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Top 30 Best Hollywood Gangster Movies of All Time

Loaded ammo, guns and drugs, bags full of cash, high intensity action and morals gone astray due to some torturous past, and we have all the best gangster movies of all time, ones which have glorified substance use, abuse, violence and local slurs, yet keeps one at the edge of the seat witch action packed suspense thriller, and viewers mostly developing a liking towards the protagonist, the mafia or the war lord of the flick.

Gang wars ranging between Italian war lords, or the local mobsters of LA or New York, or deal gone wrong with the Japanese mafia, Hollywood has never failed to provide its share of fun and crime in mafia movies. Scenes covered with excessive use of cocaine, or bloodshed in some navy pier, masterpiece directed by Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese or Stanley Kubrick, and stories inspired from real incidents and crime lords, present us the classic Hollywood mafia films. So, here are lined up 30 best Hollywood gangster movies of all time.

1. THE GODFATHER (1972)

Rightly deserving to hold the top spot in the list, The Godfather puts forth an ambitious attempt to explore the psychological nuances of the undisputed don Vito Corleone when he decides to transfer the empire to his reluctant son. This gangster masterpiece of Francis Ford Coppola engages viewers with numerous moments of shock and awe, layered with raw emotions.

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2. GOOD FELLAS (1990)

This 1990 film is an adaption of a book detailing the life of mobster Henry Hill, and has been directed by one of the best gangster movie masters Martin Scorsese. Revolving around an Italian-American crime syndicate, Good fellas has been a classic since its time with salty dialogues and vivid details of life in a crime.

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3. THE KILLING (1956)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, The Killing is a story of a crook gang led by Johnny Clay to carry out a two-million-dollar heist at Lansdowne race track, one of the most daring robberies of the time. Considered as Kubrick masterpiece, the film is a slight shift from the typical gangster flicks, yet a classic with a clever script aided by non-glamorous cast of veteran actors.

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4. HEAT (1995)

When a highly intelligent criminal pulls of a last heist with his gang, things seem to change with their latest act as the robbers feel the heat from the police, who are at their trail with Detective Lieutenant Hanna leading the force. Directed by Michael Mann, Heat has remained a classic since its release, with two excellent actors in cast, i.e. Al Pacino and Robert de Niro.

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5. THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)

Set in the era of Prohibition in America, a Federal Agent is set out to stop the ruthless Chicago gangster Al Capone. Director Brian de Palma elevates the tale from a cat and mouse chase to an emotionally complex story, making The Untouchables a gangster-drama tale.

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6. CASINO (1995)

A city of gambling is a breeding ground for crime, thus making Las Vegas an ideal gangster haven, the Casino being the main part. Another direction of Scorsese, Casino is a tale of greed, power, deception and murder that occur between two friends. The story depicts the sunset years of the Mafia gripped city of 80s and 90s.

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7. BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)

The unabashedly gory film revolves around a duo, in love. Bonnie Parker, a waitress, falls in love with Clyde Barrow, an ex con-men, and together they start a crime spree through the country, small duo activity, stealing cars and robbing banks. A direction by Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde is considered a modern depiction of romantic criminal life.

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8. THE GODFATHER – PART II (1974)

Sequel to The Godfather, this follows the life of the reluctant son Michael Corleone gradually taking control of his father’s vast empire, as he expands and tightens his hold over the family syndicate, Godfather – II is another brilliant make by Francis Ford Coppola, with violently fascinating new dimensions and brutal drama.

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9. ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)

Sergio Leone’s Depression-era epic revolves around the life of a former Jewish gangster, who returns to the Lower East Side of Manhattan after nearly thirty years to reflect and make choices, choices of his crime youth and the euphoric moments. This 229-minute original has been praised as the Godfather of Jewish gangster films.

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10. CARLITO’S WAY (1993)

With Al Pacino in prime role as the anti-hero Carlito Brigante, this Brian de Palma film revolves around a Puerto Rican ex-convict who is reluctantly drawn into a drug deal and comes to realize that there is no turning back now. A relentlessly violent film, Carlito’s Way got its place in the cult with huge praise from viewers.

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11. SCARFACE (1983)

A movie with immense violence and grotesque thrills, Scarface is a direction of Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson. The story revolves around a Cuban immigrant Tony Montana as he wills to dominate Miami’s flow of drugs through whatever means necessary. While he is ambitious and violently insane, his weakness comes to be the reason for his downfall.

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12. THE DEPARTED (2006)

Another Scorsese classic, The Departed has earned its position well in the mafia films genre. Although it’s based on a Hongkong Movie, Internal Affairs, with a combination of a smart plot and brilliant characters, The Departed revolves around the story of a waging war on Irish-American organised crime gang, with an undercover cop and a mole in the South Boston police trying to identify each other. The constant chases keep the audience hooked and makes the film enjoyable.

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13. RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

Another Quentin Tarantino classic, Reservoir Dogs is a sparkling story of five criminals put together for a heist that goes wrong. It is when the heist goes horribly, the rest of the surviving criminals start to doubt about a mole among them. With a master grip on storytelling and witty plot, the film still holds as a classic unconventional gangster flick.

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14. BOYZ N’ THE HOOD (1991)

Exploring life on the streets of Los Angeles, Boyz N’ The Hood steers away from the depression of mafia strongholds such as New York City or Vegas. The film is John Singleton’s compassionate debut, where the audience is drawn into the life of Tre, a young Afro-American in South Central LA, trying and failing to stay clear of violent warfare between gang lords of the area. The film provides a realistic depiction of LA gang life in the early ‘90s.

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15. SNATCH (2000)

A brilliant cult film from Guy Richie, Snatch is the tale of a Russian gangster, violent bookmakers, unethical boxing promoters, useless robbers and a Jewish jeweler who fight to find a priceless diamond which is stolen.

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16. MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)

Directed by the Coen brothers, Miller’s Crossing is like a love letter to gangster flicks. It spins on Prohibition-era gangster flick where Tom Reagan is an advisor to a crime boss, trying to maintain peace but gets caught in divided loyalties. A feature with plot twists, double crosses, smart dialogues, Miller’s Crossing is way different from the typical gangster flicks, with its light-hearted energy and emotional undertones.

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17. AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007)

Directed by Ridley Scott, this partly biographical film is inspired from the life of Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas. Offering a thrilling tale of international drug rings and deals gone wrong, American Gangster also provides a view to Frank’s intelligence and charisma, as well as to his brutality and criminality.

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18. PULP FICTION (1994)

Pulp Fiction builds a non-linear universe, with John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson as wise cracking hit men. Deviating from the usual villains obsessed with fame and money, this post-modern epic revels in the curious humanity of the society’s lowest. An exhilarating feature with some mind-blowing scenes, Pulp Fiction is another work of Quentin Tarantino.

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19. ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)

A story of redemption and revenge, Road to Perdition conveyed the grit of a gangster’s life through mood rather than dialogue. Director Sam Mendes uses the imagery of Great Depression-era America to tell the story of a gangster and his son, who has witnessed a mother, forcing both to change certain choices of life.

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20. CITY OF GOD (2002)

While most gangster stories are set in dark alleys or huge mansions, City of God features an entirely different backdrop. A kinetic multi-generational portrait of life and death, the film follows a Brazilian kid who miraculously survives several years in a place where guns and ammo outnumber consequences. Director Fernando Meirelles paints a picture which shows how love and tragedy can coexist in the worst conditions.

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21. A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005)

As the name itself suggests, this David Cronenberg movie is as violent as most gangster movies are. However, he contextualizes the brutality and makes the audience face emotional pangs in every scene of bloodshed. The story builds up when a mild man becomes a hero through a violent act, setting off repercussions for his family and his very self.

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22. RIFIFI (1995)

Directed by Jules Dassin, an originally French crime noir, Rififi is the story of four friends who plot an intricate plan for an impossible jewelry heist on Rue de Rivoli. With numerous plot twists and shocking moments, the movie is another unconventional crime drama.

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23. THE STING (1973)

A story of revenge, The Sting is a direction of George Roy Hill, where the story revolves around a swindler who decides to seek vengeance when his partner is killed by a ruthless crime lord. With stars like Paul Newman and Robert Redford, the film offers a romanticized view of the con life.

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24. A BRONX TALE (1993)

Directed and starring Robert de Niro, this gangster epic is the tale of a character Calogero struggling to find his meaning in 1960s Bronx, after befriending a local mob lord, while his father is worried regarding the friendship and tries to keep Calogero away from crime but which gradually seems like a losing battle.

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25. THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY (1980)

With a sharp touch of timeliness, The Long Good Friday is a gangster flick directed by John Mackenzie. In a shadow of the creeping capitalist dream, Cockney crime boss Harold Shand finds himself at the centre of a dangerous crime nexus, involving American mafia and Republican Irish terrorists. When a series of bombing takes place in his empire, Shand sets out to eliminate the mole which he believes exists in his empire.

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26. GOMORRAH (2008)

Director Matteo Garrone dramatized real world corruption along with well-armed teens in the portrayal of modern-day crimes in Southern Italy. The plot is based on a book with the same name where teens form gangs to survive the corruption, power and drugs race.  

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27. MEAN STREETS (1973)

Another of Scorsese’s crime drama, Mean Streets is the story of a small-time mobster who aspires to make big in life. The movie explores the grasping underside of the gangland dream.

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28. EASTERN PROMISES (2007)

In this David Cronenberg feature, Eastern Promises focuses on the perverted power of sex trafficking rings run by a Russian mafia. Cronenberg uses violence to craft a realistic yet chilling story of a grimacing antihero.

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29. SICARIO (2015)

Kate Macer, an FBI agent gets exposed to harsh realities when he is enlisted to aid in an escalating war against drug cartels at the border area between the US and Mexico. A Dennis Villeneuve direction, Sicario is heavy on action and gritty realism.

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30. WHITE HEAT (1949)

One of the first movies to explore mobster lore, White Heat is the story of a psychopathic criminal who makes a prison break to meet his old gang and lead them in a chemical plant payroll heist. Directed by Raoul Walsh, the film establishes classic tropes, such as train robberies and police shootouts, making the plot thrilling and another classic of historical crime cinema.

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