The 50 best gangster movies of all time

Call it an offer you can’t refuse, a Sicilian message or a pair of cement shoes: The gangster film has an iron-clad lock on the hearts of movie lovers. Some of Hollywood’s finest exports are crime sagas, and the indie and foreign-film worlds have followed suit with classics of their own. Gritty or romantic, coolly silent or loaded with tough talk, these movies are five-course feasts, heavy on the red sauce—and make plenty of room for the most notorious mobsters from Chicago, like Al Capone, who appears on our list more than once. Join us for a tour of the speakeasies, gambling dens, back alleys and knocked-off bank vaults of cinema’s criminal underworlds.

Written by Dave Calhoun, Cath Clarke, David Ehrlich, Zach Long, Tom Huddleston, Joshua Rothkopf & Phil de Semlyen

50–41

50. In Bruges (2008)

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“Maybe that’s what hell is—the entire rest of eternity spent in fucking Bruges.”

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell are odd-couple hitmen on the run in Martin McDonaugh’s darkly hilarious gangster caper set in the sleepy Belgium tourist city of Bruges.—CCRead more49. Point Break (1991)

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‘If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price.’

There’s a mad genius in taking cops and robbers and sticking them on the beach, and it pays off in spades in Kathryn Bigelow’s classic action-thriller: the zen surfer energy of Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and his cosmically attuned gangs of bank robbers infuses the movie like the curlicue of weed smoke, offering a perfect contrast to headstrong FBI man Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves). It’s an illicit bromance for the ages. The action scenes – parachuteless skydiving, suburban ​foot ​chases, lobbed dogs and all – are​n’t bad either.

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“Humanity’s soul must be shaken to its very depths, frightened by unfathomable and seemingly senseless crimes.”

Already a master of the crime film (and the inventor of the serial-killer thriller with M), Fritz Lang returned to the fearsome villain of 1922’s Dr. Mabuse: the Gambler for this superior sequel. It didn’t make the incoming Nazi regime happy; Goebbels banned it, probably because it cut too close for comfort. Lang fled his homeland shortly thereafter.—

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‘Usually, three people can keep a secret only when two of them are dead.’

With the help of some digital de-aging effects, Martin Scorsese puts a poignant spin on the decades-spanning saga of real-life Mafia hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Nrio), balancing scenes depicting gratuitous violence with more intimate meditations on the repercussions of a life devoted to crime.

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“You’re losing a friend but gaining a second-in-command.”

Just because you’re a criminal doesn’t mean you can’t be civilized about it. A heist movie that takes time for high tea and inextricably British military decorum, Basil Dearden’s drama follows a group of disgruntled former servicemen—each of whom naturally has their own specialized skill—to take back what their country owes them. It’s the classiest caper film you’ll ever see.—

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‘Here, go get yourself a course in karate.’

Anyone who’d got comfortable with Michael Caine’s cheeky chappy persona in The Italian Job a couple of years earlier would have had a rude awakening when this bleakly ferocious gangster flick arrived in 1971 like the worst kind of post-’60s hangover. A cockney angel of vengeance, Caine’s Jack Carter is a sartorially blessed template for a new wave of on-screen hoods in a crime thriller that still plays like Britain’s answer to Point Blank.

Why Don't You Play in Hell (2013)

Courtesy Drafthouse Films

44. Why Don’t You Play in Hell (2013)

“They’ll fight to the death and we’ll film around it.”

Simultaneously a yakuza movie, a kung-fu flick and a love letter to cinema, Japanese director Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell is the anti-gritty gangster tale. Following a group of young filmmakers who decide to turn a real conflict between rival gangs into a film, while inserting some stars of their own. Comedic and bloody in it’s execution, Sono’s movie pokes fun at genre tropes one minute and shamelessly embraces them the next.—ZL43. A Better Tomorrow (1986)

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“Once a thief, it’s not easy to turn your life around.”

Director John Woo deserves several places on any list of classic crime movies, but there’s no more perfect representation of his stylish brand of brotherly bonding across lines of justice than this box-office smash. It made Chow Yun Fat a star and was centrally responsible for thrusting Hong Kong action cinema into the global limelight.—JR

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“Is life always this hard, or is it just when you’re a kid?”

Hollywood action meets European art house in Luc Besson’s first English-language film. The most twisted Pygmalion story in the history of cinema, it concerns lonely hitman Léon (Jean Reno), who teaches streetwise 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) the art of killing.—CCRead more41. Kids Return (1996)

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“Do you think we’re already finished?” “Hell, no. We haven’t even started.”

Takeshi Kitano takes a dispassionate but heartfelt look at what happens after high school, as two best friends follow divergent paths, one becoming a boxer, the other a yakuza soldier. The result is a razor-sharp study of Japanese masculinity wrapped up in a lucid tale of post-adolescent angst.—

40–31

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“Afghanistan banana stand.”

You’ve seen plenty of gangster and crime movies that build to a heist, but The Hot Rock is a string of heists that take place as a result of unforseen circumstances. Robert Redford and George Segal play against type, presenting themselves as hardened crooks, but ultimately revealing that they’re extremely fallible. And just wait until you hear the funky soundtrack that Quincy Jones cooked up for this crime comedy of errors.—ZL

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“All men are guilty. They’re born innocent, but it doesn’t last.”

Taking the American gangster film to France, Jean-Pierre Melville’s cool, dark heist noir boasts a killer set piece: a brilliantly executed silent jewel robbery in the Place Vendôme.—

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“I’ve been kicked around all my life, and from now on, I’m gonna start kicking back.”

He’s a gangly reform-school graduate with a morbid fascination for firearms. She’s a rodeo sharpshooter with the best eye (and legs) in the business. This lovers-on-the-run classic is tougher and sexier than Bonnie and Clyde (if not as iconic), and the single-shot getaway sequence is breathtaking.—

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“Listen to me very carefully. There are three ways of doing things around here: the right way, the wrong way and the way that I do it.”

Scorsese laid on the style for this Goodfellas-like rise and fall centered on the gambling scene in Las Vegas in the 1970s and ’80s. Robert De Niro plays a mob-appointed casino boss whose troubled trajectory symbolizes the sunset years of the Mafia’s grip on the city.—

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“An old lady on Main Street last night picked up a shoe. The shoe had a foot in it. We’re gonna make you pay for that mess.”

The greatest testament to Orson Welles’s seedy border noir is that it isn’t defined by its legendary opening shot, the long take to beat all long takes. Charlton Heston plays a Mexican newlywed investigating an explosion on the U.S. side of the fence, but his inquiries hit a wall when he collides with an American police captain (Welles at his largest, in more ways than one), who may be the meanest gangster in town.—

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“This country’s hard on people. You can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.”

Javier Bardem is the psychopathic hitman with a killer bob haircut on the trail of a suitcase packed with cash in the Coens’ masterly modern-day Western, based on a Cormac McCarthy novel.—CC

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“You guys got fat while everybody starved on the street. Now it’s my turn.”

The wild and wonderful Christopher Walken never had a better showcase for his inimitable charms than the role of Frank White, a ferocious NYC drug lord on the rebound after his release from Sing Sing. You also get to see him dance to Schooly D’s “Saturday Night.”—JR

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“You need more than guts to be a good gangster. You need ideas.”

It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and in Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s favela-set thriller, all the dogs are rabid.  A kinetic multigenerational portrait of life and death (and death and death), the film follows a Rio de Janeiro kid named Rocket (nonprofessional actor Alexandre Rodrigues) as he miraculously survives several decades in a place where guns far outnumber consequences.—

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“Hey you! Haircut! Where are you goin’?”

A movie to make you wish Gene Hackman came out of retirement, this frenetic, down-and-dirty crime film sees the actor as a no-bullshit NYC cop on the trail of some murky drug lords from France (nicknamed “Frog One” and “Frog Two”).—

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“Let’s avoid confusion: She’ll get some lines or I’ll nail your knee caps to the floor.”

Woody Allen’s backstage comedy has so much sparkle to it (Helen Sinclair’s “Don’t speak!” among a chest of gems) that it’s easy to forget that the movie is, in fact, a gangster story. And not your ordinary gangster, either, but Cheech, a secret creative genius, expertly played by Chazz Palminteri.—

30–21

No Sudden Move (2021)

Courtesy HBOMax

30. No Sudden Move (2021)

“You know what I love? When characters you’ve long since forgotten in this great novel called life show up at the end and the whole story gets filled right in.”

This twisting Steven Soderbergh film is best described as a depiction of unorganized crime, depicting a ramshackle Detroit crew dealing with a job gone wrong. The super-wide angle cinematography is an acquired taste, but seeing Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro portray complicated criminals trying to save their own hides is worth the trouble.—ZL29. Scarface (1932)

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“Listen, Little Boy, in this business there’s only one law you gotta follow to keep out of trouble: Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doing it.”

He may not have snorted quite as much cocaine as Tony Montana (who has?), but Antonio “Tony” Camonte (Paul Muni) will always be the original Scarface. Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson’s formative gangster classic shocked the world with its lightly fictionalized take on how Al Capone Tommy-gunned his way to being king of Chicago.—

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“You wanna play rough? Okay. Say hello to my little friend!”

The world is yours, Tony Montana, or at least our No. 29 slot is. Don’t even begin to complain that Brian De Palma’s dizzyingly lurid coke meltdown ranks higher than the 1932 original—it’s proven to be vastly more influential, the throbbing id of many criminal fantasies since.—JRRead more27. The Warriors (1979)

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“Warriors, come out to play-ay!”

Gangster movies and Greek tragedy have ample shared DNA, but Walter Hill went straight to the source for this full-throated adaptation of Xenophon’s Anabasis, updating the tale of a platoon of mercenaries who must battle their way home through unfriendly territory into the wildest NYC street-gang flick of them all.—

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“You gentlemen all work for me!”

Sadly, the psychedelic existential gangster flick was a subgenre that never really took off. James Fox plays a Cockney bruiser who hides out in Swinging London with Mick Jagger’s slumming bohemian rock star, and has his mind forcibly blown in the process.—THRead more25. On the Waterfront (1954)

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‘You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.’

You can imagine On the Waterfront’s brazen Mob-adjacent teamster Johnny Friendly (Lee J Cobb) in a Scorsese movie, presiding over the New Jersey docks like a wannabe wiseguy. At least, until he gets whacked halfway through. Here, it’s Marlon Brando’s docker Terry Malloy who represents a form of bare-knuckled rough justice in Elia Kazan’s classic tale of human failings, bad choices and moral courage. PDS

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“I didn’t do nothing.”

John Singleton’s compassionate, alarming debut was a scary revelation for audiences drawn into the world of South Central Los Angeles and the life of Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a young African-American man trying and failing to steer clear of the violent warfare between gangs that ruled the area.—DCRead more23. The Sting (1973)

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“Sit down and shut up, will ya? Try not to live up to all my expectations.”

It’s better remembered for popularizing Scott Joplin’s rags, but George Roy Hill’s verbally deft comedy has staying power as a fun, double-crossing caper, gentler than most films on this list. Stars like Paul Newman and Robert Redford don’t hurt the appeal one bit.—

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‘What thousands must die, so that Caesar may become the great.’

For our money, a superior thriller to Martin Scorsese’s remake ‘The Departed’, this classic slice of Hong Kong cinema has the cool AF Andy Lau and Tony Leung karmically connected in the city’s violent criminal underground. One’s an undercover cop, the other is an undercover triad member. The old adage about cops and crims being two sides of the same coin has rarely been this brilliantly realised on screen.Read more21. The Untouchables (1987)

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“You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

Here’s some classy, Oscar-approved filmmaking from Brian De Palma, who marshals the true story of Eliot Ness’s crusading Chicago cops to a felicitous pitch of character-driven action. The slow-motion baby carriage scene works great—and not just for geeks eager to drop a little Battleship Potemkin knowledge on their dates.—JRRead more

20–11

20. Widows (2018)

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“I always said he should burn in hell. But, hey, Chicago will do.”

This list is filled with movies that follow gangsters who meet untimely ends, but directors rarely devote much screentime to the people they leave behind. Steve McQueen’s Chicago-set caper is centered around the widows of a recently-deceased criminal outfit, who band together to complete their husbands’ unfinished business, attempting to pull off a dangeous heist.—ZLRead more19. The Long Good Friday (1980)

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“You don’t crucify people! Not on Good Friday.”

A sharp touch of timeliness gives this London gangster flick its power: Bob Hoskins’s Harold Shand finds himself at the center of a dangerous crime nexus, involving Republican Irish terrorists and the American Mafia—all in the shadow of the creeping, Thatcherite capitalist dream.—

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“You have anything to say before I blow your brains out, you miserable prick?”

The first of three collaborations between David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen, this explosive thriller stars Mortensen as a diner owner who might not be the all-American small-town guy he appears to be. It’s executed with Cronenberg’s signature wit and bravura style.—CCRead more17. Le Doulos (1962)

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“One must choose: die…or lie?”

Director Jean-Pierre Melville would become a giant in the specialized field of the gangster film and this is one of his earliest triumphs, a beautiful showcase for rising star Jean-Paul Belmondo as a shifty informant. Cool and minimalist, Melville’s style remains influential.—JR

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“You’re not the only one that had an unhappy childhood.”

The template for the modern heist movie was set by this brooding slice of French noir, as a gang of thieves plan to pull off the impossible by ripping off a jewelry store on the Rue de Rivoli.  The heart-stopping, near-wordless break-in scene remains unbeaten 60 years on.—THRead more15. Night and the City (1950)

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“Harry, do you know what you’re doing? You’re killing me. You’re killing me and yourself.”

Before he set the bar for movie heists with 1955’s Rififi, Jules Dassin left his mark on the world of hustlers and con men with this unsympathetic portrait of London lowlifes desperate to make their next score. Every bit as dark as its title suggests, Night and the City follows American Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) as he backs the wrong wrestler and learns there’s no escaping the underworld, only sinking deeper into it.—

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“Sentimental value? Ah. I heard of that.”

There’s more to David Cronenberg’s full-throated gangster nightmare than just a bunch of naked dudes smacking each other in a sauna. This is a prescient examination of the Russian takeover of London, featuring a career-best turn from Viggo Mortensen as the taciturn, grimacing antihero.—THRead more13. Gomorrah (2008)

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“We have to score, kill, and we need money. If not, you die, because you’re part of the war.”

The youngest film on our list already feels like a mainstay: a devastating, kaleidoscopic portrait of modern-day crime in southern Italy. Director Matteo Garrone dramatized real-world corruption (along with well-armed teens acting out Scarface) and still managed to stay alive.—JR

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“The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.”

More than 20 years later, Quentin Tarantino’s second feature is as exhilarating as ever, with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s wisecracking hitmen now fully a part of the cultural lexicon.—CCRead more11. Branded to Kill (1967)

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“My dream is to die.”

A yakuza B movie that anticipates the stylized ultraviolence of Quentin Tarantino, Branded to Kill is director Seujun Suzuki’s most bonkers effort (and that’s saying something). Gangsters have never been more poetic or existential as they are in this story of hit man Goro Hanada (chipmunk-faced Joe Shishido) as he finds himself stalked by the world’s No. 1 contract killer.—DE