My Top 10 Gangster Movies

If you ask 20 people to name their top 10 gangster movies of all time, you would get 20 different answers. And the crazy thing is no one would be wrong. The gangster movie genre in one in which there are so many great movies that it’s hard to really narrow them down. Of course I tried my hand at it and here are my top 10 gangster movies according to me. Please go gentle with the criticism, I’m sensitive about my work.

According to Dartmouth, a gangster movie is defined as a film belonging to a genre that focuses on gangs and organized crime. It is a subgenre of crime film, that may involve large criminal organizations, or small gangs formed to perform a certain illegal act.

It wasn’t easy picking 10 gangster movies to add to my list. There was a lot of reshuffling and shuffling back and forth. The theme, if there is one, is that Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro are in a lot of my selections. I probably could have done like a top 25 of gangster movies, but I went with 10. Below are some that just missed the cut, but that doesn’t diminish how great they are in their own right.

Honorable Mentions

  • Public Enemies
  • The Untouchables
  • American Me
  • Gangs of New York
  • Once Upon a Time in America
  • Eastern Promises
  • Road to Perdition
  • New Jack City

10A. The Town

Like I said it was hard to pick just 10 gangster movies.

I was working in Boston as a business consultant at the time when they were filming the Town. I remember leaving on the T at night (their train and subway system) and seeing them set up locations to shoot. So this one is kind of sentimental to me as a I remember a lot. Plus it was Boston. It was them robbing Fenway Park. I knew all the locations they filmed at and watching the film I could point out this location and that.

Anytime Ben Affleck directs and stars in a film, you know it’s going to be good. The movie also had a star studded cast which included the likes of Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Jon Hamm and Rebecca Hall. The movie just flowed and never really had a moment where it felt like it was dragging. Plenty of action and drama. Highly recommend watching this!

10B. A Bronx Tale

If you ask someone about the door test and they tell you what it is then they’ve seen A Bronx Tale. The movie features Robert DeNiro who also directed and Chazz Palminteri who wrote and was loosely based on his life as a kid in the Bronx.

The movie is about the relationship between a kid, Calogero played by Lillo Brancato and Sonny, a gangster played by Palminteri. Sonny is more of a father figure to Calogero than his real father portrayed by DeNiro.

9. Donnie Brasco

I remember seeing this my senior year in high school with my older brother. Johnny Depp and Al Pacino are amazing actors and their skills were in full display here.

This movie was based on real life events of FBI agent Joe Pistone who went undercover with the mob. At first he was collecting evidence to bring down the mob, but the more he went under the more he became a gangster like them.

8. The Departed

Another sentimental movie for me. They filmed in buildings and alleys next to where I was working at the time. I would see the actors on set every day. When Martin Sheen fell off the building you could see the window of where of the office space where I worked.

The movie itself is phenomenal. Jack Nicholson is a legend and I think this is the movie that really made Leonardo DiCaprio a movie star. Forget Titanic this was his best acting performance.

Add Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg and you have an amazing cast.

7. Scarface

Scarface is a lot of people’s #1 movie in their top 10 gangster movie list. Everyone know, “Say hello to my little friend.” There really isn’t much to add as it’s an amazing movie as it follows a Cuban immigrant rise to drug dealing kingpin. It’s an iconic film that will stand the test of time.

6. Carlito’s Way

Carlito’s Way is a Brian de Palma classic starring Al Pacino as Carlito, a former drug kingpin out of prison and trying to navigate away from his old life while trying to create a new one. Sean Penn gave an amazing performance as Carlito’s lawyer Dave Kleinfeld. The movie also stars John Leguizamo, Luis Guzman and Penelope Miller.

I can’t recall a movie where Al Pacino isn’t amazing in it. He is what a leading character looks like in gangster movies.

The soundtrack and the old salsa songs bring me back to my childhood. I’ll never turn down the opportunity to watch this movie when it’s on.

5. Heat

So when I found out that Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino were both in this movie and they finally had scenes together, I was like hell yeah. Pacino plays a detective tracking DeNiro and his gang of bank robbers in LA. The movie as a whole is amazing, but the shootout scene at the end of the movie is iconic. There has never been a shootout scene since that could top this. When surround sound was the big thing and this scene came on, it was like an orchestrated symphony of gun fire lasting several minutes. It was intense and amazing.

4. Casino

Now we’re getting to the meat of my top 10 gangster movies. This movie is brutal from the violence to the drug use. It follows the characters portrayed by Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci. Based loosely on the rise of Vegas through the mob, Casino is a rollercoaster ride of drama and violence. The acting is phenomenal throughout the entire film.

3. Goodfellas

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster. This is an icon of gangster movies. Ray Liotta portrays Henry Hill and his time as a mobster. Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco and Paul Sorvino round out an all-star cast. There isn’t enough superlatives I could write about that would do this film justice. It’s a classic. Plain and simple.

2. The Godfather

If you look up with the quintessential gangster movie would be, The Godfather would be there. I don’t know where to begin with this movie. It follows the Corleone crime family as it tries to transition from a life of crime to a legitimate business.

How can you top a cast of Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, and Diane Keaton? You would be hard press to find a better cast for a gangster movie.

This movie was probably one of the first movies I ever saw that made me truly hate a character. The late John Cazale’s portrayal of Fredo as the simple minded brother was on point. When Vito got shot and was laying on the ground and all Fredo could do was drop his gun, cry and say Papa, at that moment I never hated someone more than I hated Fredo.

Not to overshadow Brando’s amazing performance was Al Pacino. Watching him from a WWII war hero turn into the head of the family was amazing. You could see his warm heart turn cold as he made his transition into the Godfather role. Legendary performance by anyone in appearing in my list of top 10 gangster movies.

1. The Godfather Part II

It’s not often a sequel is better than the original but the Godfather Part II was one of those exceptions. Maybe it was the fact that both Pacino and DeNiro were in it with DeNiro portraying a young Vito Corleone.

I loved how the movie effortlessly moved back and forth from the present day life of Michael Corleone to the flashbacks of the past of a young Vito and his ascension into the Godfather role.

The movie packs so much into it that you forget it’s nearly three hours long.

I won’t lie, I battled back and forth as to which Godfather would be #1 in my top 10 list of gangster movies. For me, part II was my favorite, but I think the original was the better film if that makes any sense.

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