Best Mafia Movies of All Time
The best gangster movies of all time have a treasure trove of memorable characters, unforgettable plot lines and violent set-pieces that are all grounded in reality.
The golden age of LaRosa Nostra is over, but Hollywood continues to make rags-to-riches stories.
We’ve looked through the centuries of Hollywood work to find the 21 best mafia movies. We presented them in alphabetical order, so that all 20 should be on your watch queue.
A Bronx Tale
A Bronx Tale is a film that speaks of the growing pains of getting older, as well as issues relating to love, race, duty, and heroic influences.
A Bronx Tale is an example of how the film could have been better if the director had focused the film on Henry Hill’s youth.
The reunion of Brian De Palma and Al Pacino a decade later is a certifiable classic, even though they will probably be remembered for their work on Scarface.
In Carlito’s Way, De Palma tells the story yts
of Carlito’s demise before we ever see the work he puts into crafting his empire.
The best mafia movies don’t rely on smoke and mirrors, which makes this plot device so satisfying. It’s the inevitability and sense of dread that come with living a certain lifestyle. The audience gets to feel that sense of unease for the entire film.
Martin Scorsese’s film Casino reminds us that the desert was built upon the interests of men throughout the United States.
The story of Sam “Ace”Rothstein is a reinterpretation of a real life numbers man, Lefty Rosenthal, and we see the push and pull between those around him that want to use the palaces as a murder scene.
Martin Scorsese took the Eastern influences of the 2002 Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs, and made a Boston-based film where the line between cop and crook was as murky as the waters in the harbor.
The cat and mouse game between Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon is very exciting to watch. It speaks to an overarching theme we see in many of the best gangster movies; impressionable little boys grow up and become what they see. Their dual nature makes The Departed feel new and unexpected.
Donnie Brasco tells the true story of an agent who used the movie’s title as his codename and was part of the Bonanno crime family.
Johnny Depp is perfect as Lefty, the man who knows that no matter what side of the law you’re on, it’s all just a rat race.
The French Connection
The French Connection is a film about two New York City detectives who broke up a global heroin ring.
The character of Popeye Doyle, which Gene Hackman played in 1972 and won an Oscar for, is decidedly immoral and not the typical hero that Hollywood was making out of at the time. Hackman’s character tortures a black man dressed as Santa Claus.
The best gangster movie of all time is not glamorizing New York City. The narrative is a truly believable quality because it reveals all the scars and pockmarks.
The 1972 release date of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece remains as important to the genre as any other film prior to that.
The director was wise to see that Mario Puzo’s source material was ripe with family relationships which were vital to elevating the subject matter from a pulpy to genius.
In his production diary, the director noted the pitfalls he would face in telling the story of the Corleone family. People must feel that they are seeing something.
The audiences were put in the shoes of Michael Corleone. He was far removed from the typical Italian goombah that the director wanted to avoid. Michael was a breathing person even after his father’s injuries.
The Godfather II
The movie debate continues to be a hot topic, and is the second part of The Godfather better than the first one, which won three Oscars?
The original film won more awards than The Godfather II, but the latter won more awards in the categories of Best Director, Best Original Music and Best Production Design. Robert De Niro is the first actor to win for performing in a language other than English.
In both mob movies, the importance of Vito Corleone is important. The character of the man who would have no problem sticking a horse head in a man’s bed is portrayed by Robert De Niro in the original, and he brings a greater understanding into the mind of the man.
What is better, the case of what’s better or the case of nothing? That’s like choosing between a sunrise and a sunset. It’s a matter of mood.
The dual narrative is a hallmark of Martin Scorsese movies. It’s particularly effective in Goodfellas because it provides context as it relates to the usual elements of all mafia movies, but Karen’s narrative arcs and explanation adds a whole new level of depth to the genre. We have never before understood the effects of a life of crime with a strong female point of view.
If you’re not able to watch a lot of movies, the best ones are classics because they keep you interested even if you don’t have much time. The entire film plays like that. Goodfellas is like a string of shorts that have been carefully cobbled together.
It would be hard to leave Infernal Affairs off this list because of the similarities between it and The Departed.
The same tension is present as we watch the drama unfold between Chan Wing-Yan and Lau Kin Ming who are on opposite sides of the law and have different loyalties.
There are significant differences between the two movies, both in the visual style of the filmmaking and the plot-wise. The ending of Infernal Affairs is more realistic and depicts the guilt of living life as a knight in shining armor, but with the heart of a rat.
The Irishman was a film that many fans of the genre would like to see again. For some, it was a reunion of a murder’s row of talent, featuring De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino, inevitably working with each other for the final time, for others, it was too long and off-put by the de-aging technology.
The film is more about loyalty than about violence. The push and pull between Frank and Jimmy was electric.
The direct competition between one’s real family and the mafia is one of the most effective underlying subplots in any of the best mafia movies.
Harvey Keitel’s character, Charlie, is torn between his ambition to rise up the ranks and his brother-like bond with Robert De Niro’s, Johnny Boy, who is like bacon grease on each rung of a ladder.
In film, we tend to focus on the people and events that have grandiose qualities. Brian De Palma’s movie is a good example. Mean Streets is not the same as the other. It’s a rare mafia movie about people who get stepped on.
There is no mistake that the movie is a Coen brothers movie. They have a strong point-of-view and a way of peeling back the layers to strike the perfect balance between humor and drama by using character traits like greed, jealously and ambition.
Gabriel Byrne is playing multiple sides of a feud between Irish and Italian mobsters in a movie built upon a cast of unreliable characters.
Once Upon a Time in America
While he is best known for his work in the Western genre, he trained his talents on other genres.
The auteur had turned down The Godfather when it was offered to him. He knew he had to explore the depths of Herschel Goldberg when he became enamored with the life of the man.
The film is rife with drama thanks to a memorable performance by Robert De Niro as Noodles, who was forced to reconcile with the guilt that had plagued him for most of his life, and illustrated prominently through the use of dreams, hallucinations and flashbacks.
The ability of Quentin Tarantino to bounce from genre to genre is unique. He has put a finite number on the films he has left in his arsenal, but he hasn’t ruled out a return to the genre, saying, “A couple of things left that would be fun is I like the idea of doing a 30s gangster movie.” That would be cool.
In his filmography, the film that will be remembered the most is Pulp Fiction. Each narrative shock is a shock to the system, and it is non- linearly told.
When speaking with the film’s producers, he said that the film needed an aspect of criminality that he wanted to put under a microscope. Mob movies are often parodies of the American dream. They’re the looking glass of the business world.
He focused on the aftermath of a robbery in the movie. We are beginning to understand how a get-rich-quick scheme will have deadly consequences.
There is a reason why Brian De Palma’s Scarface deserves a place at the table. It’s wickedly entertaining and has something to do with Al Pacino’s portrayal of Tony Montana.
Everyone agrees that everyone is in a pursuit for something greater, even though there are differences that define us. Parents want their kids to have better things than they did.
Tony Montana’s rise was not like that of most of us, but we can appreciate the feeling of stripping off an apron and moving on to the next job.
True Romance doesn’t fit into a single genre like many other movies written by Quentin Tarantino. The scene between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper solidified it as a gangster classic and laid the groundwork for future works like Inglorious Basterds.
In the audio commentary, the director said that the scene was one of the proudest moments of his career.
The Untouchables is a film about the vice grip held by Al Capone on the city of Chicago, and features a murderer’s row of talent, including Brian De Palma, David Mamet, Robert De Niro, Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Ennio Morricone.
The most brutal scene in the entire film is where Capone lures turncoat associates to dinner and beats them all to death with a baseball bat, and it’s not something that most casual mob movie fans know about.
Audiences in the late 1980s were shown violence. There is a shot that shows brain matter being splattered against a wall. The sense of authenticity was quite shocking for people who only saw a gunshot wound.
The Usual Suspects
It feels like a standard addition to the genre of mafia movies with unexpected consequences for the band of men involved in The Usual Suspects. The underlying mafia elements are similar to the Keyser Sze who hired the thieves.
The film is remembered as one of the best mafia movies ever because of the shocking and unexpected turn in the film, which reveals Sze as a mastermind and makes him one of the most shocking and unexpected movie villains of all time.
White Heat is one of the best gangster movies of the last century and it would be a travesty to leave it out of this collection.
The film explores the depths of criminal behavior and the impact on those on the fringes, and was directed by James Cagney, who played a complex criminal who thinks and reacts with humanistic qualities.