Top 50 Best Gangster Movies of All Time (2020)
Gangster movies have come to change all of our perspectives on crime stories. Films from the Prohibition-era to those that take place in the modern streets of New York or Los Angeles allow us to enter the sophisticated minds of the gangster protagonists. For years, we've been fascinated with this movie genre and its popularity will only continue to grow stronger.
Including various crime films from Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, as well as, featuring some of the most iconic actors, here is a list of the 50 best gangster movie cult classics of all time.
1. The Godfather
Indisputably, this gangster masterpiece by Francis Ford Coppola tops the list. This 1972 film centers around the story of The Godfather “Don” Vito Corleone, the patriarch of a crime family who transfers control of his mafia empire to his reluctant son. Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, and Diane Keaton are just some of the stars of this iconic gangster film.
2. The Godfather II
In the second part of the trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola takes us to a whole new crime dimension. The sequel includes one of the most iconic scenes in the history of gangster films in which Michael Corleone reflects on his life as a young man growing up in Sicily in the early 1900s and then in New York. The Godfather part II then follows Michael Corleone into the 1950s as he attempts to expand the family business into Las Vegas, Hollywood, and Cuba.
Martin Scorsese, inspired by the novel Wiseguy, created one of the most recognized crime movies worldwide. Actors Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, and Joe Pesci bring us along on their character’s journey from petty criminals to violent murderers of the New York Italian Mafia.
4. Pulp Fiction
Considered Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, Pulp Fiction is one of the most popular gangster movies of all time. John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson play two hitmen, Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, for mob kingpin Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) who sends them on a mission to retrieve a mysterious briefcase.
Pulp Fiction went on to gain Academy Awards nominations and win the Oscar for best screenplay.
5. Reservoir Dogs
Reservoir Dogs was Tarantino's debut. He tells the story of five eccentric characters that attempt to rob a diamond warehouse, but the police arrive so quickly they assume a rat is in their crew. Complete with details like senseless gore, violent crime, and unique storytelling it truly is a Tarantino classic.
6. Once Upon a Time in America
This classic gangster cinema is Sergio Leone's most precious creation in which a former Prohibition-era Jewish gangster must return to the Lower East Side of Manhattan to face the ghosts of his past. This film was originally planned to be split into two three-hour films but ended up becoming one 229-minute long movie. Later on, it was shortened into 139 minutes in which DeNiro gives one of his best performances.
7. The Departed
For this movie, Scorsese remade and adapted the classic Hong Kong crime film: Internal Affairs. The story centers around an investigation of the Irish mafia starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, and Matt Damon. An undercover cop and a mole in the police department work to identify one another while infiltrating an Irish gang in South Boston.
8. Miller's Crossing
This is the Coen brother's version of a gangster movie during the Prohibition-era. Two rival gangs, Irish and Italian, end up in a power struggle against one another, both sides getting played by the protagonist (Tom Reagan).
9. American Gangster
Denzel Washington portrays heroin drug lord Frank Lucas, a non-fictional character from La Grange, North Carolina who became famous for trafficking heroin through U.S. warplanes during the Vietnam war.
10. City of God
Fernando Meirelles portraits the life of the gangsters in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. This unique mob movie tells the story from the perspective of a photographer documenting the area as well as from one drug dealer on the rise.
11. The Untouchables
Brian De Palma directed the story of Eliot Ness in his journey to bring down Al Capone's activities in Chicago during the Prohibition-era. Kevin Costner, Robert DeNiro, and Sean Connery are the stars of this mafia movie.
12. A History of Violence
Directed by David Cronenberg, “A History of Violence” is a 2005 action thriller set in a small town. Actor Viggo Mortensen confronts two robbers in self-defense and ends up changing his life forever.
13. Bonnie and Clyde
Starring Warren Beaty and Faye Dunaway, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow became one of the most famous serial-killing couples in the world. To escape the hardships brought on by the Great Depression, Bonnie and Clyde begin a crime spree extending from Oklahoma to Texas. Whether you are looking for an entertaining film to watch or to find inspiration for your own gangster film, Bonnie and Clyde is a great place to start as this mob film represents a milestone in American movies and shouldn’t be missed.
14. The Sting
In 1973, Paul Newman and Robert Redford became the stars of this film that romanticizes the lives during the Great Depression. Set in 1936, this gangster comedy has a complicated plot involving two professional grifters and a gang boss.
15. Boyz n the Hood
What was originally a film school submission by John Singleton became a major achievement nominated for several Academy Awards. Boyz N' The Hood tells the story about the inescapable life of crime that three young men in Los Angeles are destined to live.
16. The Public Enemy
This 1931 film is one of the most iconic gangster movies made during the pre-code era. It follows a young man who's becoming an important American criminal in the Chicago underworld.
17. Eastern Promises
This movie portrays all the power that the Russian mafia has when it comes to sex trafficking rings. Viggo Mortensen stands out in this mob film thanks to his exceptional Russian accent, leading him to one of his best performances ever.
Filmed in 2008, Gomorrah makes the list as one of the youngest classic gangster films. It shows the perspective of a modern scenario of an Italian Mafia group. The massive Camorra crime ring controls the slums of Campania through drugs, weapons, and chemical waste. When a few try to fight back, they realize just how deeply embedded the crime syndicate is in their beloved Italy.
For a gambling gangster movie, Las Vegas makes the perfect scenario. Scorsese along with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci tells the story of a casino runner who's one of the most infamous associates of organized crime in the city. Sam "Ace" Rothstein gets tapped by his bosses to head the Tangiers Casino. At first, he's hugely successful, but over the years, Sam ends up in ever-increasing danger.
20. A Prophet
Directed by Jacques Audiard, this acclaimed crime drama is a modern perspective of a mob film that relates the story of a young Muslim man recruited by the Corsican Mafia in prison. The movie portrays the struggles between the Muslim and the Corsican cultures. As Malik rises in mob ranks, he creates more and more enemies.
Brian De Palma created one of the most seen gangster movies of all time: Scarface. This is De Palma's take on the 1932 movie that goes by the same name, only bigger and better. The story circles around Tony Montana, an ex-convict played by Al Pacino, who gets a Green Card in exchange for assassinating a Cuban government official and later stakes a claim in the drug trade in Miami.
22. The Long Good Friday
In this classic British gangster film, Bob Hoskins impersonates Harold Shand in his journey to become a businessman and starts a partnership with the American Mafia who he wants to bankroll his transformation of a neglected area of London into the future venue of the Olympic Games. A series of targeted bombs hit his empire and he is convinced there’s a traitor in his organization and the usual bloody hunt for a rat ensues.
23. Mean Streets
Martin Scorsese relates his personal experiences in a small town in New York called Little Italy that gets ravaged by a vicious loan shark. Desperate to be free of the dangers brought on by his debts, the protagonist finds help from a criminal friend.
24. The Killing
Kubrick's 3rd film served as inspiration for many other mobster movies. It follows the last crime of an ambitious man who steals an obscene quantity of money at the racetrack.
25. Menace II Society
This crime movie was the directional debut of Allen and Albert Hughes. It is a teenhood drama that tells the story of an 18-year-old boy living in the projects of Los Angeles who wants to find a way out. In a series of tragic events, he discovers that it may be more difficult than he originally thought. Jada Pinkett Smith, Tyrin Turner, and Larenz Tate put together this popular gangster movie.
26. King of New York
Christopher Walken portrays this film in the classic aesthetic of New York City. Once released from prison the psychotic drug lord chooses to share his profits with the poor but finds the streets are worse than when he left.
27. The Irishman
Released in 2019, The Irishman became an epic crime movie under the direction of Martin Scorsese. It's based on the novel “I Heard You Paint Houses”. The film chronicles the life of Frank Sheeran, played by DeNiro, a truck driver that became a hitman for a mobster and his family.
28. Sexy Beast
This film follows the life of a retired gangster, Gal Dove, that is forced to go back on the game by a rival gangster, Don Logan. In order to preserve his dream retirement and protect his wife, he takes part in an epic underwater heist and risks everything.
This french gangster classic narrates how a criminal group does the impossible to rob an exclusive jewelry store in one of the most iconic streets of Paris. This movie put Jules Dassin, an American blacklisted director, back on the map as he earned the award for best director at the Cannes Film Festival.
30. White Heat
James Cagney, one of the greatest actors in the gangster cinema, plays Gang leader Cody Jarrett who has a very close relationship with his mother. When a train heist goes wrong, Cody ends up in jail. Realizing he’ll never stop, authorities place an undercover agent in Cody’s cell. When his mother dies, Cody breaks out bringing his cellmate and undercover cop with him while he plans a payroll heist.
31. Donnie Brasco
This mafia film features top performances from Al Pacino and Johnny Depp. Inspired by a true story, the movie takes place in the 70s and tells how an FBI agent infiltrates one of the major New York Mafia families in an attempt to fight organized crime. Joseph Pistone (Johnny Depp) befriends a hitman in order to go deeper undercover but ends up developing a real friendship with the man. Joseph must choose how to move forward knowing that completing his mission will end up getting his good friend killed.
32. Carlito's Way
In this film, Al Pacino portrays a Latin criminal hoping to retire known as Carlito Brigante. He gives us a whole new perspective of an anti-hero as he tries to escape his violent past.
33. Road to Perdition
In 2002, Sam Mendes joins Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, and Daniel Craig to tell the vengeance journey of a criminal father and his son after a mobster murdered their family.
34. Internal Affairs
Internal Affairs is better known as the movie that inspired Scorsese to make The Departed. This one chronicles the life of an undercover cop and an undercover triad member that keep having violent encounters.
35. Le Doulos
This french crime, known as The Finger Man, is one of the biggest triumphs for Jean-Pierre Melville. It follows the story of Maurice Faugel, a criminal who was just released from prison but immediately becomes friends with other crooks, including one who is a police informant.
36. In Bruges
This gangster movie portrays some of the most impressive landscapes and views seen in crime films. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, two former hitmen, tour the city of Bruges as they hide from the law.
37. The French Connection
Also considered a police action-thriller because the story is told from the police perspective, The French Connection is considered one of the most praised films in the history of the gangster genre with 5 Oscar wins at the 44th Academy Awards. In The French Connection, New York Police Detectives pursue a wealthy French heroin smuggler.
38. A Bronx Tale
After giving life to so many characters in the gangster world, Robert De Niro decided to create a mob film of his own. In it, Calogero (Lillo Brancato) finds himself without a purpose when living in the Bronx until he takes advice from mob boss Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). Sonny teaches Calogero the ways of the gangster, but when Calogero falls in love with his African- American classmate, the whole neighborhood turns upside down.
39. Bullets Over Broadway
Woody Allen's madcap film demonstrates how gangster movies can have a creative and comical spin to their stories. It chronicles the struggles of a young playwright who can't find the right way to get the resources and finally produce his play.
40. No Country For Old Men
Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, and Josh Brolin under the direction of the Coen brothers recreate the story of veteran wandering the Western desert of Texas who comes across the aftermath of a drug deal. After taking the money he finds there, Llewelyn finds himself being hunted.
41. Tough Guy
Two mobsters who served over 30 years in prison after hijacking a train come out to face the struggles of the outside world. They have to run and hide from a hitman who still has them in his sights.
42. The Usual Suspects
The plot of this gangster film centers around two men who survived a previous massacre and a fire on one of LA's ship docks.
43. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
This British gangster movie directed by Guy Ritchie, tells the humorous story of a man and his friends who pool their resources to play in a high-stakes poker game. When they lose the game, they are given one week to pay their enormous debt. Out of options, the friends opt to rob their drug-dealing neighbors. Soon the friends find themselves the enemies of too many and dangerously in over their heads.
44. Touch of Evil
This classic by Orson Welles details the chaos and danger of the drug trade on the US/Mexico border. Mexican drug enforcement and American police work to uncover the crimes surrounding a car bomb. Soon, Mexican drug enforcement officer Vargas begins to suspect the American officer and his partner are planting evidence on an innocent man. His investigations put him and his wife in danger.
45. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
This german thriller is a sequel to the movie called Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler. It features the main character in an asylum writing down all of his criminal ideas and how little by little they are implemented by gangster admirers of Dr. Mabuse.
46. Killing Them Softly
This is one of the most recent top gangster films. It's about three crooks who rob a protected gambling operation that later sends two hitmen, Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini, after them. It reflects on the impact that organized crime has on society.
47. Le Cercle Rouge
Corey, a French criminal, is released from prison and vows never to return. However, after an encounter with an escaped murderer, he is pulled back into his old life. With a team made up of the escaped murderer, a former policeman, and an alcoholic, they plan a jewel heist.
48. Angels With Dirty Faces
Known as one of the most devastating gangster movies, Angel With Dirty Faces tells the story of a young William “Rocky” Sullivan and his friend Jerry Connolly. Growing up in Hell’s Kitchen and making some poor life choices, Rocky ends up going to prison for a while and Jerry decides to become a priest. Upon release from prison, Rocky meets up with his old friend in search of a safe haven before he heads back into a life of crime.
49. Friends of Eddie Coyle
Eddie Coyle is an adaptation made by Peter Yates of the novel with the same name. It tells the story of Irish, Italian, and African-American mobs established in Massachusetts from the perspective of a regular Boston resident.
50. Léon: The Professional
In this classic movie, Luc Besson spins the American gangster culture to create his twisted European version. It's about a young girl, Mathilda (Natalie Portman), who learns about the art of killing from a lonely hitman known as Léon after her family is murdered by a crooked DEA agent.