The 12 Best Mob Movies You Need To See Immediately

Mob movies are a popular subgenre of crime cinema that centers around the world of gangster organizations and their operations, and often shed light on the dangerous lifestyles of morally complex characters. Although the genre is commonly associated with the notion of the American mafia, there's a diversity within the protagonists of these films. Mob movies focus on different ethnic groups and their criminal organization, and there's a broad range of international favorites that stand alongside the American classics.

Each generation seems to have its own era of great mob movies, and the perceptions of what the mafia's role is have changed along with the culture. The exciting world has fascinated moviegoers since the 1930s, where films like "Scarface" and "The Public Enemy" shocked the general public with their bleak subject material. Many of the mob movies released in the decades since are now known as classics, and several are rated among the greatest films ever.

Some mob movies are more character-based, while others are heavier on their action sequences. Narrowing down the entire history of the genre is no easy task, and many great films, unfortunately, had to be left off the list. However, any cinephile interested in hitting the classics needs to see these mob movies.

The Godfather

If you ask any film professor about the most essential films of all time, chances are "The Godfather" is near the top. Often cited as the best film of all time (alongside "Citizen Kane"), Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 gangster epic changed the way the mob was depicted forever. Adapting the pulpy material of Mario Puzo's popular novel, Coppola crafted an epic American tragedy about family dynamics and the faded illusions of the "American Dream." The film celebrates its 50th anniversary in March, and it's still just as haunting, entertaining, and thoroughly impactful as it was upon release.

"The Godfather" features one of the greatest film ensembles ever. Mafia patriarch Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) prepares for the upcoming wedding of his daughter Connie (Talia Shire) to Carlo (Gianni Russo) while navigating his relationship with the other mafia families. Vito seeks a closer relationship with his son, Michael (Al Pacino), who remains a relative outsider in the family having served in the war. While Vito loves his wild son, Sonny (James Caan), and his adopted child and business manager, Tommy Hagen (Robert Duvall), he sees Michael as his true heir. When Vito is injured in a botched assassination attempt, Michael is forced to take control of the Corleone family business. He begins his transformation into a ruthless gangster like his father, learning that he values family loyalty above any other thing.

The Godfather: Part II

Truly great movie sequels are relatively rare, and the expectations are intensified if a film is following up a beloved classic. The number of sequels to all-time great films that manage to stand alongside, or even surpass, their originals is a rare group; films like "The Empire Strikes Back," "The Dark Knight," "Aliens," "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," and "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" are all contenders. 

However, no sequel completes the saga while providing insight on past events quite like "The Godfather: Part II." Coppola's epic continuation of the Corleone family saga is both a continuation of the story and a window into the past; the film serves as both a sequel and prequel to the 1972 original, telling the intertwined stories of Michael Corleone's expansions of the family business and the journey of a young Vito (Robert De Niro) as he immigrated to the United States from Italy.

Over an epic 200 minutes, Coppola continues his commentary on the faded illusions of the American Dream by showing the corruption of two generations of men who both initially believe they are doing the right thing. Michael sees himself as protecting his family and ensuring their future, but he's haunted by the lie he told to his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) at the end of the first film. Vito enters the new country with hopes of building a better life, but he begins to build his crime family empire.

Goodfellas

Martin Scorsese is an instrumental figure within the mob movie genre, and many of the modern perceptions of what constitutes a great gangster movie can be traced back to the advances that Scorsese made within the genre. Scorsese has often returned to the mob movie world; he first gained his reputation as a great filmmaker with "Mean Streets," and received some of the greatest accolades of his career with "The Departed." However, no Scorsese gangster movie is quite as iconic as "Goodfellas." Another classic that hasn't aged a day, "Goodfellas" explores the life of a young boy as he's drawn into the seductive mafia world and watches it transform his life.

Henry Hill (Ray Liotta, played in childhood scenes by Christopher Serrone) reflects that "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster." As a young child growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, Henry begins skipping school to work jobs for local gangsters, and he's taken under the wing of the eccentric Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and powerful Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro). Henry grows into an elite member of their family; outside of their business of shipping illegal substances, the mob celebrates every weekend and holiday together with their families. When Henry falls in love with Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco), she also gets entrenched within the culture.

The stakes are dramatic, but Scorsese incorporates a lot of humor within the film. However, he doesn't absolve the characters of their crimes, as they face dire consequences.

Eastern Promises

Although many of the most famous mafia movies of all-time center on the American mob, David Cronenberg's 2007 epic "Eastern Promises" sheds a light on the elusive world of the Russian mob and the attempts by British espionage agents to infiltrate that tightly wound business. Cronenberg's family saga is an epic tragedy that features not one, but two of the most effective plot twists in mob movie history. It was able to show a range of perspectives on the mob world by following both insider and outsider perspectives.

British midwife Anya Ivanovna Khitrova lives with her parents in London as she contemplates her recent marriage. While working an overnight shift, Anya tries to save the life of the 14-year-old prostitute Tatiana (Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse). While the girl dies, Anya is able to save her infant child and uncover her secret diary. Seeking a translation of the text, Anya finds the seemingly friendly shopkeeper Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), not realizing he is head of a Russian mafia family. Semyon's enforcer Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen) befriends Anya and attempts to protect her as he rises within the family. Semyon has faith in Nikolai, as his own son Krill (Vincent Cassell) is irresponsible and not suited for leadership. Krill sees Nikolai as a friend, but fears that his father will not make him his heir.

"Eastern Promise" slowly reveals its twists, but it also features truly disturbing moments of violence. Nikolai's nude bathroom brawl, in particular, is a shocking and brutal fight.

The Untouchables

There's a fear that sometimes mafia films can try too hard to humanize gangster characters, and as a result the audience may end up sympathizing with violent men who have done truly horrible things. However, some of the best mob movies are those that focus on the law enforcement officers that attempt to bring these dangerous criminals to justice. Based on the 1957 novel of the same name, Brian de Palma's 1987 classic "The Untouchables" tells the true story of the Chicago cops that brought down the notorious Al Capone (Robert De Niro). De Palma has experience working in the horror and thriller genres, and here he combines flashy stylistic flourishes with a more classic version of the old-school gangster epic.

A tragic bombing claims the life of a young girl and intensifies the public pressure to put and to violence on the streets of Chicago. The Bureau of Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) launches an investigation into Capone, but he's deceived and publicly humiliated when a shipment he thought contained alcoholic beverages is just filled with umbrellas. Eliot is approached by the mother of the girl that was killed, inspiring him to put together a crack squad of elite cops to track down Capone. He enlists veteran cop Jim Malone (Sean Connery), cocky young marksman George Stone (Andy Garcia), and the analyst Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith). The film focuses on the different practices of these men and how they bond over their investigation.

Donnie Brasco

While you might not initially think of the mob movie genre as one that can be emotionally impactful, truly great mafia films can find the essence of human tragedy within a violent world without descending into melodrama. Gangster characters don't always relate their feelings well and are often characterized as hyper-masculine, but that doesn't mean that they are emotionless. 1997's "Donnie Brasco" is a thrilling undercover thriller, but it's also a deeply heartbreaking film about a man trapped between two worlds. Based on a true story, the film follows FBI agent Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp) as he goes undercover within the Bonanno crime family in New York City during the 1970s under the alias "Donnie Brasco."

It's challenging for Pistone to establish himself as a believable hoodlum, but he's able to fall under the wing of aging gangster Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino) and gain his trust, becoming one of his right-hand men. Lefty begins to not just respect Donnie, but accept him as part of his family, viewing him as a son. It creates a difficult situation for Pistone; he has a rough marriage and struggles to raise his children, and while he doesn't want to get too connected to the men he's charged with bringing down, Lefty is showing him love when no one else would. Depp and Pacino would both later be known for their more over-the-top and eccentric performances, but they both give more emotional performances for a heartbreaking story.

The Irishman

Martin Scorsese returned to the gangster genre in 2019 with the reflective and emotional gangster epic "The Irishman." The film features characters similar to those Scorsese has depicted throughout his career, yet it bears the unique distinction of following them for their entire lives as they begin in prominence only to watch their families slowly dissolve and lose touch. Scorsese utilized groundbreaking computer-generated imagery to digitally de-age (and age-up) his actors in order to show them throughout their lives.

Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is an Irish-American veteran of World War II who works as a union truck driver in Philadelphia in the 1950s. Sheeran begins working for a mafia family fronted by Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) and befriends the gangster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), becoming his close ally. Due to his Irish heritage, it is hard for Sheeran to gain acceptance within the Italian mafia, but Russell works to give him jobs such as contract killing that will raise his prominence within the family. They begin a smuggling operation with Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, in order to crush Hoffa's competition.

The tragedy of the film is watching Sheeran grow his family and then watch them pass him by, and all three central performances are very emotional. De Niro tries to connect with his daughter Peggy (Anna Paquin) when she's older, but she remembers how absent he was as a father. Pesci is also remarkably restrained.

Road to Perdition

Sam Mendes's gripping 2002 adaptation of the DC graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner is an emotional, generational story of the troubled relationship between fathers and sons. It's a tragic depiction of fragile masculinity and how mafia men are forced to give up their sense of family, and the dangers of trying to escape this dangerous lifestyle. It's a gloomy, yet completely gorgeous film featuring incredible cinematography from the late great Conrad L. Hall and one of the best scores of Thomas Newman's career. Mendes crafts a slowly-paced film that can still explode with tension and shocking violence.

Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is one of the top hitmen within the Irish mafia under the boss John Rooney (Paul Newman) in the midst of the Great Depression. Rooney sees Sullivan as a close ally and considers him to be like a son; Rooney's actual son, Connor (Daniel Craig), is a wild and unpredictable hooligan who has only disappointed his father, yet still desperately seeks his approval. Sullivan knows that his violent history would prevent him from ever truly being redeemed, but he wants to save his son Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) from falling into the same path. He takes his son away from the family business and tries to bond with them, but the father-son duo is pursued by Rooney's forces and the idiosyncratic assassin Harlen Maguire (Jude Law). It ends with a shocking and heartbreaking conclusion on the perpetual state of violence.

Casino

It was certainly a challenge for Martin Scorsese to reapproach the mob movie genre after "Goodfellas" became so iconic, as it would be hard for him to craft another film that could stand up to his instant classic. However, 1995's "Casino" proved itself to be a great mafia movie in its own right. While "Goodfellas" fans will certainly enjoy "Casino" for its similar tone and aptitude for violence and dark humor, the film takes a different approach to the genre and explores the fascinating world of the Las Vegas casino scene. Scorsese is known for his epic runtimes, but "Casino" is so constantly entertaining that the 178-minute runtime simply flies by.

Based on a true story, "Casino" follows the Jewish-American sports handicapper Sam Rosethein (Robert De Niro) when he's sent by the Chicago mob to oversee gambling operations in Las Vegas. Sam arranges for a smuggling of funds to the mafia and the influence of game outcomes. The mob also dispatches made man Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) to help protect their operation, and Sam slowly grows accustomed to a life on the fast-paced Vegas scene. He meets a prostitute named Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone), falls in love with her, and the two marry. However, Ginger is unpredictable and causes unforeseen trouble within Sam's life. He also struggles with the pressure to appease local politicians who have a stake in the games. De Niro gives a steely performance, and Pesci has a blast as an eccentric loudmouth character.

Carlito's Way

Brian De Palma always creates an interesting tone with his crime films, which combine well developed characters with more elaborate stylistic flourishes. "Carlito's Way" is a fascinating look at a gangster's career that features one of Al Pacino's best performances ever; Pacino is known for giving exaggerated performances and can often be quite hammy, but he's remarkably restrained here in his role as Puerto Rican gangster Carlito Brigante. There are obvious similarities within De Palma and Pacino's other famous collaboration, 1983's "Scarface," but "Carlito's Way" is the stronger film.

Carlito has lived a life of violence and decides to go straight and retire to the Caribbean with his girlfriend Gail (Penelope Ann Miller). Carlito's best friend and closest accomplice is his lawyer, David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn), a wild man who's addicted to drugs and prone to shocking bits of rage. Carlito's attempts to escape are threatened by the competition of the Italian mafia, and David's obnoxious behavior causes conflict with Bronx gangsters.

Killing Them Softly

Occasionally a new film will establish itself as a future classic worthy of becoming an all-time great, and Andrew Dominik's experimental 2012 mafia film "Killing Them Softly" is a film that could only exist within the 21st Century. Set amidst the backdrop of the Presidential Election and American financial crisis of 2008, the film explores how the robbery of a mob fronted card game causes a string of events that disrupt the ecosystem of the mafia. It's a film that gradually shows the ripple down impact of one crime.

Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) runs a series of card games, but the mafia keeps a close eye on him due to a past false robbery that he staged. Markie is disturbed when the robbers Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) rob his game, as he fears he'll be accused of setting them up. The mafia sends hitmen Jackie (Brad Pitt) and Mickey (James Gandolfini) to take out Markie, Frankie, and Russell. Jackie and Mickey share a brief, heartbreaking conversation when Mickey becomes aware he's going to have to serve time.

The French Connection

1971's "The French Connection" isn't only one of the most essential mafia films ever made, but one of the most beloved action films, as well. The remarkable car chase sequences are among the best ever filmed, and the film tells an electric story of an investigation that more than justifies the exciting setpieces. Director William Friedkin creates a film with almost documentary-esque precision, following the cops as they piece together clues about a French heroin operation that is taking over New York.

Gene Hackman delivers one of the best performances of his career as NYPD Detective Jimmy Doyle, who teams up with fellow officer Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) to track down the chief French smuggler Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey). Charnier plans to bring a massive shipment onto the coast within two weeks, and both Jimmy and Buddy know it gives them a strict timeline to stop the sale before a new wave of narcotics takes over New York. It becomes a personal vendetta for Jimmy as Chanier eludes his pursuits; Rey creates a detestable screen villain.