Every so often a quality mob movie graces the screen and sheds a performance of a lifetime. It’s no easy task for the actors that take on such roles. With crime and mafia movies dating back to the beginnings of film, there are a number of big, and violent shoes to fill. But there are certainly plenty who try.
Most recently we’ve seen Johnny Depp take his stab at the infamous Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger in Black Mass. It was a move that may have just saved his career from a complete downward spiral. But it was certainly a risk in taking on such an icon. But along with the powerful story attached to some of these names, an equally powerful actor is needed to bring to life a true movie mobster. So here we play tribute to the best of the best, the 10 greatest movie mobsters of all time, ranked.
#10 Roman Moronie, Johnny Dangerously
Words of Wisdom:You lousy corksuckers. You have violated my farging rights.
Though Johnny Dangerously was a parody of the 1930s crime/gangster genre, rival mob boss Roman Moronie is one mobster you don’t want to mess with, particularly when it comes to correcting his use of swear words. He’s a mobster that "never forgets a fargin’ face" and he’s a man that knows how to try to act tough in every situation. Richard Dimitri’s Roman Moronie is a representation of all of the tropes that come along with being a mobster, being overly tough, killing a lot of people, and using a ton of swear words. In Moronie’s case though, his grasp on the English language is lacking, to say the least, which only points out how important it has become for gangsters to sound the part, as much as they look it.
#9 Frank Lucas, American Gangster
Words of Wisdom:The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.
In the late 60s and early 70s, Frank Lucas was at the top of the heroin trafficking game. The 2007 film American Gangster brought the story of the real life drug smuggler to life on screen by the portrayal of Denzel Washington, and it has become one of the greatest movie mobsters to date. Though it was obviously a dramatization of the real life criminal, many took issue with Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Frank Lucas and the truth behind it. But regardless of the amount of truth to the character, the on screen version of Frank Lucas was certainly a mastermind, particularly when it came to his Golden Triangle heroin connection in the 70s. He was ruthless, intelligent, and knew where to place his alliances.
#8 Bill Cutting, Gangs of New York
Words of Wisdom:You see this knife? I'm gonna teach you to speak English with this fucking knife!
The Martin Scorsese 19th century historical drama told the story of immigration, politics and violent crime, and at the center of it was Daniel Day-Lewis Bill "The Butcher" Cutting. Inspired by William Poole, the leader of the New York City gang Bowery Boys and a leader of the Know Nothing political movement, Bill Cutting was as dangerous and violent as they come. The American mobster and "nativist" controlled his section of New York with strict reign. Cutting has very little interest in pistols, as a butcher, his weapon of choice is often knives or axes, or of course his bare hands. He is ruthless, but also has a sense of honor. So despite his politics, he goes about his ways with a sense of moral code.
#7 Frank Costello, The Departed
Words of Wisdom:I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.
Frank Costello is a name that is not used lightly when it comes to real life mobsters. The real life figure was one of the most influential mob bosses in American history. Recognized as "The Prime Minister of the Underworld" Costello was at the top of a number of crime families in New York. And while the real life mobster when on to influence many movie portrayals, the on screen version of Frank Costello. In The Departed, Jack Nicholson’s Frank Costello has more similarities to the Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, then the New York mobster of the same name. Either way, The Departed’s Frank Costello is no joke when it comes to crime. He was harsh and controlling, and had quite the Boston accident to go with his image.
#6 Al Capone, The Untouchables
Words of Wisdom:Life goes on. A man becomes preeminent, he's expected to have enthusiasms. Enthusiasms... Enthusiasms...
Al Capone was a real life American gangster and crime boss who gained particular attention during the Prohibition era. There have been a number of actors that portrayed the mobster, but no one can compete with Robert De Niro in The Untouchables. The film does justice to the story of law enforcement's efforts in bringing down Al Capone during the Prohibition. And Robert De Niro’s performance is stirring. With an entire city under his control, the chase to Al Capone's arrest has become one quite literally for the storybooks, and Robert De Niro’s performance brings the excitement to life.
#5 Tom Powers, The Public Enemy
Words of Wisdom: Nuts to that stuff! Ain’t ya got a drink in the house?
After the 1931 release of The Public Enemy, James Cagney’s portrayal of the ruthless Tom Powers would go down in history as a movie mobster that stood the test of time. It took you on a journey through a man’s rise to crime during the prohibition. Tom Powers is ambitious, and works up from petty crime to bootlegging. All the while, the character doesn’t take crap from anyone. Even when he gets sick of his girl friend, he breaks up with her in the most badass way possible (grapefruit, anyone?) But, Tom is a protector, he looks out for his family, and though his criminal ways help produce a gang war, it doesn’t come without giving his mom a wad of cash in the end.
#4 Tommy DeVito, Goodfellas
Words of Wisdom: Sure, mom, I settle down with a nice girl every night, then I'm free the next morning.
Based off of the New York gangster Two-Gun Tommy, Tommy DeVito was one of the most vicious and unpredictable movie mobsters ever seen. The role won Joe Pesci an Oscar for his supporting role, and it was truly earned. Pesci’s portrayal was impressive. He was aggressive, short-tempered, and completely out-of-control. Tommy never even flinched when his cruelty came out. He was the ultimate villain, and Joe Pesci brought the character to an entirely new level by providing a heartless demeanor. There’s few people who would ever even be comfortable sitting in the same room as Tommy DeVito, because say the wrong thing, and you sure will wish you hadn’t.
#3 Michael Corleone, The Godfather
Words of Wisdom: Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
Michael Corleone has become one of the most iconic mobsters in all movie history, and that certainly doesn’t come without Al Pacino’s incredible performance through The Godfather films. As the family favorite, Michael Corleone had led a life outside of his mafia family, that is until he is thrust unexpectedly into the heat of it all. Though the beginning of his life was spent avoiding involvement with his family’s crime, when Michael Corleone takes the reigns, he becomes the most ruthless ever seen. Smart and precise with his moves to keep his family’s name in tact, Michael is a careful killer. Like a professional chess player, he knows just the right moves to put everyone and everything where he wants them.
#2 Tony Montana, Scarface
Words of Wisdom: I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.
It comes without saying, Al Pacino is the king of movie mobsters, but his most iconic and ferocious performance comes in the form of Tony Montana. There is no crossing Tony Montana, from his first kill, to the iconic last scene of the 1983 film, the smuggler turned drug lord never had a problem taking out those who did not fit into his plan for success. Tony was dedicated and dangerous. Once he made a commitment to the life of crime, and once he got a taste for the money (and cocaine) there was no standing in his way. Even working side-by-side, couldn’t guarantee your safety from the mad man.
#1 Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather
Words of Wisdom: Because a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man.
Though his son, Michael Corleone is the true center of The Godfather franchise, Vito Corleone is The Godfather, and the ultimate movie mobster. What makes Vito such an insatiable force is how truly loved and admired he is by those that surround him. His commitment to his family, and passionate demeanor make it difficult to discredit him for his criminal behavior. He is one of the most powerful men in New York City, leading the top mafia family, yet he is a family man first and foremost. He is not as quick to kill as his son, but has no problem creating grand schemes of revenge. Marlon Brando’s stellar performance in The Godfather deservingly graced him with a Best Actor Oscar. And then, when Robert De Niro took the reigns as a younger version of the character later in the franchise, the character was brought to life with even more power.
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