What Are The Best Gangster Movies of All Time?

Load up on ammo and wiseguy patter with our ranked list of the best gangster movies of all time, from Prohibition-era bootleggers, to urban folk heroes, to cyberpunk biker gangs. 

As far back as anyone can remember, cinemagoers have loved gangster movies. It’s easy to understand why. Sure, in reality, life as a career criminal seems like a bum gig – always looking over your shoulder, never able to trust even your closest compatriots, and that’s not to mention all the amoral behavior. But getting to live vicariously through the ones we see on screen is one of cinema’s purest thrills, mostly because it’s a lifestyle the majority of us would never dream of adopting or even living adjacent to.

All the best gangster movies of all time in this list shine an investigative light on organized crime: both in the warm shine of romanticization and the cold, harsh exposure of reality. 

The Godfather (1972)

Finding best gangster movies on Netflix? The Godfather is all you need. This is also no doubt one of greatest gangster movies of all time

The undisputed don of the gangster-flick family, Francis Ford Coppola’s timeless tragedy of twisted loyalty and moral decay refuses to become any less powerful or relevant. From its epic moments – the horse’s head in the bed, Luca Brasi’s bulging fish-eyes – to the most intimate details (Enzo the baker’s shaking hands, Clemenza’s spaghetti recipe), The Godfather never puts one immaculately crafted leather boot out of line. If we revisit this list in a century’s time, expect it to be holding steady in the top spot.

Goodfellas (1990)

Goodfellas is considered by many to be Martin Scorsese’s greatest film, and also one of best gangster movies of all time

Based on Nicolas Pileggi’s book Wiseguys, Goodfellas tells the story of Henry Hill: a half-Irish, half-Sicilian New Yorker who rises up in the ranks of his Brooklyn neighborhood’s mob. Despite his dedication to them in the face of legal pressure, Henry soon finds himself at odds with both law enforcement and the mobsters. The film boasts a classic cast, including Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Paul Sorvino.

Brother (2000)

Not one of the best gangster movies Hollywood but Brother is one of the cult classics when it come to Japanese gangster movie. Writer-director Takeshi “Beat” Kitano plays a Japanese gangster forced to relocate to Los Angeles, where he muscles in on the local drug operation by shooting everyone in sight. Unfortunately, this rubs up the Italian-American mafia the wrong way. Brace yourself for splattered brains, chopsticks up nostrils and chopped-off pinky fingers.

Dead or Alive (1999)

Takashi Miike turns what might have been a routine yakuza yarn into a dazzling (and sometimes revolting) burst of film-making adrenaline, the first of a trilogy. If the opening eight-minute cocktail of cocaine, noodles and carnage makes most Hollywood action movies look arthritic, the climax will make your head explode.

Akira (1988)

Unfortunately, our current world doesn’t look quite as cool as Akira, which shows us the ’80s approximation of what 2019 would look like. But still, 1988’s adaptation of the long-running manga series still stands as an all-timer, not only amongst gangster films, but in anime, sci-fi, cyberpunk, and hopefully—if Taika Waititi eventually directs the Hollywood take on Akira—live action.

The Departed (2005)

Few films have been as beloved as The Departed. Seriously, the dedication to this film runs so deep that fans raised money for a campaign to change its final scene. Centered in South Boston, this Martin Scorsese-directed film reimagines the Hong Kong crime movie Internal Affairs as a story that circulates around a criminal investigation of the Irish mafia. The film, essentially, is a rat-race between two rats to rat out one another, with performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin among others.

That brings us to the end of the best gangster movies of all time list. What do you think of this list? Have you watched them or do you have any other recommendations? Please let us know in the comment section below. 

Read also: 

Top 5 Best Gangster Movies on Netflix 2022