5 Best Russian Mafia Documentaries

Thursday, March 3 by Walter Turner

The list of 5 best Russian Mafia documentaries provides a detailed look at a criminal group that stormed onto the international scene in the past few decades. The phrase “Russian Mafia” is a catch-all phrase that includes criminal organizations that originated within the former Soviet Union, even though they may not all be ethnically Russian. The Russian Mafia quickly caught the world's attention because of its unprecedented violence and utter ruthlessness in comparison to some older crime rings that were once considered the most violent criminal groups in the world. One thing that these documentaries make clear is that the Russian Mafia is here to stay. 

  1. “Lords of the Mafia: Russian Mafia”This Russian Mafia documentary is part of a popular series of documentaries on criminal organizations around the world that aired on PBS in 2000. Robert Stack served as host of this documentary, which some might consider dated. But this program, unlike many other Russian Mafia documentaries, provides viewers with valuable insights by examining the origins of the Russian Mafia in Imperial Russia during the reign of the czars.

  2. “Thieves By Law” This very recent documentary, directed by Alexander Gentelev, weaves the stories of criminal groups and individual mobsters into the history of Russian organized crime. It also delves deeply into the business aspect of the Russian Mafia. The overall effect is fascinating. Interviews with real crime bosses are included. Some critics have questioned the authenticity of the criminals that appear on camera and others have complained that Gentelev was not more aggressive and probing in his questioning. But considering the people that he was dealing with, it's hard to blame Gentelev for not taking a more combative approach in interviews.

  3. “Russian Mafia: Organized Crime” This documentary aired on The History Channel in 2001 as part of a series on international Mafia organizations. The history and business operations of of the Russian Mafia are examined in detail. This documentary profiles prominent Russian mobster Ludwig Feinberg, who operates in Brooklyn, and details a large bootlegging operation that smuggles grain alcohol into Russia disguised as windshield wiper fluid.

  4. “The Mark of Cain” Alix Lambert, an American TV writer, produced this fascinating documentary that examines the tattoo culture in Russian prisons. She traveled throughout Russia and was able to gain access to prisoners in many of the country's toughest correctional facilities. Many of the people she interviewed were members of the Russian Mafia and their explanations of the meanings of their tattoos gives the viewer a unique insight into the customs of the Russian Mafia. Anyone interested in either organized crime or tattoos will enjoy this documentary. The director and writer of the movie “Eastern Promises,” which prominently features the Russian Mafia, drew inspiration from Lambert's documentary film.

  5. “Bought and Sold: An Investigative Documentary About the International Trade in Women” Gillian Caldwell directed this Russian Mafia documentary which was produced by the Global Survival Network. The film is based on a two-year undercover investigation into the Russian Mafia's trafficking of women from the former Soviet Union into a life of prostitution and sexual slavery overseas. Agents were able to secretly record meetings with members of the Russian Mafia. These meetings reveal the inner details of this highly lucrative business. This documentary focused international attention on the workings of the Russian mob and resulted in new laws to combat the sexual enslavement of women.