My favorite genre of film is now going to get its own list from 10 to 1 as my favorite films of its respective genre. Gangster/crime films are narratives that always have you questioning your humanity only to enhance the morals you have had all along. They are the classic anti-heroes or the villains you want to root for, but they aren’t usually ever “good guys”, but we love them anyways. Scorsese and Coppola have made this genre into what it is today while having it pioneered by James Cagney and many more.
For me, gangster films are crime dramas at the same time and almost feel redundant, if not symbiotic. The films on this list span for multiple decades and have to be films that clearly depict the mobster and gangster life through a panel of gunfire and drugs or otherwise.
10. Pulp Fiction (1994): While to this day I skip the whole “gimp scene” with swift intentions, Pulp Fiction is still a great gangster-crime drama in a way only Quentin Tarantino could have realized for the big screen. With unusually plentiful dialogue that almost feels like it doesn’t belong in a “gangster movie” Samuel L. Jackson is what reminds us what genre this truly falls under. Brutal violence with painstaking tension make this interwoven story unlike anything before or after it. I would have put Reservoir Dogs on here, but there is simply more meat to Pulp Fiction.
9. American Gangster (2007): This may come to a shock for everyone, but I really enjoy style of Ridley Scott’s gangster biopic. An unbelievably talented cast with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe among others with a powerful depiction of the drug ring that Frank Lucas ran in his era of New York. It gives the classic gangster perspective with a well crafted story that doesn’t strictly have Italians, but African-Americans, and that is something to be proud of. I mean heck, it has Gangster in the title so it has to be good right?
8. Donnie Brasco (1997): This was when I saw Johnny Depp the actor, not Johny Depp the weirdo, and while he’s great at being weird, he serves best as a “normal” human being in his films. His convincing turn as undercover cop turned real life gangster Donnie Brasco is a revelation and his relationship throughout the film with Al Pacino’s character is heartbreaking and tension filled making Pacino the weakling rather than the Don. It’s one of the 90’s most undervalued films if not one of the genres most overlooked pieces of cinema.
7. Scarface (1983): While the run-time is as ballsy in length as the craftsmanship of the overall project, Scarface is every guys favorite movie to some degree whether they know it or not. Pacino is a role that may have him in the acting Hall of Fame off of about three quotes alone that serve as the driving reminders of what this film is about. One of the best remakes that no one realizes is actually a remake and set Brian De Palma in a league of his own when it comes to directing gangster movies. Oliver Stone is the one we have to thank for the amazing script though.
6. The Departed (2006): Without question one of my most viewed films of all time. It has a cast that makes you melt and a much lighter (I mean that literally) visual aesthetic comparatively to Scorsese’s other crime epics. It’s sharp and poignant with performances and an interlocking story to match with DiCaprio, Damon, and the great Jack Nicholson just to name a few. Rather than New York, we are taken to the crime world of Bean-Town aka Boston with a quickly moving story of cat and mouse. It takes out Italians and replaces them with some feisty Irish men and women getting their jobs done.
5. Casino (1995): Think of this as the unofficial sequel to Goodfellas with a narrative so compelling that you’ll forget that the film is three hours long. DeNiro and Pesci come together for their third film with Scorsese proving that they know exactly how to bring out Scorsese’s direction as well as their own special talents for being likable a-holes, well, DeNiro does anyways. It’s cinematic brilliance as the film takes us into the corruption of a gangster who makes his money through, you guessed it, Casinos. Sharon Stone brings her best for her role in the film as well and makes sure we never forget her.
4. City of God (2002): How many times do I have to bring this film up on these lists for people to recognize that this is one of cinemas true gems to all genres. Shot in Rio De Janeiro with a New Latin style of film making North America has never seen before, it pushes the boundaries of the Brazilian culture’s style of film making by depicting the hyper violence in the slums real people suffer through. It’s a great narrative that has the dreamer stuck in a nightmare as the rise of gangster Lord of sorts reigns supreme in the slums. It’s a gorgeous film that makes you forget it has subtitles.
3. The Godfather Part II (1975): Recently re-watching this, I could have put this at number one in a heartbeat, but I find the movie is great when it goes back to the rise of Vito Corleone, played perfectly by DeNiro, rather than the present day rise of his son Michael (though Pacino’s side of the film is still great). I’m not sure how a film can rival its first film so well, but Part II manages to do that will flying colors and it does this by being both a prequel and a sequel.
2. The Godfather (1972): While it stands at a respectable number two, its ranking doesn’t constitute it being an inferior film to number one. In fact, if someone switched one and two, I don’t think the list changes much. We all know The Godfather is the standard for all mobster/gangster film epics and it’s not difficult to find prove as to why. From the masterfully done cinematography to the iconic performances by Al Pacino and Marlon Brando will always stand the of the time as they rightfully should. It’s one of the greatest films of all time without question and pioneered some of the styles and nuances we see in film today without fail.
1. Goodfellas (1993): What is considered to be the definitive gangster/mob/crime film of all time only rivaled by films such as The Godfather, Scorsese brings the fun side to an already violent world while making us realize that the world of a gangster isn’t all its cracked up to be. As one of the most quotable films in its genre, it delivers two of gangster films most iconic stars, Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci together on screen for an award winning turn for Pesci all narrated by a polarizing Ray Liotta. It’s not as long as The Godfather, but it’s still as artfully crafted as any other great film in or out of its genre, a masterpiece.