Mafia film

Mafia films — a version of gangster films — are a subgenre of crime films dealing with organized crime, often specifically with the Mafia. Especially in early mob films, there is considerable overlap with film noir. Popular regional variations of the genre include Italian Poliziotteschi, Chinese Triad films, Japanese Yakuza films, and Indian Mumbai underworld films.


The American movie The Black Hand (1906) is thought to be the earliest surviving gangster film.[1] In 1912, D. W. Griffith directed The Musketeers of Pig Alley, a short drama film about crime on the streets of New York City (filmed, however, at Fort Lee, New Jersey) rumored to have included real gangsters as extras. Critics have also cited Regeneration (1915) as an early crime film.

Though mob films had their roots in such silent films, the genre in its most durable form was defined in the early 1930s. It owed its innovations to the social and economic instability occasioned by the Great Depression, which galvanized the organized crime subculture in the United States.[2] The failure of honest hard work and careful investment to ensure financial security led to the circumstances reflected in the explosion of mob films in Hollywood[3] and to their immense popularity in a society disillusioned with the American way of life.


The years 1931 and 1932 saw the genre produce three enduring classics: Warner Bros.' Little Caesar and The Public Enemy, which made screen icons out of Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, and Howard Hawks' Scarface starring Paul Muni, which offered a dark psychological analysis of a fictionalized Al Capone[4] and launched the film career of George Raft. These films chronicle the quick rise, and equally quick downfall, of three young, violent criminals, and represent the genre in its purest form before moral pressure would force it to change and evolve. Though the gangster in each film would face a violent downfall which was designed to remind the viewers of the consequences of crime,[5] audiences were often able to identify with the charismatic anti-hero. Those suffering from the Depression were able to relate to the gangster character who worked hard to earn his place and success in the world, only to have it all taken away from him.[6]

Despite the genre spanning the decade before dying out, some argue that the gangster film in its purest form only existed until 1933, when restrictions from the Production Code led to films that did not have the same power as the earlier ones.[7]

Production code

As the appeal and attraction of gangster movie stars such as Cagney, Robinson, Muni, and Raft grew, so too did the efforts to combat their fascination. During the early years of crime film, Scarface, arguably the most violent of gangster films created during the entire decade, particularly was the subject of criticism. Released in 1932, it ushered in the worst year of the Depression, and as profits slid, Hollywood did what it could to restore its earnings, which resulted in the upping of sex and violence in the movies.[8] Scarface can be interpreted as a representation of the American dream gone awry, presented when US capitalism had reached its lowest, and Prohibition was being seen as a failed social experiment and would soon be abolished.[9] It faced opposition from regulators of the Production Code, and its release was delayed for over a year while Hawks attempted to tone down the incestuous overtones of the relationship between Paul Muni's character Tony Camonte and his sister (Ann Dvorak).

Eventually the Production Code and general moral concerns became sufficiently influential to cause the crime film in its original form to be abandoned, with a shift to the perspective of the law officers fighting criminals, or criminals seeking redemption. This is illustrated by James Cagney's role as a law officer in the 1935 movie G Men, and his part as Rocky Sullivan in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), for which he received an Academy Award nomination. These pictures demonstrate the growing acceptance of crime films during the 1930s as long as criminals were not portrayed in a flattering light. For example, in G-Men, Cagney plays a character similar to that of Tom Powers from The Public Enemy, and although the film was as violent and brutal as its predecessors, it had no trouble getting a seal of approval from the Production Code office.[10] It was now the law officers that the films attempted to glamorize, as opposed to the criminals.

1930s culture

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,[11] and considering the troublesome and bleak time of the 1930s this 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.[12] 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.[13] 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 will not place the blame on the criminal's shoulders, but rather a cruel society where success is difficult.[14] 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.[15]


In the 1970s there was a revival of mob films, notably with The Godfather (1972), based on the novel of the same name by Mario Puzo. It was followed by two sequels: The Godfather Part II (1974) and The Godfather Part III (1990). It also inspired other mob films such as The Valachi Papers, starring Charles Bronson.


The 1983 remake of Scarface was not particularly well received at the time of its release, but over time it has come to be seen as a classic of the mob film genre. It went on to inspire films such as King of New York. On the other hand, Sergio Leone shot an epic crime drama film Once Upon a Time in America, starring Robert De Niro and James Woods. Though its release of "US Cut" was a critical and commercial failure, the "European Cut" release and "Director's Cut" were both critical success and regained its publicity and reputation.

In the late 80s, a film directed by Brian De Palma, The Untouchables, documented the enforcement efforts of Eliot Ness in bringing down Al Capone.


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.

The most notable from the decade was the 1990 film Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Ray Liotta as real-life associate of the Lucchese crime family Henry Hill. 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 with the film Casino, based on Frank Rosenthal, an associate of the Chicago Outfit who 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).

De Niro's fellow mob actor, Al Pacino, also resumed roles in the crime film genre during the 1990s, reprising 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 the film, Carlito's Way as a former gangster released from prison who vows to go straight. In 1996, Armand Assante starred in television film Gotti as infamous New York mobster, John Gotti. In Donnie Brasco (1997), 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.


The 2000s continued to produce box office mob films cast with high-profile actors. Road to Perdition, a 2002 American crime film directed by Sam Mendes and based on the graphic novel of the same name by Max Allan Collins, boasted an ensemble cast of Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, and Daniel Craig. The plot takes place in 1931, during the Great Depression, following a mob enforcer and his son as they seek vengeance against a mobster who murdered the rest of their family. Unlike many of its modern mob film predecessors, Road to Perdition sought to recreate the film noir genre while still using contemporary techniques and effects. The cinematography, setting, and the lead performances by Newman (in his final theatrical screen appearance) and Hanks were well received by critics.

In 2006, director Martin Scorsese returned to the mob genre in The Departed, starring the ensemble cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg and Martin Sheen. The film was a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong Triad film Infernal Affairs. Set in Boston, the film follows the parallel double lives of undercover officer William Costigan Jr. (DiCaprio), who has infiltrated Irish mob boss's Frank Costello (Nicholson) and Colin Sullivan (Damon), who has served as a mole in the Massachusetts State Police. The characters are loosely based on famous gangster Whitey Bulger and corrupt FBI agent John Connolly, who grew up with Bulger. The Departed had gone on to win several awards, including four Oscars at the 79th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Scorsese), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. Mark Wahlberg was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

Also notable is Public Enemies, a 2009 American biographical-crime film directed by Michael Mann and written by Mann, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman. It is an adaptation of Bryan Burrough's non-fiction book Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34. Set during the Great Depression, the film chronicles the final years of the notorious bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) as he is pursued by FBI agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), and his relationship with Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), as well as Purvis' pursuit of Dillinger associates and fellow criminals Homer Van Meter (Stephen Dorff) and Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham). Scenes from Manhattan Melodrama, are depicted in the 2009 film as being the last motion picture seen by the notorious gangster John Dillinger, who was shot to death by federal agents on 22 July 1934, after leaving Chicago's Biograph Theater where the film was playing.

Gangs of New York (2002), also directed by Scorsese, was the first modern gangster film to focus on the 19th century Irish gangs. Although the gay nineties had been a popular setting for prewar crime films, from the 1950s until the early 21st century most gangster movies were set in either the prohibition era, postwar America, or the present day.

The 2007 film American Gangster directed by Ridley Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe also bears mention in fictionalising the life of Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas and his rivalry with the American Mafia.

The 2008 Italian mob film Gomorrah was met with much critical acclaim upon its premiere in North America. The film was directed by Matteo Garrone, based on the book by Roberto Saviano that depicts the modern-day of the Casalesi crime family of the southern Italian region of Campania. The film follows five independent plots of people whose lives are influenced by organized crime in Naples and Caserta. Despite failing to represent Italy in the category of Best Foreign Language Film at the 81st Academy Awards,[16] Gomorrah is still regarded as one of the more prominent mafia films from the Italian cinema.[17] The animated movie Shark Tale contained an Italian Mob boss as one of its main characters and had several references to the acclaimed The Godfather including character traits, etc. In addition, mob film veteran Robert De Niro playing a Mob Boss and notable mob film director Martin Scorsese behind the voice of an integral character.


The 2010s continued the 2000s trend of bringing new movies featuring both prohibition and post-World War II real life mob incidents into the box office.

In 2012, Lawless was based on the 2008 novel The Wettest County in the World as the film follows a trio of siblings who run an illegal moonshine business during Prohibition.

Gangster Squad is a crime film directed by Ruben Fleischer,[18] from a screenplay written by Will Beall, starring an ensemble cast that includes Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn. It is the story of a group of LAPD officers and detectives called the "Gangster Squad" who are attempting to keep Los Angeles safe from Mickey Cohen, a real life post-World War II Los Angeles gangster that became a powerful figure in the criminal underworld, and intended to continue to expand his criminal enterprise and his gang during the 1940s and '50s. The film was released January 11, 2013.

A 2015 Italian mob film, Suburra, directed by Stefano Sollima, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo De Cataldo, starred Pierfrancesco Favino, Elio Germano and Claudio Amendola, and focused on the connections between organized crime and politics in Rome in 2011.

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."[19] 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.

See also


  1. ^ In this 11 minute work, two members of a gang write a threatening letter to a butcher, demanding money, or else they will harm his family and his shop. (See Treasures from American Film Archives)
  2. ^ Ina Rae Hark, American Cinema of the 1930s (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2007), p. 12.
  3. ^ Hark, p. 12.
  4. ^ Hark, p. 12
  5. ^ Hark, p. 13.
  6. ^ Hark, p. 13.
  7. ^ Howard Hughes, Crime Wave: The Film Goers' Guide to Great Crime Movies (New York: I.B. Tauris and Co. Ltd., 2006). p. 7.
  8. ^ Hark, p. 69.
  9. ^ Hark, p. 4.
  10. ^ Thoms Leitch, Crime Films Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 26.
  11. ^ John Baxter, The Gangster Film (London: C. Tinling and Co. Ltd, 1970), p. 7.
  12. ^ Baxter, p. 7.
  13. ^ Baxter, p. 9.
  14. ^ Terry Christensen, Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films (New York: M.E. Sharp, Inc., 2006), p. 77
  15. ^ Christensen, p. 79.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Frappier, Rob. "'Zombieland' Director Tapped for Crime Drama 'The Gangster Squad'". Screen Rant. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
  19. ^ "Gotti (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 28 June 2018.

Further reading

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B. C. Gowrishankar (25 February 1950 – 16 November 2004) was an Indian cinematographer and an occasional film director and screenwriter who worked primarily in Kannada cinema. He was known for his unorthodox style as a cinematographer and was recognised for his work in both art and commercial films. His daughter Rakshita was a popular actress during the 2000s. His wife Mamatha Rao was also an actress and acted in movies like Antharala(1982), Hosa belaku(1982)

Gowrishankar won six Karnataka State Film Awards during his career as a cinematographer.

Beans (film)

Fasulye or Beans is a 2000 Turkish crime comedy mafia film directed by Bora Tekay and written by Haluk Özenç.

Contemporary American Poultry

"Contemporary American Poultry" is the 21st episode of the first season of the American comedy television series Community. It aired in the United States on NBC on April 22, 2010.

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.

Franco Nero

Francesco Clemente Giuseppe Sparanero (born 23 November 1941), better known by his stage name Franco Nero, is an Italian actor. He is best known for his breakthrough role as the title character in Sergio Corbucci's Spaghetti Western film Django (1966), a role that he reprised in Nello Rossati's Django Strikes Again (1987).

Since then, he has performed over 200 leading and supporting roles in a wide variety of films and television programmes in both Italy and abroad, in genres ranging from poliziotteschi, to action, to drama, to war, and musicals. These include The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966), Camelot (1967), The Day of the Owl (1968), The Mercenary (1968), Battle of Neretva (1969), Tristana (1970), Compañeros (1970), Confessions of a Police Captain (1971), Keoma (1976), Hitch-Hike (1977), Force 10 from Navarone (1978), Enter the Ninja (1981), Die Hard 2 (1990), Letters to Juliet (2010) and John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017). He also played the narrator in the film Rasputin (2010), directed by Louis Nero, and voiced the character of Uncle Topolino in the animated film Cars 2 (2011) directed by John Lasseter and co-directed by Brad Lewis. In 2012, Nero made a cameo appearance in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained.

Nero is known for his ties to the Redgrave family, and has had a long-standing relationship with Vanessa, which began during the filming of Camelot. They were married in 2006.

Gangster film

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.

John Taddeo

John Taddeo is a comic book writer and creator of the company Superverse. Taddeo has formerly worked for Marvel Entertainment and Big Entertainment (now called Taddeo conceived of the idea for "Zoom Suit" in the early 1980s when Bob Layton created the cover for Iron Man #117, which was listed as one of the 100 greatest comic covers of all time by Wizard Magazine. Iron Man's alter ego Tony Stark leaps from a plane with his armored super suit packed away in a suitcase. In that issue Tony manages to get dressed during the freefall and fly to safety, but Taddeo wondered what if it didn't work out that way. Inspired by Bob's cover image Taddeo wrote the first draft of Zoom Suit at the age of twelve.

Taddeo's first film based on his unreleased comic book "Crime Family", The Inside Job is about a young mobster trying to "Make his bones" and loaded with violence, profanity, vulgarity and maybe even blasphemy. In June 2005 the film received two Crystal Reel Awards from the Florida Motion Picture and Television Association, Best Narrative and Best Student Short film and has won several awards after that time including "Best Comedy" "Best Mafia Film" and "Best in Fest."

Taddeo is currently writing and directing an animated short feature series based upon the comic book "Zoom Suit." The original award-winning animated short was an official selection in a record breaking 80 film festivals within a twelve-month period. Zoom Suit has received over 15 awards including, "Best of Festival" awards, Best of Fest" awards and the prestigious "Grand Festival Award" from Berkeley Video & Film Festival, 2005.

Lorenzo Crespi

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Mafia (disambiguation)

A mafia is an ethnic, family or culture-based organized crime enterprise.

Mafia also usually refers specifically to:

Sicilian Mafia, the original "Mafia", often referred to simply as “the Mafia”

American Mafia, an Italian-American offshoot of the original Sicilian Mafia often referred to simply as "The Mafia" in the United States

Organized crime in Italy

Marrying the Mafia

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The film sold 5,200,000 tickets, becoming 14th highest Korean films-ticket selling film. For the year of 2002 it was the highest-attended South Korean film, and the second highest-attended film (including international productions) in South Korea with 5,021,001 admissions nationwide.


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Raj Chakraborty

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Sabrina Siani

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Spike of Bensonhurst

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Sweet, Savage Family

Sweet, Savage Family (Hangul: 달콤살벌 패밀리; RR: Dalkomsalbeol Paemilri) is a 2015 South Korean television series starring Jung Joon-ho, Moon Jung-hee, Jung Woong-in and Yoo Sun. It aired on MBC on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 22:00 beginning November 18, 2015. The series is loosely based on the Marrying the Mafia film franchise, which also starred Jung Joon-ho.

The Big Family

The Big Family (Italian: L'onorata famiglia - Uccidere è cosa nostra) is a 1973 Italian mafia film written and directed by Tonino Ricci and starring Raymond Pellegrin, Simonetta Stefanelli and Richard Conte.

The Last Desperate Hours

The Last Desperate Hours (Italian: Milano: il clan dei calabresi) is a 1974 Italian poliziottesco (Italian crime genre) Mafia film directed by Giorgio Stegani.

The Sicilian Girl

The Sicilian Girl (Italian: La siciliana ribelle) is a 2008 Italian film directed by Marco Amenta. The film is inspired by the story of Rita Atria, a key witness in a major Mafia investigation in Sicily.

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