Goodfellas is one of the greatest mob movies ever made, and the script is a huge reason why. The script has excellent characters, quotes, and story resolution.

In this article, we’re going to look at what we can learn from the Goodfellas screenplay.

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Goodfellas Script

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Goodfellas Script Teardown - Nicholas Pileggi - StudioBinder



Written by Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese.

Nicholas Pileggi is a journalist, author and screenwriter who is regarded as an expert on the Mafia. In 1986, he wrote the book Wiseguy, which would be adapted into the film we now know as Goodfellas.

Martin Scorsese is one of the most renowned Directors in the world. He’s a self admitted visualizer, one who rarely reads actions in a script. So to write the script for Goodfellas, Scorsese sought to collaborate with Pileggi.

Goodfellas PLOT

Narrative beats in Goodfellas

Here is the story structure for the Goodfellas screenplay:




In 1955, 12 year old Henry Hill begins working for mobster Paulie Vario, a boss in his neighborhood. Henry gains the favor of Paulie and the mob, and eventually drops out of school.


Henry is introduced to two people; Jimmy, a well known gangster, and Tommy, an up and comer like himself. When Henry goes to court for a stolen goods charge, Jimmy protects him.


Several years later, Jimmy, Tommy, and Henry rob Air France in an ambitious heist, making all three rich. Henry begins dating a young woman named Karen, who is attracted to his illicit lifestyle.


The three men become good family friends; partying, going to church, and committing crimes together. One night, Tommy becomes irate after being disrespected by made mobster Billy Batts and kills him. Jimmy and Henry help bury the body.


Henry and Karen have a child together, but Henry starts seeing another woman. The Gambino Crime family learns of Batts’ murder and begin to investigate. Henry and Jimmy are indicted after roughing up a man with FBI connections, and sentenced to ten years.


While in prison, Henry lives a lavish life due to bribing officers. Karen also smuggles in food, drugs and alcohol. After some time, Henry and Jimmy are released. Paulie warns Henry  not to get mixed up in drugs and to avoid Jimmy and Tommy.


The crew executes the famed Lufthansa heist, which draws national attention. Henry starts using drugs heavily. Jimmy starts having underlings whacked to keep the heist money for himself. Meanwhile Tommy is executed for killing Billy Batts.


Henry becomes alert to the fact that he’s being followed. But by now, he’s an addict, and completely overworked. The cops bust him at his home one night, and Karen’s Mom has to put the house on sale to bail him out. Henry goes to Paulie for help, but Paulie is sickened by what he’s become.


Jimmy is afraid Henry is going to rat him out to the FBI, so he plans to have both Henry and Karen whacked. But before he can, Henry succumbs to the Feds.


Henry rats out Paulie and Jimmy. Henry and Karen enter the Witness Protection Program and are relocated to Seattle. In the end, Henry laments the person he’s become, not for his crimes, but because he can’t commit them anymore.

Goodfellas Script Takeaway #1

Genre Subversion

What makes Goodfellas so memorable? Let’s start with the basics. The most distinct and unique aspect of Goodfellas is its tone. Martin Scorsese famously said that he wanted to make the audience root for the bad guys, and that’s exactly what he did. 

Goodfellas Jimmy “The Gent” Scene

In this scene, Henry is introduced to Jimmy Conway, a man who is very much a symbol for the cool, calm and collected gangster profile that Goodfellas helped proliferate. He’s charitable, responsible and chivalrous; three characteristics that seem opposite of what we’d expect from a gangster.

Goodfellas Scene - Meet Jimmy Conway

When Goodfellas came out in 1990, it changed the perspective of gangster movies from condemnation to glamorization. That’s not to say there weren’t films before Goodfellas that glamorized gangsters, because there absolutely were. But none were as influential as Goodfellas.


In talking with AFI about working on Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese said “It all started out of a tradition of outlaws in a way, which is something that’s been very popular in American culture, all the way back to the 19th century… But also, I always took it a step further which was The Great Train Robbery. Because basically, The Great Train Robbery, they commit this great robbery and then at the end, the police get them all. Then somebody in the last shot fires a gun right into the camera. That’s why I have Joe Pesci firing the gun at the end into the camera in Goodfellas.

Goodfellas Script Takeaway #2

Goodfellas Character Building

The characters in Goodfellas are largely based off real mobsters. Although some of the names were changed in drafts of the script, their identities are well known.

Let’s take a look at how these characters are built through the script.

Read the Goodfellas Made Man Scene

The context of this scene is explained through Henry’s narration. He tells us that Tommy is going to become a “made man” which means untouchable in the mob world. But the ceremony proves to be a set-up, a revenge hit for killing Billy Batts. 

Goodfellas Scene - Becoming a Made Man

Henry’s narration also gives us a sense of both his and Jimmy’s identities. Why weren’t they “made men?” Why weren’t they invited to Tommy’s ceremony? Henry tells us that it’s because they’re part Irish, which means they can never be made men. 

Goodfellas Script Takeaway #3

Goodfellas Ending

The ending of Goodfellas gives resolution to the mobsters it involves, while also offering commentary on the sensationalization of the genre.

Read the Goodfellas Ending

In the end, Henry rats out his accomplices for immunity. An interesting aspect of the ending is how Henry’s (V.O.) transitions on-screen, directly to the camera. This connects the audience to the character in a somewhat unsettling way.

Goodfellas Scene - Henry Becomes a Rat

Although we know the crimes Henry committed, it’s hard not to empathize with his character in the films closing moments. He fell victim to a glamorized view of gangsters, something that pervades American culture. He enjoyed the highest peaks of success and is now forced to live as what he calls a “schnook.” This ending is an honest commentary on gangsters, one that says you can’t have the highest highs without the lowest lows.

Henry’s narration also gives us a sense of both his and Jimmy’s identities. Why weren’t they “made men?” Why weren’t they invited to Tommy’s ceremony? Henry tells us that it’s because they’re part Irish, which means they can never be made men. 

Dive deeper into the dialogue that defined the gripping narrative of 'Goodfellas' by exploring our curated collection of memorable quotes from the film in our dedicated blog post, 'Goodfellas Quotes.'

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