The Best Gangster Movies on Netflix [Winter 2019]
Gangster movies have long enjoyed a special status in American culture, even before such blockbusters as The Godfather trilogy and Scarface brought millions of Americans to the cinema. Whether you enjoy the action and conflict, or the sometimes skewed take on history, or the often touching stories about devotion to and protection of family, you probably like gangster movies. These elements always combine in the best gangster movies, and sometimes the bad guys seem so chivalrous that you may even find yourself rooting for them. So grab a bowl of popcorn and settle in to watch some of the great picks on this list.
A Netflix original film, The Outsider is set in 1954 and follows Nick Lowell (Jared Leto), the only non-Japanese inmate in a prison located in Osaka, surrounded by Yakuza criminals and other inmates in the group. Nick saves a Yakuza named Kiyoshi from being hanged to death, whose Shiramatsu Yakuza clan repays his debt by arranging Nick’s release. He is also offered a job: Anthony Panetti, an American copper tradesman with a deep hatred for the Japanese, has refused to negotiate a deal with the Shiromatsu clan, but has agreed to a deal with a different clan because they sent an American to talk to Panetti. When Nick sets out to end the relationship with the other group, he ends up murdering the other American in cold blood by dropping a typewriter on his head.
Toro is a young con-man who used to be the right hand man of a brutal crime boss, Romano. When Toro decides to get out of crime and go straight, he makes the mistake of taking on one last job. That operation goes bad and that’s how he ended up in jail. Five years later he’s out of jail and is trying to live crime free. Unfortunately his older brother Lopez works for Romano and has been stealing from him. In retaliation, he orders the kidnapping of Lopez’s daughter Diana. Lopez calls Toro to ask for help.
A Gang Boss dubbed Samurai wants to create a Las Vegas style gambling paradise in a small town near the sea in Rome. He leaned hard on the harbor area land owners to force them to sell out to him. He wheeled and dealed with rich mafia families to help fund the project, and he worked over politicians to get everything approved. He even forced changes to legislation to help get what he wanted. But then the politician in his pocket got caught in a career ending position and everything starts falling apart. Samurai struggles to keep the mafia families from turning on each other and to keep everything rolling towards finalizing his dream.
Quentin Tarantino’s classic postmodern film returned to Netflix at the very beginning of 2019, which means it’s time for a whole new generation of up and coming film scholars to experience the film that made Tarantino the massive giant in filmmaking he is today. The film is told out of chronological order, following several characters as each of their stories blend and fold into one another. These three stories include two hitmen, Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta), who work for their boss Marsellus; prizefighter Butch Coolidge, who is bribed by Marsellus to lose an upcoming fight, and a couple of small-time crooks named Ringo and Yolanda who hold up a diner at both the beginning and end of the film. Tarantino’s ninth film arrives in August of this year, making it the perfect time to revisit his all-time classic.
Fans of the 2011 action-drama Drive were thrilled when Ryan Gosling re-teamed up with Drive‘s director Nicolas Winding Refn for 2013’s Only God Forgives, a film which featured a trailer that made the entire movie look like a return to the slow-burn, visceral violence featured in Drive. That isn’t necessarily too far off base, but we’d be lying if we said Only God Forgives played like another film in the Drive canon. The film follows Julian Thompson (Gosling), a drug trafficker in Thailand whose mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) sends him on a mission to avenge the murder of his older brother, a criminal who was killed after he beat a prostitute to her death. The film was famously booed following its premiere at Cannes Film Festival (while some gave a standing ovation), and features controversial scenes of violence and sexuality. Since that premiere, the film has continued to feature a polarized reaction from both critics and audiences; even five years later, it remains a difficult watch.
Kill the Irishman had a long and complicated production history, one that took it more than a decade to be filmed and brought to theaters after entering production. The resulting film is a bit of a mixed success; poor box office returns, but some positive reviews over what turned out to be a solid gangster thriller. In the film, viewers are introduced to Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson), a mobster in Cleveland who ignites a turf war after working as a longshoreman in the Cleveland docks. After being convicted of embezzling the union’s funds for his own good, he rises through the criminal underworld of his town, waging war on the mafia and escaping multiple assassination attempts. Eventually, the role he played in Clevel and led to the demolition of the mafia.
Martin Scorsese has touched the gangster genre more than any other working filmmaker, and our final four entries on this list are all devoted to his library of work. In this Best Picture-winning crime drama, Scorsese directs an A-list cast in this remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Internal Affairs. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Billy Costigan Jr, a student at a police academy who is recruited to go undercover in a crime syndicate in South Boston, thanks to his family ties that make him the perfect candidate. Years prior to that, Colin Costello (Matt Damon) is introduced to that same crime life by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who grooms Costello to become a mole inside the Massachusetts State Police. As each man infiltrates their respective targets, the two men will start to chase each other, each having to protect both their own life and the lives of those they care about. Also starring Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Vera Farmiga, The Departed was both a critical and commercial success, and is a much-see entry in Scorsese’s filmography.
In 1846, deep in the slum neighborhood of Five Points, Manhattan, two gangs have engaged in a final battle in Paradise Square over who can hold control over Five Points. When Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis), the leader of the Protestant Natives, kills Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), leader of a gang of Irish Catholic immigrants called the Dead Rabbits, the Dead Rabbits are outlawed for good. Twenty years later, Vallon’s son Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) is released from prison. He returns to the Five Points seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher, who has become a powerful anti-immigrant gang leader. He knows that revenge can only be attained by infiltrating Cutting’s inner circle. Amsterdam’s journey becomes a fight for personal survival and to find a place for the Irish people in 1860’s New York.
Scorsese’s third narrative film, Mean Streets represents the first time the director worked with one of his most frequent collaborators, Robert De Niro. The film is a slice of street life in Little Italy among lower echelon Mafiosos, unbalanced punks, and petty criminals. A young man named Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) gets in over his head with a vicious loan shark. In an attempt to free himself from the dangers of his debt, he gets help from his friend Charlie (Harvey Keitel, another Scorsese regular) who is also involved in criminal activities.
The Irishman arrived in theaters and on Netflix with a deluge of great reviews and even more controversy, as director Martin Scorsese found himself in the hot seat after delivering a critique on superhero films. Mixed press aside, nothing could stop The Irishman from becoming one of the best-reviewed films of the year, and now that it’s finally streaming on Netflix, those who didn’t get access to it in their local indie theater can finally stream it for themselves. The film follows truck driver Frank Sheeran starting in the 1950s, as he begins to work for Russell Bufalino and his crime family in Pennsylvania. Sheeran becomes one of their most reliable hitmen, and things get even more complicated when he goes to work for Jimmy Hoffa, the powerful, popular Teamster tied to organized crime. Scorsese teams up with Robert De Niro, his most frequent collaborator, along with Joe Pesci and Al Pacino.