Ranked: The Greatest Gangster Movies of All Time

Come with us on a journey through mob movie history—it’s an offer you can’t refuse. Newsweek

The tradition of the Hollywood gangster movie would be an emptier one without Martin Scorsese. He’s directed a number of brilliant crime flicks, recounting the violence and intensity of his early life in Little Italy in works such as Mean Streets and Goodfellas.

Scorsese’s fans were happy to hear that his long-gestating gangster movie, The Irishman, was finally purchased by Netflix last year. Due to be released in 2019, it’s said to be his most ambitious movie yet, costing over $140m and including almost 300 scenes. It stars his frequent partner in crime Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran, the real-life hitman for an Italian-American mafia family.

Al Pacino plays Jimmy Hoffa, a trade union leader who vanished in 1975, allegedly at the hands of Sheeran. It’s the fourth time that the two actors have starred in a movie together—previous outings have included Heat and The Godfather Part II, so this pairing could well be auspicious.

And as if that weren't enough, Joe Pesci is on board as a mafia don. The actor starred in a number of classic Scorsese flicks, including Goodfellas and Raging Bull. With a pure gangster pedigree like this, hopes are high that The Irishman could turn out to be a mafia masterpiece.

The gangster movie has flourished on screen since the 1930s, when the original Scarface made crime a Hollywood staple on its release in 1932. However, Hollywood censors often muted the on-screen violence, and made sure all the characters’ wrongdoings were punished.

So when the strict censorship code was lifted in the late 1960s, gangster movies were invigorated with a new spirit. The golden age of the mob movie was born, helmed by Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, whose The Godfather is often labeled as the best movie of all time, of any genre.

Quentin Tarantino picked up the mob mantle in the 1990s, with indie hit Reservoir Dogs and the genre-redefining Pulp Fiction. But gangsters seem to have finally gone out of fashion. There haven’t been many truly memorable mob movies since No Country For Old Men and The Departed were released more than a decade ago. 

Using data from movie review aggregation sites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb, we’ve ranked the most critically-acclaimed gangster films of all time. Who is Gangster No. 1? Find out by joining us on a journey through mob movie history—it’s an offer you can’t refuse.

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01 Sexy Beast
60. Sexy Beast (2000). Total score: 224. IMDb users: 7.3. Metacritic: 79. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.2. Directed by: Jonathan Glazer. Starring: Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Ian McShane. Plot summary: Brutal gangster Don Logan recruits "retired" safecracker Gal for one last job, but it goes badly for both of them. Get it here. Twentieth Century Fox
02 Miller's Crossing
59. Miller's Crossing (1990). Total score: 226. IMDb users: 7.8. Metacritic: 66. Rotten Tomatoes: 8.2. Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, John Turturro. Plot summary: Tom Regan, an advisor to a Prohibition-era crime boss, tries to keep the peace between warring mobs but gets caught in divided loyalties. Get it here. Twentieth Century Fox
03 Night and the City
58. Night and the City (1950). Total score: 227. IMDb users: 8. Metacritic: 74. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.3. Directed by: Jules Dassin. Starring: Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers. Plot summary: A small-time grifter and nightclub tout takes advantage of some fortuitous circumstances and tries to become a big-time player as a wrestling promoter. Get it here. Twentieth Century Fox
04 A Prophet
56. (tie)A Prophet (Un Prophète) (2009). Total score: 227. IMDb users: 7.9. Metacritic: 65. Rotten Tomatoes: 8.3. Directed by: Jacques Audiard. Starring: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif. Plot summary: Condemned to six years in prison, 19-year-old Malik El Djebena, part Arab, part Corsican, cannot read or write. Cornered by the leader of the Corsican gang currently ruling the prison, he is given a number of "missions" to carry out, toughening him up and gaining the gang leader's confidence in the process. Get it here. Sony Pictures Classics
05 Casino
56. (tie) Casino (1995). Total score: 227. IMDb users: 8.2. Metacritic: 73. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.2. Directed by: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci. Plot summary: A tale of greed, deception, money, power, and murder occur between two best friends: a mafia enforcer and a casino executive, compete against each other over a gambling empire, and over a fast living and fast loving socialite. Get it here. Universal Pictures
06 The Town
54. (tie) The Town (2010). Total score: 228. IMDb users: 7.6. Metacritic: 74. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.7. Directed by: Ben Affleck. Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm. Plot summary: As he plans his next job, a longtime thief tries to balance his feelings for a bank manager connected to one of his earlier heists, as well as the F.B.I. Agent looking to bring him and his crew down. Get it here. Warner Bros.
07 Sin Nombre
54. (tie)Sin Nombre (2009). Total score: 228. IMDb users: 7.6. Metacritic: 77. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.4. Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga. Starring: Paulina Gaitan, Marco Antonio Aguirre, Leonardo Alonso. Plot summary: A Honduran young girl and a Mexican gangster are united in a journey across the American border. Get it here. Focus Features
08 Performance
51. (tie)Performance (1970). Total score: 231. IMDb users: 7. Metacritic: 81. Rotten Tomatoes: 8. Directed by: Donald Cammell, Nicolas Roeg. Starring: James Fox, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg. Plot summary: A violent gangster seeks refuge from the mob in the Bohemian home of a former rock star. Get it here. Warner Bros.
09 Oldboy
51. (tie)Oldboy (2003). Total score: 231. IMDb users: 8.4. Metacritic: 74. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.3. Directed by: Chan-wook Park. Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang. Plot summary: After being kidnapped and imprisoned for fifteen years, Oh Dae-Su is released, only to find that he must find his captor in five days. Get it here. Tartan
10 Infernal Affairs
51. (tie)Infernal Affairs (2002). Total score: 231. IMDb users: 8.1. Metacritic: 75. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.5. Directed by: Wai-Keung Lau, Alan Mak. Starring: Andy Lau, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong. Plot summary: A story between a mole in the police department and an undercover cop. Their objectives are the same: to find out who is the mole, and who is the cop. Get it here. Miramax
11 Donnie Brasco
47. (tie)Donnie Brasco (1997). Total score: 232. IMDb users: 7.8. Metacritic: 76. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.8. Directed by: Mike Newell. Starring: Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen. Plot summary: An FBI undercover agent infiltrates the mob and finds himself identifying more with the mafia life, at the expense of his regular one. Get it here. Sony Pictures Releasing