In Honor Of ‘Whitey’ Bulger’s Arrest, 11 Classic Depictions Of Gangsters In Cinema

Thursday, June 23 by

Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth (Meyer Lansky)

Lee Strasberg’s classic portrayal of Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part II was actually based on real life gangster Meyer Lansky. Like Roth, Lansky was a famous figure in the Jewish underworld. Unlike Roth, Lansky died of lung cancer, not “lead poisoning.”

Robert De Niro as Al Capone

Al Capone has been depicted in numerous films. But nostalgia forced me to choose Robert De Niro‘s performance in The Untouchables. While it might not be the most realistic film, it certainly is a lot of fun, and that says a lot given the subject matter.

Robert De Niro as Sam Rothstein (Frank Rosenthal)

While we’re on the subject of De Niro, his role in Casino was based on real life mafia bookie Frank Rosenthal. Most of what was depicted in the film really happened, including the tragic death of Rosenthal’s wife, his bizarre stint as a talk-show host, and his near fatal involvement in a car bombing.

Joe Pesci as Nicky Santoro (Anthony Spilotro)

Unfortunately, most of what was depicted involving Joe Pesci‘s character in Casino was also accurate, including the brutal beating and corn-field burial he received. The character of Nicky Santoro was based on Anthony Spilotro, a member of The Chicago Outfit.

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  1. June 23, 2011 2:26 pm

    Alberto Martinez

    This is a great list, don’t think you left anyone out. Maybe, George Jung/Johnny Depp, but that was not a great movie, role and Jung was more of a trafficker then a Gangster.

  2. June 23, 2011 2:26 pm



  3. June 23, 2011 2:26 pm


    What you say about Nitti is completely wrong as has been explained in detail in the only two biographies on him, one by Mars Eghigian and the other by Ronald D. Humble.  You are just perpetuating this figurehead thing because that is what it says on some websites.  Read the biographies – Nitti did a lot of stuff, made a lot of money and was the boss pretty well to the end, but for the last couple of years of his life Paul Ricca, his underboss, took on more repsonsibility due to Nitti’s poor health…  

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