10 Classic Gangster Movies

So you want to learn about ten classic gangster movies. Well don't get sore, see? It's coming right up – have your "hackneyed gangster movie slang" glossary on hand, here's ten classic gangster movies.

  1. "The Public Enemy" This classic gangster movie starring James Cagney is one of the seminal examples of the genre. The basic plot is the rise and fall of gangster Tom Powers is one that is shared by countless modern and classic gangster movies over the years. This one still holds up though, especially the unforgettably chilling ending (spoiler alert: Gangsters don't often get happy endings).
  2. "Little Ceasar" Another classic gangster movie that helped start it all, this one featuring Edward G Robinson as Caesar "Rico" Bandello. Party idea: Have some Little Caesar's pizza while you watch "Little Ceasar." Also, guns.
  3. "Scarface" This classic gangster movie isn't as well-known as the cult classic remake by Brian De Palma, but it's just as fresh as exciting as the Pacino version. Party idea: Do a shot every time you see a big "X" on the screen. Also, incest.
  4. "The Petrified Forest" Not all classic gangster movies follow the same "rise and fall" plot. This one, starring classic gangster movie legend Humphrey Bogart, is a claustrophobic thriller about infamous killer (and slight lisper) Duke Mantee's holding up in a secluded diner in the Arizona desert.
  5. "High Sierra" Another high-impact thriller that doubles as a classic gangster movie, also starring Bogart. This time he plays a recently-released ex-con who gets involved in a casino heist. It features one of the most exciting shoot-outs of the era, courtesy of action master Raoul Walsh.
  6. "Dillinger" John Dillinger is one of the most notorious gangsters in history, and Lawrence Tierney's performance as same in this classic gangster movie is brilliantly terrifying. He excels at playing violence-prone men, and in "Dillinger" he seems genuinely unstable.
  7. "Angels With Dirty Faces" In the world of genre fiction, a recurring trope is the idea that for men in some economic strata, there are only two options for how to live one's life: Be a criminal, or a priest. "Angels With Dirty Faces" explores this idea and is one of the most emotionally involving classic gangster movies ever made.
  8. "The Roaring Twenties" This is the Platonic Ideal of the classic gangster movie. With almost documentary-like precision, it shows what it was like to be a gangster during Prohibition (which incidentally was the best time to be a gangster).
  9. "White Heat" This is classic gangster movie legend James Cagney at his most frighteningly psychotic. He's much older than he was in "The Public Enemy" or "Angels With Dirty Faces," and there's an undercurrent of patheticness to his gangster movie antics. He is, as they say, too old for this sh*t. But he won't be for long.
  10. "Some Like It Hot" Yes, it's about men in dresses, but it also captures the spirit and iconography of the classic gangster movie as perfectly as anyone could hope for. And while it's one of the funniest movies of all time, the first twenty minutes or so are played pretty much straight, so that when the gangsters show up again at the end, the laughs are that much better since the audience can sense the real danger that's threatening the protagonist(a)s.
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