There will also be a special place in my heart for the Gangster genre because it was films like Goodfellas and The Godfather (among other movies on this list, but I don’t want to give the whole thing away) that in all honesty got me into the art of film in general. When done right a good gangster movie is filled with rich and vibrant characters, stories and pieces of dialogue. This is my list of the best Gangster movies I’ve ever had the honor to watch.
Before getting into this, I’d like to clarify what I mean by Gangster movie. I considered any movie that involves gangsters driving the central drama of the film. That means I could use movies that didn’t necessarily star gangsters as the protagonists. For the list, I could use movies like The Untouchables and The Usual Suspects because even though the main characters weren’t mobsters, there would be no drama with out them. I could however not use a movie like The Dark Knight because even though gangsters play a part, they most certainly do not propel the plot of the film. Well, here we go…
10. The Untouchables
There were a lot of movies battling for this tenth spot; Miller’s Crossing almost made it, as did Gangs of New York and if I had an eleventh slot on this list it would be the complex drug drama, Layer Cake. It ended up being The Untouchables if only for how gratifyingly fun the movie can be from beginning to end. Robert De Niro is fantastic as the antagonist, but what makes this one of my favorite gangster movies is Sean Connery as Malone.
9. True Romance
True Romance is a beautiful love story as only Quentin Tarantino could write it. It’s filled with violence, course language, drugs, tense scenes (particularly one of my favorites in film including Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken), but at it’s heart it is a full fledged love story. It was unfortunately not directed by the man himself, but his brilliant writing is all there making True Romance undoubtedly one of the most incredible stories of crime ever told.
Other than the sequel to Sherlock Holmes, I’ve loved every movie Guy Ritchie has ever made. It goes without saying that Snatch is just an awesome movie, while Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is even better, but for me my favorite will always be RockNRolla. It has all the fast-paced direction and zest of any other Guy Ritchie movie, but with the added bonus of the greatest and most compelling characters Guy Ritchie has ever created.
7. A Prophet
A Prophet is simply a magnificent film that never fails to captivate. What sets A Prophet above most other crime dramas is a sense of brutality and realism. A Prophet is unbelievably epic and from beginning to end, it never fails to leave you speechless from scene to scene. And it’s not just the tense violence the director never fears or fails to utilize, but also the tense and dramatic scenes that propels the beautiful plot of a man raising through the ranks in a crime-driven French prison.
6. The Usual Suspects
I don’t think much needs to be said about The Usual Suspects and that right there is a testament to how truly spectacular of film it is. The writing is unbelievably intelligent and never spoon feeds you. While The Usual Suspects is an enjoyable and fascinating tale of thieves and criminal masterminds, it is also an enthralling mystery. It’s the kind of film you have to pay attention to. You have to take the time to examine every detail and by the end, what you find is simply an incredible film.
Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors who ever lived and Goodfellas is just one of the many films that showcase his prowess. Goodfellas is a masterpiece through and through and while never failing to be completely entertaining, it tells a tremendous tale that envelops everything you’d ever want to know about a life of crime. Ray Liotta is fantastic, Robert De Niro is just as amazing as ever and Joe Pesci gives an Oscar-worthy performance. It’s Scorsese that deserves the most praise for directing such an amazing movie.
4. The Godfather (Part I+II)
I’ve always had a constant argument with myself as to what I loved more the first two Godfather films or Goodfellas. It wasn’t until just recently when I realized that I have to give it to The Godfather (Part I+II) if only for its beautifully epic tale of not only crime, but also family, loyalty and change. Francis Ford Coppola, with the first two Godfathers, creates one of the greatest movies of all time. It would be an absolute sin not to put The Godfather (Part I+II) on a list of my favorite gangster movies in existence. I mean, it’s The Godfather!
There was a dilemma for me on whether or not I should put Drive on this list. Yes, Drive is so much more than a gangster movie, but without the involvement of organized crime the film would have nothing to drive the plot or our protagonist to do the things he does. Drive is, to put it as plainly as possible, extraordinary.It’s the retro feel, it’s the tremendous music, it’s the stylized violence, it’s the minimized dialogue, it’s the spellbinding direction that takes its time to tell its story, and it’s the way that regardless of how much tension, action and blood is in the movie, it never fails to have a pleasant moment of realistic affection. Drive is a profound film in its flawless creation and its relentless entertainment.
2. The Departed
It’s practically unbelievable that Martin Scorsese has made as many masterpieces as he has. He made the raw and rugged Raging Bull, he made the grotesque and hellish Taxi Driver and he even made another entry on this list, Goodfellas, but The Departed is Scorsese’s magnum opus. There are a lot of different opinions as to what Scorsese’s best movies are and that’s understandable, but for me it’s The Departed and I seriously doubt that will ever change. Scorsese holds nothing back, he pulls all the punches and the result is something miraculous. The Departed tells a fantastic intertwining tale of cops, criminals and grit. It is and forever will be a masterpiece.
1. Pulp Fiction
Take what may be the greatest writing in cinematic history, a handful of characters that individually could have their own movies centered around them, the direction of a mastermind, some of the stories that inspired said mastermind to make movies in general and then throw in that magical twist that Tarantino adds to all of his films and what you get is the greatest gangster film in existence. Pulp Fiction is and will always be one of my favorite movies that will ever be created.
What Pulp Fiction offers isn’t just beautiful, but refreshingly original. And this originality isn’t in the case of the stories that are being intertwined, the film is original in the way that the stories are told and the characters that are being followed. In Pulp Fiction, what you get are days in the lives of the kind of low-lives you wouldn’t expect to see as protagonists whether they be a pair of talky hit men, the wife of a crime boss, a low-rent boxer or even a couple whose hobby is robbing restaurants and liquor stores.
With Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino taps into a the vein that is the gangster genre to make something truly extraordinary. Pulp Fiction offers an experience that is nothing short of breathtaking from start to finish. Every single aspect of Tarantino’s crime masterpiece is not only a gorgeous piece of art, but it’s also a consistently entertaining piece of pulp. It is one of the greatest movies ever made and nothing short of the greatest gangster movie of all time.