If you're fan of gangster movies, you might want to catch "Gotti," the new biopic starring John Travolta as the late boss of the Gambino crime family. Or, even better, check out the following 15 classics, which collectively define the genre.
Martin Scorsese once described "Goodfellas" as a "mob home movie," and much of the film was shot that way, with the director allowing stars Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci plenty of room to improvise. The result is countless unforgettable lines ("I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?") in what many critics consider the best gangster film of all time. Paced "almost like a two-and-a-half hour trailer," this story of real-life mafia member Henry Hill has had a huge influence, most notably on HBO's "The Sopranos," whose creator David Chase once said: "'Goodfellas' is the Koran for me."
"The Public Enemy" (1931)
This film transformed James Cagney, known previously as a song-and-dance man, into the ultimate Hollywood tough guy. As a ruthless hoodlum in 1920s Chicago, the diminutive (5' 5") actor brought to the screen a new kind of leading man—fast-talking, cocky, right off the streets ... and electrifying. Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar," Paul Muni in "Scarface" and Humphrey Bogart in "The Petrified Forest" also gained stardom during the 1930s gangster movie craze, but Cagney's "Public Enemy" performance stands out. Just take a look at the famous scene in which he smashes a half-grapefruit into co-star Mae Clarke's face over breakfast. It shocked audiences then and still has the power to shock today.
"The Godfather" (1972)
"The Godfather Part II" may be the better film, but the first installment in Frances Ford Coppola's "Godfather" trilogy remains one of the most influential movies of all time. From the lavish Italian mob wedding to the severed horse head in the Hollywood producer's bed to the various "offers you can't refuse," every scene and bit of dialogue ("Leave the gun, take the cannoli") is seared into the minds of moviegoers everywhere. The film also revived the stalled screen career of Marlon Brando, who, unbelievably, was forced to audition for the role of Vito Corleone (the film's producers had wanted Ernest Borgnine). Operatic and grand in vision, "The Godfather" redefined the gangster movie forever.
"Miller's Crossing" (1990)
All plot twists and double crosses, Joel and Ethan Coen's Prohibition-era gangster movie crackles with witty dialogue and spectacular performances by Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Albert Finney and John Turturro, who's especially memorable as a two-timing bookie pleading for his life. With a plot partly lifted from the work of "Maltese Falcon" author Dashiell Hammett, "Miller's Crossing" pays homage to the gangster classics of 1930s Hollywood—in the film noir style of the 1940s. Complex and at times confusing, the movie somehow works, making it one of the best in the Coen brothers' considerable canon.
"White Heat" (1949)
Nearly two decades after his breakthrough role in "The Public Enemy," James Cagney returned as a mother-fixated gangster the genre-subverting "White Heat." Never before had audiences seen a hard-boiled gangster—let alone tough-guy Cagney--get on his mama's lap for some comfort between killings. Never before had such a movie gangster been Freudian-slipped passed the Hollywood censors. It's one of Cagney's finest performances, and when he climbs to the top of a huge gas storage tank and screams "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!"—just before the tank explodes into flames—well, it's one of the cinema's truly climactic moments.
Panned upon its release, Brian De Palma's update of 1932's "Scarface" is now considered a classic. With an incendiary performance by Al Pacino as Miami-based Cuban refugee turned drug kingpin Tony Montana, the movie has become a pop-culture touchstone, referenced repeatedly in hip hop music. Robert De Niro was originally offered the lead role, but turned it down, opening the way for his "Godfather II" co-star to drop most of the film's 200-plus F-bombs. But the most quoted line in "Scarface" could be rated PG, except that Tony says it while holding a grenade-launching AR-15: "Say hello to my little friend."
"Reservoir Dogs" (1992)
Former video store clerk Quentin Tarantino burst on the scene with this directorial debut, telling the story of five criminals assembled by a mob boss for a diamond heist that goes horribly wrong. With brilliant dialogue, clever allusions to great gangster films of the past, and actors such as Harvey Keitel ("Mr. White"), Steve Buscemi ("Mr. Pink") and Tim Roth ("Mr. Orange"), Tarantino's independent film became an instant cult classic and a sign of even greater things to come from Hollywood's newest wunderkind.
"Le Doulos" (1963)
One of Quentin Tarantino's favorite films and the inspiration for "Reservoir Dogs," this French gangster movie stars cooler than cool Jean-Paul Belmondo as an oily punk and suspected underworld informer. The story doesn't really matter. In critic Roger Ebert's words, "Le Doulos" is "all shadows, trench coats, guns, tough guys, cigarettes, slinky dames, cocktail bars, crooked cops, betrayal, loot..." In short, a must-see.
Teaming up again with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, director Martin Scorsese explores the Chicago mob–ruled Las Vegas of the 1970s. And while some critics viewed it as a "Goodfellas" retread, "Casino" is a compelling film in its own right, with terrific acting (Sharon Stone as a high-priced call girl gives the boys a run for their money), impeccable attention to period detail and a thrilling soundtrack. The movie makes the Vegas crime world at once menacing and alluring.
"Once Upon a Time in America" (1984)
Italian director Sergio Leone brings the visual punch of his famed spaghetti westerns to the American gangster movie, exploring the role of two Jewish boyhood friends (Robert De Niro and James Woods) raised into New York's world of organized crime. American distributors cut the film by over an hour, without the director's approval, and critics initially panned it. But when the uncut version of "Once Upon a Time in America" was later released, Roger Ebert rightly called it "an epic poem of violence and greed."
"Get Carter" (1971)
Forget about the 2000 remake starring Sylvester Stallone. Go straight for the gritty and realistic original, in which Michael Caine plays a London gangster who travels back to his hometown to uncover details about his brother's supposedly accidental death. Cold and brutal, the movie offers a blistering look at the criminal underworld of 1970s England, with Caine at his never-blink best.
"The Untouchables" (1987)
Directed by Brian De Palma, with a screenplay by David Mamet, this retelling of the Prohibition-era battle between G-man Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and Chicago gangster Al Capone (Robert De Niro) is somewhat overshadowed by the "Godfather" films before it and "Goodfellas" soon after. But the show-stopping train station scene alone—with bullets flying as a baby carriage rolls down the station steps in slow motion—puts "The Untouchables" into the gangster pantheon.
"In Bruges" (2008)
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play Irish hitmen hiding out from their over-the-top gangster boss (Ralph Fiennes) after an assigned kill gone wrong. Set in the picturesque Belgian city of Bruges, the film is smart, funny, violent and ultimately tragic. And Farrell, as a dim-witted but tenderhearted gunman, gives the best performance of his career.
"A Colt Is My Passport" (1967)
Japanese "Yakuza" gangster films are known for their stylized, almost cartoonish violence, but "A Colt Is My Passport" is subtler and more subdued than most. It's also one of the best, The movie stars Joe Shishido as a contract assassin pursued by rival mobs who have joined forces against him. Back in the 1950s, Shishido underwent cheek augmentation surgery, which helped him become a major leading man in Japan, though it made him look like a chipmunk. But in "Passport"—with its stunning shoot-'em-up ending—he's the coolest chipmunk gangster that ever appeared on screen.
"The Godfather: Part II" (1974)
Again directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Al Pacino—as well as Robert De Niro as young Vito Corleone—"The Godfather: Part II" is both prequel and sequel, telling the story of father and son across half a century. It's a tour de force of epic proportions and the first movie sequel ever to win an Oscar for Best Picture. Many critics judged this installment in the "Godfather" saga even better than the original,
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