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50 best gangster movies of all time

  • 50 best gangster movies of all time

    The rise of the mob in America can be tied to the passing of the 18th Amendment on Jan. 16, 1919, which banned the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” and essentially made the United States a dry country. Unsurprisingly, the amendment didn’t go over well with all Americans, and the demand for illegal and bootleg spirits increased dramatically. Many gangs that had been loosely organized up to that point capitalized on this new market and began producing and distributing alcohol, in the process morphing into organized crime syndicates along the way.

    As time went by, these newly formed groups began to engage in other illegal activities like money laundering, smuggling goods, and bribing police, while adhering to strict codes of conduct and discretion in an effort to avoid the hand of the law. Eventually, the mob became one of the most powerful forces in the country, holding enormous influence over American life for much of the 20th century.

    While the mob doesn’t really exist in America today the way it did in the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, it hasn’t completely vanished. Additionally, organized crime as a whole—from street gangs to drug cartels—has grown in recent years, a fact that has led to some pretty dire consequences. Still, there’s something about the golden era of the mob that holds a lot of interest for many of us. Call it a twisted sense of curiosity, but we often find ourselves captivated by the power these crime families had and their leaders’ authority—as well as the damage and mayhem they caused. Hollywood, it turns out, has been all too keen to mirror the public’s fascination with gangsters.

    There are thousands of movies out there that tell the story of various crime families, individuals, and mob capers, but they’re not all created equal. Stacker compiled data on all crime movies registered on IMDb and Metacritic, sorting through them to pick out the best gangster/mob movies and ranking them according to a weighted index split evenly between IMDb user rating and Metascore (data was collected on Dec. 20, 2020). To qualify, the film had to have significant plot points that involve gangsters, the mob, the Italian American Mafia, or other similar crime organizations.

    From foreign films such as “Ash Is Purest White” to classics like “The Godfather” and box-office hits like “Baby Driver,” here are the 50 gangster movies considered to be the best of all time.

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  • #50. Ash Is Purest White (2018)

    - Director: Jia Zhangke
    - Stacker score: 80.7
    - Metascore: 85
    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Runtime: 136 minutes

    “Ash Is Purest White” can be seen as a Bonnie-and-Clyde type of story, but with much more glamour and discipline. The film follows the relationship between two “jianghu” members named Qiao and Bin as their love collapses under the weight of organized crime. Writer and director Jia Zhangke says that the film was loosely based on the “big brother” who ran his neighborhood, a man named Xiaodong.

  • #49. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

    - Director: Sam Peckinpah
    - Stacker score: 80.7
    - Metascore: 80
    - IMDb user rating: 7.5
    - Runtime: 112 minutes

    Universally hated when it was released, “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” is a bizarre crime film about a piano player who falls desperately in love with a prostitute from the brothel where he works and sets out on a journey to bring a Mexican mob boss the head of an enemy in return for enough money to begin a new life. The film lacks flow and can seem clunky at times, according to Roger Ebert, but the story of a man who sees a task through, regardless of the challenges he faces along the way, has resonated with audiences over the years.

  • #48. Mikey and Nicky (1976)

    - Director: Elaine May
    - Stacker score: 80.7
    - Metascore: 81
    - IMDb user rating: 7.4
    - Runtime: 106 minutes

    Taking place over the course of a single night, “Mikey and Nicky” follows lifelong friends as one sets out to save the other after a mob boss places a hit on him. Through the course of the evening, the friendship slowly begins to unravel as the two men weigh survival against loyalty. Based on people from Elaine May’s own life, the movie stars John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, who were frequent collaborators in the ‘70s.

  • #47. Casino (1995)

    - Director: Martin Scorsese
    - Stacker score: 80.7
    - Metascore: 73
    - IMDb user rating: 8.2
    - Runtime: 178 minutes

    Starring Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci, “Casino” explores mob life in Las Vegas during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Two childhood friends compete for control over a gambling empire and run afoul of drugs, fellow gangsters, and eventually the law. Though Martin Scorsese’s film was based on material gathered by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi, the latter’s book wasn’t finished until after the movie’s release.

  • #46. Animal Kingdom (2010)

    - Director: David Michôd
    - Stacker score: 81.3
    - Metascore: 83
    - IMDb user rating: 7.3
    - Runtime: 113 minutes

    In “Animal Kingdom,” the death of his mother drives Joshua Cody to make contact with his extended family, one of Melbourne’s most vicious gangs, with whom he has had very little contact. As he tries to figure out how to navigate this new life and searches for his role in their clan, he begins to realize that the family itself, not their illegal activities, may pose a bigger threat to his life.

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  • #45. Drive (2011)

    - Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
    - Stacker score: 81.3
    - Metascore: 78
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Runtime: 100 minutes

    Ryan Gosling stars as the nameless getaway driver/Hollywood stuntman in this thriller about a heist gone wrong that endangers the lives of everyone even tangentially involved, including the driver’s love. Action-packed and full of nail-biting chase sequences, the movie packs a powerful but quiet message about loyalty and selfless love.

  • #44. Gomorrah (2008)

    - Director: Matteo Garrone
    - Stacker score: 81.8
    - Metascore: 87
    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Runtime: 137 minutes

    Five disparate tales are linked in this film that is based on a bestselling expose of the Neapolitan mob (the Camorra) by Roberto Saviano. Grim, violent, and realistic, the film is set in the tenement buildings in the Scampia suburb of Naples, where rival factions of the Camorra struggle for dominance.

  • #43. Rebels of the Neon God (1992)

    - Director: Tsai Ming-liang
    - Stacker score: 82.3
    - Metascore: 82
    - IMDb user rating: 7.6
    - Runtime: 106 minutes

    Tsai Ming-liang’s film “Rebels of the Neon God” didn’t receive a U.S. release for 23 years after its debut in Taiwan. This could be due in large part to Hollywood bigwigs’ uncertainty as to whether or not the movie, which has very little plot and is more a glimpse of criminal life in the massive city of Taipei, would land with American audiences. It turns out that viewers loved the cold, cool, “isn’t life grand when you’re young” film, which has developed a cult following.

  • #42. A Bronx Tale (1993)

    - Director: Robert De Niro
    - Stacker score: 82.3
    - Metascore: 80
    - IMDb user rating: 7.8
    - Runtime: 121 minutes

    Robert De Niro directed and starred in this ‘90s gangster coming-of-age film about a young boy who’s torn between the glamorous life led by a local mob boss and the values of his rule-following, hardworking father. The story first existed as an autobiographical play written by co-star Chazz Palminteri, before its adaptation led to big-screen success.

  • #41. BlacKkKlansman (2018)

    - Director: Spike Lee
    - Stacker score: 82.3
    - Metascore: 83
    - IMDb user rating: 7.5
    - Runtime: 135 minutes

    Based on Ron Stallworth’s memoir, this Spike Lee joint follows a Black police officer who manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan branch with the help of his Jewish co-worker. A look at a different type of organized crime, the movie reminds viewers that we are not that far removed from the sort of violence inspired by D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” and still have a long way to go before ending the scourge of racism.

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