Top Ten Classic Gangster Movies

Top Ten Classic Gangster Movies

Gangsters are not glittery, glamorous people. They are criminals who care about no one. These movies do not paint gangsters in any sort of good light. Even though crime figures have given money to charities and built schools and hospitals, it pales in comparison to the lives they destroy.

Since I love watching movies in which the bad guys fail, this lineup of ten gangster movies features Hollywood’s best and most powerful actors. Who better to create the worst villains than the most talented?

Here are ten classic gangster movies that show that even though it may take time, the good guys do win.

The Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990)
The Godfather (1972)

No discussion of gangster movies is complete without mentioning “The Godfather” series. These films are more than mere crime stories; they are a saga of family, honor, and legacy.

Francis Ford Coppola made a movie in 1972 that opened up the world of organized criminals and their families. Al Pacino plays Michael Corleone, the youngest and quietest son of Don Vito Corleone, a mafia boss. He doesn’t want anything to do with the family “business” at first. When his father barely survives an assassination attempt, he gets involved and becomes the most cold-blooded, ruthless one of the bunch. This movie contains one of the most quoted lines, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

The trilogy’s narrative excellence, combined with Marlon Brando’s and Al Pacino’s powerful performances, make it a cornerstone of the genre. Its influence extends beyond cinema, leaving an indelible mark on pop culture and the collective imagination.


This movie depicted real people in Las Vegas during the 1980’s. Everyone in Nevada knew the mob ran the casinos. I lived in Carson City as a teenager; when we visited Las Vegas, we were told to stay out of certain places because they were mob owned. We obeyed without question. Since the incidents that led to indictments against the mob, the Nevada State Gaming Commission has changed its licensing procedures dramatically.

10th and Wolf

An Army soldier is facing charges of desertion. An FBI agent offers to keep him out of Leavenworth if he becomes an undercover agent. He is promised that his cousin and brother will escape arrest and prosecution. He joins his cousin’s gang and is drawn into a war that leaves everyone he cares about dead. This is a graphic movie that shows how violent and bloody the mob world is. He learns the hard way he really can’t trust anyone in the street.


Director Martin Scorsese created a film in 1990 that was different from many gangster films. He appears at the beginning of the film to explain that this film doesn’t extol gangsters or the mob; it shows them as the bloodthirsty criminals that they are. The story centers around Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta. Henry Hill was a real mobster who turned FBI informant and lived in witness protection. Beyond the money and “big shot” treatment, the movie shows how little loyalty there is among thieves.


Several movies have been made about the group of men assembled by real FBI agent Elliot Ness, but the 1987 version starring Robert Dinero and Kevin Costner is the best. Sean Connery is the honest cop in a sea of Chicago police corruption who joins Elliot Ness in fighting Al Capone. The opening of the movie serves to show audiences just how cold-blooded these criminals are. Frank Nitti, one of Capone’s soldiers, plants a bomb in a business that doesn’t want to buy beer from Capone. The bomb explodes in the arms of a little girl.

American Gangster
American Gangster (2007)

This unsettling film shows the rise of Frank Lucas, a real mob boss in 1970s New York, and the cop who worked tirelessly to bring him down. The cop, played by Russell Crowe, has to deal with his own child custody issues, a junkie partner, corrupt cops, and the mob. Denzel Washington gives a performance you will always remember as the scumbag who organized smuggling heroin into this country by using the bodies and coffins of servicemen killed in Viet Nam. As the legendary Stan Lee says, “‘Nuff said.”

Public Enemy

The genre had to start somewhere, and what better place than with legendary actor James Cagney. He grew up watching mobsters in his neighborhood, so he was able to bring them to the screen like no one else. The story shows the rise of a thug in the mob, bootlegging during Prohibition, and a mob war in Chicago. This B&W film doesn’t need to be in color; the actors and storyline speak for themselves.

Donnie Brasco

Johnny Depp portrays an FBI agent who infiltrates the tight-knit world of the mob. Al Pacino is the mob soldier who vouches for him and pays for it in the end. The story is based on true events surrounding an undercover FBI agent. The longer he remains “inside,” the more he begins to transform into one of them. His marriage disintegrates, and he becomes distant from his real life and primary job. Pulling him out early means blowing his cover, which would lead to his execution. It would also lead to the execution of the person who vouched for him; the FBI needs him as a material witness.


The first movie to have this title was made in 1932, but it is the 1983 movie with Al Pacino that showed audiences the inside world of drug dealers and cartels. No conscience, they are bloodthirsty sociopaths who care about no one, including family. The ending is one of the most violent in movie history. While there are a few misguided individuals who see the character Tony Montana as a role model, he was nothing more than a thug.


This humorous film follows different people in search of a stolen diamond. Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Vinnie Jones, and others bring a story to life that will make you wonder how gangsters survive. From dangerous to hilarious, the villains try to outshine each other in ruthlessness, but a dog ultimately steals the show.

This article in no way endorses crime, organized or otherwise. It is always better to make your own way in life within the law.

Being Bad is Box Office Gold

The classic gangster movie genre holds a special place in cinematic history. It challenges viewers to look beyond the surface to understand the motivations and circumstances that lead characters down these dark paths. As reflections of society, they serve as cautionary tales, reminding us of the consequences of unchecked ambition and moral compromise. For any cinephile or student of culture, these films are not just entertainment; they are essential viewing, offering lessons that resonate well beyond the screen.

Author Gwen

Gwen is a freelance artist and writer for film, advertising, corporate projects, and web media. She feels his expertise in the entertainment industry provides a unique opportunity to engage the public through real-life stories and over a decade of experience and knowledge.