No genre in the film industry is as recognizable and engaging as the gangster genre. From the silent film era to the modern digital age, Hollywood has produced some of the most fascinating crime dramas depicting the violent and fascinating world of organized crime. These cinematic masterpieces keep audiences hooked because of their thrilling plots and countless quotes that have become ingrained in popular culture over the years.
The gangsters of these crime movies have become some of cinema’s most iconic villains and antiheroes. These characters and their power-hungry, sometimes frightening behavior captivate audiences, and their interest in the film doesn’t wane whenever they’re on screen. From Tom Powers (public enemy) To Don Corleone (godfather)these are ten of the most notable gangsters on screen.
10 Tom Powers – Public Enemy (1931)
Tom Powers (james cagney) from a needy teenage thief to a respected enforcer by the Irish-American mob during Chicago’s early Prohibition. With a will of steel and a tolerance for violence, he’s unwilling to let anyone stand in his way in his pursuit of infamy.
In Tom’s predicament, becoming a gangster is the only ideal way out. By watching Tom’s journey from young thief to professional criminal to his inevitable downfall, audiences can clearly see how a life of crime always leads to unfortunate results.
9 Frank Lucas – American Gangster (2007)
Frank Lucas (denzel washington) rose from the criminal ranks of the underworld to become a major drug lord in Harlem, New York. To cut out middlemen in his operations, he decided to buy drugs directly from the source to boost his profits, making him one of the richest criminals in the country.
Frank’s lucrative empire has taken him from humble beginnings to the success story he is today. However, in order to gain wealth, he had to commit some heinous acts, even murder, in order to maintain his position of power. Although authorities eventually caught him, his status as an informant saved him from a life sentence and led to the arrest of his enemies and corrupt NYPD officials.
8 Tony Carmont – Scarface (1932)
Ambitious young street thug Tony Carmont (paul mooney) quickly climbs the criminal ladder to become the boss of the Chicago Mafia after betraying his boss and starting a gang war. Once at the top, however, his recklessness and short temper quickly proved his downfall.
Tony has a positive attitude and likes to shoot first when solving problems and ask questions later. He chooses to plunge headfirst into the fight, feeling the joy and excitement of committing heinous crimes. His actions ultimately lead to his undoing, as he would rather die like a gangster than live in prison.
7 Sonny Lospezio – A Bronx Tale (1993)
Sonny Lospecchio (Chaz Palminteri) is a mob boss in a small neighborhood in the Bronx, New York. After being rescued from arrest by a young boy named Carlo Gero (Lillo Brancato), Sonny takes a personal interest in the impressionable young man and begins to protect him over the years.
Sonny’s belief in gang life is that it’s better to be feared than loved. However, through a genuinely caring relationship with Carlo Gero, Sonny’s ideals slowly begin to change, becoming a more sympathetic father figure. Ultimately, he managed to save Carlo Gero from a life of crime, even death at one point, before his murderous past caught up with him and came to a tragic end.
6 Frank Costello – The Departed (2006)
Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) maintained his hold on the South Boston area with ferocity and wit. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty once in a while, and he’s willing to commit abusive behavior, even legally duplicity fighting to always stay on top.
Costello’s influence earned him many followers among the Irish mob during his reign, including an impressionable boy named Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), who grew up to be Costello’s insider in the Boston Police Department. His scheming and conniving nature make him a truly clever villain who always has an ace in his hand.
5 Bill The Butcher Cut – Gangs of New York (2002)
Bill “The Butcher” Cut (Daniel Day Lewis) was the top leader of every street gang in New York’s Five Points neighborhood in the early 1860s. Vicious and bloodthirsty, he reigns with the power to injure or kill anyone who threatens his authority.
Bill is an outwardly patriotic American who comes across as an honorable man in battle and respects his fallen enemy even after the battle is over. However, he was also a malevolent and racist man who didn’t hesitate to use brutal tactics when eliminating his opponents. His reign finally ended after the vengeful immigrant Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) to avenge Bill’s murder of his father.
4 Sam “Ace” Rothstein – The Casino (1995)
Professional sports bettor Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (robert de niro) gets a golden opportunity to manage the Tangier casino owned by the Las Vegas gangsters. He’s tasked with keeping the mob’s casino investments profitable, but he soon has to fight for his position after the pressures of his personal life begin to put him in jeopardy.
Ace knows that once he accepts the casino job, his life and career are in jeopardy if he fails. Despite facing backlash from enemies and even his former friends, he manages to escape the world of crime and outlast the rest of his cohorts when the mob’s grip on Vegas begins to crumble.
3 Tommy DeVito – Goodfellas (1990)
Tommy DeVito (joe pesci) is a deranged, psychopathic killer and associate of the Lucas crime family.Working with his friends Jimmy Conway (De Niro) and Henry Hill (Henry Hill)Ray Liotta), who worked hard to make a violent name for himself in the world of organized crime and hurt anyone who dared disrespect him.
What audiences remember most about this fearsome criminal is his arrogant and hot-headed demeanor, who enjoys all his violence in his own horrific way without caring for others. However, a loose cannon like Tommy can never survive long in the brutal world of the mob, and he ends up getting beaten up by his own friends for the unauthorized murder of a successful man.
2 Don Michael Corleone – The Godfather II (1974)
After the tragic death of his father and brother, war hero Michael Corleone (al pacino) reluctantly followed in his father’s footsteps and became the boss of the Corleone crime family. Michael shows no mercy to his enemies and will do anything to protect his family and organization, even if it means becoming a monster.
With a cunning intellect and keen intuition, Michael can stay one step ahead of his opponents and understand their every move. He has shown no remorse for ordering the killings as he rationalizes these decisions as strictly business practices. His most egregious act, of course, was his callous decision to murder his brother Fredo (John Cazel) once he becomes the victim of the family.
1 Don Vito Corleone – The Godfather (1972)
Don Vito Corleone (marlon brando) went from a penniless orphan immigrant to one of the most powerful and respected mafia bosses in the country. He believes family and honor are the two most important aspects of life, and he works hard to ensure the survival of both once other New York crime families start getting involved in the dangerous drug business.
Don Corleone is a reasonable, cunning man who prefers peace to the display of gun barrels. When tragedy struck his family due to a gang war, he brokered a revenge truce to protect the family from more bloodshed. Eventually, he died of old age, remaining true to his traditions and beliefs even as the world around him changed and became more brutal.
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