If you do a little bit of Googling, you'll see the mafia is an actual real thing that happens and has dire consequences. Innocent lives are lost and mafia bosses may live lavishly for a time, but they're often tossed in jail for lengthy for their crimes. Well, some of the best art is inspired by life, and mafia movies have become their own genre, giving way to tons of provocative storylines for us to sit back and enjoy.
Some of the greatest filmmakers and actors have gravitated towards mafia movies, either because they love the stories, settings, characters, or all of the above. Whatever the reason, that migration of talent has left us with so many captivating movies to choose from, so naturally we chose the best mafia movies ever for you.
30. American Hustle
It is a collective problem our team faced – we couldn’t decide whether it was the cast or the plot of American Hustle that won our hearts.
Based on the 1970s Abscam case, we follow the life of Irving Rosenfeld, who falls into the clutches of forgery, loan-sharking, and an extramarital affair. All this finally tumbles down to him working with FBI agent Richie to take down a New Jersey mayor.
When you combine a masterful plot from Michael Mann and cast two of the leading actors of the generation as the central roles, you get Heat - a timeless crime drama classic.
Featuring the back-and-forth between master criminal Neil McCauley and Lt. Hanna, this movie is a showdown between two men who are the exact opposite of each other but still share mutual respect. It is a must-watch for anyone who watches movies.
Gomorra is less of a movie and more of a real story unfolding on screen. Based on the Italian Camorra crime syndicate, which took over the underworld with cocaine and corruption, the movie focuses on the lives of those who live in Campania.
Some try to resist, some try to hide, but no one escapes from the Camorra family. Because there is nothing grand about this movie, it is a bigger masterpiece than you would imagine.
27. The Traitor
Based on facts from the crime world of 1980s Sicily, The Traitor’s protagonist is Tommaso Buscetta, the first Mafia informant on the Cosa Nostra to be officially documented. The movie is ruthlessly intelligent, and we get to look into the mind of a man who does something that goes against every fiber of his being.
But what drives him to betray the family he once was a king with? The line that stays with us after this movie is “The Mafia’s not invincible. It had a beginning; it will have an end” You cannot miss this movie; we assure you this.
Suburra is a story that highlights the ambitious nature of Man, even if it is fueled by wrong intentions. When “The Samurai”, a feared gangster decides to turn Rome’s waterfront into the new Las Vegas, he brings to his aid a powerful local politician with a penchant for cocaine and young girls.
And he even manages to bring together all the local mob bosses to achieve this goal, but this union doesn’t last for long, because the mob bosses are all at each other’s throats to claim the prize. How does this all end, and who remains to stand? This is a wonderful crime thriller and is perfect for the fans of the trigger-happy gangster movie genre.
25. The Irishman
When you put together Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino, and Robert de Niro, you get a movie that remains memorable as one of the greatest mafia movies made. And while you might feel that runtime of 209 minutes is really long for any movie, The Irishman earns its screen time with a stellar performance, a top-notch cast, and a towering storytelling style.
Beneath the mafia operations, we are faced with unanswerable questions about sorrow, death, and the legacy we leave behind. The Irishman carries a vibe that delivers a flood of emotions towards the characters, and we’re fairly certain that this is one of Scorsese’s best masterpieces.
24. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels takes the famously crazy hip gangster formula and fashions it into a humorous drama that will have us engaged throughout the movie. When Eddy loses all his funds to Hatchet Harry, a local crime boss, in a game of poker, he needs to find a way to repay the boss or hand over his father’s pub in exchange.
A quickly hatched plot to rob some robbers who plan to steal from some drug dealers attracts more attention than they accounted for, and Eddy and his friends find themselves in serious danger for their lives.
23. Once Upon A Time In America
This 1984 film was met with mixed reviews when it was originally released, but subsequent re-cuts of the movie helped push it to classic status.
Starring Robert De Niro as an elderly David "Noodles" Aaronson returns to New York, where his career in the criminal underground in the '20s & '30s. Most of his old friends are long gone, yet he feels his past is unresolved. The film follows Noodles from a little Jewish kid in New York's Lower East Side, through to his rise to bootlegger and Mafia boss.
22. Internal Affairs
If you loved The Departed, then Internal Affairs will be perfect for you because this is the film it was based on. Yes, while The Departed has characters loosely based on real-life mob figures, it's actually a remake of this Hong Kong crime thriller.
Following two cops who have infiltrated local triads for different reasons, Internal Affairs unfolds much like the film it inspired, with tons of twists and turns. There are even some scenes that appear almost shot for shot as they do in The Departed. If you can live with the subtitles, you're in for a treat if this is a movie you didn't know existed until five minutes ago.
21. The Untouchables
Starring Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy García, Robert De Niro, and Sean Connery; this retells the exploits of famed Prohibition agent Elliot Ness and his efforts in bringing down Al Capone.
The Untouchables was nominated for four Academy Awards in 1988, with Sean Connery taking home the award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of fictional gangster Jimmy Malone. Filmed on location in Chicago, director Brian De Palma weaves an intricate tale of cat-and-mouse between Ness and Capone.
20. A History Of Violence
This is an unconventional masterpiece, which plays on themes usually untouched by the gangster flick formula. Starring Viggo Mortensen, this is the story of Tom, the owner of a small-town diner who kills two robbers in self-defense and later learns he might have got way more than he bargained for.
When he's oddly adept at killing the robbers, it's clear there's more to this story than meets the eye and a tale full of twists and turns follows.
19. Mean Streets
Martin Scorsese is back, this time with Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro in tow for another story about the mafia in New York. This classic is the story of Charlie Cappa, played by Keitel, as a young man balancing his nefarious street life with his more tranquil life as a devout catholic.
Charlie is pulled back to the streets by his best friend as he's looking for a way to separate himself from that part of his life. Hailed as one of the greatest films ever and credited for influencing modern cinema and television in countless ways, Mean Streets is a must-see for any movie lover.
18. Miller’s Crossing
One of the first films from the famed Cohen Brothers, Miller's Crossing is quite a twist on the standard gangster genre.
The story follows Tom as he plays two rival gangs against one another, trying to safely navigate the fighting as he makes his play to become a boss in his own right. Toss in a love triangle that you don't see coming and it's the exact sort of masterpiece you'd expect from the now legendary Cohen brothers.
17. The French Connection
The first-ever R-rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, The French Connection tells the story of two New York Police Department detectives' pursuit of a French drug smuggler.
Starring Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, and Fernando Rey, the film is renowned for being one of the greatest and most influential car chases in cinema history. The movie won five Oscars in total, including Best Actor (Hackman), Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
16. King of New York
The film that inspired one of the alter-egos of The Notorious B.I.G., King of New York was met with a tepid response from critics initially. But in the nearly 30 years since its release, this movie has garnered a cult following, with Christopher Walken being praised for his portrayal of drug lord Frank White.
A whirlwind of murder and corrupt policemen, this movie is a speed-ride through New York, following the exploits of an ambitious gangster with lawlessness. Walken shines but Laurence Fishburne, David Caruso, Wesley Snipes, Victor Argo, and Giancarlo Esposito also pop up with enjoyable performances alongside him.
15. True Romance
Written by Quentin Tarantino, True Romance is a bit of a romantic drama, if romantic dramas had crazy killing sprees and unhinged drug dealers. Hailed critically, this film is the story of one man on the run from the mafia with his wife after stealing a shipment of drugs from her former pimp.
Starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette as the couple, the film is boosted by an ensemble cast including James Gandolfini, Dennis Hopper, Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, and Christopher Walken. The scene where Dennis Hopper is interrogated by the Mob might be one of the most intensely memorable scenes in movie history.
While initially panned critically, making only modest returns at the box office, Scarface has been hailed as a classic in the decades since its release. Al Pacino, of course, stars as titular Tony Montana in this Brian De Palma's remake of the 1932 film of the same name.
The story seems simple on the surface, as a Cuban immigrant makes a name for himself in the seedy underworld in Miami, but a simple description doesn't do it enough justice. A favorite of everybody from Martin Scorsese to Cher and Jay-Z, the impact from this gangster flick is still felt within the industry all these years later. There may not be a more iconic role in film history than Tony Montana.
13. Donnie Brasco
Starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp, Donnie Brasco is loosely based on the story of an FBI agent who infiltrated the mafia in the 1970s. Depp stars as Brasco, the FBI agent's assumed identity as he befriends "Lefty" Ruggiero, an aging hitman played by Pacino.
The film is made by the chemistry between Depp and Pacino, with the threat of betrayal hanging over every scene as their relationship develops. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, this movie has only gotten better with age thanks to the performances by Depp and Pacino, alongside Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, and Anne Heche in supporting roles.
12. The Departed
How many times will the work of Martin Scorsese appear on this list? This time Scorsese directs a superstar cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Wahlberg in this story about the Boston Irish mafia as the police work to bring them down.
The plot twists are numerous, only outnumbered by the stellar performances in this Best Picture winner at the 79th Academy Awards. With a tinge of that Irish Boston charisma, It's a modern take on the classic mafia movie formula.
11. American Gangster
Denzel Washington's take on real-life gangster Frank Lucas was so mesmerizing it inspired Jay-Z to make a whole album, It was that memorable a performance. Directed by Ridley Scott, American Gangster tells the story of Lucas' life as a major drug dealer and competition to the mafia, with varying accuracy.
While Denzel shines like usual, it's performances from the likes of Russell Crowe and Cuba Gooding Jr. that push this story to the next level. In fact, it was Ruby Dee as Frank's mother that received an Oscar nomination for her role in the film, not Denzel.
10. Carlito's Way
Brian De Palma adds another entry to the list thanks to scintillating performances from Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Luis Guzman, and John Leguizamo.
Pacino stars as the titular Carlito, fresh out of prison after a 30-year bid and looking to go straight, he's drawn back into his former life for one last job with hopes of retiring in the Caribbean afterward. Of course, things go awry and we're awarded a cult classic in the process.
9. Road To Perdition
Based on a graphic novel of the same name, Tom Hanks takes his turn at the genre and the results were so incredible that the film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning for Best Cinematography. Hanks stars as a mob enforcer looking for revenge for the deaths of nearly all of his family.
Paul Newman, Jude Law, and Daniel Craig also turn in scene-stealing performances, when this revenge flick slowly becomes an endearing father and son journey as well, thanks to riveting performances from Hanks and his on-screen son Tyler Hoechlin.
8. A Bronx Tale
Robert De Niro was already an icon and an Academy Award winner by the time he attended a performance of A Bronx Tale; an autobiographical, off-Broadway one-man show written and performed by Chazz Palminteri. He was so enthralled, he eventually purchased the rights to the show from Palminteri under a few conditions, Palminteri got to write the screenplay and play the role of Sonny, the mob boss at the center of the movie.
The story, of course, follows the life of Calogero, a uniquely named young Italian boy who witnesses a murder and gains the favor of Sonny. De Niro plays Cologero's dad in this emotional tale of growth and clashing cultures.
7. Reservoir Dogs
Even decades later, the film that launched the career of Quentin Tarantino holds up pretty well, Reservoir Dogs is so gripping it's easy to see how Tarantino went on to become the director he is today.
Somehow, Tarantino makes a heist movie where we never see the heist work, thanks to the intricate story he waves with non-linear storytelling and a ton of surprises along the way. It ends with a bang, literally, but the ride up until that point is even more explosive than the way it ends.
After Goodfella's success, it was clear to Scorcese that the De Niro/Pesci formula could be re-imagined with Casino. Inspired by real-life gangsters and affiliates, Casino is the story of Sam "Ace" Rothstein, a gambling expert sent to Las Vegas by the mafia to help oversee a casino.
Starring Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci, the story of Sam spirals out of control with twists and turns captivating audiences. Casino was an accomplishment following the similarly-themed Goodfella's, with many critics heaping further praise on it as time goes by.
5. The Usual Suspects
These days Bryan Singer is probably best known as the mind behind the original X-Men franchise and for his heavy involvement in superhero films in general, but it was The Usual Suspects that pushed him into the limelight as a director.
The film tells the complicated and mysterious story of some sort of massacre on a ship dock, mostly told through the interrogation of a small-time gangster. The story unravels, piece by piece, until the insane reveal of Keyser Söze that was so shocking it altered the traditional movie industry forever.
4. Pulp Fiction
While Marsellus Wallace's gang might not be the traditional idea that pops into your head when you hear the word "mafia," it is definitely a mob. Thanks to that distinction Pulp Fiction bullies its way onto this list with a bang, just like most Quentin Tarantino films. Widely recognized as Tarantino's finest masterpiece, the director weaves multiple narratives in a non-linear story that adds punch to the eventual finale.
Nominated for seven Academy Awards — Best Picture, Director, Actor (John Travolta), Supporting Actor (Samuel L. Jackson), Supporting Actress (Uma Thurman), Original Screenplay, and Film Editing. While it only ended up taking home one award (Original Screenplay), its legacy lives on as the best film of 1994, and one of the most era-defining movies of its time.
3. The Godfather
It's the age-old debate, about which Godfather film is the best one. You really can't argue with Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, his performance is once in a lifetime. This is the film that set an unattainable standard for mafia movies, and for movies in general in the 1970s, widely recognized as one of the greatest films ever made.
In what many views as Martin Scorsese's finest work, the legendary director gives his depiction of the story of Henry Hill, an infamous mafia associate turned FBI informant. Thanks to incredible performances from the likes of Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Lorraine Bracco, and Joe Pesci, the story of Hill comes alive.
The movie is funny, captivating, thrilling, and agonizing all at one, with Scorsese steering the ship, helping turn this into one of the greatest genre-changing mafia movies to ever hit the big screen.
1. Godfather Part II
For many, The Godfather II is not just the greatest mafia film ever, but the greatest ever of any genre. Al Pacino turns in the finest performance of his entire career as Michael Corleone, the new Don of the Corleone family.
But the film is buoyed by Robert De Niro's turn as a young Vito Corleone, giving backstory and emotional weight to Marlon Brando's original take on the character. Director Francis Ford Coppola expertly juggles timelines and narratives in this epic cinematic achievement.