There’s nothing like the escapism provided by the indulgent, extravagant, and gritty genre of the gangster film. And for sheer escapism as well as masterful film-making, there’s no better films in the genre than these five.
5. Scarface (1983)
Scarface is Brian De Palma’s love letter to the gangster genre. A remake of a 1932 Howard Hawks film, De Palma updates the story of a socially ambitious drug dealer to contemporary Miami and adds the twist of his unique visual style along with plenty of violence.
Although critical reaction to the film was mixed, Scarface remains a cult favorite and has had a cultural impact that is undeniable, especially in the world of rap and hip-hop. For instance, rapper Scarface draws his name from the film, and fellow artist Cuban Link at one point planned to star in a sequel to the film. Most notably, Universal Studios has tried on multiple occasions to re-release the film with a rap soundtrack only to be denied by De Palma, who is rightfully satisfied with his original effort.
4. Du Rififi Chez les Hommes (1955)
At least some good came out of the Hollywood blacklist. When countless individuals in the film industry were blacklisted in Hollywood for their supposed sympathy for Communism, director Jules Dassin was among them. Unable to work in America, he travelled to France, which was in the middle of an explosion of talent called the New Wave and led by filmmakers like Francois Truffaut.
Dassin’s contribution to the genre was a simple adaptation of a poorly regarded pulp novel with a small budget that relied on no-name actors and real locations. The result adds a sense of naturalism to the film about a jewel thief who has recently been released from prison only to pull off another great heist.
3. Cidade de Deus (City of God) (2002)
A visually stunning exploration of the cycles perpetuated by gang violence, City of God is all the more striking for its setting in urban Brazil. While a lot of gangster films explore the world of organized crime in the US or Western nations, City of God displays the gritty reality of crime in developing and politically unstable states.
The filmmakers eventually went on to adapt their story to television for a series that ran for four series starting in 2002 and again to film in 2007.
2. Goodfellas (1990)
A lot of gangster films draw their appeal from the fact that these stories really happen. We just never get to see them. In 1990, Martin Scorsese essentially perfected the true crime aspect of the mobster genre with his adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy, an account of Henry Hill’s time in the mafia and subsequently as an informant.
Since then, Scorsese’s films Casino (1995) and The Departed (2006) have also explored the world of organized crime, though none have done so with as much originality and vigor as Goodfellas.
As of 2012, cable channel AMC (home of American hits like Mad Men and Breaking Bad) is in talks to develop a TV adaptation of the film.
1. The Godfather (1972)
The first two installments of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece trilogy are widely celebrated not only as masterful examples of genre films but some of the greatest movies ever made. The first especially remains a masterpiece.
The Godfather was heralded by real life mobsters, while director Stanley Kubrick considered it possibly the best film ever made. Ranking number two on imdb’s use-generated Top 250 list and raking in a number of awards, including the Oscar for best picture, The Godfather was appreciated by audiences and critics with equal fervor.
Coppola’s next project is another Italian family drama though without a mob element.
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