Crime and mafia movies date back to the beginnings of film, and they’ve since become a mainstay in Hollywood. From The Public Enemy to The Godfather and Black Mass, Hollywood has had a long tradition of depicting real-life and fictional gangsters on film. It’s no easy task for the actors that take on such roles. Mobsters are not exactly the heroes you can root for after all. Along with the powerful story attached to these names, an equally powerful actor is needed to bring to life a true movie mobster. Here are the top 10 movie mobsters who are so bad, they are so good, you can’t help but love to hate them.
10 Best Movie Mobsters in History
Roman Moronie (Johnny Dangerously, 1984)
Though Johnny Dangerously was a parody of the 1930s crime/gangster genre, Richard Dimitri’s Roman Moronie is a representation of all of the tropes that come along with being a mobster: being overly tough, killing a lot of people, and using a ton of swear words. In Moronie’s case, however, his grasp on the English language is lacking, which only points out how important it has become for gangsters to sound the part, as much as they look it.
Frank Lucas (American Gangster, 2007)
The 2007 film is based on the story of real-life drug smuggler Frank Lucas in the 60s and 70s. Portrayed by Denzel Washington, American Gangster is considered as one of the greatest mobster movies to date. While an obvious dramatization of the life of a real criminal and a cause for many criticisms, Washington’s portrayal brought to life a ruthless, intelligent, and conniving man worthy of being called a gangster.
Bill Cutting (Gangs of New York, 2002)
When legendary director Martin Scorsese decided to tell the story of the immigration, politics, and violent crime in 19th century New York, Daniel Day-Lewis was brilliantly chosen to portray one of the country’s first true gangsters. Inspired by William Poole, Bill “The Butcher” Cutting is as dangerous and violent as mob leaders come. Cutting has very little interest in pistols; as a butcher, his weapon of choice is often knives or axes, or of course his bare hands. He is ruthless, but also has a sense of honor. So despite his politics, he goes about his ways with a sense of moral code. That makes him someone that you can’t help but twistedly root for.
Frank Costello (The Departed, 2006)
Jack Nicholson’s Beantown psycho from Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is a man of savage, insatiable tastes who breaks an arm twice just to make sure he is not wearing a wire. The real-life Costello was one of the most influential mob bosses in American history. Recognized as “the prime minister of the underworld,” Costello was at the top of a number of crime families in New York. In The Departed, Jack Nicholson’s Frank Costello has more similarities to the Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, then the New York mobster of the same name. Either way, The Departed’s Frank Costello was harsh and controlling and had quite the Boston accident to go with his image.
Al Capone (The Untouchables, 1987)
Everyone knows who Al Capone is, and part of that is the fact that he is an icon in his own way. Al Capone was a real-life American gangster and crime boss who gained particular attention during the Prohibition era. There have been a number of actors that portrayed the mobster, but no one can compete with Robert De Niro in The Untouchables. With an entire city under his control, Robert De Niro’s performance brings the excitement in the chase to Al Capone’s arrest to life.
Tom Powers (The Public Enemy, 1931)
After the 1931 release of The Public Enemy, James Cagney’s portrayal of the ruthless Tom Powers stood the test of time. It takes you on a journey through a man’s rise to crime during the Prohibition. Tom Powers works up from petty crime to bootlegging. All the while, the character doesn’t take crap from anyone. Even when he gets sick of his girlfriend, he breaks up with her in the most badass way possible. But Tom is a protector. He looks out for his family, and though his criminal ways help produce a gang war, it doesn’t come without giving his mom a wad of cash in the end.
Tommy DeVito (Goodfellas, 1990)
Based off of New York gangster Two-Gun Tommy, Tommy DeVito was one of the most vicious and unpredictable movie mobsters ever seen. The role won actor Joe Pesci an Oscar for his supporting role, and it was truly earned. Pesci’s portrayal was aggressive, short-tempered, and completely out of control, bringing the character to an entirely new level by providing a heartless demeanor. If that doesn’t scream mob boss to you, you would either be really brave or really stupid for attempting to cross the big bad.
Michael Corleone (The Godfather, 1972)
Almost immediately, Al Pacino’s performance as Michael Corleone entered the annals of the most iconic cinema gangsters in history. As the family favorite, Michael Corleone had led a life outside of his mafia family—that is, until he is thrust unexpectedly into the heat of it all. When Michael Corleone takes the reigns, he becomes the most ruthless ever seen. Smart and precise with his moves to keep his family’s name in tact, Al Pacino’s portrayal of the character earned him a spot as one of the most iconic movie mobsters in film history, and rightfully so.
Tony Montana (Scarface, 1983)
It comes without saying, Al Pacino is the king of movie mobsters, but his most iconic and ferocious performance comes in the form of Tony Montana. From his first to last kill in the film, he is ferocious in such a way that he would not think twice about killing someone who does not fit into his plan for success. Once he committed to the life of crime, he was all in, with dedication and danger that would make any person quiver with fear.
Don Vito Corleone (The Godfather, 1972)
Marlon Brando’s performance as Don Vito Corleone has become the gold standard of gangster portrayals. Marlon Brando’s pose and his puffed-out cheeks became so recognizable that you could pick it out in silhouette. What makes Vito such an insatiable force is how truly loved and admired he is by those that surround him. His commitment to his family and passionate demeanor make it difficult to discredit him for his criminal behavior.
Who are your favorite movie mobsters?10 Greatest Portrayals of Movie Mobsters in History by Minette