10 Great 1980s Crime Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen

5. The Hit (1984)

The Hit

Now we have a movie that is all-around excellent. The plot follows a former gangster, Parker (Terence Stamp), who rats on his old mobster friends in exchange for personal immunity. Now he’s taken to Paris by two hit men (John Hurt and Tim Roth) where the kingpin against whom Parker testified is waiting for his arrival. However, Parker keeps repeating that he’s not afraid of his death. As one can expect, many unexpected things happen in this journey.

“The Hit” is Christopher Nolan’s top pick on Criterion, and one of Wes Anderson’s favourite British films, but this Stephen Frears masterpiece doesn’t get the talk it deserves. When we talk about the great crime films, “The Hit” is barely mentioned. The movie is a surprisingly philosophical crime film that deals with the themes of morality and death. The story is very unpredictable and at the same, very engaging.

The main trio of characters is very interesting, and the performances are top-notch. The cinematography is gorgeous as is the soundtrack, which is kind of unusual for a film like this as it heavily features a Paco De Lucia guitar. The main music theme is provided by Roger Waters and Eric Clapton. So as is said in the intro, it’s an “all-around excellent” film with a surprising amount of philosophical and psychological dimension.


4. Atlantic City (1980)

Atlantic City

In 2003, “Atlantic City” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Critics loved this movie, as did the industry with nominating it for the Big Five at the Academy Awards, but unfortunately, it’s still underrated because Louis Malle’s crime film flopped at the box office and seemingly doesn’t get enough of talk these days.

Petty criminal Lou Pascal (Burt Lancaster) secretly watches his neighbor Sally Matthews (Susan Surandon) in Atlantic City almost every evening. He actually earns his living by caring for an aging gangster bride (Kate Reid), but every now and then he also earns a living as a debt collector. As he watches Sally, he dreams of a better life.

Meanwhile, Sally’s husband (Robert Joy), from whom she split a couple of months ago, returns to her one day with the intention of selling a large amount of cocaine that he had stolen in Philadelphia. A terrific film all around, Malle counteracts the American way of life in many places, while at the same time providing a sentimental and respectful homage to the era of film noirs. It’s probably his best American film. The script is also great, with rich irony and many wonderful one-liners. “Atlantic City” sheds light on the cultural remnants of a lost epoch; it is a tragicomic story of disappointments and reawakening hopes.


3. The Long Good Friday (1980)

The Long Good Friday

In the UK, “The Long Good Friday” is often considered to be one of the best British films of all time by film critics, and rightfully so. Outside of the UK, however, the film is not exactly that popular.

The film touches on several subjects and concerns of late ‘70s and early ‘80s in Britain, like mid-level political and police corruption, IRA fundraising, the displacement of traditional British industry by property development, UK membership of the EEC, the free-market economy, and so on. But even if you’re not British or not well informed about any of those things, “The Long Good Friday” can still manage to impress you.

One of the better British gangster films, if not the best, the movie follows East End crime overlord Harold Shand as he aspires to become a legitimate businessman and tries to form a partnership with the American Mafia. He sees a business opportunity to redevelop London’s docklands (the film makes superb use of the docklands locations, by the way) in time for the forthcoming Olympic Games. But he reckons without an unknown enemy settling old scores. It has one kind of ending that is impossible to forget.

There is an effective mystery that keeps the story strong throughout the film. In general, the pacing is quick and the directorial work is also excellent. What is impossible to forget is Bob Hoskins’ mesmerizing central performance, which was probably the best performance of his career. Helen Mirren is also reliably excellent in a supporting role. Also if you haven’t seen “Mona Lisa,”  another great crime drama from the ‘80s with Hoskins, make sure you do.


2. Prince of the City (1981)


It is a pity that this picture was overshadowed in the ‘80s. A pity that it also did terrible at the box office. Sidney Lumet has made a lot of terrific crime films, including his last one “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” which is still somewhat underseen and deserves more mentions. “Prince of the City” is another brilliant one. The cop Danny Ciello agrees to give information about the police corruption in New York City, but only if he won’t have to betray his partners in his unit.

The film is very long – nearly three hours – and it is remarkable that Lumet succeeds in maintaining the dynamics and tension in the scope of the film. Similar to “Serpico,” in this film, the toils and moral anguish of one officer ultimately negate the department’s corruption and graft.

Lumet felt guilty about the two-dimensional way he had treated cops in the 1973 film “Serpico” and said that ”Prince of the City” was his way to rectify this depiction, lead actor Treat Williams is also excellent in the morally complex role ofDaniel Ciello. His very compelling and authentic performance holds the entire picture together. Unfortunately forgotten, but today definitely worth rediscovering, “Prince of the City” is one of the masterpieces of Lumet’s incredible career.


1. At Close Range (1986)


Based on the real-life rural Pennsylvania crime family led by Bruce Johnston Sr., which operated during the 1960s and 1970s, “At Close Range” is a powerful drama. The film follows fresh-out-of-high-school Brad Whitewood, Jr. (Sean Penn in one of his finest roles) as he struggles against the boredom of his rural existence. After seeing his father’s (an incredible Christopher Walken) flashy car and earnings, he formulates a desire to join his life of crime, but that will be the start of a tragedy.

A chilling, realistic and grim film, it will make you wonder why and how James Foley is now directing the sequels to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” It starts as a film about alienated youth, and then through Mary Stuart Masterson’s character we see a finely crafted romance subplot; then it all turns into a violent crime drama with the father-son relationship. Nicholas Kazan’s script handles the plot switches very well and thanks to the great pair of performances, especially by Walken, the movie comes alive – strikingly powerful and almost unforgettable.

There was notable media attention toward Penn’s life at the time (who was married to Madonna and the sequences of the film was used in her “Live to Tell” video), the film seemingly didn’t get enough coverage and was a box office flop at the time which was very unfortunate. The film was also in competition for Golden Bear at 36th Berlin International Film Festival.