The Best Gangster Movies on Netflix

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The Best Gangster Movies on Netflix

The gangster movie is as indelible an American art form as the blues, an Andy Warhol print of Elvis Presley or the kind of football you play with your hands. We see something of ourselves, our American character, in these charming criminals: their ruthlessness in pursuing total domination in whatever domain they so choose; their love of unbreakable ethical codes and the way they don’t see murder or extortion as anathema to such ways of life; their emphasis on the centrality of family and their fierce, secretly fearful tribalism. Gangster films show us to us, while simultaneously allowing us to cluck our tongues in moral superiority when the credits roll. These are, of course, stories of immigrants—foundational to America’s conception of itself. Conversely, Italian gangster films offer audiences an opportunity to see these stories of organized crime in their original elements. —Corey Beasley

Netflix currently has nearly 100 different titles from more than a dozen different countries categorized as gangster movies available to stream. You can also check out the current 100 Best Movies on Netflix or all our streaming guides.

Here are the 10 Best Gangster Movies on Netflix:

10. Skin Trade

It’s hard to tell if Skin Trade should be taken seriously. Because it’s a movie about sex trafficking that ends with a title card displaying sobering sex trafficking statistics, but it’s also a movie that stars and is co-written by Dolph Lundgren. This ambiguity is the film’s most plangent trait: Long before we ever get to the credits, it indulges in industry reenactment while engaging in its own exploitation. There isn’t a ton of nudity here, but the camera tours through enough strip clubs to totally undercut the message of Ekachai Uekrongtham’s action extravaganza. Gaze at this exhibition of the flesh, the movie says, but have the common decency to feel guilty afterwards. That probably tells you Skin Trade’s exact measure of sincerity, though the fact that Uekrongtham kneecaps his agenda doesn’t necessarily make the movie bad. Instead, it just makes it sort of basic. Lundgren plays Nick Cassidy, a New Jersey cop out to crush the criminal empire of Serbian mobster Viktor Dragovic (Ron Perlman). Jaa is Tony, a Bangkok cop who—surprise!—has the exact same goal. In between them there’s Dragovic, whom Nick arrests after a police raid on one of his operations. As the story spins its wheels, the audience grows bloodthirsty, and we must slake our cravings. Here, Skin Trade delivers. Lundgren has never really been one for big, flashy beatdowns, but he can very convincingly plant a foot in a dude’s chest and swing an AK47. It’s Jaa who really brings it, of course, and though his style of high-flying ass-kicking is old hat, he wears it so well that it never loses its appeal. He goes from zero to knee-to-your-face in the blink of an eye, a perpetually coiled tiger with no qualms about busting ribs. The violence here is often surprisingly bloody, and even when it’s not, the sound editing lends the impression of grue anyways. Plus, for a main event, we get to see Jaa go at it with White, which is enough to recommend Skin Trade by itself. —Andy Crump

9. In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten)

Year: 2014
Director: Hans Petter Moland
Like Fargo—a film which shares in the stark whiteness of a snow-bleached landscape, eking out a particular corner of humanity’s own little tabula rasaIn Order of Disappearance is a certifiable “black” comedy. What sets it apart from the American tale (other than Moland’s allegiance to Tarantino as much as to the Coens) is that this grim, brisk thriller finds at its core a darkness as opaque as the gravity-slurping middle of a black hole. That black hole is obviously death—the center around which the film revolves, each murder one more push of centripetal force, the whole plot spiraling into a nihilistic conclusion. While Disappearance is overt about its themes—revenge, responsibility, fatherhood, masculinity—it rarely reserves breath for any form of judgment, instead just sort of watching as an upstanding Norwegian citizen (the always great Stellan Skarsgård) works his bloody way up the food chain to figure out who’s behind his son’s death. Sleazebags with stupid ponytails abound, and everyone pretty much gets what’s coming to him, whether one’s sins are still fresh or long ago buried beneath the snow. And then there’s a final shot (fueled by a demise that also echoes Fargo’s climax) which is so unbelievably goofy it may throw into question the entire film you just watched. In a good way…I think. —Dom Sinacola

8. We Own the Night

Year: 2007
Director: James Gray
We Own the Night, a thoughtful crime thriller set in 1988 New York, was produced in part by its stars Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg, who play conflicted brothers. Wahlberg is the hard-nosed, New York City cop Joseph Grusinski who tries to clean up the city’s drug trade while his brother Bobby Green (Phoenix) manages the hottest nightclub in Brooklyn, an establishment where drugs are a big part of the attraction. A clash becomes inevitable, even more so because their father (Robert Duvall) is the deputy chief of police. Wahlberg’s role is incredibly reminiscent of his performance in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed, though not nearly as powerful. And Duvall could have called it in and done just as well. Phoenix, however, gives a strong showing as a man unwillingly pulled through a life-threatening transition, greatly improving a fair-to-middling script. Bobby so disdains his family’s idealism that he even changes his last name, a move that unwittingly reveals no police ties to his drug dealer friends. But when his brother is hospitalized by an assassin’s bullet, Bobby agrees to infiltrate the drug ring. There are no dirty cops in We Own the Night. Rather, we see good guys trying to do the right thing. Instead of surprising us with abrupt character changes, director James Gray (Little Odessa) takes us through Bobby’s personal torment in self-discovery as he realizes how strong his blood ties really are. —Tim Basham

7. Three

Year: 2014
Director: Johnnie To
Can you imagine a worse place for cops and robbers to play a game of cat and mouse than a bustling, overstuffed hospital? An orphanage, perhaps, or maybe an elementary school, but houses of convalescence rank pretty high on the list of “least desirable” locations for the police to butt heads with a hardened crook, even when the hardened crook is cuffed to a gurney with a bullet lodged in his brain. But that blatant mismatch of public safety and criminal investigation is part of what makes Johnnie To’s film, Three, so great: The setting gives To a labyrinthine stage to explore, a constrained environment where succor is increasingly tinged by a sense of peril. Three is both a sort-of chamber piece and a lesson in escalating tension. In it, To, per usual, packages stellar filmmaking with a deceptively simple premise. This time around, Dr. Tong (Wei Zhao), a neurosurgeon whose ambition is her greatest vice, is on duty when Inspector Chen (Louis Koo) and his team bring in a wounded suspect (Wallace Chung) for treatment. Just before he goes under the knife, the suspect refuses medical care and begins an elaborate 80-minute battle of wits with his arrester and his provider. Maybe To couldn’t have set Three anywhere but in a hospital. It’s the perfect spot for a conflict of morals, and its cool, maze-like qualities reflect both the mounting complexities of the film’s plot as well as To’s clinical filmmaking style. —Andy Crump

6. Black Souls

Year: 2014
Director: Francesco Munzi
Italian filmmaker Francesco Munzi’s slow-burning, emotionally claustrophobic film strips the charm away from the Hollywood gangster, leaving behind skeletal creatures much more Sartre than Goodfellas. Luigi (Marco Leonardi) is our familiar Mafioso: cocksure, always smirking, gliding through his world with the confidence of a man who knows he’s won respect after a lifetime of trying. The film opens with Luigi doing some international business in Amsterdam with a group of Spaniards, but the setting is a feint, designed to imply Luigi’s distance from his hometown of Africo. Munzi’s meticulous scene-setting—Africo seems dropped from a director’s dream, all crumbling stone, sharp cliffs and steep poverty—allows tension to build gradually, the camera idling on darkly lit interiors and contrasting these spaces with the decaying beauty of similarly long exterior shots of the village. Scenes play out slowly, the dialogue terse and clipped. The audience knows violence will eventually explode, and it’s to Munzi’s great credit that, when it does, it still brings with it heavy, humid dread. Ferracane’s Luciano smolders in graceful dissolution, his composure unwinding in perfect time as a series of murders puts to the test his loyalty to his brothers and his ability to protect his son. Munzi sets up the questions gangster films always ask: What good is vengeance? What does real vindication look like? Can we blame economically disadvantaged people for resorting to violence as a means to escape their fates? Are familial bonds really the most important of human connections? He lets these questions linger, as he knows they will for audiences (Italian and American, alike) steeped in the conventions of the gangster genre, right until the film’s genuinely shocking final moments. In the end, Munzi suggests, the Old World, so long ravaged by violence of its own creation, may have a better chance at facing its true enemies than the New World, still so enamored with the flash and shine of the gun. —Corey Beasley.

5. Kill Zone 2 aka SPL II: A Time for Consequences

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Year: 2016
Director: Cheang Pou-soi
The first thing to note about Kill Zone 2 is that Kill Zone 2 isn’t its actual title. Its actual title is SPL II: A Time for Consequences, in which “SPL” spells out to “Sha Po Lang,” a collective Chinese phrase that refers to a trio of stars used in methods of fortune telling. “Sha” signifies power, “Po” destruction, “Lang” lust—but you’d think that at least one of them would translate roughly to something along the lines of “Tony Jaa and Wu Jing kick your ass.” Kill Zone 2 isn’t about astrology, it’s about two in-shape, highly skilled martial artists teaming up to crack skulls, snap limbs and pummel leukemia. The second thing to note about Kill Zone 2 is that it’s a sequel in name only to 2005’s Kill Zone—Cheang Pou Soi’s follow up to Wilson Yip’s original is its own picture, a sprawling action thriller split into three separate but interconnected plotlines. As such, its very foundation is built on coincidences, which add excess density to an already dense narrative. But Cheang keeps the threads straight, which is as impressive a feat as any of his film’s stunts. In fact, Kill Zone 2 impresses all around. —Andy Crump

4. Headshot

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Year: 2017
Director: Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Stamboel
Anyone familiar with the tropes of this kind of flick can pretty easily guess that Ishmael (Iko Uwais) is a veritable killing machine, a man bred to wreck any poor bastard fool enough to tangle with him. The film takes his backstory beyond the edges of obviousness, though, eventually landing somewhere in the same neighborhood as movies like Louis Leterier’s Unleashed (a.k.a. Danny the Dog), where childhood innocence is tied to adult barbarity. Headshot is surprisingly melancholic, an actioner built to break hearts as easily as Uwais breaks bones, characters paying for the crimes of their past with their lives in the present. In several instances, innocent people end up paying, too: Lee’s thugs hijack a bus on its way to Jakarta, intending on finding Ishmael. When they realize he isn’t aboard, they murder the other passengers and burn the evidence, which just adds to Ishmael’s moral onus. Odds are that you’re not tuning into Headshot for the story, of course. The good news is that the film delivers in the ass-kicking department. The better news, perhaps, is that Tjahjanto and Stamboel have outdone Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2’s bloated fusion of story and action. Headshot clocks in at only 118 minutes and spaces out narrative beats and beatings beautifully, developing the harrowing truth of Ishmael’s upbringing without either belaboring the point or denying the audience the thrill of unhinged but precisely choreographed martial arts violence. Broad swaths of the action movie canon are fist-pumping shindigs that celebrate good guys serving bad guys their just desserts. In Headshot, as in the films of Evans, the action snatches the breath out of our lungs. The end of each fight relieves us of our ratcheting anxiety. Coupling that dynamic with the emotional substance of Ishmael’s existential woe makes the film a soul-rattling, hand-wringing affair made with Tjahjanto and Stamboel’s daringly aggressive sense of craft. You’ll nearly wish that more filmmakers shot action movies the way this duo does—but your nerves probably couldn’t take it if they did.—Andy Crump

3. Scarface

Year: 1983
Director: Brian De Palma
Brian Depalma’s Scarface wasn’t beloved by critics upon its release, but it’s become a cult classic with, perhaps, the most famous quote from any gangster film: “Say hello to my little friend.” The tale of Cuban ex-con immigrant Tony Montana who builds a fortune distributing cocaine is full of the usual gangster movie themes: betrayal, paranoia and revenge. Scarface—particularly Al Pacino’s performance—is completely over the top, which is both awful and awesome. —David Roark

2. The Departed

Year: 2006
Director: Martin Scorsese
At times truly funny and at others brutally violent, Scorsese’s ambitious gangster flick spends equal time exploring the deceitful inner workings of the Boston Special Investigation Unit and it’s pro-crime counterpart, the Frank Costello-led Irish mafia. The director’s first gangster film to be set in Boston won him his first Best Picture Award at the Oscars. Featuring an all-star cast in the likes of Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson, the gangster drama, a remake of the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, upholds the optimum qualities of a classic Scorsese picture: style, morality and grit.—David Roark

1. The Godfather Trilogy: Part I; Part II; Part III

Year: 1972; 1974; 1990
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
The definitive immigrant story/definitive American tragedy: These are the awful things we are forced to do, and this is whom we do them for. The best mob stories ask: “How do I take care of me and mine?” How far are you willing to go to protect your own? In The Godfather and its sequels, the story of the Corleone family becomes the centerpiece of a deep meditation on family and power. Francis Ford Coppola answers: Ultimately, you will lose one in the vain pursuit of the other. During the second film, Family don Michael’s (Al Pacino) wife Kay (Diane Keaton, unrecognizable in her youth) gets her one really powerful scene as she reveals to her husband that she had an abortion because she can’t bear the thought of raising another child in the mob. He wouldn’t understand, she rants, because of “this Sicilian thing that’s been going on for 2,000 years!” Before, we flash back to 1941 and the fight that results from Michael revealing his enlistment in the Marines to his family: either the beginning of his personal fall or one last reminder that he’s always viewed himself as apart, as better. True tragedy comes from a fatal, internal flaw, and something about this scene is meant to suggest his. His family leaves him in the room alone. The only other times that both Michael and Vito (Marlon Brando; Robert De Niro) are alone on screen in the films occur in the tense moments before they kill—always in explicit defense of the family. Flash forward to Michael on a park bench by himself —years later, after he’s driven away his wife and his sister and seen countless people killed, many by his own order. The lonely horn section of the waltz motif plays us out. Long before that, Michael asks his mother if a man can lose his family in the struggle to protect it. It’s a question we’ve already answered.These are the awful things we are forced to do, and this is whom we do them for. At least, for Coppola, that’s what we tell ourselves. —Ken Lowe