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31 Best Gangster Movies Of All Time Ranked

Gangster movies have been around for at least nine decades, hooking fans with the tried-and-true formula of street-smart criminals rising through the ranks of organized crime (or, in some cases, escaping it). Viewers can't get enough of these seedy stories, for a wide variety of reasons. Escapism, revenge plots that end in bloody shoot-outs, family dramas that span multiple generations, underdog tales, and plain old violence all play a part in the genre's success.

The criminal protagonists of these movies aren't superheroes duking it out for a noble cause, nor are they the idealized cowboys from heroic Westerns — and that's exactly why we love them. They're morally gray, and often looking out for their own best interests, eternally fighting an uphill battle rich with betrayal and bloodshed. Some win, some lose, and a whole lot end up dead. But no matter where they go, their stories are unforgettable. These 31 gangster movies are the all-time best of the genre.

Updated on May 9, 2022: New gangster movies debut every year. Every time a fresh classic makes its way to the silver screen, we'll add it to this list of all-time greats. Be sure to check back often to keep up on the greatest gangland flicks ever made.

31. Performance

Starring one of rock's biggest icons, "Performance" is a trippy, genre-bending cult classic. Chas Devlin is a violent criminal on the run from the mob. He goes into hiding in the basement of a washed-up rock star, played by the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger. Filled with just the right amount of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, this is a hallucinogenic joy ride disguised as a gangster thriller that also manages to do a superb job of exploring gender and sexual identity. Jagger proves that he genuinely can act as well, though we get plenty of straightforward rock star goodness too, especially through his suave musical number, "Memo from Turner."

  • Starring: James Fox, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg
  • Director: Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg
  • Year: 1970
  • Runtime: 106 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

30. Kids Return

"Kids Return" follows two friends, Shinji and Masaru, as they drop out of high school and go their separate ways. Shinji embarks upon a quest to become a professional boxer, while Masaru joins a yakuza gang. Along the way, both characters realize that their trials and tribulations have led to serious choices that will forever change the outcome of their lives. This coming-of-age tale offers uniquely potent emotional investment: Forced to grow up quickly, both Shinji and Masaru have to come to terms with the fact that life isn't always fair. What results is a sucker-punch that somehow still feels like a warm, comforting hug.

  • Starring: Ken Kaneko, Masanobu Ando, Leo Morimoto
  • Director: Takeshi Kitano
  • Year: 1996
  • Runtime: 107 minutes
  • Rating: NR
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

29. No Sudden Move

This caper is set in 1950s Detroit, where a group of criminals is tasked with a simple assignment: Stealing an undisclosed document from a company. After their heist goes awry, they're left to deal with gangsters and other various crooks, all while trying to discover who initially hired them and what's exactly in the document. Soderbergh pays homage to snappy gangster noirs of the 1930s and 1940s with the film's witty dialogue, jazzy score, and quick pacing. He's an expert of misdirection, keeping audiences hooked with the twists and turns and constantly shifting alliances. It's a thrilling watch, with just the right amount of humor thrown into the mix to keep you deliciously entertained.

28. Ichi the Killer

This Japanese thriller is so harrowing, it'll make even hardened gangster fans uncomfortable. Kakihara is a violent yakuza enforcer on the hunt for his missing boss. Along the way, he crosses paths with Ichi, a twisted killer who only grows more violent when provoked. Director Takashi Miike is known for gratuitous brutality, and "Ichi the Killer" is no exception. One of the most warped entries on any list, this gore-fest was actually banned in multiple countries after its release. This one is worth checking out if you can handle absolute carnage, though, as Miike's unflinching approach to violence is innovative and impressive.

  • Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Nao Omori, Shinya Tsukamoto
  • Director: Takashi Miike
  • Year: 2001
  • Runtime: 129 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64%

27. Angels with Dirty Faces

Rocky Sullivan, a gangster freshly released from prison, reunites with his best friend, Jerry Connolly. Once a pair of small-time crooks, Sullivan finds Connolly a reformed man: He's become a priest, and is dead-set on acting as a moral compass for a group of local kids. Sullivan, in contrast, is on the hunt for $100,000 he left with his crooked lawyer, James Frazier. Frazier is played by a then-unknown Humphrey Bogart, who surprisingly delivers as a total sleazeball. What separates "Angels" from other gangster flicks of this time is the role of Sullivan: He's a sensitive, albeit toughened, criminal who is wronged by society. Viewers want to see him succeed until the bitter end.

  • Starring: James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Humphrey Bogart
  • Director: Michael Curtiz
  • Year: 1938
  • Runtime: 97 minutes
  • Rating: NR
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

26. Infernal Affairs

"Infernal Affairs" follows the lives of two men: Chan Wing-yan, a police officer going undercover to infiltrate a local gang, and Lau Kin-ming, a mafia member who becomes a mole within the police force. Years later, the men are still in their respective roles — yet both of their covers are beginning to unravel. "Infernal Affairs" really drives home the inner struggles of these two men as they slowly find themselves trapped in their new lives. This makes it a surprisingly sentimental film, and a thought-provoking experience.

25. Uncut Gems

This tense film follows a week in the life of New York jeweler and gambling addict Howard Ratner as he attempts to get his loaned rare black opal back from Celtics star Kevin Garnett. As Ratner owes money to some pretty dangerous dudes, the rest of the movie is essentially a matter of watching our anti-hero worm his way out of dicey situations, time and time again. Adam Sandler gives the performance of a lifetime as the sleazy Ratner, while the Safdie brothers create a frenetic world through claustrophobic interiors and dizzying sound design. It's exhausting — in the best possible way.

  • Starring: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield
  • Directors: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
  • Year: 2019
  • Runtime: 136 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

24. Battles Without Honor and Humanity

The first entry in the "Battles Without Honor and Humanity" series hooks viewers instantly with a jarring opening shot of a mushroom cloud, followed by a look at the nuclear ruin of Hiroshima. What follows is a non-stop massacre, which we see through the eyes of lead hoodlum Shozo Hirono and his friends as they fight for dominance in the black market. Traditional moral codes are foregone, in favor of utter brutality. It's bleak and bloody, and Fukasaku's handheld camerawork keeps audiences on their toes.

23. Gomorra

"Gomorra" explores the Camorra, one of Italy's oldest mob organizations. As we follow five different characters, we see just how strong of an impact the Camorra has through a detached and unflinching lens. The title of this movie is a nod to the biblical city of Gomorrah, which is said to have been destroyed by God due to its wickedness. The Campania region in which our characters reside is portrayed as just that: A world so violent and dark, it's hard to imagine anyone can escape it. Although it comes in at over two hours, "Gomorra" is an incredibly hellish ride that's impossible to look away from.

  • Starring: Toni Servillo, Gianfelice Imparato, Maria Nazionale
  • Director: Matteo Garrone
  • Year: 2008
  • Runtime: 135 minutes
  • Rating: NR
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

22. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Ghost Dog, an elusive hitman, finds himself at war with a local mafia group after a routine job. He's an interesting lead who lives according to an ancient samurai code, even wielding his gun like a sword. It's hard not to root for a man so calm, collected, graceful, and deadly. This film is often funny, and doesn't take its gangsters too seriously — their love of cartoons is a sight to behold. But the prevailing theme is loneliness: Ghost Dog lives a solitary life, communicating to his boss via carrier pigeon while spending his days talking to a man who doesn't understand a lick of English. Simply put, this is an undoubtedly cool and modern take on samurai classics.

  • Starring: Forest Whitaker, John Tormey, Cliff Gorman
  • Director: Jim Jarmusch
  • Year: 1999
  • Runtime: 116 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%

21. City of God

"City of God ” gives us three decades' worth of gang wars from the 1960s to the 1980s, told through young Buscape. He has little desire to get sucked into the world of violence — instead, Buscape aspires to become a crime photographer, who will show the world the gut-wrenching violence that goes on in the City of God. This Academy Award-nominated drama is action-packed and brutal. Pay particular attention to the opening scene of a chicken frantically trying to run away from an armed group of thugs: It's a sly metaphor for Buscape's own struggle.

  • Starring: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino da Hora, Phellipe Haagensen
  • Directors: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
  • Year: 2002
  • Runtime: 130 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

20. A Bittersweet Life

Sun-woo, a gangster, is ordered to spy on his boss' mistress, Hee-soo. What should be a simple task is turned upside down as our lead makes the decision to protect Hee-soo — an interesting choice, considering Sun-woo's fierce loyalty to his kingpin. Lee Byung-hun shines as Sun-woo, elevating the gangster revenge genre with incredible character development that takes our lead from pompous hitman to true hero. You can't help but root for him as he realizes the depth of his own betrayal and what he'll have to do to survive. Director Kim Jee-woon serves this up alongside a platter of gratuitous violence, with fight sequences so aesthetically pleasing, it's practically impossible to look away. Effortlessly slick and engaging, this one is a must-see.

  • Starring: Lee Byung-hun, Shin Min-ah, Kim Yeong-cheol
  • Director: Kim Jee-woon
  • Year: 2005
  • Runtime: 120 minutes
  • Rating: NR
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

19. Boyz n the Hood

Tre Styles is growing up in South Central Los Angeles alongside his buddies Doughboy, Ricky, and Chris. Although Tre's father attempts to teach his son solid values, he and his friends still manage to get involved in various antics — some with severe consequences. Once the boys grow older, however, things get a lot more bleak: Doughboy joins the Crips, while Chris is paralyzed from a gunshot wound. Our lead, on the other hand, is finally a responsible adult, and spending time with his childhood friends is causing him heartbreaking pain. John Singleton's directorial debut isn't just another hood drama — it's a film that made a significant cultural impact and remains relevant today.

  • Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube
  • Director: John Singleton
  • Year: 1991
  • Runtime: 112 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%

18. The Irishman

Frank Sheeran, an Irish-American truck driver and war veteran, gets involved with mobster Russell Bufalino and his crime family. Through Bufalino, he crosses paths with union leader Jimmy Hoffa, who also has ties to organized crime. Thus begins a working friendship that spans almost two decades. While the stars of "The Irishman" might be an older bunch, they bring a maturity and elegance to the gangster genre that is unmatched. Where Scorsese's 1990 classic "Goodfellas" has a much lighter tone, "The Irishman" is quiet and emotional — an epic that reflects its director's storied career.

  • Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci
  • Director: Martin Scorsese
  • Year: 2019
  • Runtime: 209 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%

17. Tokyo Drifter

Tetsu is a gangster who, alongside his boss, is trying to leave his life of crime behind. When a rival mob tries to recruit him, Tetsu declines. Suddenly, he finds himself on the run from an assassin, essentially "drifting" through the Japanese countryside. Plain and simple, "Tokyo Drifter" is a riot. Gunshots and punches are over-the-top loud, MGM-style musical numbers take place, and our hero even gets his own theme song, which he whistles at his enemies before sheer bedlam ensues. Keep your eyes peeled for one of the most chaotic bar fights in cinematic history, which is choreographed to utter perfection.

  • Starring: Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Tamio Kawachi
  • Director: Seijun Suzuki
  • Year: 1966
  • Runtime: 83 minutes
  • Rating: NR
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

16. City on Fire

As you watch "City on Fire," you may wonder why it bears a striking resemblance to 1992's "Reservoir Dogs." In fact, Quentin Tarantino borrowed heavily from the Ringo Lam-directed thriller, making this one required viewing for any of his devotees. Ko Chow is an undercover cop tasked with infiltrating a gang of jewel thieves while other members of the police force are hot on his tail, unaware of his true allegiances. While the plot may be similar to Tarantino's classic, the films vary when it comes to content. "Reservoir Dogs" focuses on dialogue and is primarily shot in a warehouse, but Lam's film drags you through the streets of Hong Kong as it explores various moral dilemmas.

  • Starring: Chow Yun-fat, Danny Lee Sau-yin, Sun Yueh
  • Director: Ringo Lam
  • Year: 1987
  • Runtime: 105 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

15. Le Deuxième Souffle

Respected and loyal gangster Gu Minda is tasked with one final job before he attempts to flee to Italy: Teaming up with a gang to rob a truck carrying gold bars. Of course, the police are on high alert, with Commissioner Blot slowly closing in on our criminal lead. What follows is a game of both actual and unintentional deception, with Minda unaware of who he can truly trust. "Le Deuxième Souffle" is slow and calculated, much like its characters. Loneliness is ever-present in this somber gangster epic, which makes the on-screen violence even more brutal. Couple that with Bernard Gérard's jazzy score, and this French classic simply smolders.

  • Starring: Lino Ventura, Paul Meurisse, Christine Fabréga
  • Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
  • Year: 1966
  • Runtime: 140 minutes
  • Rating: NR
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

14. The Killing

Johnny Clay, an experienced gangster, is planning one final robbery of a racetrack before he gets married. He decides to recruit fellow criminals to help him out, including a crooked cop and the racetrack bartender, George. However, when George spills details of the operation to his wife, she comes up with her own scheme that spells trouble for Clay and his crew. "The Killing" has gained a cult following due to its slick noir dialogue, non-linear storytelling, and gliding tracking shots that range from the long and indulgent to the totally nerve-wracking. Kubrick is meticulous — a quality he became synonymous with in the years following this film.

  • Starring: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Year: 1956
  • Runtime: 85 minutes
  • Rating: NR
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%

13. Pusher

Set in Copenhagen, "Pusher" follows two drug pushers, Frank and Tonny, who are fronted heroin by a dangerous gangster on the condition that he's repaid immediately. After their deal is botched, however, the pair are suddenly plunged into a desperate life-or-death situation. "Pusher" is a cinematic anxiety attack: Winding Refn utilizes hectic documentary-style camerawork that only makes the on-screen violence look that much more realistic. Zlatko Buric also shines as the head mobster Milo, a terrifying yet jovial character who'll make you wonder if you should be laughing or worrying about your kneecaps.

12. Once Upon a Time in America

"Once Upon a Time in America" follows Noodles Aaronson, once a Prohibition-era gangster, across three periods of his life. We flashback to the beginning of his life of crime in 1918, explore his reign in the '30s, and join him 30 years later as he returns to his old stomping grounds. The result is a jaw-dropping epic. The almost four-hour run time never feels dull, thanks to Leone's impeccable cinematography and technical expertise, as well as Robert De Niro's unmatched performance. Themes of betrayal, nostalgia, and temptation reign supreme, bolstered by Leone's frequent collaborator Ennio Morricone, whose score is utterly mesmerizing.

  • Starring: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern
  • Director: Sergio Leone
  • Year: 1984
  • Runtime: 229 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 87%

11. Scarface (1932)

Everyone knows Brian De Palma's 1983 crime classic "Scarface," but you might not know it's actually a retelling of a 1932 movie of the same name. The Tony in the original is a jovial, violent, and Italian mafioso building his crime empire against the backdrop of the Prohibition era  — a stark contrast to the excessive glamour of De Palma's version. However, the most significant difference between the two films is the lack of an origin story. We don't know much about Tony besides what we see in the present day, and ultimately, that's all that matters. He's ice-cold and vicious, setting the standard for countless on-screen kingpins to come.

  • Starring: Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley
  • Director: Howard Hawks
  • Year: 1932
  • Runtime: 93 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

10. Eastern Promises

After British-Russian midwife Anna delivers a sex worker's baby, the new mother tragically dies, leaving our lead with her journal. Anna is determined to find out who is responsible for the girl's death, which leads her down a dangerous path involving the Russian mob. Along the way, she crosses paths with Nikolai, apparently the criminal family's chauffeur, who warns her to stay away. While director David Cronenberg is usually known for his body horror and sci-fi, he offers a brutally accurate depiction of organized crime in this flick. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the nail-biting bathhouse scene — it'll stay with you long after the credits roll.

  • Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Year: 2007
  • Runtime: 100 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

9. Reservoir Dogs

Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," draws inspiration from many gangster classics, yet also cements itself as a unique triumph and a blueprint for his filmography as a whole. After a group of gangsters take part in a botched robbery, suspicions arise that one of them is an undercover cop. Our leads make it to their rendezvous point — a warehouse — and promptly dive into a whirlpool of tension. "Reservoir Dogs" has Tarantino written all over it:  There's non-linear storytelling, humorous dialogue, and copious amounts of violence. Couple that with his uncanny ability to pick the perfect soundtrack — you'll never be able to listen to "Stuck in the Middle with You" without thinking of bloodshed again — and you've got a bonafide classic.

  • Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen
  • Director: Quentin Tarantino
  • Year: 1992
  • Runtime: 99 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

8. Underworld

Bull Weed is a confident gangster who cares for his lady, Feathers. Weed decides to help Rolls Royce Wensel, a former lawyer who's down on his luck, but after Wensel and Feathers strike up a flirtation, our lead is stuck in a complicated situation. All the while, he's trying to keep the peace with rival gangsters slowly closing in on his turf. "Underworld" genuinely holds up to this day without any dialogue: Director Josef von Sternberg manages to convey deep emotion through hand gestures, camerawork, and title cards. Even the opening text sets the tone for other "underworlds" we've grown to love in the gangster genre, making this one essential viewing.

  • Starring: George Bancroft, Evelyn Brent, Clive Brook
  • Director: Josef von Sternberg
  • Year: 1927
  • Runtime: 80 minutes
  • Rating: NR
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

7. Le Samouraï

Jef Costello is a lone-wandering contract killer at the top of his career. After a routine mission leaves potential witnesses, Costello finds himself tailed by investigators as he tries to remain loyal to his gangster boss. We root for him through it all, due to his impeccable sense of honor and discipline. French auteur Jean-Pierre Melville is celebrated for his crime films, which feature a prevailing theme of loneliness and a remarkable sense of patience. "Le Samouraï" doesn't see any dialogue for a solid 10 minutes as it starts out, creating a fascinatingly melancholy mood. Everything is restrained in this one, and the result is breathtaking.

  • Starring: Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon
  • Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
  • Year: 1967
  • Runtime: 105 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

6. Scarface (1983)

Al Pacino's performance as a Cuban immigrant who rises and falls as a drug-dealing kingpin is the stuff of cinematic legend. Tony Montana has one end goal in sight: achieving the American dream. He'll stop at nothing to have it in his grasp, even as everything crumbles around him. Under Brian De Palma's direction, this 1983 remake is a high-octane visual feast featuring a pounding score by Giorgio Moroder. Over the course of almost three hours, the film only builds in opulence. The result is mesmerizing.

5. American Gangster

"American Gangster" sees Denzel Washington play Frank Lucas, who begins his rise as Harlem's heroin-dealing kingpin after the death of his boss. As he comes up with an idea for smuggling drugs directly from Southeast Asia, he's tirelessly chased by Detective Richie Roberts, who'll stop at nothing to take him down. Director Ridley Scott does a phenomenal job keeping audiences on the edge of their seats while simultaneously forcing them to think about who to root for. "American Gangster" hooks viewers with its charismatic lead, tense atmosphere, and incredible set, which showcases late 1960s and early 1970s New York at its grimiest.

4. Goodfellas

"Goodfellas" chronicles the life of Henry Hill as he rises through the ranks of a powerful mob family. While the story itself appears to be a simple one, tremendous acting elevates "Goodfellas" from a typical gangster flick to a bonafide masterpiece. These characters are ruthless and flawed, yet you can't help but adore them. "Goodfellas" oozes inimitable swagger, coupled with a sexy soundtrack that features favorite Italian-American crooners such as Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, and Vito and the Salutations. If "Goodfellas" doesn't secretly make you wish you were a New York-based gangster, we don't know what will.

3. Little Caesar

Adapted from the classic novel by William R. Burnett, this movie tells the story of Caesar Enrico, a street-smart and materialistic criminal who rises through the ranks of organized crime. "Little Caesar" came out a few years before the infamous Hays Code was established, which allows for a lot more violence on camera. Don't be fooled by its age: This is an incredibly dark flick. The gangsters of "Little Caesar" are well and truly glamorized, and became the fundamental base for the fictional criminals we've grown to love from directors such as Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.

  • Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell
  • Director: Mervyn LeRoy
  • Year: 1931
  • Runtime: 79 minutes
  • Rating: NR
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

2. The Godfather Part II

Serving as both a sequel and prequel, "The Godfather Part II” gives us Vito Corleone's backstory. An Italian immigrant, he arrives in New York in 1901 and slowly builds his mob kingdom. The movie cuts back and forth between Vito's life and that of his son, Michael, who, at this point, has become a ruthless Don. The empire his father established expands swiftly outside of New York.

"The Godfather Part II" does an excellent job of showcasing the significant differences that fuel these two men. Vito is as moral as a gangster can be, murdering his victims as punishment for their crimes. On the other hand, Michael slowly turns into a cold-blooded shell of who he once was.

  • Starring: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton
  • Director: Francis Ford Coppola
  • Year: 1974
  • Runtime: 202 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%

1. The Godfather

The first installment of "The Godfather" trilogy sees Vito, the Corleone crime family patriarch, scarcely survive an attempt on his life. This leads to his son Michael's eventual inheritance of the family business. The tale spans 10 years (from 1945 to 1955) as it follows Michael begrudgingly taking on the weight of the empire, transforming him into a ruthless mafia boss.

"The Godfather" is a near-perfect film, not even solely in the gangster genre. Francis Ford Coppola blends mafia elements with family drama, morphing betrayal, tragedy, love, and power to almost Shakespearean proportions. The film's complexity, coupled with Gordon Willis' phenomenal cinematography, make this one an offer you truly can't refuse.

  • Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan
  • Director: Francis Ford Coppola
  • Year: 1972
  • Runtime: 175 minutes
  • Rating: R
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%