AFI Top Gangster Movies

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 8:18 am

These 10 AFI top gangster movies are the all-time best of the genre according to the voters from the American Film Institute. The results were announced in 2008, and none other than Quentin Tarantino announced the selections. For the purposes of their list, the AFI referred to a gangster film as one featuring criminals in the 20th century or focusing on organized crime. If you’re looking to spice up your evening with Tommy guns, drug trafficking, and Joe Pesci, ignoring these movies would be criminal. By the way, selections are listed from #1 to #10.

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The Godfather (1972) – Francis Ford Coppola directed this epic about a family of Italian-Americans mobsters and their struggles to change with the times. Al Pacino is the youngest son reluctantly drawn into the web of violence, while Marlon Brando turns in an iconic performance as Don Corleone, the family patriarch. Also starring Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and everyone’s favorite…Abe Vigoda.

Goodfellas (1990) – The rise and fall of criminal Henry Hill, as told by the frenetic camera of Martin Scorsese. Ray Liotta lands on the Hollywood map in the lead role, but it’s Joe Pesci who steals the show as crazy-as-fuck Tommy DeVito. Robert DeNiro and Paul Sorvino also deliver memorable turns as mobsters, and Lorraine Bracco preps for her future role on The Sopranos. Based on the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi.

The Godfather Part II (1974) – The Corleone family returns, and this time it’s Michael (Al Pacino) leading the brood. As he attempts to deal with internal politics, rivals, and assassination attempts, the film also shows the rise to power of his father, Don Vito Corleone (played here by Robert DeNiro). Even though he failed to win an Oscar for the role, many critics consider Pacino’s performance to be one of the best ever given. Just as good, if not better, than the first film.

White Heat (1949) – This classic gangster film stars James Cagney as Cody Jarrett, a ruthless criminal who suffers from migraine headaches and has an unhealthy attachment to his whiskey-drinking mother. From planning a prison escape to shouting “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!”, Jarrett remains an iconic image of the American dream gone horribly astray.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – Presenting a depiction of sex and violence not commonly seen in previous films, Bonnie and Clyde attracted younger viewers and helped usher in the era of New Hollywood. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway portray the murderous Depression-era criminals, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, and the supporting cast consists of Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard. Keep an eye out for Gene Wilder in his film debut (although Richard Pryor is nowhere to be found).

Pulp Fiction (1994) – Presenting multiple stories in less-than-chronological order, Quentin Tarantino’s bloody crime opus offers a dark, subversive look at the underbelly of Los Angeles. Samuel L. Jackson is a Bible-quoting hitman, John Travolta is his heroin-addicted partner, and Bruce Willis is an aging prizefighter trying to scam the mob. Throw in a pair of rednecks with a taste for sodomy, Ving Rhames and Uma Thurman, and you’ve got one of finest examples of modern Hollywood filmmaking.

Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932) – Loosely based on the life of Al Capone, Scarface stars Paul Muni as the vicious criminal Antonio “Tony” Camonte. As he rises to power, Camonte buys off or rubs out anyone who stands in his way. The supporting cast includes Ann Dvorak, Boris Karloff, Osgood Perkins, and Karen Morley. It’s said that Capone was a huge fan of the film, even going so far as to buy his own print for private viewings.

The Public Enemy (1931) – James Cagney stars as Tom Powers, a low-level criminal who rises to prominence by being the most violent guy around. But crime doesn’t pay (at least not for long), and Tom eventually falls in order to send a moral message to audiences of the time. Cagney was forever known as a tough guy after this film’s release, and the grapefruit scene remains one of the most iconic of the genre.

Little Caesar (1931) – A crook named Rico (Edward G. Robinson) works his way up the underworld pecking order, but his ties to a penitent friend will ultimately spell his undoing. The film was a breakout role for Robinson, and he would be associated with gangster films for years to come. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. plays best pal, Joe, and Glenda Farrell is the woman who lures him away from a doomed life of crime.

Scarface (1983) – Al Pacino is Tony Montana, a Cuban criminal dumped onto the shores of Miami by the Castro government. As cocaine explodes in popularity in the 1980s, Tony and his best friend manage to climb the rungs of the American drug industry, and it’s not long before he’s sitting on top of the world. But nothing lasts forever, especially an empire founded on violence, paranoia, and addiction. When his downfall finally comes, Tony goes out in dramatic fashion, introducing everyone to his “little friend” (an M16 machine gun with grenade launcher). It’s been a favorite of rappers ever since.

If this list of AFI top gangster movies has you feeling like a crime film marathon, you might also want to look at the links below for more ideas. All of these films can be rented from Netflix and the small commission we get for sending you there helps cover the day-to-day cost of running a website.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 at 8:18 am and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

10 Responses to “AFI Top Gangster Movies”

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August 26, 2010

Forrest Sciuto

Be Blessed Always..

October 10, 2010

Janet Morgan

I do enjoy this list. Nice job. I think I am using this top crime movies list to really view all the best I would consider you more of an expert at it than I am though.

October 27, 2010


dude where is Carlito’s Way? A classic in the gangster movies genre.

October 28, 2010


Good question. Just keep in mind that these selections were made by the American Film Institute and not me.

November 8, 2013


“AFI Top Gangster Movies – Mob Films – Crime Flicks” was in fact a superb posting.
If solely there was a lot more websites similar to this one in the actual web.

Anyway, thank you for ur time, Loren


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