Martin Scorsese's new movie The Irishman is already out in theaters for some lucky moviegoers, but most of us will have to wait until November 27 to see it on Netflix. The very highly acclaimed film follows Robert De Niro's mafia hitman Frank Sheeran in Scorsese's latest gangster/mobster crime movie with De Niro and Joe Pesci. The Irishman actually marks the first time Scorsese worked with Al Pacino, but the whole film team is very familiar with the mob movie genre. Every Monday I recommend stuff worth streaming, and today I'm focusing on 11 movies that show how damn good it feels to be a gangster...
If we're talking about Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, you have to start with Mean Streets. Scorsese made his feature film directorial debut with 1967's Who's That Knocking at My Door, starring Harvey Keitel, and Keitel returned for Scorsese's classic crime movie Mean Streets. The 1973 movie gave Scorsese co-writing credits and a cameo and launched his career as a respected filmmaker, as well as starting his longtime partnership with De Niro.
One of the all-time gangster classics. Goodfellas vs. The Godfather or Godfather Part II as best of the genre? It's a debate worth having. Like Mean Streets, Goodfellas was also directed by Martin Scorsese and starred Robert De Niro. The 1990 crime film adapted the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, telling the true story of mobster Henry Hill, played in the movie by Ray Liotta. Joe Pesci won his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Tommy DeVito, and the film also earned nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (including for Scorsese again), Best Supporting Actress for Lorraine Bracco, and Best Film Editing for Thelma Schoonmaker.
Stream Goodfellas on Philo with a subscription, or for about $4 on Amazon Prime, Vudu, Google Play, YouTube, or iTunes.
The Godfather, The Godfather Part II & The Godfather Part III
I'm putting all three Godfather films together, even if some fans would rather stop after Part II. Francis Ford Coppola directed the iconic mafia movies, based on Mario Puzo's novel following the Corleone family. Al Pacino played Michael Corleone in all three movies, with Robert De Niro winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as young Vito Corleone in Part II. The two actors wouldn't actually share a scene together until Heat. The Godfather is still considered one of the greatest movies of any genre. I'm one of those people who'd argue the second film was even better.
Martin Scorsese brought Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci back for this 1995 gangster film based once again on a book by Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote the film script with Scorsese. This time, De Niro plays "Ace" Rothstein, who is sent to Las Vegas by the crime syndicate called the Chicago Outfit to run the Tangiers Casino. Since Goodfellas had just come out five years before, some critics and viewers couldn't help but compare the two Scorsese movies, finding this one more wanting. But now that more time has passed, modern viewers won't have the same associations.
Stream Casino on Starz with a subscription, or through Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, etc., for $4.
Al Pacino has tremendous range as an actor, but he does tend to find himself leading a lot of gangster movies -- from The Godfather and Carlito's Way to Scarface. Brian De Palma directed the 1983 movie from Oliver Stone's script, as a remake of the 1932 Scarface movie by Howard Hawks. Al Pacino plays Cuban refugee Tony Montana, with Michelle Pfeiffer breaking out as a serious star in her role as Elvira Hancock. The film was initially met with some backlash due to what was deemed excessively graphic content. Now it's considered one of the best remakes of all time. Say "hello" to my little cinematic re-evaluation?
Stream Scarface right now on Starz, with a subscription, or for $4 from Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, iTunes.
Once Upon a Time In America
Robert De Niro stars as Noodles, opposite James Woods as Max, in Sergio Leone's 1984 gangster movie following a former Prohibition-era Jewish gangster who returns to his New York neighborhood after 30 years to confront the ghosts of his past. It was Leone's final film before he died, and the third in his Once Upon a Time trilogy after Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time... the Revolution (which was also called A Fistful of Dynamite and Duck, You Sucker!). Once Upon a Time in America is epic in every sense. The director's cut was a whopping 250 minutes. The theatrical version was 229 minutes, with a controversial edit cutting it down to 139 minutes.
It was only a matter of time before Robert De Niro played gangster Al Capone. He looms large over Brian De Palma's 1987 film The Untouchables, telling the story of the team led by Kevin Costner's Eliot Ness. They worked hard to bring down Capone -- albeit in the most-anticlimactic way, through tax evasion sentence -- during Prohibition. It's worth streaming this one again just for the classic Union Station shootout scene, inspired by the Odessa Steps scene in Battleship Potemkin:
Stream The Untouchables now on Starz with a subscription, or for $3 at Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes, and Vudu.
Gangs of New York
I can't call myself the biggest fan of Martin Scorsese's 2002 movie, but it was nominated for 10 Oscars and Daniel Day-Lewis always knows how to put on a show. I appreciated the exploration of a little-covered time and place in American history -- the slums of the Five Points in Manhattan in the mid-19th Century. It was also the first of three films in a row that Leonardo DiCaprio made with Scorsese -- followed by The Aviator and The Departed.
Stream Gangs of New York on Netflix.
Sometimes it's good to get a fresh perspective on the gangster genre -- away from Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, and the usual suspects. Ridley Scott directed and produced this gritty winner, from a script by Steven Zaillian, loosely based on the real life of gangster Frank Lucas. Denzel Washington plays Frank in the 2007 movie, with a strong supporting cast in Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Brolin, and Ted Levine. American Gangster got strong reviews and made good money, although there were some gripes about the movie taking liberties with real-life events. Hey, it's a movie!
Stream American Gangster for $4 on Amazon Prime, YouTube, etc.
Road to Perdition
This beautifully shot 2002 Sam Mendes movie is set in the 1930s Depression, following Tom Hanks' enforcer for the Irish mob. Paul Newman plays mob boss John Rooney in a film packed with strong performances -- especially from Daniel Craig in one of his first major showcase roles. Interestingly enough, this isn't just a gangster movie, it's a comic book movie; David Self's screenplay was based on the comics by Max Allan Collins. Conrad L. Hall deservedly won a posthumous Oscar for Best Cinematography for the film, which was also nominated in several other categories, including Best Supporting Actor for Paul Newman.
Stream Road to Perdition on Philo with a subscription, or for $3 on Amazon, YouTube, etc.
Al Pacino plays gangster Lefty, who shows Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp) the ways of the mafia in this 1997 mob movie from Mike Newell. Paul Attanasio's script was based on the true story of an FBI undercover agent who infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in New York in the 1970s. The film was praised for the script and performances and made solid money at the box office, even with a decent amount of gangster movie competition in the mid-'90s.
Stream Donnie Brasco with a Showtime subscription or for the usual fees at the usual places.
BONUS: The Departed & Heat & Carlito's Way & Public Enemies
I didn't include Martin Scorsese's gangster movie The Departed because I just mentioned it in a recent streaming column on movies with twist endings. But The Departed is a classic, and so is the Hong Kong movie it was based on As for Heat? Definitely worth streaming before or after The Irishman to see the first time Robert De Niro and Al Pacino faced off on screen. But I wouldn't really call that one a gangster movie. It's just a quality crime drama. Carlito's Way is another worthy addition to a gangster list; the 1993 movie is another Brian De Palma crime classic starring Al Pacino. Public Enemies is about the hunt for gangster John Dillinger, so it would qualify too. There are just too many gangster films to list, sometimes you have to [throat-slash] take some out to make room for the rest.
If you're looking for more streaming recommendations, check out these past features:
What other gangster movies would you recommend streaming?
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Gina grew up in Massachusetts and California in her own version of The Parent Trap. She went to three different middle schools, four high schools, and three universities -- including half a year in Perth, Western Australia. She currently lives in a small town in Maine, the kind Stephen King regularly sets terrible things in, so this may be the last you hear from her.