Mafia movies have it all: action-packed scenes, profound storytelling, amazing New York accents… What's not to love? In celebration of the latest mobster flick to hit the big screen — "Gotti" starring John Travolta, which is out on June 15, 2018 — Wonderwall.com is taking a look at the very best mafia movies, starting with "The Godfather." The classic crime drama truly set the standard for gangster films when it premiered in 1972. Marlon Brando and Al Pacino were flawless in their lead roles in the film, which was the highest grossing movie ever made until 1976. "The Godfather" went on to earn Oscars for best picture, best actor (Marlon) and best adapted screenplay. In 1990, the movie was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. As if that wasn't enough, "The Godfather" was also ranked as the second-greatest film in American cinema (behind "Citizen Kane") by the American Film Institute. Keep reading to see what other mafia movies are truly the best of the best.
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"Donnie Brasco" tells the mafia story from a different point of view — that of an undercover FBI agent. The 1996 movie about real-life agent Joe Pistone premiered to rave reviews and was also a box-office success, netting $124.9 million against a $35 million budget. The critically acclaimed film starred mafia favorite Al Pacino as aging hit man Lefty Ruggiero and Johnny Depp as Joe. "Donnie Brasco" was nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.
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Denzel Washington is the quintessential crime boss in "American Gangster." The 2007 film, which is centered on the criminal career of real-life former gangster Frank Lucas, is so complex, you won't be sure who to root for at the end. "American Gangster" was loved by critics and audiences alike, earning $266.5 million worldwide. The movie went on to nab two Academy Award nominations for best art direction and best supporting actress (Ruby Dee).
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"Goodfellas" is another amazing mafia movie that's based on a book. It stars two of Hollywood's go-to mobster guys, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. The 1990 flick follows real-life mob associate Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta) and his friends and family from 1955 to 1980. "Goodfellas" was critically acclaimed and a box-office success, earning over $46.8 million worldwide, and was nominated for six Academy Awards including best picture and best director. Joe won the Oscar for best supporting actor. The film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2000.
"Once Upon a Time in America" is an interesting film because there are two versions, and only one of them is good enough for this list. The 1984 epic starring James Woods and Robert De Niro as Jewish gangsters was originally three hours and 39 minutes long, but American distributors shortened it to 139 minutes. The original, lengthier version was critically acclaimed and is considered one of the best crime films of all time. The shortened version was critically panned and a major flop at the box office. So, organized crime flick fans, make sure to check out the European cut!
Any movie starring Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio that's also directed by Martin Scorsese is guaranteed to be a hit. "The Departed" has it all: unexpected twists, high stakes and amazing acting. The 2006 movie tells the story of Francis "Frank" Costello (Jack), an Irish mob boss who plants a mole within the Massachusetts State Police Department at the same time cops plant a mole within Frank's crew. "The Departed" was a huge critical and commercial success that grossed $289.8 million and won four Oscars for best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay and best editing.
Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese collaborated for the eighth time on 1995's "Casino" and scored five stars across the board. The gangster flick is about Sam "Ace" Rothstein, a Jewish-American gambling handicapper who's called on by the Chicago mafia to oversee the day-to-day operations of a casino in Las Vegas. "Casino" was a big box-office success and Sharon Stone received rave reviews for her performance, which earned her a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination.
"The Godfather Part II" is a rarity in Hollywood: a sequel that is just as good, if not better, than the original. The 1974 movie picks up right where "The Godfather" left off, chronicling Michael Corleone's journey as the don while also looking back at Vito Corleone's rise to power. The mafia movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and was the first sequel to win best picture. Its five other Oscar wins included best director for Francis Ford Coppola, best supporting actor for Robert De Niro and best adapted screenplay for Francis and Mario Puzo. "The Godfather Part II" was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1993.
Like many other mafia films on this list, "The Untouchables" was an Oscar-winning, high-grossing masterpiece. The 1987 film starring Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro and Sean Connery follows real-life agent Eliot Ness as he forms the Untouchables team to bring Al Capone down during Prohibition. The film was a critical and commercial success that earned $106.2 million worldwide. "The Untouchables" was nominated for four Academy Awards, with Sean winning the best supporting actor Oscar.
"A Bronx Tale" is a refreshing spin on the typical mafia movie because of its coming-of-age storyline and young main character. The 1993 flick is about an Italian-American boy who, after encountering a local mafia boss, is torn between a life of organized crime and the values of his honest father. Robert De Niro starred in and directed the film, which received rave reviews from critics. "A Bronx Tale" also helped launch the acting career of Chazz Palminteri.
"Say hello to my little friend!" That classic line is one of many reasons to love the 1983 film "Scarface." The gangster flick is all about Cuban refugee Tony Montana (Al Pacino), who rises to become a powerful drug kingpin. It was a huge box-office success that grossed $44 million worldwide. Critics hated the film when it premiered but have since changed their tune. "Scarface" is now regarded as one of the best gangster films of all time.
The movie that gave us one of the most thrilling love stories of all time (both on- and off-screen)! "Bugsy" chronicles the relationship between real-life mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and his girlfriend, Virginia Hill. The 1991 film was an instant success, receiving 10 Academy Award nominations and winning two (for best art direction-set decoration and best costume design). The movie is also where stars Annette Bening and infamous playboy Warren Beatty fell for one another. They married in in 1992 and now have four children.
"Carlito's Way" achieved recognition years after its release. The 1993 film starring Al Pacino and Sean Penn tells the story of Carlito Brigante, a Puerto Rican gangster who wants to go straight and retire in paradise but can't escape his criminal past. The movie wasn't well-received by critics upon its release and had a mediocre reception at the box office but gained cult-classic status years later thanks to its thrilling storyline and Sean's powerful acting.
"Gangs of New York," which shows just how far back in history gangsters go, is one of the best mafia movies of all time. The 2002 film starring the phenomenal Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio showcases the 1863 gang battle between fictional crime boss William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting and his adversary, Amsterdam Vallon. The flick earned $193 million worldwide and received rave reviews from critics. It was also nominated for nine Academy Awards including best picture.
"Pulp Fiction" is considered to be a Quentin Tarantino masterpiece and for a good reason. The 1994 movie about various criminal happenings in Los Angeles had amazing screenwriting, nonlinear storytelling and a super-talented cast that included John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames and Uma Thurman. "Pulp Fiction" was a huge box-office success, grossing $213.9 million on an $8 million budget! The movie was also nominated for seven Oscars including best picture plus delivered acting nods for John, Samuel and Uma. Quentin and Roger Avary won the Oscar for best original screenplay. The crime film is also considered to be a cultural watershed with a strong influence on other movies and media. In 2013, "Pulp Fiction" was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
The 2002 film "Road to Perdition" tells the story of an Irish mob enforcer and his son, who are seeking revenge against another mobster who murdered their family. The flick, which was set during the Great Depression, was critically acclaimed and received widespread praise for its cinematography, setting and lead performances by Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. "Road to Perdition," which was directed by Sam Mendes, won the Academy Award for best cinematography and earned $180 million worldwide.
"Mean Streets," a 1973 film about loan sharks and crime in New York City, saw Robert De Niro in one of his first mafia roles. The movie was well-received by critics who praised its original and enticing plot and quality acting. "Mean Streets" grossed $3 million worldwide and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
"Miller's Crossing" is a perfect example of delayed gratification. When the mafia movie was released in 1990, it was a box-office flop that only earned $5 million on a $14 million budget. The film, which follows the power struggle between two rival gangs, went on to rake in the big bucks when it was released on DVD and VHS. Critics universally loved the film and today, "Miller's Crossing" remains highly regarded thanks to its film noir elements and John Turturro and Gabriel Byrne's flawless acting.
Mafia heavyweights Al Pacino and Robert De Niro went head-to-head in the 1995 gangster film "Heat." The movie marked the first time the rival actors had starred together since their iconic film "The Godfather Part II" in 1974. "Heat" tells the story of Neil McCauley, a professional thief, and Lt. Vincent Hanna, an LAPD robbery-homicide detective tracking down McCauley's crew. The crime drama was a critical and commercial success, earning rave reviews as well as $187 million worldwide.
"On the Waterfront" is classic American cinema that still captivates audiences more than six decades after its release. The 1954 film about union violence, corruption and racketeering amongst longshoremen was a critical and commercial success when it premiered. The movie went on to earn 12 Academy Award nominations and won eight of those including best picture, best actor for Marlon Brando, best supporting actress for Eva Marie Saint and best director for Elia Kazan.