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The 50 best gangster movies of all time

Load up on ammo and wiseguy patter with our ranked list of the best gangster and crime movies in cinema

By Time Out Film |

Call it an offer you can't refuse, a Sicilian message or a pair of cement shoes: The gangster film has an iron-clad lock on the hearts of movie lovers. Some of Hollywood's finest exports are crime sagas, and the indie and foreign-film worlds have followed suit with classics of their own. Gritty or romantic, coolly silent or loaded with tough talk, these movies are five-course feasts, heavy on the red sauce—and make plenty of room for the most notorious mobsters from Chicago, like Al Capone, who appears on our list more than once. If we've forgotten a movie in our countdown, let us know (but we have the corner table, so we'll see you coming).

By Dave Calhoun, Cath Clarke, David Ehrlich, Tom Huddleston and Joshua Rothkopf.


In Bruges, Gangster movies
Movies, Comedy

In Bruges (2008)

“Maybe that's what hell is—the entire rest of eternity spent in fucking Bruges.”

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell are odd-couple hitmen on the run in Martin McDonaugh’s darkly hilarious gangster caper set in the sleepy Belgium tourist city of Bruges.—CC

Brighton Rock, Gangster movies

Brighton Rock (1947)

“What you want me to say is, ‘I love you.’ Well I don’t. I hate you, you little slut.”

Director Richard Attenborough put on his nasty face and then some for this 1947 spin on Graham Greene’s classic novel. The story follows a teenage hoodlum whose life spins out of control as he’s drawn into gang conflict and saddled with unshakable Catholic guilt.—DC

Bottle Rocket, Gangster movies
Movies, Comedy

Bottle Rocket (1996)

“On the run from Johnny Law…ain't no trip to Cleveland.”

A gangster movie in the loosest possible sense—but then, everything about Wes Anderson’s charming debut is pretty loose. Brothers Owen and Luke Wilson team up to pull off a series of heists, but romance, arrest and general uselessness conspire to bring them down.—TH

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

“Humanity’s soul must be shaken to its very depths, frightened by unfathomable and seemingly senseless crimes.”

Already a master of the crime film (and the inventor of the serial-killer thriller with M), Fritz Lang returned to the fearsome villain of 1922's Dr. Mabuse: the Gambler for this superior sequel. It didn't make the incoming Nazi regime happy; Goebbels banned it, probably because it cut too close for comfort. Lang fled his homeland shortly thereafter.—JR

Fargo, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Fargo (1996)

“I'm not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work there, Lou.”

The Coen brothers’ bloody Midwestern classic is many different things—a dark comedy, a thriller, a procedural—but above all, it’s a fable, the moral of which couldn’t be clearer: Don’t pay Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare to kidnap your wife so you can ransom her to your rich father-in-law. In the snowy tundra of Minnesota, there’s nothing the least bit sexy about being a criminal.—DE

The League of Gentlemen, Gangster movies
Movies, Comedy

The League of Gentlemen (1960)

“You're losing a friend but gaining a second-in-command.”

Just because you’re a criminal doesn’t mean you can’t be civilized about it. A heist movie that takes time for high tea and inextricably British military decorum, Basil Dearden’s drama follows a group of disgruntled former servicemen—each of whom naturally has their own specialized skill—to take back what their country owes them. It’s the classiest caper film you’ll ever see.—DE

Get Carter, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Get Carter (1971)

“You know, I'd almost forgotten what your eyes looked like. Still the same—pissholes in the snow.”

Michael Caine is hard as nails as a British gangster in suit and tie who travels north to Newcastle to find out what happened to his dead brother. Director Mike Hodges lends the whole affair a cold-blooded but stylish modishness, and it remains one of the signature roles of Caine’s career.—DC

A Better Tomorrow, 100 best action movies
Movies, Action and adventure

A Better Tomorrow (1986)

“Once a thief, it's not easy to turn your life around.”

Director John Woo deserves several places on any list of classic crime movies, but there's no more perfect representation of his stylish brand of brotherly bonding across lines of justice than this box-office smash. It made Chow Yun Fat a star and was centrally responsible for thrusting Hong Kong action cinema into the global limelight.—JR

Leon: The Professional, Gangster movies

Léon: The Professional (1994)

“Is life always this hard, or is it just when you're a kid?”

Hollywood action meets European art house in Luc Besson’s first English-language film. The most twisted Pygmalion story in the history of cinema, it concerns lonely hitman Léon (Jean Reno), who teaches streetwise 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) the art of killing.—CC

Kids Return, Gangster movies
Movies, Comedy

Kids Return (1996)

“Do you think we're already finished?" "Hell, no. We haven't even started.”

Takeshi Kitano takes a dispassionate but heartfelt look at what happens after high school, as two best friends follow divergent paths, one becoming a boxer, the other a yakuza soldier. The result is a razor-sharp study of Japanese masculinity wrapped up in a lucid tale of post-adolescent angst.—TH


Le Cercle Rouge, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

“All men are guilty. They're born innocent, but it doesn't last.”

Taking the American gangster film to France, Jean-Pierre Melville’s cool, dark heist noir boasts a killer set piece: a brilliantly executed silent jewel robbery in the Place Vendôme.—CC

Gun Crazy, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Gun Crazy (1950)

“I've been kicked around all my life, and from now on, I'm gonna start kicking back.”

He’s a gangly reform-school graduate with a morbid fascination for firearms. She’s a rodeo sharpshooter with the best eye (and legs) in the business. This lovers-on-the-run classic is tougher and sexier than Bonnie and Clyde (if not as iconic), and the single-shot getaway sequence is breathtaking.—TH

Casino, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Casino (1995)

“Listen to me very carefully. There are three ways of doing things around here: the right way, the wrong way and the way that I do it.”

Scorsese laid on the style for this Goodfellas-like rise and fall centered on the gambling scene in Las Vegas in the 1970s and ’80s. Robert De Niro plays a mob-appointed casino boss whose troubled trajectory symbolizes the sunset years of the Mafia’s grip on the city.—DC

Touch of Evil, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Touch of Evil (1958)

“An old lady on Main Street last night picked up a shoe. The shoe had a foot in it. We're gonna make you pay for that mess.”

The greatest testament to Orson Welles’s seedy border noir is that it isn’t defined by its legendary opening shot, the long take to beat all long takes. Charlton Heston plays a Mexican newlywed investigating an explosion on the U.S. side of the fence, but his inquiries hit a wall when he collides with an American police captain (Welles at his largest, in more ways than one), who may be the meanest gangster in town.—DE

No Country for Old Men, Gangster movies

No Country for Old Men (2007)

“This country's hard on people. You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity.”

Javier Bardem is the psychopathic hitman with a killer bob haircut on the trail of a suitcase packed with cash in the Coens’ masterly modern-day Western, based on a Cormac McCarthy novel.—CC

The American Friend, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

The American Friend (1977)

“What's wrong with a cowboy in Hamburg?”

A critically ill art restorer is hired by thugs to commit a murder in Wim Wenders’s heartbreaking take on Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley novels. Dennis Hopper is the perfect enigma as the title character, and the film is steeped in dour, mid-’70s mittel-European decay.—TH

King of New York, Gangster movies
Movies, Drama

King of New York (1990)

“You guys got fat while everybody starved on the street. Now it's my turn.”

The wild and wonderful Christopher Walken never had a better showcase for his inimitable charms than the role of Frank White, a ferocious NYC drug lord on the rebound after his release from Sing Sing. You also get to see him dance to Schooly D's “Saturday Night.”—JR

City of God, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

City of God (2002)

“You need more than guts to be a good gangster. You need ideas.”

It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and in Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s favela-set thriller, all the dogs are rabid.  A kinetic multigenerational portrait of life and death (and death and death), the film follows a Rio de Janeiro kid named Rocket (nonprofessional actor Alexandre Rodrigues) as he miraculously survives several decades in a place where guns far outnumber consequences.—DE

The French Connection, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

The French Connection (1971)

“Hey you! Haircut! Where are you goin’?”

A movie to make you wish Gene Hackman came out of retirement, this frenetic, down-and-dirty crime film sees the actor as a no-bullshit NYC cop on the trail of some murky drug lords from France (nicknamed “Frog One” and “Frog Two”).—DC

Bullets Over Broadway, Gangster movies
Movies, Comedy

Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

“Let's avoid confusion: She'll get some lines or I'll nail your knee caps to the floor.”

Woody Allen's backstage comedy has so much sparkle to it (Helen Sinclair's “Don't speak!” among a chest of gems) that it's easy to forget that the movie is, in fact, a gangster story. And not your ordinary gangster, either, but Cheech, a secret creative genius, expertly played by Chazz Palminteri.—JR


Scarface (1932), Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Scarface (1932)

“Listen, Little Boy, in this business there's only one law you gotta follow to keep out of trouble: Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doing it.”

He may not have snorted quite as much cocaine as Tony Montana (who has?), but Antonio “Tony” Camonte (Paul Muni) will always be the original Scarface. Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson’s formative gangster classic shocked the world with its lightly fictionalized take on how Al Capone Tommy-gunned his way to being king of Chicago.—DE

Scarface (1983), Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Scarface (1983)

“You wanna play rough? Okay. Say hello to my little friend!”

The world is yours, Tony Montana, or at least our No. 29 slot is. Don't even begin to complain that Brian De Palma's dizzyingly lurid coke meltdown ranks higher than the 1932 original—it's proven to be vastly more influential, the throbbing id of many criminal fantasies since.—JR

The Warriors, Gangster movies

The Warriors (1979)

“Warriors, come out to play-ay!”

Gangster movies and Greek tragedy have ample shared DNA, but Walter Hill went straight to the source for this full-throated adaptation of Xenophon’s Anabasis, updating the tale of a platoon of mercenaries who must battle their way home through unfriendly territory into the wildest NYC street-gang flick of them all.—TH

The Departed, Gangster movies
Movies, Drama

The Departed (2006)

“My theory on feds is that they're like mushrooms: Feed ’em shit and keep ’em in the dark.”

It’s not Scorsese’s best; it’s not even original, as it’s based on the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs. But a combination of brilliant characters (topped by Jack Nicholson’s crime lord and Mark Wahlberg’s foul-mouthed police officer) and a whip-smart plot make this who’s-tricking-who Boston-set yarn massively enjoyable.—DC

Performance, Gangster movies
Movies, Drama

Performance (1970)

“You gentlemen all work for me!”

Sadly, the psychedelic existential gangster flick was a subgenre that never really took off. James Fox plays a Cockney bruiser who hides out in Swinging London with Mick Jagger’s slumming bohemian rock star, and has his mind forcibly blown in the process.—TH

On the Waterfront, Gangster movies
Movies, Drama

On the Waterfront (1954)

“You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it.”

In his career's first iconic performance, Marlon Brando is electrifying as Terry Malloy, the dock worker and ex-boxer who stands up to his gangster brother and mob-connected union boss.—CC

Boyz n the Hood, Gangster movies
Movies, Drama

Boyz n the Hood (1991)

“I didn’t do nothing.”

John Singleton’s compassionate, alarming debut was a scary revelation for audiences drawn into the world of South Central Los Angeles and the life of Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a young African-American man trying and failing to steer clear of the violent warfare between gangs that ruled the area.—DC

Breathless, Gangster movies

Breathless (1960)

“Informers inform, burglars burgle, murderers murder, lovers love.”

Jean-Luc Godard’s first film is more immediately categorized as a landmark of the French New Wave than a gangster movie, but before the chatty Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his pixyish American girlfriend (Jean Seberg) became the icons of a movement, they were just a low-level criminal and the woman who eventually rats him out.—DE

The Sting, Gangster movies

The Sting (1973)

“Sit down and shut up, will ya? Try not to live up to all my expectations.”

It's better remembered for popularizing Scott Joplin's rags, but George Roy Hill's verbally deft comedy has staying power as a fun, double-crossing caper, gentler than most films on this list. Stars like Paul Newman and Robert Redford don't hurt the appeal one bit.—JR

The Untouchables, Gangster movies
Movies, Drama

The Untouchables (1987)

“You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

Here's some classy, Oscar-approved filmmaking from Brian De Palma, who marshals the true story of Eliot Ness's crusading Chicago cops to a felicitous pitch of character-driven action. The slow-motion baby carriage scene works great—and not just for geeks eager to drop a little Battleship Potemkin knowledge on their dates.—JR


Pale Flower, Gangster movies

Pale Flower (1964)

“I play cards. What else is there?”

Movies just don’t get any cooler than Masahiro Shinoda’s monochrome noir romance set to a soundtrack of speeding tires and piling casino chips. Dropping in at an underground Tokyo gambling den the moment he's released from jail, Muraki (Ryo Ikebe) is a yakuza hit man with some very deadly vices.  It isn’t long before a mysterious woman (Mariko Kaga) catches his eye, and the two of them are swept up in an increasingly dangerous no-limit game of their own.—DE

The Long Good Friday, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

The Long Good Friday (1980)

“You don't crucify people! Not on Good Friday.”

A sharp touch of timeliness gives this London gangster flick its power: Bob Hoskins’s Harold Shand finds himself at the center of a dangerous crime nexus, involving Republican Irish terrorists and the American Mafia—all in the shadow of the creeping, Thatcherite capitalist dream.—DC

A History of Violence, Gangster movies
Movies, Drama

A History of Violence (2005)

“You have anything to say before I blow your brains out, you miserable prick?”

The first of three collaborations between David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen, this explosive thriller stars Mortensen as a diner owner who might not be the all-American small-town guy he appears to be. It's executed with Cronenberg's signature wit and bravura style.—CC

Le Doulos, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Le Doulos (1962)

“One must choose: die…or lie?”

Director Jean-Pierre Melville would become a giant in the specialized field of the gangster film and this is one of his earliest triumphs, a beautiful showcase for rising star Jean-Paul Belmondo as a shifty informant. Cool and minimalist, Melville's style remains influential.—JR

Rififi, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Rififi (1955)

“You're not the only one that had an unhappy childhood.”

The template for the modern heist movie was set by this brooding slice of French noir, as a gang of thieves plan to pull off the impossible by ripping off a jewelry store on the Rue de Rivoli.  The heart-stopping, near-wordless break-in scene remains unbeaten 60 years on.—TH

Night and the City, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Night and the City (1950)

“Harry, do you know what you're doing? You're killing me. You're killing me and yourself.”

Before he set the bar for movie heists with 1955’s Rififi, Jules Dassin left his mark on the world of hustlers and con men with this unsympathetic portrait of London lowlifes desperate to make their next score. Every bit as dark as its title suggests, Night and the City follows American Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) as he backs the wrong wrestler and learns there’s no escaping the underworld, only sinking deeper into it.—DE

Eastern Promises, Gangster movies
Movies, Drama

Eastern Promises (2007)

“Sentimental value? Ah. I heard of that.”

There’s more to David Cronenberg’s full-throated gangster nightmare than just a bunch of naked dudes smacking each other in a sauna. This is a prescient examination of the Russian takeover of London, featuring a career-best turn from Viggo Mortensen as the taciturn, grimacing antihero.—TH

Gomorrah, Gangster movies

Gomorrah (2008)

“We have to score, kill, and we need money. If not, you die, because you’re part of the war.”

The youngest film on our list already feels like a mainstay: a devastating, kaleidoscopic portrait of modern-day crime in southern Italy. Director Matteo Garrone dramatized real-world corruption (along with well-armed teens acting out Scarface) and still managed to stay alive.—JR

Pulp Fiction, Gangster movies
Movies, Drama

Pulp Fiction (1994)

“The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd.”

More than 20 years later, Quentin Tarantino’s second feature is as exhilarating as ever, with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson's wisecracking hitmen now fully a part of the cultural lexicon.—CC

Branded to Kill, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Branded to Kill (1967)

“My dream is to die.”

A yakuza B movie that anticipates the stylized ultraviolence of Quentin Tarantino, Branded to Kill is director Seujun Suzuki’s most bonkers effort (and that’s saying something). Gangsters have never been more poetic or existential as they are in this story of hit man Goro Hanada (chipmunk-faced Joe Shishido) as he finds himself stalked by the world’s No. 1 contract killer.—DE

Top ten

Sexy Beast, Gangster movies

Sexy Beast (2000)

“What you think this is, the wheel of fortune? You think you can make your dough and fuck off? Leave the table?”

Some of the best gangster movies are about trying not to be a gangster, and Ray Winstone’s tanned, relaxed Gal is doing exactly that in sunny Spain until Ben Kingsley’s terrifying, foul-mouthed Don Logan turns up and makes him an offer he really can’t refuse.—DC

Once Upon a Time in America
Movies, Thriller

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

“You'll put up, and you'll shut up! You hear nothing, and you see nothing! Just like you did for Bugsy!”

Sergio Leone's Depression-era epic evokes New York City's teeming Lower East Side like no movie before or since. The curiosity of youth is balanced against the euphoria and bitter sacrifices of criminal life. More than just The Godfather of Jewish gangster movies, Leone's masterwork is the apex of a glorious, genre-bending career.—JR

Miller’s Crossing, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Miller’s Crossing (1990)

“One thing I always try to teach my boys: Always put one in the brain.”

The Coen brothers’ spin on Prohibition-era gangster movies is all plot twists and double crosses, featuring fast, witty dialogue and knockout acting—especially from John Turturro as slippery Bernie Bernbaum, an operator who gets in over his hat.—CC  

The Godfather Part II, Gangster movies
Movies, Drama

The Godfather Part II (1974)

“If history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.”

Known as cinema’s greatest sequel, this is such a monstrous beast of a movie that it makes the first installment feel like a short. The time-hopping structure allows Francis Ford Coppola to flesh out the Corleone’s world in violently fascinating new dimensions, yet somehow, the brutal drama of the original is sustained across half a century.—DE

Bonnie and Clyde, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

“This here's Miss Bonnie Parker. I'm Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.”

Faye Dunaway smolders (enjoying an iconic fashion moment in those berets) as one half of the most famous serial-killing duo. Inspired by the French New Wave—François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were both asked to direct—the film was a massive turning point for American cool. Going out in a hail of bullets never looked so good.—CC

Mean Streets, Gangster movies

Mean Streets (1973)

“$20? Let’s go to the movies!”

The giddy, streetwise flipside to the brooding austerity of The Godfather, Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough explores the grasping underside of the gangland dream. Harvey Keitel’s guilt-ridden Charlie is the heart of the film, but it’s Robert De Niro as firecracker Johnny Boy that you’ll remember.—TH

Goodfellas, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Goodfellas (1990)

“I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I'm here to fuckin' amuse you?”

It might just be Martin Scorsese's finest two hours and change, this swirling, relentlessly paced crime classic that served up a feast of salty dialogue (we all have our favorite quotes) and, in turn, directly inspired both The Sopranos and Quentin Tarantino's on-the-horizon game-changers. It's not a stretch to call Goodfellas the most significant movie of the last 25 years. It's certainly the most fun.—JR

Reservoir Dogs, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

“Why can't we pick our own colors?”

Quentin Tarantino set the film scene on fire with this sparkling story of five criminals put together for a heist that goes wrong—each anonymously named after a color and each played by an actor as good as the next. Tarantino charts the bloody fallout with a savage wit, a masterly grip on storytelling and dialogue that’s still to die for, two decades later.—DC

The Killing, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

The Killing (1956)

“Alright, sister, that's a mighty pretty head you got on your shoulders. You want to keep it there or start carrying it around in your hands?”

The best “one last job” movie ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s third feature is a terse and nasty little noir about a career criminal (Sterling Hayden) who assembles a team for the racetrack heist that’s going to net him the dough he needs to get out of the game and marry his gal. Kubrick caps off the story with the kind of nihilistic panache that makes even the end of Dr. Strangelove feel like a happily-ever-after.—DE

The Godfather, Gangster movies
Movies, Thriller

The Godfather (1972)

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

The undisputed don of the gangster-flick family, Francis Ford Coppola’s timeless tragedy of twisted loyalty and moral decay refuses to become any less powerful or relevant. From its epic moments—the horse’s head in the bed, Luca Brasi’s bulging fish-eyes—to the most intimate details (Enzo the baker’s shaking hands, Clemenza’s spaghetti recipe), The Godfather never puts one immaculately crafted leather boot out of line. If we revisit this list in a century’s time, expect it to be holding steady in the top spot.—TH

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