As the wildly popular HBO series The Sopranos proved, audiences are absolutely mesmerized by gangster movies. This is perhaps the only genre where you openly root for the bad guys to get away with their crimes due to just how cool they look as they intimidate characters who’ve gotten way over their heads and even wack their way to power and fortune. Whether it’s conventional Italian-American mafia or the streets of Compton, we can’t get enough. Here are 10 gangster movies — in no particular order — that did it best.
This is the movie that put Martin Scorsese on the map. Starring Harvey Keitel as an up and coming gangster who is on the cusp of “respectable” organized crime and a young Robert De Niro as the giddy, irresponsible goofball Johnny Boy, who seems to owe everybody money. Mean Streets captures the grittiness of New York City — something that would be duplicated in later Scorsese/De Niro movies such as Taxi Driver — and marked the first time a rock score was integrated into the structure of a movie.
Considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time, the Godfather is the story of a crime family led by Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) that is fighting to stay relevant. It contains several of the most iconic scenes in cinema history, including the horse’s head in the bed and Vito’s famous “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” quote. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning three of them including Best Picture.
The Godfather Part 2
If the first Godfather is regarded as among the greatest films, Part 2 is arguably the greatest sequel ever made. It brilliantly tells two stories at once: flashbacks that explain how a young Corleone (Robert De Nero) rose to power along with a story set in contemporary times where Corleone’s son Michael reluctantly takes over the reins of the crime family from his late father.
Starring De Nero and Sean Connery — two of the greatest actors of all time — this Prohibition Era movie about legendary mafia crime boss Al Capone is a non-stop thriller. The Union Square sequence featuring gunshots and a baby carriage tumbling down the stairs is one of the most iconic in cinema history, and serves as a nod to Odessa Stairs sequence in the 1925 movie Battleship Potemkin, which the scene is based on.
A Bronx Tale
Directed by and starring Robert De Nero, this coming-of-age crime drama is about a boy who struggles with obeying his honest, working class father while finding the temptations of organized crime very tempting. Although the movie has its share of tension and even tragedy, it also contains a few genuinely funny moments.
You can watch this one over and over again and still find new reasons to love it. The movie initially glamorizes organized crime life, with all the excitement, vices and violence, but in the end it serves as a cautionary tale about how things can be taken too far. Although Dances With Wolves was a good movie, it’s inexplicable that Goodfellas didn’t walk away with the 1990 Oscar for Best Picture.
Similar to the style and tone of Goodfellas and even starring some of the same actors, including De Nero and Joe Pesci, Casino explores the seedy side of organized crime in Las Vegas. De Nero plays mafia associate Sam Rothstein, who is sent to Las Vegas to run the Tangiers casino. Joe Pesci plays Nicky, who is initially sent to protect Rothstein but eventually engages in shenanigans that bring a lot of heat from law enforcement.
No Country For Old Men
Winner of 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, this Coen Brothers flick is about a regular, blue collar Texan (played by James Brolin) who stumbles across a suitcase full of cash in the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad. A mysterious hitman (Javier Bardem) is tasked with hunting him down, resulting in a movie full of twists and turns with hardly any time for the viewer to catch their breath.
Boyz N the Hood
Starring Ice Cube as a gangster who can’t stay out of trouble, and Cuba Gooding Jr., as a teenager trying to avoid it with the help of some firm parenting from Furious Styles (Lawrence Fishburne), the late John Singleton made waves in his directorial debut and basically created a sub-genre of LA inner city gangsta films that proliferated the screens in the early 90s.
Arguably Quentin Tarratino’s best movie, Pulp Fiction is still quoted and memed more than a quarter of a century after its 1994 release. It added a few more years to John Travolta’s career and solidified Samuel L. Jackson as the badass that he’s portrayed in pretty much every subsequent movie he’s been in. The pair steal the show to such an extent that you almost forget that Harvey Keitel, Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman also starred in it.