Mafia movies are some of the oldest and most popular crime films in the entire medium. The best mob movies not only have incredible actors portraying the complex people on the screen, but they also deal with themes that are surprisingly relevant to our lives, no matter where we live or what decade it is. Loyalty, betrayal, familial ties, masculinity, and so much more are brought to the surface in mob movies. This makes people who normally wouldn’t be interested in sleazy men in suits captivated by the plot and characters.
We thought it would be fun to count down the 10 best mafia movies ever made, from pictures starring Robert De Niro to classic Hollywood cinema that remains in black and white aesthetic for that iconic look we’ll never forget!
When it comes to films that left a lasting legacy in their genre, there aren’t many mob movies more influential than The Public Enemy. Starring James Cagney in one of his first big roles, the picture is a brilliant and long-lasting look at crime during the Prohibition era in the United States. Cagney is Tom Powers, a young mobster who finds he has a knack for criminal activity and collecting money through organized crime during the 1920s and 1930s.
With a runtime of almost four hours, Once Upon a Time in America is an engaging but arduous journey of introspection surrounding the life of a gangster named Noodles (Robert De Niro). Noodles returns to his New York upbringing and, in the process, is faced with more questions than answers about the decisions and relationships that have shaped his life as a man and a mobster. Joe Pesci and James Woods provide great supporting acting.
Featuring Viggo Mortensen in one of his best roles outside of The Lord of the Rings, this mobster movie tells the story of the fallout from a rape that was perpetrated by a member of the Russian mafia. With similarities to classics like The Godfather, Eastern Promises guarantees fans all the trappings of your typical crime syndicate films with a few twists here and there. Also, if you’ve ever wanted to see Mortensen completely naked and in action, this is your chance!
Sometimes the best mob movies are based upon real people from the history books. The second Prohibition-era movie on our list, The Untouchables is an entertaining and gripping look at the team that was tasked with taking Al Capone down for his crimes during the early 1930s. Sean Connery won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Jim Malone. Kevin Costner delivers a great performance as agent Eliot Ness, a role that almost went to Jack Nicholson!
The French Connection is going to remind a lot of people of The Untouchables, minus the Prohibition-era topics and themes. Gene Hackman turns in an Academy Award-winning performance as NYPD officer Jimmy Doyle, the detective who expertly tries to capture the French heroin smuggler Alain Charnier. With plenty of exciting action sequences, car chases, and on-location shots of New York, the movie is an encompassing look at the crime-riddled exploits of the Big Apple during the mid-20th century.
One of the most modern pictures on this list is jam-packed with stars both in front of and behind the camera. Martin Scorsese directs this acclaimed story of two moles, one within the Irish Mob and the other within the Massachusetts State Police. Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio play the leads, creating an electric atmosphere in one of Nicholson’s last big roles before he retired in 2010.
While initially criticized for its graphic violence and morbidity, Scarface eventually won over a large swath of fans in the decades after its 1983 release. Al Pacino is Tony Montana, a Cuban drug lord who grows his empire in Miami through any means necessary. Steven Bauer gives a great supporting performance as Montana’s friend, his only memorable role until he played Don Eladio on AMC’s crime drama series Breaking Bad.
We’ve now arrived at the true heavy hitters on the list. Some claim Goodfellas as their favorite mob film ever made. The story of Henry Hill’s tumultuous time as the head of a crime family in Brooklyn, the movie is filled with some of the most important characters in the genre and compelling performances from actors such as De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta. Lorraine Bracco’s turn as Karen Hill helped to establish her presence in the world of mobster fiction, leading to her casting as Dr. Jennifer Melfi on the HBO critical darling The Sopranos. Other actors from the show that got their start in this film also include Michael Imperioli and Vinny Pastore.
Many lists will claim this sequel as the superior movie when comparing Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary movies, but The Godfather Part II will have to settle for second-best on our list due to it not having quite the same influence as the first film. The dual-timeline format of the plot, which shows father Vito Corleone and son Michael Corleone at various points in their lives, is still revelatory to this day.
The first film in The Godfather trilogy remains not only the best mobster movie ever made, but to many critics also the most complete film ever put to screen. The acting, cinematography, soundtrack, and pace of the story all coalesce into something that has never been replicated. The tale of Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) pathway to the top of the mafia is still enjoyed by millions to this day.
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