Culture of Pop

The Five Greatest Gangster Films in Film History


With the recent release of Black Mass, it’s worth taking a look back at the five greatest gangster films in film history. This is a crowded genre, and numerous installments are worthy of inclusion, but here are five in particular that stand out as phenomenal.

The Godfather
The film is based on Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, which is Puzo’s best-selling novel of all time. The film features a star-studded cast including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, and Robert Duvall. The greatest scene as well as posing the most juxtaposition in the film is the baptism of Michael Corleone’s niece as the scene cuts between the baptism and the execution of Corleone’s enemies. The Godfather currently holds 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and is widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s most inventive and trailblazing movies.


Goodfellas was adapted from the non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Martin Scorsese. The film stars Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci. The greatest scene in the film is when Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito is having drinks with Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, when Henry says how he’s funny and Tommy asks “Funny how? Do I talk funny…..” The film currently holds as a 96% citing the consensus as being the top point of Martin Scorcese’s career. On a side note, the film celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.


This film was also adapted from another Nicholas Pileggi book, Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas; Pileggi also co-wrote the screenplay for Goodfellas. Casino stars Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci. The greatest scene in the film involves an arrogant gentleman wearing a cowboy hat who is sitting with his shoes off and his feet on the gambling table. After being told to take his feet off the table, he is escorted from the casino by security head-first. The film holds an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for AFI’s 10 Top 10.


Donnie Brasco
This stellar movie tells the true story of Joseph D. Pistone, an FBI undercover agent who infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in New York City, using the alias Donnie Brasco. The film casts Johnny Depp as Brasco and Al Pacino as Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero. The greatest scene in the film comes when Depp’s Brasco and Pacino’s Lefty are sitting in a car and reading a paper about the FBI raiding a gangster’s yacht. Lefty asks Brasco if he’s a rat because if he’s a rat, Lefty will kill himself right there since he let him into the business and therefore, is at fault. The film holds an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been called, by Entertainment Weekly, a “wonderfully dense, clever, and moving gangland thriller.”


Once Upon A Time In America
The film chronicles the life of four Jewish ghetto youths who rise to prominence in New York City’s organized crime environment. The film stars Robert De Niro, James Woods, and Joe Pesci, because it’s not like De Niro and Pesci are already on this list enough. The greatest scene in the film is when De Niro’s Noodles arrives at the train station in 1932 and looks at a Coney Island billboard. When he walks up to the mirror, Noodles, aged and with gray hair, reminisces of his trip with the Coney Island billboard being replaced by a Big Apple billboard. The film holds an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, citing “Sergio Leone’s epic crime drama is visually stunning, stylistically bold, and emotionally haunting, and filled with great performances from the likes of Robert De Niro and James Woods.”


Overall, mob films, or gangster films, are some of the best movies ever made. One film in particular, The Godfather, offers life lessons such as don’t make promises you can’t keep, don’t involve yourself in other people’s personal lives, and lastly, family is the most important thing in life.

The other films considered were A Bronx Tale, Scarface, and The Departed. Many of the aforementioned films feature the same actors such as Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino, as pointed out earlier. Out of all these films, The Godfather likely takes the top prize considering it is arguably the most influential film in the gangster genre, and maybe even in cinema history. All of the films, however, hold their own weight and should be viewed as masterpieces.

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