“The Godfather” to “The Irishman,” These Are the Best Mafia Movies

Everett Collection / Courtesy Everett Collection

Beloved by moviegoers for decades, the mafia film genre typically centers around key players that make up the world of organized crime in various contexts, locations, and cultures, with a sprinkle of family life and a generous serving of violence included in the storylines. The genre traces back to the early beginnings of film, but was popularized by directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese in the 1970s and beyond.

Over the years, the mafia genre has continued to defy stereotypes and include elements from different film genres, like suspense or comedy. The latest mafia-related film, “Mafia Mamma,” which hit theaters on April 14, presents a traditional look at the Italian mafia, with a refreshing, comedic tone delivered by Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci. In the film, Colette’s character, Kristin, unexpectedly inherits her estranged grandfather’s mafia empire in Calabria, Italy, and has to assume the role of mob boss without having any experience or knowledge of the lifestyle.

Ahead, refresh yourself with some of the best mafia movies.

1 & 2. “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II”

Francis Ford Coppola’s epic follows the Corleone family through multiple generations as they balance family life with the brutality of being in the mafia. When patriarch Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) passes the torch to his reluctant son, Michael (Al Pacino), he quickly becomes the head of the family and must carry on the Corleone legacy in the world of organized crime. (“The Godfather Part III” was not included with its predecessors, as it has arguably been considered by both movie viewers and critics as the least favored of the three films in the trilogy.)

3. “Goodfellas”

Arguably one of Martin Scorsese‘s most beloved works, “Goodfellas” is based on the 1985 nonfiction book “Wiseguy,” by Nicholas Pileggi. The film centers around Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), who is introduced to the inner workings of the mafia as a young adult and rises through the ranks to work under capo Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino), along with other associates James Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci).

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4. “The Untouchables”

Based on the 1957 book of the same name, “The Untouchables” tells the story of the rise of Chicago-based mobster Al Capone (De Niro) during the Prohibition era of the 1920s. With his connections throughout the city, Capone is essentially untouchable, but Prohibition agent Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is determined to bring an end to the gangster’s empire and builds a team of officers to help him with the job.

5. “Donnie Brasco”

“Donnie Brasco” is based on the 1988 book “Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia” by former FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone. In the late 1970s, FBI agent Joseph Pistone (Johnny Depp) is working undercover using the alias Donnie Brasco to investigate the Bonanno Crime Family in New York City. After sparking a friendship with Bonanno enforcer Lefty Ruggiero (Pacino), Pistone successfully infiltrates the mafia, but slowly finds himself becoming too comfortable with the lifestyle at the expense of his family and his job.

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6. “Once Upon a Time in America”

Based on the novel “The Woods” by Harry Grey, “Once Upon a Time in America” centers around David “Noodles” Aaronson (De Niro), who worked his way from living poor in the Lower East Side in the 1910s to becoming a mafia boss during the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s. Like many mafia films, “Once Upon a Time in America” examines themes of family, Italian-American culture, betrayal, and greed.

7. “The Departed”

“The Departed” earned Martin Scorsese his first Academy Award for directing and for good reason. In Boston, police officer Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is hired to go undercover and gather information on Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), a local Irish mob boss. While infiltrating Costello’s crew, Costigan learns that there is a mole in the Massachusetts State Police Department that is preventing Costello from ever getting caught for his crimes. In a fight against time, Costigan and the mole work against one another to discover each other’s identity before they face the consequences in their respective groups.

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8. “A Bronx Tale”

In Robert De Niro‘s directorial debut, “A Bronx Tale” follows Calogero (Lillo Brancato Jr.), a boy who grows up in the Bronx in the 1960s. Throughout his childhood until his young adult years, Calogero’s neighborhood is frequented by mafia members, and he is constantly torn between joining the life of organized crime or listening to his hardworking father who strongly disapproves of the lifestyle. In addition to these internal conflicts, Calogero deals with racial tension in his neighborhood, which proves even more difficult when he falls in love with a Black girl named Jane.

9. “Casino”

Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci join forces again in the 1995 film, “Casino,” which is based on the nonfiction book, “Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas,” by Nicholas Pileggi. In the 1970s and 1980s, Sam “Ace” Rothstein (De Niro) is a low-level mobster that takes on overseeing the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. With pressure from his hot-tempered enforcer friend, Tommy (Pesci), wife Ginger, and the politicians and law enforcement of Las Vegas, Ace works hard to keep his business afloat and stay under the radar or face the consequences.

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10. “Eastern Promises”

When midwife Anna (Naomi Watts) grapples with the loss of a 14-year-old mother that dies during childbirth, she discovers a diary that links her pregnancy to the Russian mafia in London. With the diary as her only source of information, Anna seeks to find the father and is soon introduced to Vory v Zakone member Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), who advises her to stay away from the violent criminal underworld.

11. “The Irishman”

Based on the 2004 nonfiction book “I Heard You Paint Houses,” Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” centers around Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a union truck driver that became a hitman for the Bufalino crime family, a part of the mafia based in Pennsylvania. Over the course of two decades, Sheeran works with the head of the family, Russell Bufalino (Pesci), and Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), head of the Teamsters union, from the 1950s to the 1970s.

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