Best Gangster Movies

WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley ranks the best gangster movies of all time in the gallery below.

Not seeing your favorite movie? It’s probably in a different genre! Check out the full list here.

30. ‘The Irishman’ (2019) – Martin Scorsese

Al Pacino shines in the mysterious disappearance of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, while Robert De Niro digitally de-ages in Scorsese’s overlong Netflix elegy to the gangster genre.

29. ‘Black Mass’ (2015) – Scott Cooper

Johnny Depp’s portrait of Boston gangster Whitey Bulger was filled with chilling exchanges between a deep cast of Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Dakota Johnson and Julianne Nicholson.

28. ‘Badlands’ (1973) – Terrence Malick

Six years after “Bonnie & Clyde,” Martin Sheen’s greaser outlaw and Sissy Spacek’s impressionable teenager went on a killing spree in the Badlands of South Dakota, as debut director Terrence Malick was inspired by the real-life Starkweather Homicides.

27. ‘Le Samourai’ (1967) – Jean-Pierre Melville

The “gangster cool” of Tarantino and Scorsese wouldn’t exist without French master Melville, whose silent-but-deadly hitman Jef Costello is spotted by witnesses after a public murder, leading to a brilliant final image with white gloves, a piano and a revolver.

26. ‘Atlantic City’ (1980) – Louis Malle

In this quiet, poetic, hard-to-categorize film by French master Louis Malle, a retired gangster (Burt Lancaster) falls for his much younger neighbor (Susan Sarandon), the wife of a pot dealer on the Atlantic City boardwalk decaying after the heyday of “Boardwalk Empire.”

25. ‘Casino’ (1995) – Martin Scorsese

An unofficial sequel to “Goodfellas,” Scorsese’s gangster flick tracked casino boss Robert De Niro, socialite Sharon Stone and mafia enforcer Joe Pesci. You’ll never look at corn fields and baseball bats the same way again.

24. ‘Donnie Brasco’ (1997) – Mike Newell 

Johnny Depp stars as an undercover FBI agent, alias “Donnie Brasco,” who infiltrates the New York mafia to track mobster Al Pacino, but he winds up relating more to the life of crime.

23. ‘Carlito’s Way’ (1993) – Brian De Palma

A decade after “Scarface,” Al Pacino reunited with Brian De Palma to play another Hispanic-American gangster, only this time as an aging criminal trying to leave the business but slowly marching toward a long-single-take fate at Grand Central Station.

22. ‘Miller’s Crossing’ (1990) – Coen Brothers

John Turturro pleaded for his life in the titular wooded location, as Gabriel Byrne debated whether to pull the trigger for Prohibition mob boss Albert Finney, who memorably escaped an attack on his home in true Coen style.

21. ‘Leon: The Professional’ (1994) – Luc Besson

Professional hitman Jean Reno adopts and trains orphaned 12-year-old Natalie Portman in the art of being an assassin, but even their growing bond can’t outrun Gary Oldman, who pursues them as a wild-eyed DEA agent in this fast-paced shoot-em-up.

20. ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ (1984) – Sergio Leone

Just as he did for the Western in “Once Upon a Time in the West,” Sergio Leone painted an epic portrait of crime in this four-hour saga about a Jewish gangster (Robert De Niro) who returns to Manhattan after 30 years to confront the ghosts of his past.

19. ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ (1938) – Micheal Curtiz

It’s hard to top James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in the same movie, reuniting the following year for “The Roaring Twenties” and setting up Bogie for “High Sierra” and Cagney for “White Heat.”

18. ‘The Departed’ (2006) – Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese finally won his long overdue Oscar for this adaptation of Hong Kong’s “Infernal Affairs,” as Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg and Jack Nicholson try to outsmart each other amid Irish gang activity in South Boston.

17. ‘Road to Perdition’ (2002) – Sam Mendes

After winning Best Picture for “American Beauty,” Sam Mendes followed up with this gangster gem starring a tommy-gun wielding Tom Hanks in a much darker role than usual, not to mention Paul Newman’s final live-action appearance.

16. ‘Mean Streets’ (1973) – Martin Scorsese

The seeds of Scorsese’s entire career are planted in his early gangster classic: from its Little Italy setting to its faith-and-doubt themes. The rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack includes the Ronettes’ catchy “Be My Baby” opening and Robert De Niro’s badass entrance to the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

15. ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992) – Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino’s breakthrough gangster flick is still as snappy as ever, following the botched heist of Mr. White, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink and Mr. Blonde, rendered immortal by Michael Madsen’s ear-slicing dance to “Stuck in the Middle With You.”

14. ‘Band of Outsiders’ (1964) – Jean-Luc Godard

Godard reimagined the gangster genre for the French New Wave, inspiring the “Pulp Fiction” dance and Tarantino’s production company “A Band Apart.”

13. ‘American Gangster’ (2007) – Ridley Scott

“My man!” Denzel Washington was downright chilling as Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas, who maintains his grip on his urban crime empire while Russell Crowe’s outcast New York City cop tries desperately to bring him down.

12. ‘The Public Enemy’ (1931) – William Wellman

James Cagney became Hollywood’s original gangster — the O.G. — as classic hoodlum Tom Powers, who rises through the ranks of Chicago’s criminal underworld and smashes a grapefruit in Mae Clarke’s face with his signature “dirty rat” style.

11. ‘Little Caesar’ (1930) – Mervyn LeRoy

The rise and fall of Edward G. Robinson’s fast-talking gangster Little Caesar wrote the textbook for all gangsters to follow, as Robinson lies mortally wounded in the street asking in disbelief, “Is this the end of Rico?”

10. ‘The Untouchables’ (1987) – Brian De Palma

Kevin Costner’s Elliot Ness teams with an Oscar-winning Sean Connery to pursue Robert De Niro’s Al Capone in this stylized gangster picture, as Brian DePalma recreates the baby carriage sequence from “Battleship Potemkin” set to an iconic Ennio Morricone score.

9. ‘Queen & Slim’ (2019) – Melina Matsoukas 

Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith go on the lam as the ill-fated “black Bonnie and Clyde” in this instant classic gangster flick that was one of the year’s most underrated films.

8. ‘Thelma & Louise’ (1991) – Ridley Scott

If “Bonnie and Clyde” is a gangster picture, then surely “Thelma & Louise” is too, following Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as a pair of fed-up housewives who set out on a feminist road trip, picking up a young Brad Pitt and plunging off a cliff in their Ford Thunderbird.

7. ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ (1967) – Arthur Penn

“We rob banks!” Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were not only the epitome of beautiful movie stars, they sucked coke bottles with sexual symbolism and stroked gun barrels suggesting impotence, while Arthur Penn set new standards for violence with a bullet-riddled finale.

6. ‘Breathless’ (1960) – Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Luc Godard defined the French New Wave and reinvented the gangster flick with this jump-cutting tale of car thief Jean-Paul Belmondo on the lam with Jean Seberg.

5. ‘Scarface’ (1932/1983) – Howard Hawks, Brian De Palma

Paul Muni spit tommy-guns as Tony Camonte in 1920s Prohibition Chicago, while Al Pacino snorted cocaine as Tony Montana in 1980s Miami in Oliver Stone’s f-bomb-laced script that exploded: “Say hello to my little friend!”

4. ‘White Heat’ (1949) – Raoul Walsh

James Cagney’s quintessential gangster picture casts him as the mentally disturbed mama’s boy Cody Jarrett, organizing tanker-truck heists, shooting bullet holes into car trunks for air, distrusting “coppers” and shouting in a blaze of glory, “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!”

3. ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994) – Quentin Tarantino

Boasting a string of badass dialogue, an inventive fractured narrative, countless genre homages and a killer soundtrack, Quentin Tarantino influenced filmmaking for the next 25 years with a dream cast of Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis.

2. ‘GoodFellas’ (1990) – Martin Scorsese

Moviemaking doesn’t get any better than Scorsese chronicling Henry Hill’s three decades in the New York mafia, featuring brilliant camera moves paired with the perfect soundtrack selections, all narrated by Ray Liotta alongside Lorraine Bracco, Robert DeNiro and a “funny” Joe Pesci.

1. ‘The Godfather: Part I & II’ (1972-1974) – Francis Ford Coppola

From Part I baptism to Part II betrayal, Coppola’s operatic tragedy of sons who become their fathers (Al Pacino following Marlon Brando, played in flashbacks by Robert DeNiro) is a saga “you can’t refuse.” To this day, it remains the only original and sequel to both win the Oscar for Best Picture.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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