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19 Of The Best Gangster Movies Ever Made

From Brian De Palma's Scarface to Matteo Garrone's heartbreaking Gomorrah

1983  actor al pacino stars in scarface  photo by michael ochs archivesgetty images
Michael Ochs ArchivesGetty Images

Gangster movies have always been a box office draw, but it wasn't until the abolition of the restrictive Hays Code in the late Sixties that writers and directors could truly delve into the criminal underworld, warts and all. As a result, many of the most important films of the past half-century have been tales of mobsters, murder and messy morality. Deeply impactful dramas from the likes of Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma and Francis Ford Coppola, that deal in the blood-splattered grey areas of humanity at its most greedy, violent and desperate. Some people just like the guns and suits. That's OK too.

It's hard to know where to get started with the modern gangster genre. That's why we've rounded up our favourites below – and you can check out the very best gangster films on Netflix right here.

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Get Carter (1971)

Loose cannon London gangster Jack Carter (Michael Caine) believes his brother was murdered at the hands of a Newcastle mob, and decides to avenge his death with a ruthless revenge mission. Mike Hodges' gritty tale was aided by Michael Caine's experiences in the criminal underworld, and the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie have talked up its influence. The less said about Sylvester Stallone's 2000 remake, the better.

Scarface (1983)

Brian De Palma's 1983 Scarface remake may not be the slickest movie on this list, but it's by far the most quotable and has achieved cult classic status despite initial backlash. Many critics and cinema audiences were outraged by the film's depiction of drugs and violence, as well as its treatment of Cuban characters, but Al Pacino's scenery-chewing performance won out in the end.

American Gangster (2007)

A fictionalised portrayal of real-life Harlem criminal Frank Lucas (played by Denzel Washington) who smuggled heroin from Vietnam during the war, this Ridley Scott effort features brilliant performances and an engrossing, bombastic story reminiscent of gangster classics of old.

The Godfather (1972)

im电竞官网-The most iconic gangster movie ever made, hands down. This near three-hour epic, based on Mario Puzo's best-selling novel of the same name, skyrocketed Francis Ford Coppola to unanswerable auteur status, marked a comeback for Marlon Brando and bagged three Academy Awards. It remains the blueprint.

Mean Streets (1973)

Scorsese's first arthouse hit, Mean Streets introduced the world to Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, and established Marty as one of the most exciting figures in the taboo-breaking New Hollywood movie of the Seventies. Telling the story of a young aspiring mobster confronting his conflicted relationship with the church, its themes of sin and redemption tie up neatly with The Irishmanim电竞官网-, released over 45 years later.

Gomorrah (2008)

im电竞官网-A hard but necessary watch, this Italian crime masterpiece truly strips away at the glamorisation of gangster life in modern cinema. In the slums of Campania, Napoli, the locals have had enough of the bloody, far-reaching influence of organised crime. But as they confront the Camorra crime syndicate, they realise the monster is far too great to overcome.

The Godfather Part II (1974)

One of the only cases in which a sequel has fared better than the original (in retrospect, that is. Reviews were initially mixed, but across-the-board acclaim has followed), Godfather Part IIim电竞官网- made up for the loss of Marlon Brando with tour de force performances from Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

Menace II Society (1993)

im电竞官网-The Hughes brothers' feature debut – which follows two Los Angeles teens trapped in a nihilistic routine of crime and violence – is a powerful, frequently haunting look into the bleakness of inner city life in America, from the oppression that poor black people suffer at the hands of the police to the lack of opportunity they're presented with by the job market. A glimpse of redemption paves the way forward, but will they pursue it?

City of God (2002)

Inside the drug-riddled Cidade de Deus favela of Rio de Janeiro, amidst bloody wars of unrequited love, deadly ambition and ego, a criminal empire builds. City of God (Cidade de Deus), co-directed by The Two Popes' Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, is one of the only Brazilian films to ever cross over to and receive acclaim from western audiences.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Best known for his spaghetti western Dollars Trilogy, Italian auteur Sergio Leone surprised the world by grounding his last ever film in Twenties Manhattan. The crime drama initially bombed both critically and commercially, but an extended cut turned the tide, and it has since been recognised as one of the stand-out movies of the Eighties.

Goodfellas (1990)

The film that reestablished Martin Scorsese as a huge box office draw, the New York-born director went back to the mean streets of Little Italy for this rollercoaster adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi's non-fiction book Wise Guy, which follows the heady rise and paranoid fall of Lucchese family mobster Henry Hill.

A Bronx Tale (1993)

Robert De Niro's directorial debut, in which he also stars, will leave you wondering why he hasn't taken on his own projects more often. Adapted from Chazz Palminteri's 1989 play of the same name, this is a coming-of-age story of a young Italian-American who is forced to make a decision: mob life or the hardworking ways of his father. Hardly original, but it's a sensitively shot, beautifully scripted movie that's well worth a watch.

The Untouchables (1987)

Brian De Palma's The Untouchables – derived from the nickname given to the cop squad tasked with taking down Al Capone's illicit liquor operation at the height of prohibition – is a star-studded and artful take on the Chicago crime world of the Twenties. Its box office success amongst women took the studio by surprise, and producer Art Linson put that down to the film, "being about redemption and relationships, and because of that the audience tends to forgive the excesses when it comes to violence."

The Harder They Come (1972)

im电竞官网-The movie that helped to introduce reggae to the world. Poor aspiring singer Ivanhoe Martin (played by real-life reggae star Jimmy Cliff) travels to Kingston, Jamaica, to kickstart his music career, but ultimately gets tangled up in a life of robbery and murder. His notorious reputation bolsters his marketability and reputation amongst music fans, and Ivanhoe decides to double down on his outlaw image.

Carlito's Way (1993)

Al Pacino stars as Carlito Brigante in another Brian De Palma gangster epic, albeit one that's more nuanced and ruminative than The Untouchables before it. In the film, Carlito attempts to remove himself from the gangster lifestyle after a surprisingly short stint in prison, but soon finds that his past won't let him walk away so easily.

The Irishman (2019)

An elegy for the entire gangster genre, equal parts melancholy and pitiful. It follows Frank Sheeran, a hired-gun who eventually finds himself tied up in a disagreement between the mafia and Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, one of his only true friends. Required watching for anyone who accuses Martin Scorsese of glamourising mob life.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The indie film that introduced Quentin Tarantino and his frantic, endlessly gory, homage-filled directorial style to the world. Contrary to popular belief it wasn't a runaway success upon release, and only gained widespread popularity following the release of Pulp Fictionim电竞官网- two years later.

The Long Good Friday (1981)

A breakthrough role for Bob Hoskins, this low-budget British gangster classic (originally titled 'The Paddy Factor') tells the story of a cockney crime boss who attempts to redevelop a derelict area of the London dockland on the American mafia's dime, only to unexpectedly come up against the IRA.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

Based on the best-selling George V Higgins novel of the same name and set in the Irish-American underworld of Boston, this gruesome neo-noir tells the story of a gunrunner faced with the prospect of serious prison time, and only one way out: becoming an informer.

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