The 10 Best American Gangster Movies

While we were off eating and drinking and making movie merry at SXSW last week, we missed an important anniversary: March 15th marked 40 years since The Godfather’s theatrical opening. Since it is basically your film editor’s favorite movie ever, you can surely understand my inclination to make this oversight right — and we couldn’t think of a better way to do it than to look at the picture’s peers among the great canon on American gangster films. (We kept it domestic for the sole purpose of keeping the list to a manageable length; for the same reason, we’ve tried to focus on films that are primarily gangster films, as opposed to movies like Reservoir Dogs that are heist movies or other genres with organized crime in the background.) After the jump, we’ll take a look at The Godfather within that canon: the film itself, the films that inspired it, and the films it inspired. To be fair, we’re doing it chronologically — and it’s all opinion, of course, so let us know what was unfairly skipped in the comments.

The Public Enemy

It’s tough to pick a favorite among the many great pre-Code Warner Brothers gangster movies, which featured definitive crime picture figures like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, and Humphrey Bogart. But we’re gonna go with William A. Wellman’s 1931 classic, with stars Cagney and Edward Woods as childhood buddies who became Prohibition-era underworld figures. The direction is stylish, the stars are spot-on, and the supporting cast (Jean Harlow, Joan Blondell, grapefruit recipient Mae Clark) is aces; no less a gangster movie authority than Martin Scorsese says this is one of this favorite films of all time.

SEE ALSO: Angels with Dirty Faces, Lady Killer, White Heat, The Roaring Twenties