant working in the Boston police force (Matt Damon), providing him with essential information to keep his illegal business running smoothly. When push comes to shove, these deadly gangsters will do whatever it takes to stay alive and out of prison. “The Departed” is viewed by the public as having one of the greatest movie casts of all time, greatly attributing to its fame and success. Consisting of many counts of debauchery and deception, “The Departed” shows how uncertainty and betrayal can cripple a powerful organization along with the people involved in it. Being a rare, modern-day gangster movie, this film does fantastic in reviving the gangster and mafia scene in cinema. With outstanding acting and directing, “The Departed” is a must-watch film for all gangster movie lovers.
Released in 1995 and directed by Martin Scorsese, “Casino” follows Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro), who is the newly appointed casino manager of the Tangiers Casino on the strip in Las Vegas. After being appointed to this job by the heads of his respected mafia family, Rothstein makes it his mission to ensure that the casino does well and takes nonsense from no one. After the return of Rothstein’s long-time mafia partner, Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), and after marrying his wife Ginger (Sharon Stone), problems begin to emerge for Rothstein, which fluctuate into his career, causing the casino to decline in productivity and ultimately make Rothstein look bad. Trying to straighten things out, Rothstein finds it very difficult to run a legitimate business while being tormented by his best friend and wife. Incorporating a life of luxury, this film shows how deadly the gambling business can be in order to make a comfortable life out of it. With amazing acting and dialogue performances from Pesci and De Niro, “Casino” depicts some very brutal and gripping situations. An overall great depiction of how a life full of crime and not so supportive friends can ultimately lead to the downfall of a powerful being.
Released in 1983 and directed by Brian De Palma, “Scarface” follows Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a Cuban immigrant, throughout his life as a cocaine kingpin in the United States. Starting out with nothing, Montana works his way up the drug business in Miami through desire, hard work, and dedication. After completion of his first task, Montana gets in good with a prominent cocaine distributer and begins to make a hefty amount of money. Spending his hard earned drug money on fancy suits, expensive dinners, and a giant house, Montana is making it big and loving life alongside his wife, Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer). As he grows more powerful, he becomes more paranoid and more self-centered, leading to very big problems between his best friend, Manny (Steven Bauer), and his sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who he cares about more than anyone in the world. From luxurious living to a lot of cocaine usage, “Scarface” shows an accurate representation of how drug lords live and conduct everyday business while avoiding law enforcement and death. From mountains of cocaine and a monstrous house with a tiger, to untrustworthy individuals and debauchery, this film shows the rise and fall of a very powerful man who started out with nothing but a boat ride to the United States. With outstanding acting from Al Pacino, “Scarface” ultimately exhibits how greed, distrust, and disloyalty can bring even the most powerful of gangsters down.
4. Pulp Fiction
Released in 1994 and directed by Quentin Tarantino, “Pulp Fiction” follows another star-studded cast featuring Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Ving Rhames, and many more. Viewed as one of the greatest movies of all time, Pulp Fiction’s storyline incorporates Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) as they work under Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), a notorious gangster, and fulfill his day-to-day tasks. After a professional boxer by the name of Butch (Bruce Willis) wins a fight that Marsellus paid him a lot of money to lose, Butch goes on the run while Marsellus dispatches Winnfield and Vega to track him down. In the meantime, many other events are taking place as well such as a robbery in a diner, a dinner date between Vega and Marsellus’s woman (Uma Thurman), and a eventful visit to some people who owe Marsellus a sum of money. With groundbreaking dialogue between Winnfield and Vega, this movie goes way beyond the average gangster film. Constituting multiple bizarre situations for all of the main characters, “Pulp Fiction” shows how witty conversations, unexpected events, and extraordinary acting can combine to form an epic film that will always be highly regarded in terms of not just gangster movies, but all of cinema.
3. The Godfather Part II
Released in 1974 and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, “The Godfather Part II” is the sequel to “The Godfather” and follows Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) as the new Don of the Corleone Crime Family. Taking place in New York City, the Corleone’s are one of the highest-ranking mob families around and are faced with dilemmas of how to ensure profit without taking on too much heat from law enforcement. Usually dealing with ventures such as gambling, the Corleone’s are reminded of how times are changing and organized crime is becoming much harder to operate within. “The Godfather Part II” also features a young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro), who is Michael’s father, and his life growing up in Italy. Vito started out with nothing and made himself into a very respected Don after the death of his father. Committing illegal crimes becomes somewhat of a norm for Vito as Italy is scattered with gangsters and mafia families. He realized that if he wanted to make a life for himself and his family, he must do whatever it takes. Overall, “The Godfather Part II” is a stunning motion picture and became critically acclaimed through fantastic screenplay, writing, graphics, and grade A acting from Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, and many more. As a true American classic, this film will be one that people continue looking up to for years to come.
Released in 1990 and directed by Martin Scorsese, “Goodfellas” follows a young man named Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) as he becomes a part of the mob and grows up within it. With mentors like Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), Hill becomes attuned to mob life at a very fast pace and begins dealing in illegal activities and drug use on a daily basis. With many intriguing crimes committed throughout the film, “Goodfellas” captures the life of the mob perfectly. This film also depicts how the mob can destroy people on the inside, raping them of their original beliefs and values and turning them into individuals that will do anything to avoid imprisonment or death. All things considered, “Goodfellas” truly depicts what life in the mob is like and shows the rise and fall of a once innocent individual who delved too far into the lifestyle. It goes into depth on everyday activities, relationships, and crimes of the mob and how these events affected Hill’s life as well as his family’s. From erratic relationships and disappointed families, to huge heists and gruesome hits, “Goodfellas” arguably exhibits the life of the mob more accurately than any other film.
1. The Godfather
Released in 1972 and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, “The Godfather” follows Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and the Corleone Crime Family, located in New York City. Originally from Italian heritage, the Corleone’s have solidified themselves as one of the major crime families in all of New York. As the film takes place during the 1940s, the way of running organized crime families is rapidly changing and becoming much more difficult within the terms of the law. As other Italian crime families in New York are trying to move into the drug business, Don Vito and the rest of the Corleone’s want to stay away from it and continue with their current gambling venture to avoid too much heat from law enforcement. This creates tension between the Corleone’s and the rest of the families, leading to situations that could end up with someone either hurt or dead. Being the first of its kind in a sense, this film did things that no other movie could fathom during the time, and most likely still today. “The Godfather” employs directing, acting, and writing like never seen before. A masterpiece in itself, this film is already regarded one of the greatest movies of all time, if not number one, leading it to be a shoe in first pick for the Top 10 Greatest Gangster Movies.