The Best Gangster Films
Gangster movies have been an important part of cinematic history. The classic story of the rise and fall, greed, power, crime and corruption captivates us all. They provide us with a glimpse into the ruthless, dark and sometimes comical underworld of the criminal empire. Whether it is criminals chasing the ‘American Dream’, fame and fortune or just plain revenge, these elements adapt to film perfectly. Some of the best and most accomplished directors and actors have achieved their best work in gangster films which only goes to show how highly regarded this genre really is. However, which are the best gangster films ever made? We count down ten of the best gangster films and find out what makes them so great.
10. City of God (2002)
Directed by: Fernando Meirelles
‘15 Miles from Paradise…One Man will do Anything to tell the World Everything’
Set in the poverty-stricken slums of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, ‘City of God’ focuses on two young boys, Rocket and Lil Ze, and their violent upbringing in a gang controlled culture. Lil Ze has grown up into a life of crime, creating so much violence and fear by wiping out rival gangs without mercy that he now owns the city. Rocket dreams of becoming a photographer and wants to escape the city. He has watched the gangs from afar and seen them come to power but he wants no part of it, yet always seems to get swept up in the violence. All he wants to do is take pictures. The situation looks to worsen when the cities last two remaining gangs clash, which gives Rocket a way out of the city by taking photos where no one else would dare. Welcome to the City of God.
9. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
‘A Disgrace to Criminals Everywhere’
Directed by Guy Ritchie, this gritty London gangster film has it all. Four London working class lads, Eddy, Soap, Tom and Bacon, put all of their money into one huge high stakes card game. With the game going horrifically wrong, they end up owing half a million pounds to gangland boss and porn king ‘Hatchet’ Harry Lonsdale. They are given just one week to pay up with finger amputation the other option. After Eddy and the gang find out that the gangsters they live next door to are planning a large drug raid, they decide to rip them off in order to get the cash to pay off ‘Hatchet’ Harry. However, when plenty of gangsters, public school ‘chemists’, a psychotic drug dealer, debt collector and some antique shotguns combine, chaos breaks loose and Eddy and the gang are soon in way over their heads.
8. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
‘You Won’t Know the Facts Until You’ve Seen the Fiction’
Arguably one of the best films of all time, Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece in its own right. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, the story starts with Honey Bunny and Pumpkin, who spontaneously decide to hold up a restaurant. Like a comic book, the story then follows Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega who are two hit men out to retrieve a suitcase stolen from their employer, mob boss Marsellus Wallace. Later, Vincent is asked to take Wallace’s wife, Mia, out while he is out of town. A simple task that soon takes an unexpected twist. Boxer Butch Coolidge is paid by Wallace to lose his next fight. After defying Wallace, Butch soon finds himself on the run from the mob. The lives of these seemingly unrelated people are woven together in a series of bizarre and amusing incidents.
7. Snatch (2000)
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
‘Stealin’ Stones and Breakin’ Bones’
Guy Ritchie returns with some familiar faces from ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, with another brilliant gangster flick. Franky Four Fingers steals an 84 Karat diamond the size of a fist from Antwerp. After taking a slight detour in London, Franky is set up by his boss, Avi, to see Boris the Blade. Boris, in an attempt to steal the diamond hires some incompetent thieves to retrieve the diamond from a bookies, where Franky has gone to place a bet. The bookies belongs to Brick Top, a local underworld kingpin who runs illegal boxing matches. Turkish and his partner Tommy are using one of their fighters, Gorgeous George, for an up and coming boxing match. When Turkish sends Tommy to pick up a new caravan from a gypsy campsite, it ends with Gorgeous George being knocked out. Turkish decides to replace the Gorgeous George with Mickey, a gypsy bare-knuckle fighting champion in exchange for a caravan. After Brick Top’s bookies is robbed, Boris double-crosses his incompetent thieves, and kills Franky Four Fingers. Franky’s boss, Avi, eventually decides to come to London to search for the diamond with help from Doug the Head and Bullet Tooth Tony. It’s this final event which sets off a chain of events that twist and turn with all the characters including wild out of control gypsies, clumsy thugs, two unlucky boxing promoters, an immortal Russian arms dealer and a stray dog.
6. Casino (1995)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
‘No One Stays at the Top Forever’
Casino is one of the best films from Martin Scorsese. Set in Las Vegas, Ace Rothstein, a mob connected gangster, moves to Las Vegas to make his mark and attempt to lead a civilised and successful lifestyle. Things soon start to change when Nicky Santoro, a boyhood friend of Ace’s and a now Made-Man of the Mafia, arrives and has ambitions of his own. The story is told through their eyes as the details of mob’s involvement in the casinos of the 70′s and ’80′s are revealed. Ace is the smooth operator of the Tangiers casino, while Nicky is the tough strongman who wont take no for an answer, who is robbing and shaking down the locals. However, they each have a tragic flaw. Ace falls in love with a hustler, Ginger, and Nicky falls into an ever-deepening spiral of drugs and violence driven by greed and power.
5. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
‘Every ‘Dog’ has its Day’
Quentin Tarantino’s first feature film ‘Reservoir Dogs’, that he wrote, directed and acted in, is one of my own personal favourite films of all time and arguably one of the best gangster films ever. Following six criminals, all of which are unknown to each other, are hired by a crime boss Joe Cabot to carry out a diamond robbery. Right at the outset, they are given false names with the intention that they won’t get too close to each other and concentrate on the job instead: Mr White, a professional criminal; Mr Orange, a young newcomer; Mr Pink, a paranoid neurotic; Mr Blonde, a trigger happy killer; Mr Brown and Mr Blue. When the police show up straight away after the robbery, panic soon spreads amongst the group and a shootout ensues with one of the gang killed along with a few policemen and innocent civilians. When the remaining gang assemble at a warehouse, they begin to suspect that one of them is an undercover cop, but who?
4. Scarface (1983)
Directed by: Brian De Palmer
‘He loved the American Dream, with a Vengeance’
Written by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian De Palmer, gangster films don’t come much more iconic than ‘Scarface’. When Fidel Castro opens the harbour at Mariel, Cuba, Cuban refugees flood to the United States. Among all the refugees are Tony Montana and his friend Manny. When they arrive in the United States, they start with small time jobs and soon they are hired by Omar Suarez to pay money to a group of Colombians. When the deal goes wrong, Tony and Manny leave with the money and succeed in their job. Soon Tony meets with drug kingpin Frank Lopez and falls for his boss’s girl, Elvira. Montana eventually manages to become the head of a cocaine cartel selling it around the World. Tony’s rise to power is quick, but as he becomes more powerful, his enemies grow and his paranoia begins to plague his empire. Pretty soon Tony finds out that those who want it all, do not last forever and that is the price of power.
3. Goodfellas (1990)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
‘As far back as I can Remember, I’ve always Wanted to be a Gangster’
‘Goodfellas’ tells the biopic story of wise guy Henry Hill as he makes his way from a young small time thief to a big time criminal in the Mafia and eventually to middle-ages cocaine addict and dealer. Directed Martin Scorsese, the film details the rules and traditions of the life of organised crime in the Mafia and shows how Henry Hill and his two friends Tommy Devito and Jimmy Conway climb the mob hierarchy when their crimes escalate from petty theft to brutal murder. Tommy is a pure bread ruthless and intimidating gangster. Jimmy puts Tommy and Henry together and runs some of the biggest hijacks and robberies around. Based on the real life story of actual gangster, Henry Hill, depicting his life and ruthless rise to power in the 1950’s to his drugged out fall in the late 1970’s.
2. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
‘Act like a Mobster, Think like a Don’
Following on from ‘The Godfather’ and the continuing saga of the Corleone crime family, the film tells the story of a young Vito Corleone growing up in Sicily and in 1910s New York and also follows Michael Corleone in the 1950s as he attempts to expand the family business into Las Vegas, Hollywood and Cuba. The film shows how different the lives of Michael and his father were. As Michael Corleone rises as a mobster he gains the world but loses his soul. It shows how Michael can never really come to terms with the fact that his father’s empire was built on love and respect, whilst his is built on fear, violence and treachery. As Michael realises that his allies are trying to kill him, he becomes paranoid and soon discovers that his ambition has crippled his marriage and turned his own brother against him. Michael soon turns his attention to dealing with his enemies, completing his own corruption. This film is both a sequel and a prequel of the story from Francis Ford Coppola and is a direct continuation from the story. You cannot see this film without first seeing the first instalment. This film is a cinematic masterpiece and fantastic gangster film.
1. The Godfather (1972)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
‘An Offer you can’t Refuse’
The story begins as ‘Don’ Vito Corleone, the head of a New York Mafia family, oversees his daughter’s wedding. His beloved son Michael has just come home from the war, but does not intend to become part of his father’s business. Don Corleone is kind and benevolent to those who give respect, but ruthless and violent whenever anything stands against the good of the family. Don Vito lives his life in the way of the old country, but times are changing. An up and coming rival of the Corleone family, Vigil Sollozzo, wants to start selling drugs in New York, and needs the Don’s influence to further his plans. The clash of the Don’s fading old world values and the new ways will demand a terrible price. Sollozzo is not happy and has Don Coreleone gunned down in the street by hit men. Control of the family is eventually passed to Michael who begins a violent war against Sollozzo, which threatens to tear the Coreleone family apart. Based on the novel by Mario Puzo and directed by the undisputed master of the gangster genre, Francis Ford Coppola, ‘The Godfather’ is without doubt the greatest gangster film of all time and rightly so.