A gangster film or gangster movie is a film belonging to a genre that focuses on gangs and organized crime. It is a subgenre of crime film, that may involve large criminal organizations, or small gangs formed to perform a certain illegal act. The genre is differentiated from Westerns and the gangs of that genre.
The American Film Institute defines the genre as "centered on organized crime or maverick criminals in a twentieth century setting". The institute named it one of the 10 "classic genres" in its 10 Top 10 list, released in 2008. The list recognizes 3 films from 1931 & 1932 (Scarface, The Public Enemy & Little Caesar). Only 1 film made the list from 1933 to 1966, (White Heat (1949)). This was at least partly due to the limitations on the genre imposed by the Hays Code, which was finally abandoned in favor of the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system in 1968.
The genre was revitalized in the New Hollywood movement that followed. New Hollywood directors would be honored with 5 of the top 6 films on the list—1967's Bonnie and Clyde by Arthur Penn, 1972's The Godfather and 1974's The Godfather Part II both by Francis Ford Coppola, 1983's Scarface, a remake of the 1932 original, by Brian De Palma, and 1990's Goodfellas by Martin Scorsese.
In the 1970s, as genre theory came to the focus of academic study and the creation of a more specific taxonomy of genres was defined, gangster film started being distinguished from other subgenres, especially that of western. The genre has been predominantly defined by its historical, ideological, and sociocultural context. Three main categories of gangster films can be distinguished, according to Martha Nochimson: films that follow the escapades of outlaw rebels, such as Bonnie and Clyde, melodramas of villain gangsters against whom the in-story victims and the audience identify, such as Key Largo and, most predominantly in the genre, films following an outsider, immigrant gangster protagonist, with whom the audience identifies.
The first Japanese films about the Yakuza evolved from the Tendency films of the 1930s. They featured historical tales of outlaws and the abuses suffered by the common people often at the hands of the corrupt powers that be. The so-called "Chivalry movies" of the 1960s gave way to the violent realism of Kinji Fukasaku, whose 1973 Battles Without Honor and Humanity would inspire future filmmakers across the globe.
1931 and 1932 produced three of the most enduring gangster films ever. Scarface, Little Caesar and The Public Enemy remain as three of the greatest examples of the genre. However, starting in the mid-1930s, the Hays Code and its requirements for all criminal action to be punished and all authority figures to be treated with respect made gangster films scarce for the next three decades.
Politics combined with the social and economic climate of the time to influence how crime films were made and how the characters were portrayed. Many of the films imply that criminals are the creation of society, rather than its rebel, and considering the troublesome and bleak time of the 1930s, that argument carries significant weight. Often the best of the gangster films are those that have been closely tied to the reality of crime, reflecting public interest in a particular aspect of criminal activity; thus, the gangster film is in a sense a history of crime in the United States.
The institution of Prohibition in 1920 led to an explosion in crime, and the depiction of bootlegging is a frequent occurrence in many mob films. However, as the 1930s progressed, Hollywood also experimented with the stories of the rural criminals and bank robbers, such as John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd. The success of these characters in film can be attributed to their value as news subjects, as their exploits often thrilled the people of a nation who had become weary with inefficient government and apathy in business. However, as the FBI increased in power there was also a shift to favour the stories of the FBI agents hunting the criminals instead of focusing on the criminal characters. In fact, in 1935 at the height of the hunt for Dillinger, the Production Code office issued an order that no film should be made about Dillinger for fear of further glamorizing his character.
Many of the 1930s crime films also dealt with class and ethnic conflict, notably the earliest films, reflecting doubts about how well the American system was working. As stated, many films pushed the message that criminals were the result of a poor moral and economic society, and many are portrayed as having foreign backgrounds or coming from the lower class. Thus, the film criminal is often able to evoke sympathy and admiration out of the viewer, who often place the blame on not the criminal's shoulders but a cruel society in which success is difficult. When the decade came to a close, crime films became more figurative, representing metaphors, as opposed to the more straight forward films produced earlier in the decade, showing an increasing interest in offering a thought provoking message about criminal character.
With the abolition of the Hays Code in the late 1960s, studios and filmmakers found themselves free to produce films dealing with subject matter that had previously been off-limits. Early examples include Arthur Penn's depression-era tale of Bonnie and Clyde; Mean Streets, Scorsese's cinema vérité story of a young aspiring mobster and his problem-gambler friend, played by Robert De Niro and Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, about the Mexican mob, family honor, and the opportunistic Bennie (Warren Oates), friend of the eponymous Alfredo Garcia, looking to make a big score when the chance drops in his lap. Bonnie and Clyde was one of 1967's biggest box office hit and garnered 2 Academy Awards and 8 other nominations including best picture. It, along with the others, however, were overshadowed by Francis Ford Coppola Godfather saga.
In 1972, Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather was released. The epic story of the Corleone family, its generational transition from post-prohibition to post-war, its fratricidal intrigues, and its tapestry of mid-century America's criminal underworld became a huge critical and commercial success. It accounted for nearly 10% of gross proceeds for all films for the entire year. It won the Oscar for Best Picture, as well as the award for Best Actor for Marlon Brando and is widely considered one of the greatest American films of all time. Two years later, The Godfather Part II became the fifth-highest-grossing film of the year and garnered 11 Academy Award nominations. It again won Best Picture. Coppola won Best Director and Robert DeNiro won best supporting actor for his portrayal of a young Vito Corleone.
The lesson of the films' successes was not wasted on Hollywood. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the studios issued a steady flow of films about Italian American gangsters and the Mafia. Some of these were critically acclaimed. Scorsese's Goodfellas about Henry Hill's life and relationship with the Lucchese and Gambino crime families, was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director and won the award for Best Supporting Actor for Joe Pesci's performance. Others, however, strayed into stereotypes and the gratuitous use of Italian ethnicity in minor characters who happened to be criminals. This created a backlash in the Italian American community.
The films of the 1990s produced several critically acclaimed mob films, many of which were loosely based on real crimes and their perpetrators. Many of these films featured long-time actors well known for their roles as mobsters such as Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Chazz Palminteri.
Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, starred Ray Liotta as real-life associate of the Lucchese crime family Henry Hill. It was one of the most notable gangster films of the decade. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci also starred in the film with Pesci earning an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards in all, including Best Picture and Best Director, making Goodfellas one of the most critically acclaimed crime films of all time.
Following their collaboration in Goodfellas, Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci would team up again in 1995's Casino, based on Frank Rosenthal, an associate of the Chicago Outfit, that ran multiple casinos in Las Vegas during the 1970s and 1980s. The film was De Niro's third mob film of the decade, following Goodfellas (1990) and A Bronx Tale (1993).
Al Pacino also returned to the genre during the 1990s. He reprised his role as the iconic Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III (1990). The film served as the final installment in The Godfather trilogy, following Michael Corleone as he tries to legitimize the Corleone family in the twilight of his career.
In 1993, Pacino starred in Carlito's Way as a former gangster released from prison that vows to go straight. In 1996, Armand Assante starred in television film Gotti as infamous New York mobster, John Gotti. In 1997's Donnie Brasco, Pacino starred alongside Johnny Depp in the true story of undercover FBI agent Joseph Pistone and his infiltration of the Bonanno crime family of New York City during the 1970s. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
In 2006, Scorsese released The Departed, his adaptation of Infernal affairs, the Hong Kong film. The Departed was also loosely based on the Whitey Bulger story, and Boston's Winter Hill Gang, which Bulger led. It earned Scorsese an Academy Award for Best Director and the film won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
A 2018 biographical mafia film, Gotti, directed by Kevin Connolly, stars John Travolta as John Gotti, released in June. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 0% based on 38 reviews, and an average rating of 2.3/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Fuhgeddaboudit." Martin Scorsese is also set to release a biographical mafia film in 2019 through Netflix, The Irishman, starring all three heavyweights in the genre, Robert De Niro as Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa and Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino.
Apart from telling their own Tales of African American gangsters in syndicates, films like Black Caesar feature the Italian mafia prominently. Often the blaxploitation stories of the seventies tell the tale of African American gangsters rising up and defeating the established white criminal order.
Brian De Palma's 1983 remake of Scarface stars Al Pacino as Tony Montana, a Cuban exile and ambitious newcomer to Miami who sees an opportunity to build his own drug empire. Abel Ferrara's 1990 King of New York tells the story of Frank White, (Christopher Walken) and his return to New York City from prison. He navigates both the traditional Italian mafia authorities as well as the new cartels, as they are producing, smuggling and distributing cocaine in an uneasy business Alliance.
Early films about the Yakuza revolved around pre-war notions of honor and loyalty. These ninkyo eiga (chivalry films) were replaced in the late 1960s and early 1970s by a new style, pioneered by Kinji Fukasaku and inspired by the French New Wave and American Film noir called Jitsuroku eiga (true record films). The new style is considered to have begun with Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1972), a violent, realistic portrayal of post-war gangs in the ruins of Hiroshima. In addition to Fukasaku's "shaky camera style", this new brand of film often adapted true stories.
Prior to Battles, the films of Seijun Suzuki had departed from the ninkyo eiga formula, but had met with limited commercial success. Although, Suzuki's Branded to Kill would later inspire other directors in the gangster film genre, including John Woo, Chan-wook Park and Quentin Tarantino.
The 1947 adaptation of the Graham Greene novel by the same name, Brighton Rock, is a stark portrayal of a young gang leader and the racketeers in Brighton. It has been recognized as one of the greatest UK films ever by the British Film Institute.
An early example of the Gallic gangster film is Maurice Tourneur’s 1935 film Justin de Marseille set in Marseille. Tourneur's gangster-hero differentiates from his American equivalent by valuing honour, artisanship, community and solidarity. Four years before of the rise of film noir, in 1937, Julien Duvivier creates Pépé le Moko, a French gangster film in the style of poetic realism that takes place in the Casbah. Its distribution in America was blocked by the US-makers of its 1938 remake Algiers. French gangster films will appear again in the mid-1950s, most notably Jacques Becker's Touchez pas au grisbi, American blacklisted filmmaker Jules Dassin's Rififi and Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le flambeur.
1969 and 1970 saw the release of three successful French gangster films featuring the day's biggest French movie stars. All three films featured Alain Delon. Jean Gabin, Delon, and Lino Ventura starred in 1969's Le clan des siciliens, about a jewel thief and the Mafia. Borsalino, a tale of the Italian Mafia in 1930 Marseilles, also featured Delon, along with Jean-Paul Belmondo. In Le Cercle Rouge, Delon, Gian Maria Volonté, and Yves Montand team up to rob an impenetrable jewelry store.
All three of the films were domestic successes and Borsalino was popular elsewhere in Europe. None of them, however, broke through in the United States.
film which explores the gangster genre with World-building themes and revenge
The Hong Kong gangster film genre began with 1986's A Better Tomorrow, directed by John Woo and starring Chow Yun Fat. Woo's tale of counterfeiters portrays a gangster who balances "Kung Fu honor" and the materialistic goals of the Triads. It was the all-time biggest grossing Hong Kong film at the box office and was critically acclaimed. Woo would follow with a string of successes, including The Killer, Bullet in the Head, and Hard Boiled.
American Gangster is a 2007 American biographical crime film directed and produced by Ridley Scott and written by Steven Zaillian. The film is fictionally based on the criminal career of Frank Lucas, a gangster from La Grange, North Carolina who smuggled heroin into the United States on American service planes returning from the Vietnam War, before being detained by a task force led by detective Richie Roberts. The film stars Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in their first lead acting roles together since 1995's Virtuosity. The film also co-stars Ted Levine, John Ortiz, Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Norman Reedus, Ruby Dee, Lymari Nadal and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Development for the film initially began in 2000, when Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment purchased the rights to a New York magazine story about the rise and fall of Lucas. Two years later, screenwriter Steven Zaillian introduced a 170-page scriptment to Scott. Original production plans were to commence in Toronto for budget purposes; however, production eventually relocated permanently to New York City. Because of the film's rising budget Universal canceled production in 2004. After negotiations with Terry George, it was later revived with Scott at the helm in March 2005. Principal photography commenced over a period of five months from July to December 2006; filming took place throughout New York City and concluded in Thailand.
American Gangster premiered in New York on October 20, 2007, and was released in the United States and Canada on November 2. The film was well received by most film critics, and grossed over US$266.5 million worldwide, with domestic grosses standing at $130.1 million. Many of the people portrayed, including Roberts and Lucas, have stated that the film took a lot of creative license with the story, and three former DEA agents sued Universal claiming the agency's portrayal was demoralizing. American Gangster was nominated for twenty-one awards, including two Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction and Best Supporting Actress (Ruby Dee), and won three including a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role for Dee.Crime film
Crime films, in the broadest sense, are a cinematic genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre. Films of this genre generally involve various aspects of crime and its detection. Stylistically, the genre may overlap and combine with many other genres, such as drama or gangster film, but also include comedy, and, in turn, is divided into many sub-genres, such as mystery, suspense or noir.Gangster (film series)
The Gangster film series is a Bollywood crime thriller film series written, directed and produced by Ram Gopal Varma. It is based on the Indian mafia organization D-Company, known to be run by Dawood Ibrahim. The first film came in 1998: the critically acclaimed Satya, later followed by Company and then the prequel D, with storylines based on the Mumbai underworld. Satya has won six Filmfare Awards, including the Critics Award for Best Film.
In 2002 came his commercial as well as critical success, Company, an example of parallel cinema, was based on the real-life underworld organization, the D-Company. It won seven Filmfare Awards and earned him a Filmfare Best Director Award nomination. Malayalam actor Mohanlal debuted in Bollywood doing an extended cameo in this film. A prequel to Company was made in 2005: D, produced by Varma and directed by Vishram Sawant. Satya, Company and D are together considered an "Indian gangster trilogy".Satya and Company, in particular, were cited by British director Danny Boyle as influences on his Academy Award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire (2008), for their "slick, often mesmerizing portrayals of the Mumbai underworld", their display of "brutality and urban violence", and their gritty realism.Gemeni (film)
Gemeni is a 2002 Telugu language gangster film directed by Saran and produced by M. Saravanan on AVM Productions. Starring Venkatesh and Namitha in the lead roles and music composed by RP Patnaik. The film is remake of the Tamil film Gemini, released the same year. The film's title was spelt 'Gemeni' to differentiate from the original Tamil version. The film recorded as Average at box-office.Guru Somasundaram
Guru Somasundaram is an Indian actor who has appeared in Tamil language films. He made his debut in Thiagarajan Kumararaja's Aaranya Kaandam (2011) winning critical acclaim for his role, before also appearing in Suseenthiran's action film Pandiya Naadu (2013), Karthik Subbaraj's gangster film Jigarthanda (2014) and Raju Murugan's political satire film Joker (2016).King of Gamblers
King of Gamblers is a 1937 American low-budget gangster film directed by Robert Florey. Akim Tamiroff takes an unusual featured role as a slot-machine racketeer whose bombing of an uncooperative barber shop leads to a murder charge. (The film was also known as Czar of the Slot Machines.)
By her own account, silent film star Louise Brooks played a bit part in the film for Florey, who "specialised in giving jobs to destitute and sufficiently grateful actresses", referring both to herself and to Evelyn Brent. However, Brooks does not appear in the completed film.Let 'Em Have It
Let 'Em Have It is a 1935 American gangster film directed by Sam Wood. The film was also known under the title False Faces in the United Kingdom and The Legion of Valour in Australia.Roadhouse Nights
Roadhouse Nights is a 1930 American Pre-Code gangster film. A number of sources including Sally Cline in her book Dashiell Hammett Man of Mystery claim it is based on the classic novel Red Harvest written by Dashiell Hammett (author of The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, and The Glass Key). However the credits of the film itself say only "An Original Screenplay by Ben Hecht." Hammett receives no mention at all (and the plots are not similar).
The movie, an unusual amalgam of musical comedy and gangster melodrama, was directed by Hobart Henley, stars Helen Morgan, Charles Ruggles, and Fred Kohler, and features a rare screen musical comedy performance by Jimmy Durante, in his screen debut, with his vaudeville partners Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson ("Clayton, Jackson, and Durante"). Helen Morgan also sings It Can't Go On Like This.Roger Touhy, Gangster
Roger Touhy, Gangster is a 1944 American gangster film based on the life of Chicago mob figure Roger Touhy, directed by film noir specialist Robert Florey.
Parts of the film were shot at Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet, Illinois, where Touhy himself was serving time. Although the story was fictionalized, Touhy successfully sued the studio for defamation of character. After six years, he won a judgment of $15,000, although Fox was able to profitably distribute the film overseas without legal repercussions.Scarface (1932 film)
Scarface (also known as Scarface: The Shame of the Nation and The Shame of a Nation) is a 1932 American gangster film directed by Howard Hawks and produced by Hawks and Howard Hughes. The screenplay, by Ben Hecht, is loosely based on the 1929 novel by Armitage Trail which was inspired by Al Capone. The film stars Paul Muni as gangster Antonio "Tony" Camonte violently rises through the Chicago gangland. Meanwhile, Camonte pursues his bosses's mistress as Camonte's sister pursues his best hitman. In an overt tie to the life of Capone, one scene depicts a version of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre.
After Hughes purchased the rights to Trail's novel, Hughes quickly selected Hawks and Hecht to direct and write the film. Beginning in January 1931, Hecht wrote the script over an eleven-day period. Scarface was produced before the introduction of the Production Code Administration in 1934, which enforced regulations on film content. However the Hays Code, a more lenient precursor, called for major alterations, including a prologue condemning gangsters, an alternate ending to more clearly reprehend Camonte, and the alternative title The Shame of a Nation. The censors believed the film glorified violence and crime. These changes delayed the film by a year, though some showings retained the original ending. Modern showings of the film have the original ending, though some DVD releases also include the alternate ending as a feature; these versions maintain the changes Hughes and Hawks were required to make for approval by the Hays Office. No completely unaltered version is known to exist.
Audience reception was positive, but censors banned the film in several cities and states, forcing Hughes to remove it from circulation and store it in his vault. The rights to the film were recovered after Hughes's death in the 1970s. Alongside Little Caesar and The Public Enemy (both 1931), Scarface is regarded as among the most significant gangster films, and greatly influenced the genre.
Scarface was added to the National Film Registry in 1994 by the Library of Congress. In 2008, the American Film Institute listed Scarface as the sixth best gangster film. It was the basis for the 1983 film of the same name starring Al Pacino.She's Dating the Gangster
She's Dating the Gangster is a 2014 Philippine coming-of-age romantic comedy drama film based on the best Pop Fiction book of the same name originally published on CandyMag.com's Teen Talk section and it was popularized on Wattpad by Bianca Bernardino (pen name: SGwannaB). The film is directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina, topbilled by Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla, together with an ensemble cast. It was distributed by Star Cinema with co-production of Summit Media and was released on July 16, 2014 in theatres nationwide as part of its 20th anniversary presentation.The Big I Am
The Big I Am is a British gangster film starring Michael Madsen and Leo Gregory which was released straight to DVD on 8 April 2010.The City Gone Wild
The City Gone Wild (1927) is a silent gangster film produced by Famous Players-Lasky and distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film starred Louise Brooks and was directed by James Cruze, and is now a lost film.The last known copy of this film was nearly saved in the late 1960s by preservationist David Shepard for deposit at AFI. Paramount had also contracted with junk men to haul off their old rusting reels with the film still wound on. Shepard arrived at the studio just as junkmen carted the film off for disposal.The Guns of Brixton
"The Guns of Brixton" is a song by the English punk rock band The Clash. It was written and sung by bassist Paul Simonon, who grew up in Brixton, south London. The song has a strong reggae influence, reflecting the culture of the area, with a knowing nod to the classic reggae gangster film The Harder They Come.The Long Good Friday
The Long Good Friday is a British gangster film starring Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren. It was completed in 1979, but because of release delays, it is generally credited as a 1980 film. The storyline weaves together events and concerns of the late 1970s, including mid-level political and police corruption, IRA fund-raising, displacement of traditional British industry by property development, UK membership of the EEC, and the free-market economy.
It was voted at number 21 in the British Film Institute's list of the "BFI Top 100 British films" list, and provided Bob Hoskins with his breakthrough film role. In 2016, British film magazine Empire ranked The Long Good Friday number 19 in their list of "The 100 best British films".The Music Box Kid
The Music Box Kid is a low budget 1960 gangster film directed by Edward L. Cahn, starring Ron Foster and Luana Patten.The Untouchables (film)
The Untouchables is a 1987 American gangster film directed by Brian De Palma, produced by Art Linson, written by David Mamet, and based on the book of the same name (1957). The film stars Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro, and Sean Connery, and follows Eliot Ness (Costner) as he forms the Untouchables team to bring Al Capone (De Niro) to justice during Prohibition. The Grammy Award-winning score was composed by Ennio Morricone and features period music by Duke Ellington.The Untouchables premiered on June 2, 1987 in New York City, and went into general release on June 3, 1987 in the United States. The film grossed $106.2 million worldwide and received generally positive reviews from critics. It was nominated for four Academy Awards; Connery won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.When the Clock Strikes
When the Clock Strikes is a 1961 gangster film directed by Edward L. Cahn and starring James Brown and Merry Anders.
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