The Top 25 Gangster Films of the Last 40 Years

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The Top 25 Gangster Films of the Last 40 Years

The greatest gangster film of all time—Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather—just turned 40. To celebrate the birthday of Coppola’s classic, we’re counting down the top 25 gangster films that followed it (broadly defining the genre). Here are the top 25 gangster films of the last 40 years:


25. American Gangster (2007)

If it wasn’t for the talents of Denzel Washington, American Gangster probably wouldn’t be worthwhile. The biopic of Harlem gangster Frank Lucas moves swiftly with dazzling cinematography, yet the story never explores the depths of the notorious criminal. Washington, though, performs lights out, making up for the superficiality with a raw sense of humanity.


24. Road to Perdition (2002)

As he did in American Beauty, Sam Mendes here creates another grand tragedy. Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name, Road to Perdition tells a captivating tale about a father and son—gangster and future gangster. There’s warmth in their relationship, but the outcome of it proves cold, something Mendes hones in on with the beautifully bleak cinematography.


23. Boyz N the Hood (1991)

The Boyz N the Hood might not be the first gangsters that come to mind when you think of gangster films, but they’re the real deal—straight out of South Central. Through powerful performances from Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cub and Morris Chestnut, they’re also a trio we grow to love and care about as they struggle to make sense of their gangster lives.


22. Snatch (2000)

Love or hate him, Guy Ritchie has redefined the gangster genre with his hyper-stylized touch. Snatch may be a lesser remix of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but it boasts a multifaceted plot, frenzied action and dazzling eye candy. And how can you not love characters with names like Franky Four Fingers, Bullet Tooth Tony and Doug the Head?


21. Gangs of New York (2002)

Though not at the top of the Scorsese totem pole, Gangs of New York will still live on as a top-notch gangster flick. The revenge saga has an epic scope with a beautiful setting and unforgettable characters. Daniel Day Lewis’ vicious and relentless Bill the Butcher may be one of the greatest movie villains of our time.


20. Scarface (1983)

Brian Depalma’s Scarface may be overrated—hence the reason why it isn’t further down on the list—but it’s a cult classic with, perhaps, the most famous quote from any gangster film: “Say hello to my little friend.” In other words, the film—particularly Al Pacino—is completely over the top, which is both awful and awesome.


19. Bugsy Malone (1976)

The lives of infamous gangsters Al Capone and Bugs Moran (combined as Bugsy Malone, get it?) spoofed by children, including a young Jodie Foster, in a G-rated musical? Yes please. Though actually pretty silly, this 1976 British production proves strange and creative enough to leave its imprint on the gangster genre.


18. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

The debut film from Guy Ritchie, this super stylistic take on the gangster formula pays homage to the work of Quentin Tarantino. From the sardonic humor, to slapstick violence, to the twisty plot, you could call it the British Reservoir Dogs on crack. Its obtrusive soundtrack—a mix of classic rock, reggae and pop—brings it all together.


17. The Godfather, Part III (1990)

Part three of The Godfather trilogy gets a lot of flack when viewed in the light of its predecessors, but it’s actually an underrated achievement in the gangster genre. Though not as cohesive, well acted or dramatically riveting as part one or two, it represents a more socially, politically and morally aware frame of mind from Coppola.


16. Donnie Brasco (1997)

Donnie Brasco innovates the gangster movie, mishmashing it with the undercover cop movie and focusing on a less famous crime family, the Bonannos, one of the mafia’s Five Families of New York City in the 1970s. In the lead role, Johnny Depp delivers a prevailing performance, hashing out a moral dilemma as the undercover Donnie Brasco.

The greatest gangster film of all time—Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather—just turned 40. To celebrate the birthday of Coppola’s classic, we’re counting down the top 25 gangster films that followed it (broadly defining the genre). Here are the top 25 gangster films of the last 40 years:


15. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Right off the bat, in his first feature film, Quentin Tarantino flaunts the love and knowledge of cinema that he developed as an employee of a video rental store. He borrows heavily from Kubrick’s The Killing and Scorsese’s early gangster pics but, at the same time, makes Reservoir Dogs his own. Violent, clever and lively, it epitomizes the talented auteur he’s become.


14. Eastern Promises (2007)

David Cronenberg’s film about a London midwife (Naomi Watts) who gets caught up with the Russian mob contains one of the most memorable fight scenes to date: a nude and tattooed Vigo Mortensen beats the brains out two gangsters in a bathhouse. In contrast, the story has a genuine grace and sentiment about it. Who knew the sadistic Cronenberg had such a soft spot?


13. The Departed (2006)

Martin Scorsese’s first gangster film to be set in Boston isn’t his best, but it won him his first Best Picture Award at the Oscars. Featuring an all-star cast in the likes of Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson, the gangster drama, a remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, upholds the optimum qualities of a classic Scorsese picture: style, morality and grit.


12. The Usual Suspects (1995)

With all its twists, turns, rumors and flashbacks, The Usual Suspects could have easily been a mess, but director Bryan Singer, screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie and the outstanding cast, led by Kevin Spacey and Chazz Palminteri, hold it together. While technically a mystery film at the core, it goes gangster by the end.


11. The Untouchables (1987)

Don’t let anyone fool you: Brian De Palma’s greatest gangster film isn’t Scarface. It’s The Untouchables. Starring a brilliant Sean Connery, Robert De Niro and Kevin Costner, this large-scale look at the Chicago mob wars of the 1920s comes together with style and force—and some genuine laughs. The grandiose score from Ennio Morricone provides an extra bang.


10. A Bronx Tale (1993)

After acting as the centerpiece for so many gangster films, Robert De Niro decided to make his own. In his directorial debut, he spins a gripping coming-of-age story that delves into the depths of family and race. Though honest and brutal, the film has a heavy heart and sound sense of morality. De Niro captures the time and place—the Bronx of the 1960s—spot on.


9. City of God (2002)

City of God is, at times, not easy to watch because of its honest portrayal of gang life in Rio De Janiero, where the killers and victims are kids and teenagers. But that’s part of what makes it so enthralling. Similar to Goodfellas in story, as an outsider makes his way into the world of crime, the Brazilian film moves urgently and gets a beautiful visual treatment from director Fernando Mierelles.


8. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

In the wake of the first two Godfather films, Sergio Leone showed boldness to attempt a gangster film of this scale and magnitude, but the boldness paid off. Centered on a gang of Jewish mobsters—played by greats such as Robert De Niro and James Woods—Once Upon a Time in America makes for a violent and haunting social history of crime in America.


7. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Still Quentin Tarantino’s greatest accomplishment, Pulp Fiction rehashes a handful of other great gangster movies to form a modern masterpiece. In a full-circle plot of crossings and complications, the smart elick of a movie takes us on an ultra-violent and ultra-funny ride with John Travolta at his best and Samuel L. Jackson dropping F-bombs like no one else.


6. Casino (1995)

A three-hour examination of crime and punishment—and loyalty and betrayal—in Las Vegas, Martin Scorsese’s Casino may be long and slow but, at the same time, it’s totally intoxicating, and the experience is rewarding. Scorsese brings the same style of Goodfellas back—the bravura visuals and rock ’n’ roll soundtrack—and Sharon Stone gives the performance of a lifetime.

The greatest gangster film of all time—Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather—just turned 40. To celebrate the birthday of Coppola’s classic, we’re counting down the top 25 gangster films that followed it (broadly defining the genre). Here are the top 25 gangster films of the last 40 years:


5. Miller’s Crossing (1990)

In Miller’s Crossing, the Coen brothers achieve something special. They create a film that looks and feels like a gangster classic. But they also infill it with all the beloved trademarks that make them who they are: stylized cinematography, dark humor, clever dialogue and quirky characters, including John Turturro in a spectacular performance as the unpredictable and cowardly Bernie.


4. Mean Streets (1973)

Of all Martin Scorsese’s gangster flicks, none feel as personal as Mean Streets. The main character, played wonderfully by Harvey Keitel, could very well be Scorsese himself, an Italian-American caught in the middle of two lives: crime and religion. Gritty and vigorous with an exhilarating performance from a young Robert De Niro, the film marks Scorsese’s first great gangster feat.


3. The Godfather, Part II (1974)

With the success of The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola’s second chapter—released just two years later—set a new precedent for sequels by proving just as triumphant. Anchored by prevailing performances from Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, the follow-up carries on the mafia saga and explores the parallels between father and son. It’s another tour de force with epic proportions.


2. Goodfellas (1990)

If any gangster film gives The Godfather a run for its money, it’s Goodfellas—Martin Scorsese’s raw and stylish story of real-life mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). Fast, violent and funny (“What do you mean I’m funny?”) with riveting performances from Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, Scorsese’s biopic walks a fine line between the glamorization and desolation of crime.


1.The Godfather (1972)

What’s there to say about this cinematic staple that hasn’t already been said? Francis Ford Coppola’s classic crime drama epitomizes the word “epic” in every way. The performances, the characters, the narrative, the scope, the setting, the score—everything comes to the screen so, well, epically. For that and a whole slew of other reasons, The Godfather should “have your loyalty” as the greatest gangster film of all time.