For better or for worse, Hollywood has always had a fascination with crime and its perpetrators as proven by the many films made about them.
One subset of this film collective is gangster movies which have been a source of interesting characters and amazing plot stories.
Unfortunately, the era of gangster movies has come to pass. To pay tribute to this subgenre, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best gangster movies of all time.
Top 10 Best Gangster Movies of All Time
Mean Streets (1973)
Mean Streets (1973) is one of Martin Scorsese’s earlier works. Returning to the autobiographical style of his debut film, Mean Streets sought to analyze the moral struggles of a newbie in the Little Italy crime scene.
It stars Harvey Keitel as Charlie Cappa and shows his eventual succumbing to his dreams of living the high life like his uncle by getting his friend, Johnny Boy, played by Robert De Niro, to pay off his debt from loan sharks.
Although it’s arguably not the best work of either Scorsese or De Niro, the film cemented their reputations in the film industry.
Miller’s Crossing (1990)
The Coen brothers’ style is unmistakable in this film. Miller’s Crossing (1990) features their strong attention to point of view and perfect balance between drama and humor which utilizes the character’s ambition, jealousy, and greed.
The film is the brothers’ third collaborative work and stars Gabriel Byrne as Tom Reagan, a mob boss’s right hand man. It is a modern take on the 1940’s film noir genre and is centered on the power struggle between two opposing gangs in which the protagonist is caught in the middle of.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Sergio Leone is best remembered for his work in the Western genre but did you know that he also excelled in trying his hand at the mob genre? The film Once Upon a Time in America (1984) is the fruit of this labor.
This move came as a surprise to many as Leone initially turned down the opportunity to direct The Godfather. But he took on Once Upon a Time in America when he became interested in the life of Herschel Goldberg and decided to explore his character.
And what resulted is a fantastic film with memorable performances particularly that of Robert De Niro. Once Upon a Time in America is one of the 80’s best gangster movies.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Two years after his successful directorial debut, Quentin Tarantino proves that he is not bound to be a one-hit wonder.
Paying homage to literal pulp fiction and his favorite films, he created a crime film featuring multiple storylines and interjected with numerous pop culture references and Tarantino’s trademark love for violence.
The film is also remarkable the success it achieved despite being an independent production. What more, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won the coveted Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Pulp Fiction is one of the 90’s best gangster movies.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Speaking of Tarantino’s first film, here’s Reservoir Dogs (1992).
In an interview with the AFI, Quentin Tarantino said that to make a successful gangster movie “you need an aspect of criminality that you want to put under a microscope. In almost all cases, gangster films are sort of parodies of the American dream”.
And in the case of his debut film, Reservoir Dogs, that aspect is the immediate aftermath of a failed bank heist where we see how to get rich quick schemes often have unfortunate consequences for those involved.
Of course, a list of gangster films is not complete without a mention of this classic gangster movie.
Brian de Palma directs Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer as they co-star in one of the best films to ever be made about crime, Scarface (1983). A remake of the 1932 film of the same name, Scarface (1983) follows Pacino as Tony Montana and his meteoric rise in Florida’s crime scene as a powerful drug kingpin.
The film has reached cult status often referenced in other media products and receiving praise from other filmmakers like Martin Scorsese himself.
True Romance (1993)
Scripted by Quentin Tarantino himself, True Romance (1993) laid the foundations for the trademark long soliloquies that we’d see in his future films like Inglorious Basterds and Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino even considers the film to be one of the proudest moments of his entire film career.
The film follows Christian Slater as Clarence Worley, a socially awkward comic-shop clerk who falls in love with beautiful Alabama played by Patricia Arquette who, as he would eventually find out, is a prostitute hired to lure him.
The Untouchables (1987)
Listing all the talented people that worked on this film– Robert De Niro, Sean Connery, Brian de Palma and Kevin Costner — you shouldn’t be surprised to see this film so high on our list of best gangster movies.
The film is based on the true events surrounding Al Capone’s vice grip on the city of Chicago and the following response from the Bureau of Prohibition.
The Untouchables is notorious for its boldly violent scenes deemed too much by audiences in the 1980s. One of its most infamous ones is the scene where Capone beats his turncoat associates to death with a baseball bat—which, by the way, is based on true events as well. The Untouchables is considered one of the best gangster movies ever made.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
The 1990s was surely Kevin Spacey’s decade what with the long list of fantastic films he starred in.
One of the most memorable is, The Usual Suspects (1995) which stars Kevin Spacey as a borderline genius con man attempting to pull off a million dollar heist with the help of four other criminals.
Filled with amazing plot twists and a mysteriously intriguing storyline, the film benefits from multiple viewings to understand it fully.
White Heat (1949)
Topping our list of the best gangster movies of all time is Raoul Walsh’s classic film, White Heat (1949).
It stars James Cagney in one of his most memorable roles as Cody Jarrett, a ruthless criminal who is overly attached to his equally crooked mother, the only person he confides in. The film is considered by some critics as the ‘climax of the 1930’s gangster movie’ and is often listed as one of the best gangster films of all time.
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