The Top 25 Gangster Films of the Last 40 Years
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The greatest gangster film of all time—Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather—just turned 40. To celebrate the birthday of Coppola’s classic, we’re counting down the top 25 gangster films that followed it (broadly defining the genre). Here are the top 25 gangster films of the last 40 years:
25. American Gangster (2007)
If it wasn’t for the talents of Denzel Washington, American Gangster probably wouldn’t be worthwhile. The biopic of Harlem gangster Frank Lucas moves swiftly with dazzling cinematography, yet the story never explores the depths of the notorious criminal. Washington, though, performs lights out, making up for the superficiality with a raw sense of humanity.
24. Road to Perdition (2002)
As he did in American Beauty, Sam Mendes here creates another grand tragedy. Adapted from the graphic novel of the same name, Road to Perdition tells a captivating tale about a father and son—gangster and future gangster. There’s warmth in their relationship, but the outcome of it proves cold, something Mendes hones in on with the beautifully bleak cinematography.
23. Boyz N the Hood (1991)
The Boyz N the Hood might not be the first gangsters that come to mind when you think of gangster films, but they’re the real deal—straight out of South Central. Through powerful performances from Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cub and Morris Chestnut, they’re also a trio we grow to love and care about as they struggle to make sense of their gangster lives.
22. Snatch (2000)
Love or hate him, Guy Ritchie has redefined the gangster genre with his hyper-stylized touch. Snatch may be a lesser remix of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but it boasts a multifaceted plot, frenzied action and dazzling eye candy. And how can you not love characters with names like Franky Four Fingers, Bullet Tooth Tony and Doug the Head?
21. Gangs of New York (2002)
Though not at the top of the Scorsese totem pole, Gangs of New York will still live on as a top-notch gangster flick. The revenge saga has an epic scope with a beautiful setting and unforgettable characters. Daniel Day Lewis’ vicious and relentless Bill the Butcher may be one of the greatest movie villains of our time.
20. Scarface (1983)
Brian Depalma’s Scarface may be overrated—hence the reason why it isn’t further down on the list—but it’s a cult classic with, perhaps, the most famous quote from any gangster film: “Say hello to my little friend.” In other words, the film—particularly Al Pacino—is completely over the top, which is both awful and awesome.
19. Bugsy Malone (1976)
The lives of infamous gangsters Al Capone and Bugs Moran (combined as Bugsy Malone, get it?) spoofed by children, including a young Jodie Foster, in a G-rated musical? Yes please. Though actually pretty silly, this 1976 British production proves strange and creative enough to leave its imprint on the gangster genre.
18. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
The debut film from Guy Ritchie, this super stylistic take on the gangster formula pays homage to the work of Quentin Tarantino. From the sardonic humor, to slapstick violence, to the twisty plot, you could call it the British Reservoir Dogs on crack. Its obtrusive soundtrack—a mix of classic rock, reggae and pop—brings it all together.
17. The Godfather, Part III (1990)
Part three of The Godfather trilogy gets a lot of flack when viewed in the light of its predecessors, but it’s actually an underrated achievement in the gangster genre. Though not as cohesive, well acted or dramatically riveting as part one or two, it represents a more socially, politically and morally aware frame of mind from Coppola.
16. Donnie Brasco (1997)
Donnie Brasco innovates the gangster movie, mishmashing it with the undercover cop movie and focusing on a less famous crime family, the Bonannos, one of the mafia’s Five Families of New York City in the 1970s. In the lead role, Johnny Depp delivers a prevailing performance, hashing out a moral dilemma as the undercover Donnie Brasco.