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Goodfellas

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

Zach Long
Written by
Dave Calhoun
Written by
Zach Long
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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. Join us for a tour of the speakeasies, gambling dens, back alleys and knocked-off bank vaults of cinema’s criminal underworlds.

Written by Dave Calhoun, Cath Clarke, David Ehrlich, Zach Long, Tom Huddleston, Joshua Rothkopf & Phil de Semlyen

50–41

In Bruges (2008)
  • Movies
  • Comedy

“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

Point Break (1991)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

If you want the ultimate, you've got to be willing to pay the ultimate price.’

There’s a mad genius in taking cops and robbers and sticking them on the
beach, and it pays off in spades in Kathryn Bigelow’s classic action-thriller: the zen surfer energy of Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and his cosmically attuned gangs of bank robbers infuses the movie like the curlicue of weed smoke, offering a perfect contrast to headstrong FBI man Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves). It’s an illicit bromance for the ages. The action scenes – parachuteless skydiving, suburban ​foot ​chases, lobbed dogs and all – are​n't bad either

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The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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

  • Movies
  • Drama

‘Usually, three people can keep a secret only when two of them are dead.’

With the help of some digital de-aging effects, Martin Scorsese puts a poignant spin on the decades-spanning saga of real-life Mafia hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Nrio), balancing scenes depicting gratuitous violence with more intimate meditations on the repercussions of a life devoted to crime.

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The League of Gentlemen (1960)
  • Movies
  • Comedy

“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 (1971)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

‘Here, go get yourself a course in karate.’

Anyone who’d got comfortable with Michael Caine’s cheeky chappy persona in The Italian Job a couple of years earlier would have had a rude awakening when this bleakly ferocious gangster flick arrived in 1971 like the worst kind of post-’60s hangover. A cockney angel of vengeance, Caine’s Jack Carter is a sartorially blessed template for a new wave of on-screen hoods in a crime thriller that still plays like Britain’s answer to Point Blank. PDS

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Why Don't You Play in Hell (2013)
Courtesy Drafthouse Films

44. Why Don't You Play in Hell (2013)

“They'll fight to the death and we'll film around it.”

Simultaneously a yakuza movie, a kung-fu flick and a love letter to cinema, Japanese director Sion Sono's Why Don't You Play in Hell is the anti-gritty gangster tale. Following a group of young filmmakers who decide to turn a real conflict between rival gangs into a film, while inserting some stars of their own. Comedic and bloody in it's execution, Sono's movie pokes fun at genre tropes one minute and shamelessly embraces them the next.—ZL

A Better Tomorrow (1986)
  • Movies
  • Action and adventure

“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

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Léon: The Professional (1994)
  • Movies

“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 (1996)
  • Movies
  • Comedy

“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

40–31

  • Movies
  • Comedy

“Afghanistan banana stand.”

You've seen plenty of gangster and crime movies that build to a heist, but The Hot Rock is a string of heists that take place as a result of unforseen circumstances. Robert Redford and George Segal play against type, presenting themselves as hardened crooks, but ultimately revealing that they're extremely fallible. And just wait until you hear the funky soundtrack that Quincy Jones cooked up for this crime comedy of errors.—ZL

Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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

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Gun Crazy (1950)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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 (1995)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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

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Touch of Evil (1958)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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 (2007)
  • Movies

“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

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King of New York (1990)
  • Movies
  • Drama

“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 (2002)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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

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The French Connection (1971)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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 (1994)
  • Movies
  • Comedy

“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

30–21

No Sudden Move (2021)
Courtesy HBOMax

30. No Sudden Move (2021)

“You know what I love? When characters you've long since forgotten in this great novel called life show up at the end and the whole story gets filled right in.”

This twisting Steven Soderbergh film is best described as a depiction of unorganized crime, depicting a ramshackle Detroit crew dealing with a job gone wrong. The super-wide angle cinematography is an acquired taste, but seeing Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro portray complicated criminals trying to save their own hides is worth the trouble.—ZL

Scarface (1932)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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

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Scarface (1983)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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 (1979)
  • Movies

“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

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Performance (1970)
  • Movies
  • Drama

“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 (1954)
  • Movies
  • Drama

‘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.’

You can imagine On the Waterfront’s brazen Mob-adjacent teamster Johnny Friendly (Lee J Cobb) in a Scorsese movie, presiding over the New Jersey docks like a wannabe wiseguy. At least, until he gets whacked halfway through. Here, it’s Marlon Brando’s docker Terry Malloy who represents a form of bare-knuckled rough justice in Elia Kazan’s classic tale of human failings, bad choices and moral courage. PDS

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Boyz n the Hood (1991)
  • Movies
  • Drama

“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

The Sting (1973)
  • Movies

“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

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  • Movies
  • Drama

‘What thousands must die, so that Caesar may become the great.’

For our money, a superior thriller to Martin Scorsese’s remake ‘The Departed’, this classic slice of Hong Kong cinema has the cool AF Andy Lau and Tony Leung karmically connected in the city’s violent criminal underground. One’s an undercover cop, the other is an undercover triad member. The old adage about cops and crims being two sides of the same coin has rarely been this brilliantly realised on screen.

The Untouchables (1987)
  • Movies
  • Drama

“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

20–11

Widows (2018)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“I always said he should burn in hell. But, hey, Chicago will do.”

This list is filled with movies that follow gangsters who meet untimely ends, but directors rarely devote much screentime to the people they leave behind. Steve McQueen's Chicago-set caper is centered around the widows of a recently-deceased criminal outfit, who band together to complete their husbands' unfinished business, attempting to pull off a dangeous heist.—ZL

The Long Good Friday (1980)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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

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A History of Violence (2005)
  • Movies
  • Drama

“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 (1962)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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

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Rififi (1955)
  • Movies

“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 (1950)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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

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Eastern Promises (2007)
  • Movies
  • Drama

“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 (2008)
  • Movies

“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

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Pulp Fiction (1994)
  • Movies
  • Drama

“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 (1967)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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 (2000)
  • Movies

“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 (1984)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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

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Miller’s Crossing (1990)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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 (1974)
  • Movies
  • Drama

“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

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Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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 (1973)
  • Movies

“$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

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Goodfellas (1990)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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 (1992)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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

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The Killing (1956)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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 (1972)
  • Movies
  • Thriller

“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

See more of Chicago's gangster past

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Speakeasies in Chicago
  • Bars

Some of the speakeasies from Chicago's Prohibition era went legit and still operate today. Drink like a mobster at these local bars.

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