They are fascinating. Gangsters, mobsters, mafiosos, Lords of the Underworld… for some reason moviegoers around the world are enthralled with these masters of mayhem. We are addicted to the thrill we get from a voyeuristic peek into the secret lives of criminals, and gangster movies feed that addiction. Gangster movies are extraordinarily popular with a diverse range of audiences, garnering a huge slice of the pie when it comes to movie millions. In fact, according to the American Film Institute, one of the top three most well-liked movies of the past 100 years in any genre was a gangster movie, The Godfather.
We all have our favorites, too, movies we’ve watched over and over until we can quote the lines right along with the actors. This list may not include your own favorites, so feel free to comment and let us know which gangster movies you love best. In the meantime, check out this list of the 5 Best Classic Gangster Movies of All Time, based on a compilation of various film rankings and my own opinions.
5 Best Classic Gangster Movies of All Time
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) Speaking of one of the top three movies in any genre, The Godfather is the criteria by which all other gangster movies are judged. The adage “honor among thieves” is supported by Don Corleone’s moral opposition to the drug trade, leading us to overlook the moral question of all his own illegal activities. We are swept away by the saga of the Corleone Mafia Family and the destructive mob war that rips the family apart. With an all-star cast including Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton, it’s no wonder the Academy Award winning film continued to enthrall audiences throughout the three part epic film series.
The most memorable line from this movie is spoken by Don Corleone and is one that’s been quoted time and again: “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Casino (Martin Scorsese, 1995) Viva, Las Vegas! Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone lead the cast in this thrilling move takes us deep into the world of high-stakes gambling and gives us insight into the lives of the mobsters who built the city called both the “Entertainment Capital of the World”, and its darker nickname, “Sin City.” Casino owner, Ace Rothstein, and his sidekick, Nicky Santoro, move to Las Vegas and become wrapped up in the high-flyer mobster lifestyle. Ace gets taken in by a beautiful hustler named Ginger, and Nicky falls into a downward spiral of violence and drug-addiction.
You can’t help but feel a smidgeon of admiration for Nicky when his boyhood friend, Ace, describes him in my favorite line from this movie: “No matter how big a guy might be, Nicky would take him on. You beat Nicky with fists, he comes back with a bat. You beat him with a knife, he comes back with a gun. And you beat him with a gun, you better kill him, because he’ll keep comin’ back and back until one of you is dead.”
The Untouchables (Brian de Palma, 1987) My own personal favorite, this mob movie presents the black and white of criminals versus law enforcement as mobster Al Capone faces off with U.S. Treasury Agent, Elliot Ness, in this 1920’s Prohibition Era tale of corruption and vice. Robert di Nero, Kevin Costner and Sean Connery present this fascinating version of true-life events in a way that grabs us and sucks us right into the story. Bullets fly and blood flows as one determined law enforcement officer tenaciously seeks to take down history’s most notorious mob boss, one way or another.
Even though Al Capone is the “bad guy” of the tale, we can feel his frustration and anger as he rants against his nemesis, Eliot Ness, in the movie’s most well-known lines: “I want you to get this f**k where he breathes! I want you to find this nancy-boy Eliot Ness, I want him DEAD! I want his family DEAD! I want his house burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna PISS ON HIS ASHES!”
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990) Another great de Niro flick, Goodfellas shows us how a small-time hood becomes a big-time thief as he rises through the ranks of New York’s Italian mafia. Along with Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta, Robert de Niro and an all-star cast bring us along with young Henry Hill in this true story of the life of a half-Irish, half-Sicilian youth learning how to be a criminal from the neighborhood Brooklyn mafia.
There are a couple of memorable lines in this movie as narrated by Henry Hill (Liotta): “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.” And later he says, “Anything I wanted was a phone call away.” We also will never forget this line from Jimmy Conway (de Niro): “Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.”
Scarface (Brian de Palma and Oliver Stone, 1983) Al Pacino once again makes us fall in love with a bad boy as we follow Cuban immigrant Tony Montana and his pal Manny Ray from the humble beginnings of a Cuban refugee camp in Miami to his hard-fought position as a powerful international drug kingpin. Starting with nothing, Tony falls into a life of crime that leads him to murder, mayhem and drug addiction. He wins his beautiful wife, played by Michelle Pfieffer, away from his boss who he later murders, establishes his own criminal empire and makes a host of enemies along the way. The only possible end for Tony is a bloody death in a hail of bullets.
The most famous line from this movie, spoken by Tony in reference to his machine gun, has been quoted more than any other movie line: “Say hello to my little friend.”