We were talking the other day, and the topic of greatest gangster films of all time came up. We brought up many and argued about some, but the following is a top five list we can all agree on. No spoilers in case you haven’t seen them.
1. The Godfather Trilogy
If you’re talking about the greatest gangster movies of all time, The Godfather trilogy has to be hovering around the top. While the third installment of this criminal epic didn’t measure up to the standard set by the first two, the Godfathers are some of the greatest overall films of all time, let alone gangster flicks. The stories of Michael Corleone and his father, Vito keep watchers engaged. Also, the interweaving of elements derived from real life mobsters really gave a great depiction of life in La Cosa Nostra. No films before had ever captured the elegance and horror that mobsters and their families experienced with such an aesthetic.
2. City of God
If you call yourself a gangster movie connoisseur and haven’t seen City of God yet, your opinion on these matters can’t be trusted. Yes, it’s a foreign film and you have to read subtitles, but a little reading never hurt anybody. Set in the slums of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, City of God gives you a feel of how real the criminal underworld in another part of world. The movie follows Rocket, an aspiring photojournalist from the hood, as he grows up in a city run by ruthless drug kingpin, Lil Ze. This is one that you’ll have to watch a few times to catch all the intricacies and get a true appreciation for the cinematic masterpiece that it is.
Goodfellas has to be in your top 5 gangster movies of all time, no matter who you are. The movie is the dramatization of the rise and fall of New York City mobster Henry Hill and his run with the Lucchese crime family. Goodfellas is entertaining from start to finish, showing a young boy join the Mob and excel to be a revered figure in the criminal underworld. The glitz and glamour of being a big time gangster are shown, as well as the peril and detriment.
4. American Gangster
This was an unlikely choice for the top 5 gangster movies of all time, but we had to include it. Though Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Harlem drug lord, Frank Lucas seems more refined than Frank Lucas’ real life persona, the story captures all of the mythical-level street lore that make the man a legend. There has especially been no films about a Black crime figure that did it the way American Gangster did it. Not to mention, this movie produced one of the greatest albums Jay Z has ever dropped.
What would a top 5 gangster movies of all time list be without the tale of Tony Montana? Though Scarface isn’t a cinematic success like the others listed, it is a requirement in every gangster film lover’s library. An adaptation of a 1932 film by the same name, Scarface dealt with the tumultuous and fairly new cocaine explosion in America in the 1980s, and the experience of Cuban refugees, “flushed out” by Castro. The movie is action-packed and deals with the gangster of a human level that falls in love and has family to look after. Definitely an entertaining watch.