8 Great Gangster Films

On September 18, 2015, expect to witness another iconic gangster performance from Johnny Depp, who plays Boston’s meanest gangster ever, Whitey Bulger, in Black Mass. He’ll add his name to a distinguished list of actors who delivered murder, blood lust, betrayal, greed and terror on film. With so much drama, ruthless hoods have been a Hollywood staple since the 1930s.

Here’s a list of the eight greatest gangster films in history:

Scarface 1932-001

#8. Scarface (1932). No, this is not the horrible, cringe-worthy 1983 film starring Al Pacino about a coke dealer with a bad accent and terrible fashion choices.  This is the black-and-white classic with Paul Muni, one of the greatest actors ever, playing a fictional version of the gangster Al Capone. Since the movie snuck into theaters in the pre-Hollywood ratings days, it’s loaded-up with plenty of sex and violence. It set the standard for every gangster film that followed.

Key Largo

#7. Key Largo (1948). Humphrey Bogart squares off against Edward G. Robinson in a classic good guy versus bad guy scenario.  When a vicious gangster shows up at a remote Florida hotel, a reluctant hero takes justice into his own hands. As a review at the time noted, the movie is full of “stinging performances.” It also marked the end of Hollywood’s flirtation with “old-time gangsterism.”

mean streets

#6. Mean Streets (1973). Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel brought the gangster back to the big screen, but they’re just inept thugs in this gritty and compelling portrayal of life on the streets.  The Library of Congress National Film Registry declared the movie “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”  Forget the high-brow praise; it’s an awesomely entertaining film.

Godfather part 2

#5. The Godfather: Part II (1974). Sorry! I love the sequel way more than the first Godfather film (1972). That said, both films rank as among the most influential gangster movies of all time.  This installment shows the young head of one of the Mafia’s five families (Al Pacino, when he had talent) rising to the top as well as flashbacks of the rise of the original godfather (an always talented Robert De Niro).


#4. Goodfellas (1990). Not everybody could be gangster royalty. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta show what life was like for the gangster also-rans. Based on the life of the real-life hoodlum Henry Hill, this is some of the best gangster acting ever.


#3. Casino (1995). What happened when the godfather and his buddies moved out west and set up business in Vegas? Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci give us a peek in this account of the fictional Tangiers casino that draws from real-life events and characters.

Donnie Brasco

#2. Donnie Brasco (1997).  There was more truth than fiction in movies like The Godfather and Goodfellas.  We know that because a courageous undercover FBI agent named Joe Pistone posing as a street hood named Donnie Brasco got inside the mafia. In the Hollywood version of what happened, Johnny Depp gets mentored by an aging mob figure (Al Pacino not at his worst) and exposes the underbelly of organized crime in America.

The Departed

#1. The Departed (2006). Inspired by the mayhem Whitey Bulger inflicted on Boston, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays a Donnie Brasco-like character playing cops and robbers with Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga and Alec Baldwin.


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