When you go to the movies, do you like to feel for the bad guys? Do you think that even gangsters and criminals are just people who adapt to the circumstances of their environment? You like it when movies show how important family is, how you can go against the law for them, but how good wins in the end? Then you have come to the right place. Here we show you the 21 best mafia and gangster movies of all time.
Rank 21: Bonnie and Clyde
Bonnie and Clyde – a gangster drama from 1967, which is based on true events. The gangster couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow decide to live together beyond the law. They rob banks, steal cars, and are constantly on the run. While they become a model for the world to rise above the constricting laws of the government, they stand as the number one wanted men for the police. On their escape, Bonnie and Clyde are finally shot by the police.
Only on the second attempt, the film could convince the critics. Nowadays, it is considered a turning point in American cinema and, therefore, cannot be missing from any list of gangster films.
Rank 20: HEAT (1995)
Hardly any actor has portrayed villains and mobsters as often and, above all, as grandiosely as Robert De Niro. Accordingly, we will certainly meet him more often on this list. Together with Al Pacino and Natalie Portman, the film became a great success in 1995. A group of gangsters rob an armored car, killing several guards, and subsequently go on the run. Nevertheless, more crimes are committed during this time.
Not only the interplay of such gifted actors and actresses provides enthusiasm. The plot and cinematic realization are also way ahead of their time.
Rank 19: Snatch (2000)
Brad Pitt, Jason Statham, Benicio del Toro, and Vinnie Jones provide entertainment in this gangster comedy. Three different storylines tell the story of the individual characters, which only cross over in the course of the film. Snatch has a little bit of everything, whether it’s illegal boxing matches, jewel thefts, or murderers.
Especially the portrayal of the different main characters, who are well done throughout, is what makes this film so exciting. The rapid change between the individual storylines provides speed and suspense, combined with a good dose of British humor.
18th place: Gangs of New York (2002)
Gangs of New York is one of the masterpieces created by Martin Scorsese. Often his films deal with gangsters, Mafia, and violence. This film is based on a novel by Herbert Asbury. In the 19. In the 21st century, there is a gang war in Manhattan, in which different, partly also ethnic groups are involved. Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Cameron Diaz are in the middle of the action.
The film received ten nominations for the Oscar, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor in a Leading Role, but it could not win any of them. At the Golden Globes, the film won two out of five nominations. Especially the powerful images, but also the drama and the constant brute force, made for excellent reviews.
Rank 17: Road to Perdition (2002)
This drama was released in 2002, starring Tom Hanks, with Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, and Jude Law in supporting roles. In a small town, an Irish gangster gang rules for whom Mike Sullivan works as an enforcer. In the midst of this chaos of violence and death, a family drama unfolds whose complexities make for speechless, rapturous wonderment.
The gangster drama can be understood as a moral lesson. No matter how heinous some of the characters’ actions may be, you can understand their motivations. And in the end, good wins out; morality wins out – yet there is the greatest sadness. In 2003 the film was nominated for six Oscars but only won one for best cinematography.
Rank 16: American Gangster (2007)
Directed by Ridley Scott, the cast includes: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, and Cuba Gooding Jr. What reads like a “Who’s Who” of Hollywood are the core facts about this gangster thriller from 2007. Frank Lucas works as a driver for a criminal organization similar to the Mafia. He later manages to become one of the bosses himself and primarily operates drug trafficking, but he also does not shy away from murders. In the course of the film, the main theme is the struggle of the law against the ruthless gangster.
The big plus point of the film is the focus on the characters and their motivations, which is unfortunately countered by a slight lack of action and several minor logical flaws.
15th place: Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Reservoir Dogs is the first film by a director who would later achieve worldwide fame: Quentin Tarantino! Already in the game are some actors who support the exceptional director and are still energetic: Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, and of course, Mr. Tarantino himself.
Even if the film could not yet attract the general public’s attention, it was already called the greatest independent film of all time in 1992 after its release. Eight people, mostly unknown to each other, plan a joint heist in a restaurant. The very next scene shows that, obviously, not everything went according to plan. Gradually the whole story is revealed to the viewer in all its glory.
Rank 14: Pulp Fiction (1994)
And again, we meet the grand master Quentin Tarantino. But now, with the film that made him world-famous in 1994: Pulp Fiction. John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, and Samuel L. Jackson, with some of the best actors, occupy. In several different storylines, which are not processed chronologically, the stories of the individual characters are told.
The big link between the characters is the gangster boss Marsellus Wallace. It is worth mentioning that both Bruce Willis and John Travolta gave up large parts of their salary so that the film could be realized.
Seven Oscar nominations (including a win in the category of Best Original Screenplay) also show a great success. Critics praised especially the fantastic black humor, the exaggerated scenes of violence, and the great production in picture and sound.
Rank 13: Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Robert De Niro, here alongside James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, and Joe Pesci, directed by Sergio Leone. The film tells the story of a gang in New York which earns its money with protection racket and alcohol smuggling. This film must also include its predecessors: Play Me the Song of Death (1968), as well as Death Melody (1971), which are generally counted as the first two parts of the “America Trilogy.”
After its release in theaters, the film was not really perceived positively internationally. It was only after the death of Sergio Leone that it was appreciated internationally and considered the masterpiece that it is.
12th place: Mean Streets (1973)
Back in 1973, director Martin Scorsese’s collaboration with actors Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro caused a sensation. In the 1960s, petty criminal Charlie works as a debt collector for a small Mafia family in Little Italy. His life, love, rise, and fall in this witch’s cauldron of a criminal city are shown. Critics were very positive about the incredible emotional outbursts of the actors but also about Scorsese’s fast, aggressive staging.
Rank 11: The Untouchables (1987)
This crime film with Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, and Sean Connery (Oscar for best supporting actor) was made in 1987!). To fight Al Capone, a special group is formed, which is supposed to stand out for its incorruptibility (quite the opposite of the local police). There are also some major successes in the fight against crime, but setbacks follow these due to the bribery of jurors in court. The detailed treatment of organized crime, but also the fantastic cast, had a positive impact on the reviews.
Rank 10: Carlito’s Way (1993)
Despite two Golden Globe nominations and an excellent cast (Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, Al Pacino), Carlito’s Way was never able to achieve great success. As a mobster is gunned down, he recalls how he got into this situation in flashbacks. This includes all the sequences of violence, crime, success, and defeat common to Mafia movies.
Above all, the acting duel between Al Pacino and Sean Penn is a source of enthusiasm. The final scene is of epic proportions and must be seen by every gangster movie lover. The fact that you have to watch a movie that becomes a bit boring due to the concentration on some gangster movie clichés should be accepted by fans of the genre without hesitation.
Rank 9: Eastern Promises (2007)
Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts are the stars of this thriller from 2007. The London branch of the Russian Mafia has its hands full, cleaning up after the excesses of the godfather’s unstable son. When he learns that his father fathered a child after a rape, he tries to make all evidence, including the child, disappear.
What makes this film special is that it focuses on the motivations behind each of their actions, so you can see human beings behind even the craziest mobsters. At the same time, the film shocks with this almost harmonious juxtaposition of coziness and brute force.
Rank 8: A Bronx Tale (1993)
Once again, we meet Robert De Niro. “In the Streets of the Bronx” is a film in which he has been responsible not only as a performer but also for production and direction. The film, released in 1993, shows the life of several children in the Bronx, one of New York’s most notorious neighborhoods.
The children try to imitate the openly appearing Mafiosi there, show open racial hatred and go into illegal smaller businesses. When they witness a murder, they show loyalty to the Mafia, which begins a long-lasting collaboration.
The film shows the feelings that the inhabitants of a district controlled by the Mafia struggle with. The viewer knows about all the horror caused by the gangsters but also recognizes the many good things and struggles, much like the characters themselves, to choose a side.
7th place: Donnie Brasco (1997)
In 1997 Donnie Brasco was shown for the first time in cinemas. In the leading roles, none other than Johny Depp and Al Pacino. An FBI agent is infiltrated undercover into a Mafia family and is supposed to win their trust. However, as time goes by, he gets closer and closer to the Mafia and can’t put it down even at home.
The movie is based on true events which led to the arrest of over 120 members of the Mafia. In this film, the viewer is taken into a world of crime – albeit a thoroughly comprehensible one. He has a similar fate as the FBI agent, and reality threatens to sink in.
6th place: The Irishman (2019)
Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran is a man who has a lot on his mind. The former union official and killer learned to kill in Italy during World War II. Today he looks back on his life and the murders that defined his mafia career and maintained ties to the Bufalino crime family. In particular, on the role he allegedly played in the disappearance of his lifelong friend Jimmy Hoffa, former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. They mysteriously vanished in late July 1975 at the age of 62.
With The Irishman, director Scorsese offers us a film that paints a picture of old age’s slow, inevitable decline. There are the typical dolly shots, the contemporary pop music, and the bursts of brutality, but there’s also a tender melancholy that we’ve rarely seen, even in his better films.
5th place: The Departed (2005)
2006 saw the release of Departed, the last gangster film by the grand master Martin Scorsese. Among others, Brad Pitt was responsible for the production. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, and Martin Sheen shine in the lead and supporting roles.
This film focuses on the interplay between the Irish Mafia and the police. Each organization infiltrates the other undercover. It is amusing that the respective informers are assigned to track down the infiltrators. It comes as it must, and everything gets out of control.
The film combines all the ingredients that make up a great gangster film: Excellent performances, fantastic images, and a story about lies, corruption, and intrigue.
4th place: Casino (1995)
Also in place 4 is a film by Martin Scorsese. Once again, Robert De Niro can be seen in the leading role. Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci shine next to him. The film’s beginning shows how a Mafioso becomes a car bomb victim. Then, in a flashback, the ten preceding years are told, with them the story of how the gangster works his way up from gambler and bookmaker to casino manager and finally to his status.
The film shows the extreme mutual influence of the Mafia and crime on the one hand with capitalism on the other, using the example of Las Vegas and the casino business. This is wrapped in the typical mafia movie garb of comprehensible crime and violence.
3rd place: Scarface (1983)
Scarface shows the rise of the Cuban immigrant Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in the world of drug trafficking. Tony fights his way from dishwasher to drug lord with almost unlimited violence and brutality. The film is considered one of the co-founders of the modern gangster film.
For a long time, he was very controversial because of his brutal depictions of violence. Scarface combines excellent imagery with a skillful portrayal of the gangster by Al Pacino, builds in a fitting musical score, and leads through a breathtaking story with astute dialogue.
2nd place: Goodfellas (1990)
And again, the dream team Martin Scorsese / Robert De Niro, strikes again. This time supported by terrific Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, and Lorraine Bracco. The film revolves around the Italian-American Henry Hill, of partly Irish descent, who enters the service of the Mafia as an 11-year-old boy. You follow his rise in the hierarchy of the Mafia over three decades and follow him as he commits numerous crimes as well as his personal life. The film culminates in the fall into drug addiction and the attempt to get out of the Mafia.
Six Academy Award nominations (with Best Supporting Actor winner Joe Pesci) are a testament to the film’s international acceptance. In Good Fellas, the Mafia is shown as a criminal organization with all its weaknesses. This is shown from an insider’s point of view with all its dichotomy.
1st place: The Godfather, Parts I, II, and III
Actually, the three parts of “The Godfather” should all be in the top 5 of a list of the best mafia and gangster movies of all time. In order to leave more space for the competition, we have decided to group them together and give them the highly deserved first place. Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
In the leading roles, you can find Marion Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, and Andy Garcia, among others. The films tell the story of the “Corleone” mafia family. In the first part, Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is introduced as the head of the family, and his children (u.a. Al Pacino) move to the story’s center. Part II deals, among other things, with the past of Don Vito (Robert De Niro), while Part III – now already 30 years after the first part – focuses on the godfather’s attempt to escape organized crime.
No matter which part, the incredible family cohesion of individual families in the Mafia is thematized and made understandable and uncanny. Especially the first two parts just do everything right that is possible. Part III has some lengths, but it is still among the best mafia movies offer.
We hope we can give you a good insight into the world of mafia and gangster movies. Maybe you don’t know one or the other film yet and got some inspiration for your next movie night. Have we unjustly omitted a film from our list? Just let us know!