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Donnie Brasco, Tony Montana or Don Corleone? The 12 all-time best mobster movies and their iconic gangsters

While Tony Soprano’s formative years are laid bare in The Many Saints of Newark, it certainly doesn’t threaten the reputations of many other wiseguy films. We list the 12 greatest mob movies ever to shower bullets across our screens. Warning: spoilers ahead


Amerigo Bonasera whispers to Don Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, in ‘The Godfather’

Amerigo Bonasera whispers to Don Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, in ‘The Godfather’

Al Pacino as lowlife Tony Montana in ‘Scarface’

Al Pacino as lowlife Tony Montana in ‘Scarface’


Amerigo Bonasera whispers to Don Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, in ‘The Godfather’

12 The Untouchables Standard good guys/bad guys movie revolving around the taking down of Al Capone, this is worth the watch for one thing: Sean Connery. As the seen-it-all Irish cop, Jimmy Malone, signed up as sidekick to Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness, it’s Connery who breathes life into this Prohibition tale. “They send one of yours to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue,” he famously growls. Ridiculous yet compelling Union Station shoot-out notwithstanding, once Malone dies, so does the movie.

11 American Gangster
Denzel Washington as the smooth but ruthless Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas who finds himself, despite all his power and money, unable to shake off the crumpled but principled Richie Roberts, the New York cop determined to bring him down. A showpiece of a movie — flash houses, flash suits, drinks parties and beautiful women — it’s the fallout from Lucas’s criminality that rings most true; the moment his adoring mother realises what kind of monster her son has become. Denzel is, well, Denzel, but Russell Crowe as Roberts steals the movie from under the gangster’s elegant nose.

10 Miller's Crossing
Gangster movie meets film noir in this dialogue-heavy, complex, slick outing from the Coen Brothers, starring Gabriel Byrne as the too-smart-for-his-own-good Tom Reagan — the whiskey-soaked, battered anti-hero who carries the movie. A great man for the quips — “How’d you get the fat lip?” “Old war wound. Always acts up around morons” — he wisecracks, batters and shoots his way through it all. With a plot based around a love triangle that constantly twists and turns, this is a stylish Prohibition-era take that swivels away from the usual knee-jerk gangster narrative.

9 Casino
Transported to 1970s Las Vegas in this Scorsese roller coaster, it’s a tale of two worlds with obsessive-compulsive casino manager Ace Rothstein (Robert De Niro) playing frontman for the mob while also demanding that the casino cooks put the same number of blueberries in each and every muffin. Kicking off somewhat explosively at the end of the story, the Ace narrative then backtracks, delivering up childhood friend Nicky (a nasty Joe Pesci) and the quite dazzling Sharon Stone as Ginger McKenna. An atmospheric and voyeuristic look at gambling world gangsterland.

8 The Long Good Friday
A classic that produced one of cinema’s most memorable gangsters in the shape of Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand. Sharp-edged, menacing and shocking in its brutality, the belligerent Harold, having courted the New York Mafia, sets out to build a property empire in 1970s London, only to find it all fall apart. With its cracking pace, brilliant dialogue and terrific performance from Helen Mirren, there’s no doubting the star of this gangland romp: it’s Shand’s show all the way.

7 City of God
Full-on life in the ghetto in the Rio favela in Brazil that gives the film its name, this subtitled assault on the senses is part slum blood-letting and part coming-of-age story. A tale of gangster warfare with poverty, endless violence and drug-addled teenage hoodlums all writ large, the story is told with extraordinary narrative panache and pace. Stylishly directed and with a thumping soundtrack, it’s a disturbing, shocking and yet riveting tale of hopelessness and desperation.

6 The Departed
Essentially a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Internal Affairs, this presents Jack Nicholson as the barbaric, nihilistic, lecherous Irish gangster boss Frank Costello. In a game of perpetual cat and mouse where nothing is quite what it seems, the film belongs not to Nicholson, but to its two smoke-and-mirrors characters — Leonardo DiCaprio, the undercover cop planted inside the Costello snake pit, and a superb Matt Damon as a Costello hoodlum who has successfully infiltrated the Boston Police Department. At its heart it’s a story of conscience, a morality tale where good and evil battle it out.

5 Donnie Brasco
With a feel to it akin to Goodfellas, this is based on the real-life story of FBI agent Joe Pistone who infiltrated a Mafia family as Brasco in the late 1970s. It’s a love story too, with a paternal/filial affection that grows and grows between young whippersnapper Brasco — played by Johnny Depp — and the initially sceptical Lefty Ruggiero, an older wiseguy now fast sliding down the ‘family’ food chain, beautifully played by Al Pacino. Violent, funny and touching, its understated ending will break your heart.

4 Goodfellas
Not a film charting a particular Mafia plot, rather this Martin Scorsese pièce de résistance is about the Mafia life. Told through the eyes of Ray Liotta, playing real-life gangster Henry Hill, it spans three decades, observing Hill and his cronies from their years of power, through the prison stretches and on into the subsequent years of decline. At its centre is guilt; not about the murders and mayhem, but about betrayal of the ‘code’. A cinematic triumph 

3 Scarface
Has Al Pacino ever been better? It’s all brutality and bravado, loud shirts, chainsaws and cocaine in this fast-moving, fast-talking 1980s tour de force from Brian De Palma. As Tony Montana, the lowlife, smartass, kill-you-as-soon-as-look-at-you Cuban immigrant on the make, Pacino blazes off the screen, every glance a threat, every move a potential murder. The bodies mount, Tony runs out of rope, and a young Michelle Pfeiffer floats around in the background, taking what she can from the highest male bidder. A roller-coaster ride that’s never going to produce any happy ever afters 

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2 The Godfather and The Godfather Part II
Why pit one against the other? They work in tandem, with both now enshrined forever in the highest echelons of the canon of mobster movies. Bursting with character and narrative, they come full of never-to-be-forgotten scenes and razor-sharp dialogue. You’d miss the legendary Brando as Vito in Part II, alright, but it’s Pacino as Michael who dominates this Shakespearean tragedy that is the Corleone story. It’s the little moments that linger — Michael’s embrace of his brother Fredo as he gives the nod to the bodyguard that signs Fredo’s death warrant; that split second when the toll-booth operator drops the change and Sonny knows instantly that he’s a goner; the glance of the Sicilian henchman just before Michael’s young bride turns the ignition in the car. All unforgettable Godfather gems.

1 Once Upon a Time in America
Almost dreamlike in tone — a cinematic mood that’s only accentuated by its haunting Ennio Morricone score — this majestic epic sweeps its way through half a century, capturing the nuances of loyalty and loss, brutality and betrayal, corruption and cupidity on New York’s Lower East Side during Prohibition and beyond.
As Jewish Mafia hoodlum David ‘Noodles’ Aaronson, Robert De Niro excels as the publicly brutal yet privately tortured gangster. Operatic in both its on-screen intensity and its overall narrative, as the credits start to roll, its enigmatic ending leaves you utterly bereft. A masterpiece and fitting swansong for Sergio Leone.

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