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The Best Gangster Movies Of All Time According To Rotten Tomatoes

Venture with us into the realm of tommy guns, fedoras and Robert De Niro — let's talk about gangster movies! We know that you're all desperate to discover new content, so we're going to make you an offer you can't refuse. Today, we're taking a look at the best gangster movies out there. And you don't have to just believe us, either. We're bringing the power of data with us.

This list isn't just our opinion; it's backed up by the reviews aggregated by Rotten Tomatoes. These films are ranked by their Tomatometer score (which only factors in review scores from approved critics) and then audience score. We think you'll probably be surprised by some of the results. The bar is extremely high — just as a bit of a hint, films had to have at least a 97% Tomatometer score to crack this list.

Sit back, grab a cannoli and don your finest suit — these are the best gangster movies of all time according to Rotten Tomatoes.

Mean Streets

Betcha didn't see this one coming — we're kicking things off with a Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro collaboration. Amazingly, even though this pairing is often the duo that immediately springs to mind in the world of gangster movies, this is their only collaboration that qualified for this list.

Mean Streets is often forgotten when discussing the great gangster films of Martin Scorsese. It's one of his first films, so it definitely has a much rawer feel than some of his later, more polished works. It does feature some impressive performances, especially from De Niro and another frequent collaborator, Harvey Keitel. It also tells a familiar story to many of Scorsese's other works, and is much less subtle with how its characters deal with their criminal behavior when put up against their Catholic faith.

Don't sleep on Mean Streets. Not only is it a great film in its own right, but it's also the place to start if you want to see how Scorsese has evolved as a filmmaker over the years.

Un Prophete (A Prophet)

A lot of movies about organized crime have moments of levity to help break the tension. Un Prophete is not one of them. This is a white-knuckle film about the brutality of prison life and one man's rise from complete nobody to becoming the king of the criminal underworld.

Un Prophete is about a man named Malik who is sent to prison for attacking a group of police. He cannot read or write, and quickly learns to fall in with a gang in order to survive. As he impresses and crosses various power players in the different criminal groups, Malik also begins to hedge his bets to set himself up for success.

Un Prophete works for a lot of reasons: The direction and writing are razor sharp. The pacing never flags. Arguably most importantly, however, the acting is superb. Niels Arestrup turns in a chilling performance as Luciani, but this is a true star turn from lead actor Tahar Rahim. He is simply dynamite in Un Prophete, and you'll want to watch him in anything after seeing him in this.

White Heat

When people talk about actors in gangster movies, a few names almost always come up — names like Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, and Harvey Keitel. James Cagney isn't mentioned as often, at least by younger film fans, but modern gangster movies owe a lot to the man, and White Heat is a great place to start if you want to understand why.

Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, a psychotic gangster who is overly attached to his mother, Ma Jarrett. Cagney is amazing to watch in this film — he bounces all over the screen, going from zero to one hundred in a split second and keeping the audience (and every character he comes across) on their toes. His supporting cast (especially Margaret Wycherly as Ma and Virginia Mayo as Cody's wife, Verna) are also completely on point and compelling.

White Heat has some serious drama and great action scenes, and the final showdown includes one of the most climactic death scenes ever put to film. Top of the world, indeed.

The Godfather Part II

The Godfather Part II is one of the rare sequels that some say even surpasses the original — quite the tall order, as The Godfather is also considered a masterpiece. Francis Ford Coppola's sequel tells a tale that's infinitely more complex than the original, so make sure you're paying attention.

The Godfather Part II serves as both a prequel and a sequel to the original film, jumping between different time periods as it shows the trials and tribulations in the history of the Corleone family. Michael (Al Pacino) and Vito (Robert De Niro) are the featured characters here, though the cast is a veritable who's who of big names — Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, and Talia Shire are just a few of the other stars who appear.

The Godfather Part II is just incredible across the board. It's a gripping tale full of tension, great action, and amazing performances. It's also beautiful to look at. Set up a double feature with this and the original film (maybe just ignore Part III) and take it all in.

Scarface (1932)

This probably isn't the Scarface you're thinking of. The Al Pacino-led "Say hello to my little friend!" classic is actually a remake of this film, with some key plot details changed. It's mostly the same movie, but the 1932 Scarface is probably a bit tamer when viewed through modern eyes.

This Scarface tells the story of Tony Camonte, an Italian immigrant who starts taking over more and more of Chicago as his confidence grows. He slowly takes out the competition, betraying allies and friends when it suits him, all the while inspired by a massive neon sign outside his apartment that reads "The World is Yours!" Just as in the Pacino remake, Tony eventually gets in over his head, and a dramatic showdown closes the film.

Scarface boasts an incredible lead performance from Paul Muni, one of the best actors of his era. Keep a lookout for Universal horror stalwart Boris Karloff in a supporting role as well.

The French Connection

The French Connection is an arguably overlooked classic in the gangster movie canon. It focuses more on the detectives than the criminals, but incorporates a lot of the same plot devices and stylistic flourishes you'd expect from the genre. It's also got some amazing performances from its lead actors, and it's a movie any fan of classic mafia movies should check out.

Gene Hackman stars in The French Connection as "Popeye" Jimmy Doyle, a narcotics detective on the trail of a French heroin smuggler named Alain Charnier. Together with his partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider), Doyle must infiltrate the seedy criminal underworld and stop Charnier from escaping the country.

The French Connection is intense all the way through — you never know who you can trust, or if Doyle and Russo will come out on top. It's based on a true story, and it absolutely cleaned up at the Oscars the year it was released. It's an incredible film that no one should miss.

The Killing

A Stanley Kubrick-directed heist movie? You know you're in for the goodness with this one. The Killing absolutely oozes tension — Kubrick is one of the best directors ever at establishing a mood and making you wait in anticipation for the big payoff. The Killing has big set pieces to help build its dynamic, and a relatively short runtime (only 83 minutes) means the plot never slows down.

The Killing is about a gangster named Johnny (Sterling Hayden) trying to pull off one last score: a robbery of the counting room during a massive horse race. He recruits an eclectic team to help him pull off his meticulously planned heist. It's all set up to go off without a hitch, of course — if not for one member telling his wife, who starts hatching a plan of her own.

The Killing is one of Kubrick's earliest films, but you can already see a lot of the director's trademark precision in it. Fans of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs should check this one out — Tarantino cites The Killing as a major influence on that film.

The Godfather

There isn't a lot we can say about The Godfather that hasn't already been said. It's widely considered one of the best films of all time, and is seen by some as a turning point for American cinema in general. It has some all-time great performances from some of the biggest actors in history, including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, James Caan, and Robert Duvall. It helped fuel the rise of director Francis Ford Coppola as part of the new Hollywood elite. The Godfather is, quite simply, one of the most important films ever made.

If you don't know the story, The Godfather is based on a book of the same name by Mario Puzo. Puzo's characters and events are all fictional, but he based the story of the Corleone family, one of the most powerful mafia families in post-World War II New York, on real mafia crime families, and it isn't hard to identify his real-life influences.

If you haven't seen it, you should. If you have seen it, you should probably watch it again. Pair it with Part II for a great double feature.


Chinatown isn't 100% a "gangster" movie; however, this neo-noir classic touches on enough similar areas to count. It's got arguably the best performance of Jack Nicholson's storied career, awesome supporting work from acting greats like Faye Dunaway and John Huston, and some of the best cinematography you'll ever see.

This is one of those classic noir movies where you simply have no idea who or what you can trust, even after it's all over. Everyone in Chinatown is self-serving, pulling strings and manipulating events (and the audience) for their own gain. It tells the story of the struggle for California water rights, as various political and labor organizations work in the shadows for the power (and money) to control the state's reservoirs. Nicholson plays a private detective who is pulled into the struggle by a femme fatale who is not exactly who she says she is.

Chinatown has a lot of twists and turns, and to say much more might give too much away. It's got one of the all-time great closing lines in cinema, and the mystery is unraveled bit by bit — just enough to keep you guessing until the dramatic, final reveal.

The Public Enemy

We're getting into some seriously elite company here: the vaunted "100% fresh" Tomatometer rating. The Public Enemy might be a little hard for modern audiences — it's almost a century old at this point, so a lot of the acting and filmmaking techniques might seem a bit dated. That said, it's really astounding to watch a movie of this vintage and see just how much influence modern gangster films draw from it.

The Public Enemy stars James Cagney as a Prohibition-era gangster named Tom Powers. The film gradually shows the events in Tom's life that push him towards the world of organized crime — bad luck, bad choices and bad influences all conspire to lure him down the path. Cagney totally carries the film: despite the warnings in both the prologue and epilogue, you can't help but be drawn in and captivated by his performance. He's intense, compelling, and oddly sympathetic, despite the fact that he's a despicable human being.

The Public Enemy is a gangster classic. Grab yourself a grapefruit and give it a whirl.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Another film with a 100% Tomatometer rating, The Friends of Eddie Coyle showcases one of the most underrated actors in history: Robert Mitchum. Few actors of Mitchum's era had his type of screen presence, yet he's only really remembered for a few films, like Night of the Hunter and the original Cape Fear. One of Mitchum's best films, The Friends of Eddie Coyle focuses on the sorrow and fear of the criminal underworld rather than glamorizing it.

Mitchum stars as the title character, a low-level gunrunner facing a heavy prison sentence. He realizes that the only way to avoid spending his final years in prison is to become an informant, but he tries to keep up his criminal lifestyle as well. Soon, every side is out to get him, and he slowly learns that he can't trust anyone.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle isn't uplifting, and it doesn't have that glitz and glamor about "the lifestyle" that a lot of movies about organized crime portray. Mitchum does an incredible job as the everyman caught in the wheels of the machine, and you can't help but be captivated by the tragedy of his character.

Angels with Dirty Faces

Here you have it, folks — Angels with Dirty Faces, the highest-rated gangster movie on all of Rotten Tomatoes. It's another James Cagney flick, and probably the most famous of the actor's classic gangster films. It also touches on some of the main themes that are explored in most modern gangster movies — should these bad men have our sympathy, and do they have a chance at redemption?

Cagney stars as Rocky Sullivan, who is sent to reform school as a child after stealing from a train with his friend Jerry. Jerry is not caught, and eventually becomes a Catholic priest. Rocky, however, continues down the path toward organized crime, and is eventually sent to prison.

When Rocky gets out, he attempts to claim his share of the last big heist he pulled, but his former partner declares war on him. Rocky recruits a gang of misguided youths, while Jerry tries to keep those kids from following in Rocky's footsteps. There are so many betrayals in this movie, and you're never sure who is going to come out on the winning side — or what that winning side will ultimately look like.