Gangster Films to Watch!

Choose and watch one of the following films!

Complete your worksheet and be ready for class teamwork & radio show recording!

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Reservoir Dogs (1992)

“Why can’t we pick our own colors?”

Quentin Tarantino set the film scene on fire with this sparkling story of five criminals put together for a heist that goes wrong—each anonymously named after a color and each played by an actor as good as the next. Tarantino charts the bloody fallout with a savage wit, a masterly grip on storytelling and dialogue that’s still to die for, two decades later.

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Scarface (1932)

“Listen, Little Boy, in this business there’s only one law you gotta follow to keep out of trouble: Do

it first, do it yourself, and keep on doing it.”

He may not have snorted quite as much cocaine as Tony Montana (who has?), but Antonio “Tony” Camonte (Paul Muni) will always be the original Scarface. Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson’s formative gangster classic shocked the world with its lightly fictionalized take on how Al Capone Tommy-gunned his way to being king of Chicago.

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Scarface (1983)

“You wanna play rough? Okay. Say hello to my little friend!”

The world is yours, Tony Montana, or at least our No. 29 slot is. Don’t even begin to complain that Brian De Palma’s dizzyingly lurid coke meltdown ranks higher than the 1932 original—it’s proven to be vastly more influential, the throbbing id of many criminal fantasies since.

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The Usual Suspects (1995)

“How do you shoot the devil in the back–what if you miss?”

A sole survivor tells of the twisty events leading up to a horrific gun battle on a boat, which began when five criminals met at a seemingly random police lineup. Boasting petty criminal characters conceived so brilliantly they achieve near-mythological status, The Usual Suspects is known for riveting suspense and action, an intriguing plot line and a jaw- dropping twist at the end.

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Little Caesar (1931)

“The bigger they come, the harder the fall,” Rico boasts. “I ain’t doin’ bad in this business so far.”

Rico is a small-time hood who knocks off gas stations for whatever he can take. He heads east and signs up with Sam Vettori’s mob. A New Year’s Eve robbery at Little Arnie Lorch’s casino results in the death of the new crime commissioner Alvin McClure. Rico’s good friend Joe Massara, who works at the club as a professional dancer, works as the gang’s lookout man and wants out of the gang. Rico is ambitious and eventually takes over Vettori’s gang; he then moves up to the next echelon pushing out Diamond Pete Montana. When he orders Joe to dump his girlfriend Olga and re-join the gang, Olga decides there’s only one way out for them.

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Eastern Promises (2007)

“Sentimental value? Ah. I heard of that.”

There’s more to David Cronenberg’s full-throated gangster nightmare than just a bunch of naked dudes smacking each other in a sauna. This is a prescient examination of the Russian takeover of London, featuring a career-best turn from Viggo Mortensen as the taciturn, grimacing antihero.


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Pulp Fiction (1994)

“The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.”

More than 20 years later, Quentin Tarantino’s second feature is as exhilarating as ever, with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s wisecracking hitmen now fully a part of the cultural lexicon.

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The Departed (2006)

“My theory on feds is that they’re like mushrooms: Feed ’em shit and keep ’em in the dark.”

It’s not Scorsese’s best; it’s not even original, as it’s based on the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs. But a combination of brilliant characters (topped by Jack Nicholson’s crime lord and Mark Wahlberg’s foul-mouthed police officer) and a whip-smart plot make this who’s-tricking-who Boston-set yarn massively enjoyable.


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How long does it take you to run through a bank?
About 1 minute… 40 seconds… Flat

The Feds try to take down notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd during a booming crime wave in the 1930s. The period is lovingly recreated by Mann and the action sequences, unsurprisingly, never fail to disappoint, indeed when Dillinger is first shown robbing a bank his vault over the counter is seen in graceful slow motion. Diana Krall has a pleasing cameo as a nightclub torch singer performing “Bye Bye Blackbird” and the costumes are a consistent delight.
Punchy, light on its feet and offering weighty roles for Depp and Bale, this will be enjoyed by ardent fans and the curious alike.

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The Untouchables (1987)

“You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.”

Here’s some classy, Oscar-approved filmmaking from Brian De Palma, who marshals the true story of Eliot Ness’s crusading Chicago cops to a felicitous pitch of character-driven action. The slow-motion baby carriage scene works great—and not just for geeks eager to drop a little Battleship Potemkin knowledge on their dates.

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Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

“You’ll put up, and you’ll shut up! You hear nothing, and you see nothing! Just like you did for Bugsy!”

Sergio Leone’s Depression-era epic evokes New York City’s teeming Lower East Side like no movie before or since. The curiosity of youth is balanced against the euphoria and bitter sacrifices of criminal life. More than just The Godfather of Jewish gangster movies, Leone’s masterwork is the apex of a glorious, genre-bending career.

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Gangster Squad (2013)

No names. No badges. No mercy.

It’s 1949 Los Angeles, the city is run by gangsters and a malicious mobster, Mickey Cohen. Determined to end the corruption, John O’Mara assembles a team of cops, ready to take down the ruthless leader and restore peace to the city. Glossy, slick, bloody, violent, dumb, crowd-pleasing, and undeniably entertaining. Filled with every gangster genre cliché rolled into one, it ain’t high art, nor is it aiming to be. The cast seems like they’re having fun, especially Sean Penn who has a field day with his role as the villain Mickey Cohen. The lines he’s given are pure gold. Josh Brolin does a great job as the lead and Ryan Gosling is charming and charismatic as usual.


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Miller’s Crossing (1990)

“One thing I always try to teach my boys: Always put one in the brain.”

The Coen brothers’ spin on Prohibition-era gangster movies is all plot twists and double crosses, featuring fast, witty dialogue and knockout acting—especially from John Turturro as slippery Bernie Bernbaum, an operator who gets in over his hat.


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The Godfather Part II (1974)

“If history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.”

Known as cinema’s greatest sequel, this is such a monstrous beast of a movie that it makes the first installment feel like a short. The time-hopping structure allows Francis Ford Coppola to flesh out the Corleone’s world in violently fascinating new dimensions, yet somehow, the brutal drama of the original is sustained across half a century.

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Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

“This here’s Miss Bonnie Parker. I’m Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.”

Faye Dunaway smolders (enjoying an iconic fashion moment in those berets) as one half of the most famous serial-killing duo. Inspired by the French New Wave—François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were both asked to direct—the film was a massive turning point for American cool. Going out in a hail of bullets never looked so good.

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Mean Streets (1973)

“$20? Let’s go to the movies!”

The giddy, streetwise flipside to the brooding austerity of The Godfather, Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough explores the grasping underside of the gangland dream. Harvey Keitel’s guilt-ridden Charlie is the heart of the film, but it’s Robert De Niro as firecracker Johnny Boy that you’ll remember.

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Goodfellas (1990)

“I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you?”

It might just be Martin Scorsese’s finest two hours and change, this swirling, relentlessly paced crime classic that served up a feast of salty dialogue (we all have our favorite quotes) and, in turn, directly inspired both The Sopranos and Quentin Tarantino’s on-the-horizon game-changers. It’s not a stretch to call Goodfellas the most significant movie of the last 25 years. It’s certainly the most fun.

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The Killing (1956)

“Alright, sister, that’s a mighty pretty head you got on your shoulders. You want to keep it there or start carrying it around in your hands?”

The best “one last job” movie ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s third feature is a terse and nasty little noir about a career criminal (Sterling Hayden) who assembles a team for the racetrack heist that’s going to net him the dough he needs to get out of the game and marry his gal. Kubrick caps off the story with the kind of nihilistic panache that makes even the end of Dr. Strangelove feel like a happily-ever-after.

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The Godfather (1972)

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

The undisputed don of the gangster-flick family, Francis Ford Coppola’s timeless tragedy of twisted loyalty and moral decay refuses to become any less powerful or relevant. From its epic moments—the horse’s head in the bed, Luca Brasi’s bulging fish-eyes—to the most intimate details (Enzo the baker’s shaking hands, Clemenza’s spaghetti recipe), The Godfather never puts one immaculately crafted leather boot out of line. If we revisit this list in a century’s time, expect it to be holding steady in the top spot.

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Fargo (1996)

“I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work there, Lou.”

The Coen brothers’ bloody Midwestern classic is many different things—a dark comedy, a thriller, a procedural—but above all, it’s a fable, the moral of which couldn’t be clearer: Don’t pay Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare to kidnap your wife so you can ransom her to your rich father-in-law. In the snowy tundra of Minnesota, there’s nothing the least bit sexy about being a criminal.

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Léon: The Professional (1994)

“Is life always this hard, or is it just when you’re a kid?”

Hollywood action meets European art house in Luc Besson’s first English-language film. The most twisted Pygmalion story in the history of cinema, it concerns lonely hitman Léon (Jean Reno), who teaches streetwise 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) the art of killing.

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Carlito’s Way (1993)

In his world, you got to shoot your way out. He wanted out. He’d do anything to get there.

If I had to pick the movies that made Pacino my favorite actor, it would be this underrated classic. He is both a man’s man and a lady’s man. He show humor and bravado. He plays a character who can be your best friend, or your worst enemy. Pacino is in top form here, working with good actors, a fine script, and a well told story.


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Gun Crazy (1950)

“I’ve been kicked around all my life, and from now on, I’m gonna start kicking back.”

He’s a gangly reform-school graduate with a morbid fascination for firearms. She’s a rodeo sharpshooter with the best eye (and legs) in the business. This lovers-on-the-run classic is tougher and sexier than Bonnie and Clyde (if not as iconic), and the single-shot getaway sequence is breathtaking.

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City of God (2002)

“You need more than guts to be a good gangster. You need ideas.”

It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and in Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s favela-set thriller, all the dogs are rabid.  A kinetic multigenerational portrait of life and death (and death and death), the film follows a Rio de Janeiro kid named Rocket (nonprofessional actor Alexandre Rodrigues) as he miraculously survives several decades in a place where guns far outnumber consequences.


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