9. Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922) Dir. Fritz Lang
This film follows the rise and fall of master criminal Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) and his ongoing conflict with his nemesis, State Prosecutor Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke). Early in the film it is established that Mabuse is a man of many faces, as he uses multiple disguises to blend into the anonymity of the city. It follows the fall of Mabuse’s descent into madness; a man with many identities can ultimately become a man with no identity of his own.
“The Gambler” is a two-part film that may be the precursor of modern day gangster films, using the violent public elimination of witnesses, urban shoot-outs, and a narrative of the rise and fall of a criminal.
10. The Krays (1990) Dir. Peter Medak
Based on the lives of twin brother gangsters Ronald and Reginald Kray, this film follows the twins’ childhood and particular relationship with their mother. It reveals what made them become the criminals they were, how they rose through power, becoming some of England’s most notorious gangsters by selling protection and committing acts of violence.
Peter Medak’s “The Krays” is a multi-layered crime drama about family and what made the brothers become so vicious. The film recounts the true story of the British twin brothers who became the most notorious gang leaders in 1960’s East End London.
It deals with the twins’ intense and almost sick relationship with their mother, who shaped the boys into the man they became. Medak scored a casting coup with real life brothers Martin and Gary Kemp, former members of the 80s pop band Spandau Ballet. Both are highly effective at displaying the emotions and, in particular, Ronald’s physical and psychological brutality.
11. The Petrified Forest (1936) Dir. Archie Mayo
Living and working in a remote restaurant in the middle of the desert, Gaby’s life is about to change when along comes Alan, a man in shambles with no will to live, traveling to drown himself in the Pacific. Duke Mantee, a notorious killer and gangster, is planning a rendezvous at the restaurant. Their lives are about to change by chance when they all meet at the restaurant before all hell breaks lose.
Better known as the film that introduced Humphrey Bogart to gangster films, the film is an adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood’s play, concerning more with ideas rather than action, interpersonal relationships and drama. A rare piece of art in the gangster genre, it gives the audience an introspection on the weight people had during that time, specially someone who had committed crimes.
12. The Long Good Friday (1980) Dir. John Mackenzie
Bob Hoskins plays a ruthless gangster named Harold Shand, who is about to close the biggest deal of his career and also a very lucrative one. Mysteriously enough, there is someone after his deal. Everything goes south when bombs start showing up at the wrong time and inconvenient places, and besides that, a syndicate is trying to have a piece of his action. Shand must find out who is behind all the mayhem before he becomes a mark.
Considered a classic of British gangster cinema, “The Long Good Friday” is a metaphor/critic to the newly formed Thatcher government, full with twists and a mind-blowing ending suggesting that the “new” Britain needs to finish cleaning up its old business so it can finally face its existing problems.
13. The Red Circle (1970) Dir. Jean-Pierre Melville
Corey is an aristocratic thief released from prison the same day as Vogel, a murderer. Corey robs Rico, his mob boss, and enlists Vogel and an ex-police sharpshooter, Jansen, in what may become the most important jewel heist of their career. However, no action will come unpunished in this great film.
“The Red Circle” is a great film because it teams up the most unlikely characters and uses their various dynamics and backgrounds to make a great team. Full of tensions, especially the silent heist scene, this film will leave you on the edge of your seat.
14. Marked Woman (1937) Dir. Lloyd Bacon
Bette Davis plays Mary Dwight Stauber, a nightclub hostess, who works for Johnny Vanning, a notorious gangster. She befriends a young man who has a gambling debt with Vanning. After the man is killed, Mary realizes the danger which she has exposed herself. Trying to lure out her little sister Betty from the life, she fails and Betty is killed. Mary agrees to testify against Vanning.
The film is partially inspired by the real-life trial of Lucky Luciano. It is a great gangster film because it is a game changer, putting a well-known actress as the lead in a gangster film. Davis dove headfirst into the role, to the point where she consulted doctors to ensure her injuries looked authentic in the final scenes.
15. Bugsy Malone (1976) Dir. Alan Parker
Set in 1929 New York City, we meet speakeasy boss Fat Sam who is an acquaintance of Bugsy Malone. Fat Sam’s speakeasy is a vivid joint full of music and dancing, and there Bugsy meets aspiring singer Blousey Brown and immediately falls for her. Fat Sam’s business is under constant attack by rival gang member Dandy Dan who is out for total control of the city. Bugsy finds himself in the middle of a mob war, torn between his love and an easy way out for both of them.
Bugsy Malone is a one-of-a-kind gangster film. It features a cast of all child actors, and it is also a musical. Loosely based on the events set in Chicago during the roaring 20s, Scott Baio and Jodie Foster completely steal the show, exploiting the likes of known gangsters like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and many others. The film, at its core, is intended for young audiences, though it is full of adult oriented themes. In one of its best scenes, one character brilliantly uses ice-cream pies to kill another character.
16. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) Dir. Fritz Lang
In this sequel, Mabuse has become insane, and he is locked away in an asylum run by a psychiatrist Professor Baum. Mabuse spends his time in the asylum writing endless pages on how to commit a series of crimes that are seemingly unconnected; these secrets will trigger the staff and cause panic that can be exploited to seize power. It leads to a game of cat and mouse.
In this film, Lang uses Nazi undertones of mind control. The film attacks the criminal nature of Nazism, denouncing its propaganda. It is a great sequel to the downfall of a criminal, and how at the end one may become the very same criminal Baum was fascinated with.
17. Hard Boiled (1992) Dir. John Woo
Chow Yun-Fat plays “Tequila”, a hard-boiled cop who recently lost his partner in a bloody shootout with gun smugglers. Looking for revenge and a way to bring down the gang who killed his partner, he teams up with an undercover cop who has infiltrated the triad run by vicious boss Johnny Wong. Now it’s up to both cops to stop a pending crime war in Hong Kong’s underworld.
Considered a classic of the genre, Woo’s “Hard Boiled” is an intensely violent and demented thriller. Featuring Woo’s flamboyant cinematic style, it has mind-blowing stunts, slow-motion replays, gory shoot-outs, one of the highest body counts and a great anarchic humor. Together with “The Killer”, these two films gained him a cult reputation in Hollywood.