Our Big All Time List of Mafia & Gangster Movies & TV Series
The Godfather (1972)
The one single film that turned the notion of being a Mafia gangster into a seemingly elegant lifestyle, The Godfather deserves to be on every list of most important movies ever made. This Francis Ford Coppola directed film stars Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in the roles that would turn them into Hollywood icons. The movie follows the rise of Michael Corleone, son of Don Vito Corleone –the head of a major Mafia family. The family meets a variety of challenges throughout the movie, including tragedies, but despite everything that happens, it appears that Michael has his own designs.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
While it is a wonderfully debatable topic to ponder upon Michael’s ambitiousness (or opportunistic approach), at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that by the end of the first film, it is he who emerges as the new Don of the crime family. This sequel, also penned by Mario Puzo and directed by Coppola, continues the story of Michael as the new Don struggling with his new position and more importantly, dealing with those who are trying to take his power. The movie is interspersed with flashback sequences showing the rise of the Corleones which provides a narrative contrast to the main plot.
This gangster movie focuses heavily on the story of the infamous Henry Hill –a real life career gangster often associated with the Lucchese family. The movie focuses on Hill’s activities with another gangster named James ‘Jimmy’ Conway. It also features the Air France Robbery and the Lufthansa Heist, two major criminal acts of Hill’s time. The movie is not mean to be biographic however, and while many of its events are based on real life, a lot has been changed in order to make the film narrative more cohesive. The film stars Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci. It is directed by Martin Scorcese.
Like Goodfellas, Casino is an adaptation of a book by Nicholas Pileggi. In this movie, viewers get introduced to Ace Rothstein, boss of the Tangier Casino. The film follows his struggles from being a Mafia associate to being assigned to the establishment and running its day to day affairs. As if a mob-associated casino was not hard enough to handle, Ace also has some trouble-causing problems in his crew which includes his wife, her ex, and the Mafia enforcer assigned to the casino. The movie stars Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, and James Woods.
Carlito's Way (1993)
Al Pacino stars as Carlito Brigante an ex-con fresh out of prison. Thanks to his lawyer’s skills, he managed to serve out a 30 year sentence in just 5 years, and Carlito is determined to stay out of crime for the rest of his life. This decision, however, proves to be far harder as Carlito finds himself constantly pulled into criminal activities by his family, friends, and even his own lawyer. The movie is directed by Brian De Palma.
Donnie Brasco (1997)
Deep uncover for the FBI, agent Joseph Pistone (under the alias of Donnie Brasco) inevitably gets closer than he intended with the Mafia. As the mutual respect between him and the hitman named Lefty Ruggiero grows, Pistone realizes that he is torn by his duty and his newfound ties to the mob. Johnny Depp provides an amazing performance as Pistone/Donnie while Al Pacino unerringly gives the audience a dose of cinematic flair as Lefty. Much like Devil’s Advocate (which was coincidentally released in the same year as this film), the movie features Pacino showcasing his acting talents alongside a much young actor.
Iconic film character Tony Montana is more well known for his alias (and the film’s title), Scarface. The movie is all about Tony’s rise in the world of organized crime, the empire he built, and how his addiction to cocaine became the reason for the utter destruction of everything he built. While it is an amazing gangster story, the movie is also a direct lesson on the dangers of drug use –and this is heavily due to the fact that the screenplay was written by Oliver Stone. Stone has personally battled his own addictions and drew plenty of inspiration from his own experiences.
Eastern Promises (2007)
Anna, a midwife, attempts to track down the family of an infant after its 14 year old mother dies in childbirth. Using the young girl’s diary (written in Russian), Anna comes to know of the mother’s tragic life and her dangerous connections to the Bratva (the Russian Mafia). She learns that the baby’s father is Semyon, a vor. Anna also comes to know of Kirill, Semyon’s mentally troubled son, and Nikolai, the mysterious man who’s day job is to look after Kirill. It is through Nikolai that Anna finds the most unexpected aid.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
This Quentin Tarantino film is not delivered in a typical chronological order. Instead, events are cut into several acts and they are presented in an order to provides narrative tension instead of succession. The result is an edgy-ish film with an ensemble cast that includes John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, and more). The film itself revolves around several protagonists –the hitmen team of Vincent and Jules, Butch the ex boxer, and robber duo Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. These different characters cross paths in the most bizarre of ways throughout the movie.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Reservoir Dogs is about a group of thieves trying to deal with the notion of “honor among thieves”. It is not an easy thing, especially when they know that there’s an informant in the group but they don’t know who –and when the entire group’s composed of men who are natural scoundrels, a situation like this tends to get very volatile. This Tarantino movie’s sharp tone and delivery has made it a must-watch for many film aficionados.
The Departed (2006)
It’s mole versus mole in The Departed. In this movie, Leonardo DiCaprio is Billy, a cop working undercover inside a criminal group controlled by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Billy’s cover, however, is in danger of getting exposed as Colin (played by Matt Damon) infiltrates the police under the behest of Frank. Now, the two moles are racing to figure out each other’s identities. Martin Scorsese manages to deliver a wonderful crime drama in the film, focusing heavily on the contrast of the two main character’s situations.
This Guy Ritchie film stars Jason Statham in this nutty, British action comedy that’s done in the same vein as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. The whole plot is a bit of a complicated mess that starts out pretty simple enough –Jason plays Turkish, a boxing promoter who deals with match fixing and other similar means to make money. However, once the boxers start making decisions for themselves, things start falling apart as the local gangs get involved. Somewhere along the line, a stolen diamond (which becomes the big McGaffin for the later half of the movie) is also added to the mix.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Part period-film, part-gangster flick, Once Upon a Time in America is all about the romanticized period of the establishment of organized crime in the 1920’s to the 1930’s. The story is told through flashbacks by Noodles (played by Robert De Niro) as he takes a literal trip down memory lane in the late 60’s. Noodles recounts his story from being a kid struggling in the slums to becoming a Mafia boss and later in life, dealing with the repercussions of his decisions.
The Long Good Friday (1980)
Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren topbill this old school crime drama by John Mackenzie. In the film, Harold Shand, a mob boss, has an idea for developing a part of London hoping that it can be used as a location for the Olympic games. In order to do so, he must convince the American Mafia to bankroll his operation. When the Americans arrive, the location is hit by bombs in an effort to discredit Shand’s attempt at getting a backer. Now he must track down the person who is undermining him.
A History of Violence (2005)
Can a man truly escape his past? This question becomes the central theme of the movie, A History of Violence. Viggo Mortensen plays the role of Tom Stall, a father and husband to his family and owner of a humble restaurant in a small town. When he fends off an attack by robbers (killing both in self defense) he becomes a local celebrity –and quickly attracts the attention of Philadelphia gangster Fogarty who claims that Tom is actually a gangster named Joey Cusack. The movie takes the usual “is he or isn’t he?” approach all the way up to the final arc when Tom/Joey finally goes to Philadelphia to finally deal with all these events that are tearing his family apart.
A Bronx Tale (1993)
Heartwarming is probably one of the least used terms to describe films about crime, gangs, and the general problem of life in the harder parts of town, but it fits in this movie. Calogero (played by Francis Capra and Lillo Brancato. Jr) is a young American Italian boy raised by his very law abiding father (played by Robert De Niro). After witnessing a local gangster named Sonny kill a person in defense of another, Calogero does not snitch him out to the cops. This earns Calogero favor in the local Mafia –a bond that his father harshly discourages him from having. The film provides very touching yet grounded life stories with regards to living a life of hardship, about racial discrimination, and most importantly, about having sincerely good intentions.
Road to Perdition (2002)
Sam Mendes delivers a powerful film that combines elements of noir, suspense-thriller, and crime-drama into one. Starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, and Jude Law, Road to Perdition is a very different look at the world of 1930’s depression-era American gangland. Hanks is Michael Sullivan Sr., a mob enforcer and also a father. When his wife and younger son are killed by the unstable heir of his boss, Sullivan escapes with his remaining child and plots a way to secure his child’s future while also finding a way to avenge his family. However, as his target is the biological child of the very same mob boss who raised him, Sullivan has to deal with both physical and emotional obstacles in his path.
Public Enemies (2009)
Based on the real life story of former America’s Most Wanted John Dilliger (Johnny Depp) and FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), Public Enemies showcases the high-risk, high-reward lifestyle of old-era bank robbers. It also gives us a glimpse of the apex of hostile criminal activities in the country –the same reason that drove Hoover to establish the FBI as a countermeasure. The film is a massive cat and mouse chase between the charismatic gangman and the stalwart agent chasing him down.
The Untouchables (1987)
Unlike most gangster movies that focus on the criminals, the Untouchables is all about the lawmen. Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) finds himself unable to bring down Al Capone (Robert De Niro) thanks to the gang boss deep connections with the police. With the city pretty much under control of the mob, Ness recruits the few men he knows cannot be bought out: Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), George Stone (Andy Garcia) and Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith). Together, these four men band together in order to bring down Capone and his empire.
American Gangster (2007)
The film is a retelling of the story of real life drug-kingpin, Frank Lucas. Lucas initially inherits the position of mob boss after his boss, Harlem gangster Bumpy Johnson, dies by heart attack. Lucas uses his position to acquire drugs and sell them on the streets. His position quickly grows and allows him to expand his influence. Eventually, he gains the attention of the cops after he attends a major boxing event. The movie stars Denzel Washington as Lucas, Russell Crowe as the detective investigating him, and is directed by Ridley Scott.