10 Best Old Gangster Movies

Thursday, January 20 by Shawn Lealos

The 10 best old gangster movies stretch back to the silent era and the groundbreaking films in the genre came at the advent of sound cinema. The movies tell the story of real-life gangsters, killers, thieves and street punks. The best films paint the streets as realistically as possible while remaining true to the spirit of the genre conventions.

  1. “Scarface” The original “Scarface” is one of the best old gangster movies ever made. Howard Hawkes directs this 1932 classic starring Paul Muni as a gangster loosely based on Al Capone. The movie was controversial at the time thanks to the industries self-censoring.
  2. “The Godfather, Part II” Francis Ford Coppola created his masterpiece in 1972 with “The Godfather” and then topped it in 1974 with one of the best old gangster movies of all time. Al Pacino stars as Michael Corleone, the son taking over his father’s business, while flashbacks show Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone as he rose to power.
  3. “White Heat” Released in 1949, James Cagney stars in this, one of the best old gangster movies in cinema history. Cagney is Jarrett, the leader of a criminal gang who ends up in jail. He makes a new friend there who happens to be an undercover agent looking to get info from him to bring down his empire.
  4. “The Public Enemy” One of the earliest gangster films of the talkies, “The Public Enemy” is a groundbreaking film that everyone else set out to emulate. One of the best old gangster movies, James Cagney stars as a brutal and violent gangster in this film, slightly predating the Hayes Code censorship acts.
  5. “The Untouchables” Brian De Palma directed this, one of the best old gangster movies, telling the story of G-Man Eliot Ness and his determination to bring down Al Capone. Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro and Sean Connery star in this movie, which received four Academy Award nominations.
  6. “The Roaring Twenties” James Cagney continues to be one of the most enduring actors of the best old gangster movies. Raul Walsh directs this movie, starring Cagney and Humphrey Bogart as gangsters in the prohibition era. The movie looks much like a documentary and is Walsh’s first gangster film of the sound era.
  7. “Little Caesar” Released along the same time as “Scarface” and “The Public Enemy,” “Little Caesar” stars Edward G. Robinson as the titular character in this, one of the best old gangster movies. The movie is based on the exploits of real-life gangster Al Capone and was Robinson’s first of many gangster roles in his career.
  8. “Regeneration” “Regeneration” is the silent film that helped usher in the genre of the gangster film in 1915, remaining one of the first best old gangster movies. The movie tells the story of a young man who ends up controlling the local mobs until he finally meets a woman who makes him want to change.
  9. “Mean Streets” Martin Scorsese directs this 1973 movie about a group of friends whose friendship and loyalty are tested by the gangster life they take part in. One of the best old gangster movies, Scorsese masterfully paints a portrait of the New York City street life with great performances by Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel.
  10. “Le Samourai” This 1967 French film is one of the best old gangster movies ever made. Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, “Le Samourai” follows a hit-man who is betrayed and sets out to seek revenge against the men who turned on him.
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