The 30 Best Gangster Movies in Cinema History
20. Little Caesar (Mervyn LeRoy, 1931)
This pre-code movie released in the early 1930’s is a mandatory presence on this list. This black and white masterpiece deservedly won the classic status and is a timeless work.
With Edward G. Robinson in the role of Rico, Little Caesar is a classic case of pursuit of a better life in which Rico, to attain it, connects with Chicago mob while his friend Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) tries to become a dancer and avoid the life of gangster until Rico leads him to take part in a heist against his workplace, and that changes everything for both.
19. Le Cercle Rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970)
This 1970 French classic directed by Jean-Pierre Melville takes us to a cold and rainy Paris in typical winter season and the protagonists are old fashioned gangsters, discreet, quiet, dying to win every battle even if they need to get their hands dirty, all the while they smoke in the same rhythm as they breathe under their firm and distant eyes.
With the classic and elegant style of his director, this movie is a masterpiece in terms of cinematography that is offered to the viewer.
This movie is about the nature of gangsters who are governed by a code of trust that is earned and must be respected between them.
18. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
Everyone knows this movie which is already a classic in cinema history and possibly the greatest work of Tarantino. With a timeline that is not continuous, this movie goes from the interpretations of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson (they together play one of the most emblematic criminal partnerships of all time) to Uma Thurman and, with a more secondary role, Bruce Willis, as well as the unmatched masterfully played little (in time, not in talent) performance of Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth.
From excessively bloody scenes to a sodomy scene, from two lunatic guys on Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) to one of the most recognized and iconic dance scenes of all time in the cinema history, Pulp Fiction is a must for any movie enthusiast.
17. Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)
A face to face between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro is always a big deal.
With the writing good enough to do justice to his cast and an excellent direction by Michael Mann, this movie of cat and mouse game will bring the viewer moments of either action or intelligence and brilliance between these two brilliant minds.
It’s not all about the boys though, women play a key role in the psychological development of male actors, helping them to evolve not only in terms of their own roles in the plot but also on a level of emotional structure.
16. The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
This is the American “Infernal Affairs” made by the godfather of gangster movie director Martin Scorsese. Scorsese decided to do a US version of the electrifying Hong-Kong movie with one of the greatest leading cast of all time that had Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg in the leading roles.
The Departed won the Oscars for Best Direction, Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing and it was more than deserved. This is one of the finest works by Martin Scorsese, alongside other titles from him on this list.
15. Casque D’or (Jacques Becker, 1952)
Winner of a Bafta, this movie is among the best that French cinema has to offer. Directed by Jacques Becker, this black and white movie has beautiful and perfect cinematography.
Simone Signoret who plays the role of Marie in this film is set for her beauty in the middle of the action and conducts the entire plot. She has a beautiful presence that almost acts alone with a charismatic presence and atmospheric ambiance of the epoch.
The femme fatale will bring problems for its existence for all of those who want to be the only one worthy of her.
14. Infernal Affairs (Wai-Keung Lau and Alan Mak, 2002)
This 2002 Hong Kong movie directed by Wai-Keung Lau and Alan Mak, and written by Alan himself and Felix Chong, is an explosive story of an undercover cop in the local mafia and a young mafia member infiltrated in the local police. In this exciting plot you tend to ask the question: what is good or bad in this situation?
This awesome and crazy fast-pace movie is led by Andy Lau (who plays Inspector Lau Kin Ming) and Tony Leung (Chen Wing Yan), both offer awesome performances and steal the spotlight from each other in a positive way. It is much more than meets the eye and challenge the viewer with a simple yet complex plot.
13. Bonnie & Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)
The most famous gangster couple was brought to the screen by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in this New Hollywood classic.
This film, with top-notch form from the two main actors, also helped redefine the gangster movies and challenge MPPC (Motion Picture Production Code) in the late 60’s.
12. The Killer (John Woo, 1989)
Sensational shootouts, blood, explosions, awesome action scenes, car accidents combined in a piece of great, awesome cinema that demonstrates why John Woo is one of the most influential cinema directors when we talk about good action and crime cinema.
You don’t know what action in a movie is until you see a John Woo movie. It’s almost a poetic carnage that influenced directly, among others, Quentin Tarantino.
11. Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955)
Rififi, also known as “Du rififi chez les hommes”, is a 1955 French noir classic directed by Jules Dassin. This is a remarkable movie that defined the 1950’s French cinema.
Dassin’s direction of the actors is flawless, so is the editing, cinematography and writing. The famous heist scene in the movie has large portion of thriller including precise plans. Due to a direction of great quality, it is fascinating and memorable.
The plot, filled with fantastic moments, is built with great fluency. It’s a must see not only for the 30 minute heist scene, but also for its brutality and characters whom we love and hate at the same time.