You will never have to look very far to find a mafia movie. Every year a multitude of gangster flicks are added to the video store shelves (or Netflix warehouses) just waiting to collect dust. What you really will have to hunt for is a quality mafia movie. Cocked fedoras, tommy guns or .45s, family drama that culminates in a plate smashing against the wall, and numerous trunk-strewn body bags: if this is what you crave in a film it is always best to dip into the classics, because the new offerings really don’t have much to, well, offer (sorry Public Enemies).
The Godfather and The Godfather II – Everyone has their stance as to which of Francis Ford Coppolla’s Godfather films is better, but no one can argue that they both rank among the greatest mafia films of all time. The former is a classic tale of family ties and mob alliance, featuring one of Marlon Brando’s most acclaimed performances, the latter is a sprawling epic of the Corleone family told in two different timelines, featuring the astounding Robert De Niro as a younger version of the character made famous by Brando.
The Untouchables – An all-star cast including Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, and Sean Connery bring the battle between Eliot Ness and legendary gangster Al Capone to life. Director Brian De Palma’s wonderfully crafted Prohibition Era crime drama deserves a place among the great mafia films for Connery’s performance alone (which earned the actor a Best Supporting Actor statue at the Academy Awards).
Goodfellas – Martin Scorsese’s mob drama is perhaps the most visceral film included on the list, a violent love affair between a man and his mafioso ambitions. The film spans three decades and follows the life of three gangsters, played by Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, and (imagine that) Robert De Niro. Goodfellas is often criticized, or praised, depending on the critic, for its glorification of the mob life.
Miller’s Crossing – Owing as much to mob flicks as it does film noir, this early Coen Brothers film also dwells in the Prohibition Era and tackles issues between the Irish and Italian mafia. Though it is not as well known as many of the films on the list, Miller’s Crossing is a brilliant piece of crime cinema and even recognized by Time magazine as one of the hundred greatest films ever made. The film represents and references classic gangster films and the detective novels of Dashiell Hammett.
Road to Perdition – Originally a graphic novel by writer Max Allan Collins, Road to Perdition is easily the best mafia movie to be released in recent years. This 2002 feature by director Sam Mendes is a beautiful story of the dangers of violence and a father/son relationship. Tom Hanks stars as a mafia enforcer for the Irish mob in Chicago who is forced to run away with his son to survive. Road to Perdition has an incredible visual style (nabbing it a Best Cinematography Oscar) and is a treat for the mafia film fan.