A look at Tail Slate’s favorite gangster movies

Marlon Brando in ‘The Godfather’

America’s love affair with movies about gangsters (mobsters if you prefer) dates back to the beginning of the  20th Century.  Very popular in the 1930s, they practically disappeared once the Production Code (predecessor to the current MPAA system of film-ratings) began to be strictly enforced in 1934.

The 1970s saw a revival of the gangster movie with 1972’s Best Picture winner, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.  There have been many of these films made since and Live By Night (our review is available here) is just the latest.

Here is a list of TailSlate’s 10 favorite gangster films.

Enrico Lo Verso and Cladio Amendola in ‘La Scorta’

#10 – La Scorta (Italian for The Escort) – 1994

This taut movie is about four bodyguards who take on more tasks than just protecting a judge from Northern Italy who is chosen to replace another judge in the Sicilian town of Trapani.  It examines the collusion of criminals and corrupt politicians.

Claude Maki, ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano and Omar Epps in ‘Brother’

#9 – Brother – 2000

A member of the Yakuza (director Takeshi Kitano who stars in this under the name Beat Takeshi) is exiled to Los Angeles.  There he teams up with Omar Epps and another Yakuza who happens to be his brother, pushing them to expand their gang’s territory and influence.

Tony Leung and Chow Yun-Fat in ‘Hard Boiled’

#8 – Hard Boiled – 1992

One of John Woo’s best and starring Chow Yun-Fat & Tony Leung, this is one of the best of the Hong Kong gangster movies.  TailSlate still considers Chow Yun-Fat to be the “King of Cool.”

Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney in ‘The Roaring Twenties’

#7 – The Roaring Twenties – 1939

James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.  Prohibition.  Need we say more?

Dennis Farina and Vinnie Jones in ‘Snatch’

#6 – Snatch – 2000

While his Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was an auspicious debut feature, this is the film that put Guy Ritchie on the map.  Boxing, robbers, a Russian mobster and others are all searching for an 86 carat diamond.

#5 – Scarface – 1983

Directed by Brian DePalma who was working from a script penned by Oliver Stone, this remake of a 1932 film of the same name starred Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.  It spawned one of the most iconic one-liners of Pacino’s career.

Lillo Brancato and Chazz Palminteri in ‘A Bronx Tale’

#4 – A Bronx Tale – 1993

Robert DeNiro starred and made his directorial debut in this movie, based on the one-man play written by Chazz Palminteri.  Based on events from his own past, Palminteri refused to sell the rights unless he could write the screenplay and play the role of “Sonny.”  It was also the film debut of Lillo Brancato, Jr., whose acting career was interrupted by an eight year prison stint (four years before his trial and four more after his conviction).

Kevin Costner in ‘The Untouchables’

#3 – The Untouchables – 1987

Based on the true story of how Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) brought Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) to justice.  Sean Connery earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of veteran Chicago cop “Jimmy Malone”

Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta and Robert DeNiro in ‘Goodfellas’

#2 – Goodfellas – 1990

The story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) who was one of the big money-makers for a New York mob family and based on the actual events of his life.  Paul Sorvino, Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci were some of the terrific cast of this Martin Scorsese masterpiece.  Pesci won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Tommy DeVito who was based on the real Tommy DeSimone.

Al Pacino and James Caan in ‘The Godfather’

#1 – A tie between The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974)

Francis Ford Coppola directed both of the movies that tie for our list’s top spot.  Winners of nine Oscars between them, including Best Actor for Marlon Brando in the first and Best Supporting Actor for Robert DeNiro in part II, these movies tell the story of the Corleone crime family.

There are so many awesome gangster movies that it is impossible to include them all in one list.  Here are some honorable mentions that just missed inclusion.

The Departed

Once Upon a Time in America



Layer Cake

Road to Perdition

American Gangster

Cop Land

Little Caesar

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