Mafia Movies hold a dear spot in the hearts of many filmmakers. Every filmmaker remembers the first time they saw Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather; a type of film that inspires us as cinema fans. But before we rank the best mafia movies of all time, let’s define the key characteristics.
The ranking of these films is in relation to their quality and importance as Mafia movies rather than just general gangster movies. Many of the films from our Top 30 Gangster Movies of All Time list were excluded, with special exceptions for extraordinary impact as Mafia movies.
What is a Mafia Movie?
A Mafia movie is a dramatization of organized groups of criminals whose illicit activities typically operate internationally. The Mafia as we know it today originated in Sicily back in 1860. The Sicilian Mafia or Cosa Nostra came to power after the province unified with Italy. From there, organized crime operations sprouted all over the world. Every film on this list will comply with the following characteristics of Mafia movies.
Mafia Movies Characteristics:
- Organized Crime
- Corruption of Morals
- Drug trafficking, book-making, high-profit trading
Modern Italian Mob Movies
13. Black Souls (2014)
Black Souls is a quiet film and the story traces back to the origins of Southern Italian crime. It follows a family of three brothers who each represent a unique relationship with the Mafia.
- Luigi is a mafioso who wants to expand his criminal business.
- Rocco is a professional businessman who reaps the benefits of the mafia without getting his hands dirty.
- Luciano is a goat farmer who wants nothing to do with the Mafia.
Luciano’s son falls victim to the glamorized view of the Mafia and goes to stay with Luigi. This upsets the dynamic of the brothers and eventually leads to catastrophic results.
Black Souls is one of the best new Mafia movies.
Good Classic Mafia Movies
12. Bugsy (1990)
Look no further for the quintessential American mob movie than Bugsy. This a mafia movie about America. After about ten years with the mob in New York City, Bugsy Siegel was sent to California to develop business relations on the West Coast.
While there, he falls in love with Hollywood and Virginia Hill. The themes of Bugsy are chasing west coast dreams and trying to go legitimate, away from the criminal life. Ultimately, as with many great mafia movies, these hopes dry up in desert heat.
Irish Mob Movies
11. Road to Perdition (2002)
Mob movies typically follow the following story formula:
- There’s a Mafia presence.
- A major character tries to shield their family from their crimes.
- The character dies after being forced to embrace the criminal life in exchange for the safety of their family.
- This causes their family to seek revenge and thus creates an endless chain of violence and retribution.
Road to Perdition is different because it bucks the trend with the last stage of Mafia movies. Rather than continuing with a life of crime, the protagonists’ son is immobilized by the thought of it, which ultimately makes his father the proudest he could be.
Road to Perdition
British Mobster Movies
10. Sexy Beast (2000)
This ultra-wild mob movie is a commentary on mob movies as much as it is a mob movie. Sir Ben Kingsley plays a British gangster, ironically named Don who recruits the help of a retired associate for the classic “one last job.”
The film is set up on these tired conventions. But it’s the outlandish exaggeration of these conventions that make Sexy Beast one of the all-time great mafia movies.
Hong Kong Mobster Movies
9. Election 1 and Election 2 (2005-2007)
Many Mafia movies are about the pursuit of something material; whether that be money, drugs, weapons, or something else. Johnnie To’s Election movies are about the immaterial hunt for control, symbolized by the dragon baton.
The first film is centered around a “democratic” election of a new Triad boss. The second film continues the story and offers a resolution as to the way of Mafia-Triad operations.
The nature of organized crime is the ethical crux of the Election and watching it unravel is both fun and haunting.
Italian Mob Movies
8. The Irishman (2019)
Scorsese returns to the world of Mafia movies with a stunner. Starring his old pals Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci (along with first-timer Al Pacino), Scorsese crafts a Mafia epic that is absolutely worth 3.5 hours of your time. By covering decades of Frank Sheeran's life, we a more expansive and layered portrait that we rarely get in Mafia Movies.
Japanese Gangster Movies
7. Drunken Angel (1948)
The film follows an alcoholic doctor who becomes involved with the criminal world after treating a young Yakuza. Drunken Angel is not only a foundational film for Japanese mob movies, but also for mob movies around the globe.
Great Italian Mafia Movies
6. Mafioso (1962)
The comedy-turns-tragedy Mafioso is one of the most subtly influential gangster crime movies ever made. The Mafia began in Sicily, which created a strong cultural divide between the North and the South. The North developed into a commercially global enterprise, while the South embraced traditional roots and a more isolationist view of the world.
Mafioso is a film that’s very much about this struggle between the North and the South of Italy. It’s about who controls power, where they control it, and what they do to spread it. In Mafioso, the main character played by Alberto Sordi falls victim to the Mafia and becomes a pawn for their power game.
Japanese Mob Movies
5. Sonatine (1993)
Sonatine is a stylish and captivating film about the Japanese Mafia, the Yakuza. The infectious synth beat classical composition soundtrack was made by the incomparable Joe Hisaishi.
Writer, director, and lead actor Takeshi Kitano envisioned Sonatine as a film version of a Sonata; a story told in distinct parts. The ending of Sonatine is one of all-time greats and offers a harrowing glimpse into the fate of a mobster.
Russian Mafia Movies
4. Eastern Promises (2007)
Eastern Promises is the definitive film about the Russian Mafia. It takes place in London, but most of the film is shot in a Russian restaurant in the city. This is a ruthless movie about the mafia.
The primary illicit trade for the Russians in this film is sex trafficking. It’s a dark, twisted, perspective on the world of gangster crime, anchored by Viggo Mortensen’s excellent performance.
Top Italian Mafia Movies
3. Gomorrah (2008)
It’s nearly impossible to talk about modern Mafia movies without including Gomorrah. This ever-important film is perhaps the single most comprehensive deconstruction of mobsters ever made.
In Gomorrah, nothing is for granted, and the Mafias’ power is absolute. By the end, the romantic view of the Mafia disintegrates like shoreline-sand after a full moon tide.
New York Italian Mafia Movies
2. Goodfellas (1990)
It’s hard to remember that Goodfellas is nearly 150 minutes long because every minute of the film is so full of detail and exuberance. Martin Scorsese’s gangster classic is the most fun gangster movie ever made. That is, for the first half of it at least.
From nights on the town at Copacabana to Sunday potlucks in prison; every detail in Goodfellas is expressive. Here are the three main reasons why Goodfellas is a perfect Mafia Movie:
- The Production (costume design, makeup, set dressing) is top tier.
- Extraordinary performances from the cast, including Pesci, De Niro, and Liotta.
- There is a clear arc. Gangsters find identity within their gangs. They get rich and idolized — and they get caught and condemned.
It’s really a simple narrative. With that said, it’s incredibly hard to pull off. Goodfellas is a great example of doing all the little things correctly. The result is one of the greatest Mobster movies of all time.
There’s a reason why The Godfather is one of the most revered films of all time; It’s emotionally complex, expertly crafted, and thrilling to watch. The Godfather: Part One and Part Two are really one film that is separated into two parts. On the Top 30 Gangster Movies of All Time list, I put Part Two ahead of One because it’s the former is the film that finds resolution on the themes of the Mafia.
What’s more important? Individual success or family loyalty? Is a man capable of changing his character? Is it the responsibility of the Mafia to give back to the poor? These are the questions that pervade The Godfather. From Sicily to Havana to New York City, these questions and more, haunt the soul of Michael Corleone. The Godfather is a demanding film that doesn’t tell you what to believe about the Mafia. It just leaves you with the face of a man who lost everything to it.
The Godfather 1 and 2
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