Throughout the years, there have been hundreds of “Gangster Movies” that have hit the big screen. Movies about gangs, mobsters, drugs, drug lords, bank robbers, grand theft auto, robberies, and heists have had us all at the edge of our seat at one point or another, rooting for the bad guy. How many people, for at least a split second, wanted to be like Tony Montana from Scarface? It is in a man’s DNA, the action and thrill of it all, just gets our blood pumping. Is it the power, the money, the fame, or is it the respect? Regardless what it is, the following list of movies is sure to put you at the edge of your seat. So get ready to, “Say Hello to My Little Friend,” because its time to countdown the “Top 25 Gangster Movies of All-Time.”
25. New Jack City – This 1991 film directed by Mario Van Peebles, “NewJackCity“, is one of the first and best films to crack open the underworld of cocaine and peer inside with its eyes wide open. Hailed by critics as breakthrough movie that depicts drug dealers for what they truly are, ruthless, evil, corrupt, and deadly gangsters. The film takes a look at a powerful New York drug lord named Nino Brown, as he rises to power creating a drum empire with his ruthless counterparts, and his fall that is caused by his own sense on indestructible power. Filled with scenes that range from, a female committing murder in broad day light on a city block in front of dozens of people, a city block of project buildings that are converted into a drug manufacturing and distribution center, two tenacious lunatic cops, and a recovering crack addict that turns informant, this film is definitely jam-packed with action. The cast includes Wesley Snipes in his breakout role, Chris Rock, Ice T, Allen Payne, and Mario Van Peebles.
24.Man on Fire – Many people may question this 2004 film’s appearance on this list, but I will beg to differ. Based on the kidnapping capital of the world, the government corrupt and crime filled Mexico City, and an alcoholic Ex-CIA operative’s responsibility w becomes the bodyguard to a lovable nine year old girl. As he grows attached to the young girl, he starts to reclaim his life and his soul, until she kidnapped and he unleashes a firestorm of vengeance against the everyone involved in the kidnapping ring. Directed by Tony Scott, the cast includes Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Marc Anthony, Christopher Walken, and Radha Mitchell. With the excellent roles played by Denzel Washington and Dakota Fanning, as well as the film’s raw power and intelligent technics, this is a “Must See” that definitely belongs on this list. Denzel alone makes it “Gangster”.
23. Taxi Driver – This 1976 classic by Martin Scorsese, who’s name you will see a lot on this list, “Taxi Driver” is a definitive cinematic portrait of loneliness and alienation manifested as violence. The story revolves around a tortured Vietnam Vet who becomes a taxi driver, who views his urban beat as an intolerable cesspool of blighted humanity, so he decides to take matters into his own hands. As a self-appointed vigilante, he plays a guardian angel to a young prostitute, but not before violently devastating consequences send him into violence himself. With a starred filled supporting cast including Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Cybill Shepard, and Leonard Harris, this masterpiece is sure to horrify some viewers with its lasting raw-power.
22. True Romance – Directed by Tony Scott, this breathtaking 1993 thriller has Quentin Tarantino written all over it. The film rides a fine line between raucous comedy and an excess of violence, that is based around a about a comic book lover named Clarence, and what happens when he falls for a prostitute named Alabama. After confronting her vicious pimp, the two accidentally double-cross the Detroit mob when they steal a valuable contraband from them, and then end up fleeing on a cross-country journey to Los Angeles. With the mobs $5 million worth of cocaine in their possession, the two are sought out by both gangsters and cops, as they end up culminating in a favorite Tarantino climax known as the “Mexican Standoff”. With a roomful of guys pointing guns at each other, just waiting to see who will shoot first, this film finishes with bullets flying. But who will make it out of the room alive? With a supporting cast that includes Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, and Val Kilmer, you can be sure that this movie will never be boring.
21. Hoodlum – This Harlem based gangster film, which was released in 1997 and directed by Bill Duke, was the first film to tell the story of Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson. “Bumpy” who is an ex-convict, ruled the numbers game in Harlem during the 1930’s and 1940’s, with a rare combination of honor, dignity, and strength. As he rises to power, he must defend his Harlem turf against Bronx gangster Dutch Schultz and one of the most feared and powerful gangsters in history, Lucky Luciano. As a vicious war starts to spin madly out of control, “Bumpy” must devise a plan to finally end it all, before it ends him. The screen is set ablaze with its spectacular gun battles and brutal action, as well as by, its Oscar Nominee’s Lawrence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, and Tim Roth. Completing the cast of the film are actresses Vanessa Williams, and the legendary Cicely Tyson.
20. Jackie Brown – Directed by Quentin Tarantino and released in 1997, “Jackie Brown” is a story of six characters glued to a half million dollars, that is brought into the country illegally. The money who belongs to a gunrunner named Ordell, who questions the loyalties of his friend and doped up girlfriend, who he thinks are interested in his money. On top of which, he has Federal Agent Ray Nicolette, who wants to catch him with the money and arrest him. The whole key to the story, comes with the title character, who is a flight attendant, that has both sides thinking she is working for them. So who will end up with the money? The cast includes Pam Grier who plays “Jackie Brown”, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Bridget Fonda, Michael Keaton, and Robert Forster.
19. White Heat – This 1949 classic, directed by Raoul Walsh, opens with a rolling start as a train robbery goes awry and culminates into the leader’s capture. After a plot for a behind bars hit and a prison break, the film finishes with a big score that unravels into a climatic gun battle in an oil refinery, which is one of the most riveting finales in movie history. With the well known crazed battle cry, Jarrett screams, “Top of the World, Ma!” as he is in the face of death. Cast includes James Cagney, Steve Cochran, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, and Margaret Wycherly.
18. Bugsy – Directed by Barry Levinson, this 1991 film’s star filled cast included, Warren Beatty, Harvey Keitel, Annette Bening, Elliot Gould, and Ben Kingsley. The film is based on notorious mobster and Las Vegas visionary, Bugsy Siegel, and the creation of the Flamingo Casino. Supported by Meyer Lansky and Mickey Cohen to a point, Bugsy spends too much of the mobs money trying to make his dreams come true, and now his life hangs in the balance. Will Bugsy survive long enough to see his dreams come true?
17. The Departed – This 2006 film is another great movie that is directed by Martin Scorsese. “The Departed” was supported by a phenomenal cast, which included the likes of, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, and Martin Sheen. The movie is set in South Boston, where the state police force is waging an all-out war against the city’s top organized crime family, which is headed by Irish gangster Frank Costello. As a young rookie undercover cop, Billy Costigan infiltrates Costello’s organization, but Costello is always a step ahead of them as he is feed information from an elite officer that is part of the team assembled to take him down. With all the deception, twists, turns, and suspense, this movie is a nail-biter.
16. American Gangster – This 2007 film directed by Ridley Scott, gives us the story of Frank Lucas, a real-life Harlem crime lord who built a drug empire in the 1970’s. Importing heroin from Southeast Asia using military planes, Lucas becomes the King of Harlem, and creates his empire with his family surrounding him. He soon after becomes the target of some corrupt cops from New York who want his money, and the star of an investigation led by a persistent New Jersey cop named Ritchie Roberts. Headed by the two stars, Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, the cast includes Josh Brolin, Lymari Nadal, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
15. Mean Streets – This 1973 classic directed by Martin Scorsese, is a riveting contemporary film about low-life gangsters in New York’s Little Italy, has been called a true-original and a triumph of personal film making. Drawn from his background in the Italian American neighborhoods of New York, Scorsese, takes us through the lives of two characters and their struggles on the streets of Little Italy. In roles that announced their talent, Harvey Keitel plays Catholic named Charlie who is trying to make his way up the ranks of a local mob, and Robert De Niro plays Johnny Boy who is a small time gambler that is in big-time debt with loan sharks. The cast that completes this great plot-driven crime story, includes, Amy Robinson, David Carradine, and Cesare Danova.
14. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels – In his debut film, director Guy Ritchie brings some innovative camera work, along with the brillant wit of his story. The movie is about the Cockney boys Tom, Soap, Eddie, and Bacon, who get in a bind with a seedy criminal and porn king, aster one of them loses a half million dollars in a rigged poker game. As the boys are being hunted down by a thug named Big Chris, the run across several different crazy characters, and in a blink of an eye they are caught up between a multitude of dead bodies, huge amounts of drugs, and two antique rifles. Actors include Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, and Steven Mackintosh.
13. Donnie Brasco – Based on a memoir of former undercover cop Joe Piston, this 1997 film directed by Mike Newell, is probably the best undercover police movie ever made. As “Donnie Brasco”, Joe Piston earned his place in the federal witness protection program, with his daring and unprecedented infiltration of the New York Mob. Donnie was brought into the mob scene, by a low-level made man named Lefty Ruggerio, who was played by Al Pacino in the movie. As he acclimates himself into Lefty’ world, Donnie starts to distance himself from his family, as he starts to lose sense of his true identity as he adapts into the mobster lifestyle. Will Donnie make it out alive, and if so, will he ever be the same? Cast includes Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, James Russo, Michael Madsen, and Bruno Kirby.
12. Pulp Fiction – Released in 1994 and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction was a wildly entertaining and exhilarating motion picture adventure that was hailed as a start-studded motion picture, that redefined cinema in the 20th century. The $100 million plus blockbuster hit about a pair of low-rent hit men, their boss’s sexy wife, and a desperate prize fighter, will leave you exhilarated and exhausted. The marque cast of stars included Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Christopher Walken, and Ving Rhames.
11. Once Upon a Time in America – Directed by Sergio Leone, “Once Upon A Time in America“ was released in 1984, after ten years of planning. The movie portrays 50 years of riveting underworld history, as it is told as a flashback, by an aging Jewish gangster named Noodles. Noodles breaks down how the turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants in America find their way into a life of crime. Originally, the directors cut was 227 minutes long, but was cut down to 139 minute version for it U.S. release. “Once Upon A Time in America“ offered rich roles to a remarkable cast that included the likes of, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, James Wood, Elizabeth McGovern, and Burt Young.
10. A Bronx Tale – Released in 1993, this film was the directorial debut of Robert De Niro, and it had a solid cast with Patrick Boriello, Lillo Brancato, Francis Capra, Clem Caserta, Joe Pesci, Robert D’Andrea, and Robert De Niro. This is an excellent story of an Italian American boy named Calogero, who grows up in the 1960’s, and caught between the strong influences of his straight-as-an-arrow father and a Mafia Chieftain who is his all-purpose mentor. Will Calogero get caught up in the lifestyle that his father tried so hard to keep him away from?
9. Carlito’s Way – This 1993 film based on a pair on books by Edwin Torres, Carlito’s Way was directed by Brian De Palma, and starred Al Pacino, Sean penn, Penelope Ann Miller, John Leguizamo, and Ingrid Rogers. Based on an ex-cons effort to go straight after being released from prison, but his cocky attorney, and street enemies make it very difficult. How long can he last before he gives back into a life of crime?
8. The Untouchables – This 1987 box-office hit, was directed by Brian De Palma, and starred actors Robert De Niro, Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, and Andy Garcia. Based on the history of the Prohibition-era Chicago, four maverick lawmen known as “The Untouchables”, try to take out the infamous gangster know as Al Capone. The group of mob fighters, who were headed by Federal Agent Elliot Ness, must use unpractical methods to try to bring down Chicago’s mob boss. But do they really have what it takes to bring down Capone and his legendary baseball bat?
7. Resevoir Dogs – Directed by Quentin Tarantino, this 1992 film, included stars Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Chris Penn, and Steve Buscemi. Critically acclaimed for its raw power and breathtaking ferocity, this film is about a group of experienced criminals that were complete strangers, and were assembled to pull off a simple heist. When the plan backfires into a bloody ambush, the group of ruthless criminals realizes that they were set up by one of their own, but which one?
6. Casino – Another great movie directed by Martin Scorses, this three hour epic about the rise and fall of mobster Sam “Ace” Rothstein, is based on the life of gangster Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. The story takes us throw the rise and fall of a mafia seized Las Vegas casinos and all the blood that came with it. The cast of stars includes, Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Barbara De Fina, and Nicholas Pileggi.
5. King of New York – This low-budget crime thriller that was released in 1990, has a major blockbuster feel to it, and owes it roots to the hard-edged crime movies of the 1930’s. Directed by Abel Ferrara, this film is about New York drug kingpin “Frank White”, and his war against the city’s gangs and some renegade cops. A strong supporting cast that included, Wesley Snipes, A strong supporting cast that included, Wesley Snipes, Lawrence Fishburne, and David Caruso, made this film one of the most stylish films ever made.
4. Usual Suspects – Released in 1995, this thriller with its twisting screenplay, won an Oscar for writer Christopher McQuarrie. Based on the famous mystery of Keyser Soze, a band of thieves is gathered to steal a shipment of cocaine, or are they? With all the mind boggling twists and cleverness, Usual Suspects, will have guessing right up to the phenomenal ending. The cast includes Kevin Spacey, Steven Baldwin, Kenin Pollack, Gabriel Byrne, Benicio Del Toro, and was directed by Bryan Singer.
3. Goodfellas – Named 1990’s best film by the New York, Los Angeles, and the National Society of Film Critics, this Martin Scorsese film, earned six Academy Award nominations. Based on the true-life bestseller, “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi, goes inside the horrifying life of actual gangster Henry Hill. It depicts Hill’s life from his teen years on the streets of New York up to hi anonymous exile under the Federal Witness Protection Program. Goodfellas includes great roles by, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta.
2. The Godfather Collection – We decided to add the whole collection instead of breaking down all three movies separately, due to the fact that this list would end up being two movies shorter. This three part collection, by director Francis Ford Coppola, is a saga on mafia’s Corleone family. It takes us from Don Corleone’s childhood in Sicily, to his son Michael Corleone’s rise to power, and finally the struggle to succeed him. This movie stars Marlon Brando and Al Pacino.
That finally brings us to the number one “Gangster Movie of All-Time”. If you couldn’t guess which movie it would be, you should be watching “Sleepless in Seattle”, instead of reading this list. This movie should be in every man’s movie collection, regardless how many times you have seen it already or if it is the only movie you own, it is definitely a must have. It is an honor to present to you, not only the best gangster movie, but one of the best movies ever produced.
1. Scarface – This 1983 film directed by Brian De Palma, scripted by Oliver Stone, is a gangster movie masterpiece. This drug and blood drenched saga of Cuban refugee Tony Montana who is played by Al Pacino, depicts his rise to the top of Miami’s cocaine business and his hard fall due to his paranoia and cocaine addition. Tony’s guts, intelligence, high ambition, and fearless attitude, takes him from a dishwasher, to the top of a criminal empire that puts him on top of the world. Michelle Pfeiffer gives an outstanding effort, as she plays the role of Tony’s, neglected cocaine addicted trophy wife. Other cast members include Steven Bauer, who played Tony’s concerned close friend, and F. Murray Abraham, Robert Loggia, and Paul Shenar as some of Tony’s sleezy business partners and potential killers. This film, which is quoted all around the world, has been referenced in rap songs, and in subsequent gangster movies, is a “Must Have DVD.” Yes that is right, it is a must have, not a must see. Watching this movie one time is an unlikely certainty, so save yourself the trips to the rental store and rental fees, and just buy it. The show stopping, “chainsaw in the shower scene”, is enough to cover the cost of the movie alone.
As we finish a great list of movies, I would like to say thanks to all the directors, actors, and actresses that made it all possible. Directors such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, and Quentin Tarantino, who took a script and turned it into a masterpiece of a movie, we thank you. The cast of actors and actresses that took their characters and transformed them from a piece of paper, taking their role above and beyond to give us the most real-life performances we have seen to date, we thank you. Without all your creativity and dedication that went into each film, the movies would never become the hits that they are today, and the movie industry just wouldn’t be the same.
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