The gangster genre has delivered some of the most powerful stories ever made.
We rank the 31 best gangster movies of all time.
Find out where movies like "Scarface," "Goodfellas," "New Jack City," and "The Godfather" rank on the list.
The gangster movie. It's the genre that made actors like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci into household names, and directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Brian De Palma into iconic figures in Hollywood.
A fascination of audiences since the 1930s, the movies have focused on the shady and dangerous figures who are involved in everything from Prohibition, the mafia, and drugs. They have become fertile ground for filmmakers to create stories that have become classics, and given actors the ability to make characters that are timeless.
Here are the 31 best gangster movies of all time, ranked in ascending order.
30. "Sugar Hill" (1993)
Set in the section of Harlem known as Sugar Hill, Wesley Snipes and Michael Wright play two brothers who are the major drug dealers in the area. But Snipes' character, Romello, is ready to exit the life leading to a dramatic confrontation between the two brothers.
Snipes shines in the lead role in which he teams again with screenwriter Barry Michael Cooper, who wrote another Snipes classic, "New Jack City."
29. "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (1998)
Guy Ritchie would gain international acclaim for this slick gangster movie in which we follow a collection of British underworld guys as they suddenly converge in a mess of money, weed, and two antique rifles.
The movie would not just launch the career of Ritchie but also Jason Statham and soccer player-turned-actor Vinnie Jones.
28. "Belly" (1998)
In a movie that has only gained more clout in the gangster genre as the years have passed (especially because of the stylish look by director Hype Williams), rappers DMX and Nas star as two friends who find themselves deep in organized crime and eventually take two separate paths to get out of it.
27. "The Departed" (2006)
Though this American remake by Martin Scorsese of the Hong Kong hit "Infernal Affairs" finally scored him a best director Oscar and stars the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, and Matt Damon, it's hardly the best of Scorsese's gangster movies.
DiCaprio plays a cop who goes undercover to infiltrate the Irish Mob in Boston. The deeper he gets, the more he finds that the police are as corrupt as the criminals he's trying to take down.
26. "A Bronx Tale" (1993)
Based on the hit play by Chazz Palminteri, Robert De Niro directs and also stars along with Palminteri in this story that follows a young boy's introduction into the gangsters on his block that he idolizes and the quest by his father (played by De Niro) to keep him out of that life.
What also makes this movie stand out is its focuses on an interracial relationship, which rarely ever gets explored in the genre.
25. "Menace II Society" (1993)
The Hughes brothers' gripping look at criminal life inside the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles focuses on two friends: one (Tyrin Turner) who is finding a way to get out of the life and the other (Larenz Tate) who fully embraces it.
The movie's unflinching violence and deep messages are a powerful combination that still resonates today.
24. "Infernal Affairs" (2002)
This Hong Kong hit, featuring many of the region's biggest stars, is definitely worth the watch if you liked "The Departed" (which is the American remake of this movie). The story and characters feel fresher and more thought out than the US version.
23. "Sexy Beast" (2000)
Jonathan Glazer's beautifully shot gangster movie features amazing performances from Ray Winstone as a retired safe cracker who isn't interested in doing one last job and Ben Kingsley as the guy who has to convince him to do it.
22. "American Gangster" (2007)
Denzel Washington gives an explosive performance as real-life gangster Frank Lucas. Russell Crowe plays the cop who has been tasked with bringing him down.
Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie's strengths are the great performances from the likes of not just Washington and Crowe, but also Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, and John Hawkes.
21. "Layer Cake" (2004)
Before Daniel Craig became 007 he starred in this fantastic gangster movie.
He plays a no-nonsense drug dealer who finds himself over his head with his team when all the money for his retirement has been stolen. Now he has to break all his rules and go deeper into the crime game than he ever has before.
20. "Scarface" (1932)
Directed by Howard Hawks and produced by Howard Hughes, this gangster movie — loosely inspired by Chicago mob kingpin Al Capone — is one of the classics of the genre. Paul Muni stars in the lead as Tony Camonte, whose hot temper and big ideas make him into a mega crime boss.
Made during the Pre-Code era of the early 1930s, when what was put on screen wasn't heavily regulated, the movie fully embraced its depiction of violence.
19. "Mean Streets" (1973)
Scorsese's first gangster movie combined the talents of Harvey Keitel and a then-unknown Robert De Niro as two small-time hoods who run around the city with their other friends trying to figure out their lives and act tough.
With a few feature films under his belt, Scorsese is able to reveal the material he's most passionate about: the New York City streets he grew up on, and the colorful characters he observed.
18. "Little Caesar" (1931)
Considered to be the first all-out gangster film, Edward G. Robinson would become a star playing the title character, a crook who becomes the head of an organized crime syndicate.
Another title that benefited from the Pre-Code era, this is one of the movies that laid the foundation of how gangster movies would be told as the genre evolved.
17. "New Jack City" (1991)
Mario Van Peebles' classic made Wesley Snipes and Ice-T into huge stars in this gangster movie that revolves around the crack epidemic in New York City in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The movie also features an impressive performance by a young Chris Rock as Pookie.
16. "Casino" (1995)
Off the success of "Goodfellas," Scorsese, De Niro, Joe Pesci, and author/screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi teamed up again to tell the story of Las Vegas legend Sam "Ace" Rothstein and how he and his mob ties controlled the strip in the 1970s.
15. "Reservoir Dogs" (1992)
Quentin Tarantino's classic looks at the before and after of a jewelry heist gone wrong.
The movie is fueled and given all its gangster greatness thanks to the perfect ensemble cast made up of Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, and Tarantino himself.
14. "Miller's Crossing" (1990)
The Coen brothers take on the Prohibition-era gangster movie with this tense drama starring Gabriel Byrne as the right-hand man of a powerful kingpin who is at odds with another gang.
The movie features the work of great character actors like Marcia Gay Harden, Albert Finney, and John Turturro, and gorgeous photography by cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld.
13. "Gomorrah" (2008)
Focused on five intertwining stories that are all touched by the powerful Italian organized crime syndicate based in Naples and Caserta, Matteo Garrone's look at the modern-day mob in Italy is a wake-up call for anyone who believes the mafia is no longer around.
12. "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967)
Arthur Penn's classic starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the legendary bank robbers blew opened the doors for the fresh and more realistic movies that would come out of Hollywood in the next decade.
11. "Donnie Brasco" (1997)
Based on the true events of FBI undercover cop Joe Pistone (played by Johnny Depp) who gets deep inside the inner working of the mob, the movie is a thrilling journey in the life of a gangster and how intoxicating it can be.
The movie has found legendary status thanks to the performance by Al Pacino as the mob underling who unwittingly lets Pistone, using the name Donnie Brasco, into his crew.
10. "Mafioso" (1962)
Director Alberto Lattuada's dark comedy follows a man living in Milan who returns to his childhood home in Sicily and ends up having to do a hit for the local crime boss — in New York City. We watch as the man is literally shipped in a wooden crate from Italy to America so he can fulfil his obligation.
The movie is topped by beautiful Italian locations and the wonderful performance by Alberto Sordi in the lead role.
9. "King of New York" (1990)
Abel Ferrara's gritty gangster movie features Christopher Walken in one of his most chilling roles. As Frank White, he plays a New York City drug lord who has just gotten out of prison and is driven to wipe out his competition.
The movie is aided by great supporting roles from Wesley Snipes, David Caruso, and Victor Argo as the cops who want to take White down. There's also Laurence Fishburne as White's enforcer, Jimmy Jump.
8. "Carlito's Way" (1993)
Having already made "Scarface," Al Pacino and director Brian De Palma teamed up once again for a different kind of gangster movie. Pacino plays Puerto Rican ex-con Carlito Brigante who is looking to go on the straight and narrow now that he's out of prison. But the streets won't let him go.
De Palma is in his element in this movie, with slick camera work, including a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase that starts in a subway ride and ends in Grand Central Station.
7. "White Heat" (1949)
This classic James Cagney movie from director Raoul Walsh still holds up as one of the best gangster movies ever.
Cagney plays Cody Jarret, a psychotic gangster who is obsessed with his mother. So much so that his final words before his death when the giant gas tank he's atop explodes are the now famous: "Made it Ma! Top of the world!"
Cagney's performance would go on to inspire countless actors playing mesmerizing psycho characters.
6. "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984)
Sergio Leone's epic masterpiece follows the life of "Noodles" Aaronson (De Niro) as he looks back on his life when he and his other Jewish friends became some of the biggest gangsters in New York City. But now, elderly and on the run, the good times are over.
The movie also includes great performances from James Woods, Burt Young, William Forsythe, Joe Pesci, and a young Jennifer Connelly.
5. "The Untouchables" (1987)
De Palma returns to the list with his own movie focused on Al Capone (played by De Niro), but this time, looking at the cops (Kevin Costner, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith, and Sean Connery) who took him down.
The score by Ennio Morricone is still one of the all-time best, and not just in the gangster genre. It also features one of the best shootouts you'll ever see.
4. "City of God" (2002)
This flawless movie from director Fernando Meirelles takes a glimpse inside the slums of Rio de Janeiro from the 1960s to the 1980s and how a group of kids grows up to be its most deadly gangsters.
The slick photography and amazing performances by the actors, many of which had never acted before, are what makes this movie a work that will be celebrated for decades to come.
3. "Goodfellas" (1990)
Regarded as Scorsese's gangster masterpiece, he adapts the tell-all book (written by Nicholas Pileggi) of mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill and turns it into a vibrant story about life as a mobster.
Ray Liotta as Hill gives the performance of a lifetime, while De Niro and Pesci as the other members of his crew deliver roles that would make them icons in the genre.
2. "Scarface" (1983)
De Palma remakes the 1932 version, changes the plot from the mob to a 1980s Miami drug cartel, and then lets Al Pacino do the rest.
The movie, which at the time of its release wasn't a major hit due to its graphic violence and depiction of Cuban immigrants, suddenly became a must-have during the home video craze and then hit icon status thanks to its references in rap music and depictions in video games over the past few decades.
1. "The Godfather" (1972) / The Godfather Part II" (1974)
It's really impossible to talk about one film without the other, so we figured we'd do what's right and include both Francis Ford Coppola classics as one selection.
Coppola's adaptation of the Mario Puzo book blew audiences away and elevated the gangster genre into a place where prestige filmmaking can be done. Then, somehow, Coppola went and made a sequel that is arguably better than the original thanks to its use of flashbacks and making us care about a family that is so evil.
The end result is a look at the mafia that thanks to its beautiful structure and performances are the gold standard in the gangster genre.
If you can (and have the time), watch both movies back-to-back.
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