23 of the Best Gangster and Mafia Movies and TV Shows of All Time

The Godfather Marlon Brando Offer Can't Refuse
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

People have lived in groups as long as we have been on this Earth. Our interests seldom totally align, much less so where there are large numbers of people and even less so in the face of limited resources. 

Humans are social animals, but for humanness to be fully expressed, we must live in groups and balance our individual needs with the group’s needs.

Think about it. Have you ever been to a restaurant with your significant other and got into a heated debate over whether to share garlic bread or wings as a starter? Now imagine something far more important, like groups of people trying to determine how food or water is meant to be shared. Wars have been fought over less.

For this reason, at a fundamental level, we have order to govern the interactions between people and ensure that limited resources are distributed fairly without society descending into anarchy. 

Laws and the structures which enforce them are part of the social license that we give when agreeing to participate in a functioning society – the key point being that people are only willing to give up certain personal freedoms as long as society meets their needs.

What is the Fascination with Gangsters and the Mafia?

Of course, in the face of limited resources, peoples’ needs or desires – for food, water, shelter, money, respect, gratification, validation even – are sometimes not met, and it is with this that some people or groups of people in their desperation or anger break those rules and turn to crime. 

While some crimes are despicable and deplorable, others, seen as victimless crimes, crimes born out of need, or even crimes against unjust systems, sit in a grey area. For example, can it be right to seek to punish someone for stealing food to feed their family? 

As much as people seek order, they also want to see that justice is done or seen to be done, but somehow we often feel that these outcomes are opposed. 

For this reason, perhaps, we revere or even idolize certain criminals rather than condemning them. In our societies that prize storytelling as a way to share information, in as much as we have heroes that fight our causes, we have anti-heroes that capture our imaginations. 

Some Notable Gangsters from History

Let us distinguish between those that history will remember as good people, for example, freedom fighters and the Robin Hoods of the world, and those who, on balance, will be remembered as the bad guys. After all, this article is all about movies that focus on the latter camp.

What kinds of people are we talking about? Aside from privateers and pirates, those that spring to mind are typically gangsters, such as:

Alphonse Capone, AKA Al Capone – an Italian-American mobster who made his fortune in prohibition-era Chicago.

–  John Dillinger – a prolific bank robber who rose to notoriety in the Depression in the US Mid-West, and despite dying in a shoot-out at 31, still has a very live public persona.

 – Ronald and Reginald Kray – the quintessentially East London twins, ran vast swathes of the ‘Big Smoke’ from the last 1950s until 1967 and were involved in gambling, extortion, robbery, and murder.

The Peaky Blinders – although the BBC series took a lot of artistic license in telling the story of the gang from Birmingham, UK, the group did actually exist between the 1880s and 1910. The name Peaky Blinder became synonymous with all Brummie street gangs.

Pablo Escobar – the Colombian drug lord who supplied tons of cocaine to the United States throughout the 1980s. You know the guy was powerful when he could decline to be extradited to the US.

What is a Gangster, Exactly?

A gangster is a member of a criminal gang, typically involved in organized crime. The subject matter expertise of each gang varies depending on the time and place. Still, it can involve anything from narcotics, weapons smuggling, human trafficking, robberies, protection rackets, and even high-level corruption. 

For this article and how we distinguish between run-of-mill criminal gangs and enterprise, we consider violence central to the gangster ethos. 

How does the Mafia differ from ‘gangsters’? Mafia refers to the ‘original’ organized criminal groups from Sicily and Southern Italy. While the term is now used to describe all sorts of organized criminal groups and not exclusively Italians, the term is still very closely aligned with Italian organized crime groups that took hold in the US.

It is important to note that there is no unitary Mafia as such, but different families or organizations that each have their own operations and management, such as the Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta.

Our Top Picks for Mafia Films and Gangster Films and Series About Organized Crime

The list of gangster and mafia movies is long and varied, so it makes sense to set out the rules of engagement:

The character can be fictional or non-fictional – there are so many great gangster films, it would be criminal (#sorrynotsorry) to exclude those from contention over the minor detail of whether the character was real or not.

Gangster or Mafia – the characters or group of characters has to relate to non-denominational organized crime. It need not relate exclusively to Sicilian, Irish, Russian, or infamous forms of criminal gangs. Indeed, crime is not endemic to any one place and should not be limited. That being said, actors like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino and directors like Martin Scorsese and Guy Ritchie do feature heavily.

The Gangster or Crime Element Should be a Key Feature – we think the themes of criminality and violence should be an integral part of the picture, not just incidental. This is a bit subjective, so we have tried to be fair. As a result, we have focused mostly on dramas and dark comedies. In our humble opinion, action films that feature gangsters do not qualify because they are their own genre. Similarly, and sadly for those Billy Crystal fans, Analyze This and Analyze That do not make the cut because: 1) they are comedies where the protagonists happen to be gangsters, rather than them being gangster comedies, and 2) they are not as good as the others on the list anyway. The Sopranos, on the other hand, does make it. 

Movies or series – this is a controversial choice, but some of our favorite Mafia flicks are actually series and available for streaming, so we decided to give our best picks of those too.

Personal taste – some of these movies make the list because they are our favorites, some are there because they are critically acclaimed or crowd favorites, and others make it because we think they deserve special mention. Some movies do appear regularly in top gangster movie lists, for example, the Coen brothers’ 1980 Miller’s Crossing, The Long Good Friday, and even Johnny Depp and Christian Bale’s rendition of Public Enemy, which, while noteworthy, did not make the cut. 

Either way, we hope you enjoy it. Without further ado, we present to you our top picks!

Classic Mafia Films

1. The Untouchables (1987)

Directed by: Brian de Palma
Cast: Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, Andy Garcia
Budget:  $25 million
Box Office: ~$75 million
Running Time 120 minutes
IMDB Rating:  7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 82%/89%

The true story, albeit with Hollywood’s typical glitz and pizzazz, is of Eliot Ness (played by Kevin Costner) and his role in bringing Al Capone (Robert de Niro) to justice.

In Prohibition-era Chicago, Capone was all-powerful, and his influence was felt even in the city’s police force. Ness was tasked with setting up an incorruptible task force, including Irish-American policeman Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), to break up Capone’s empire.

Dramatic and slightly overdone in the way that only a 1980s flick can be (dare one say cheesy?), the movie is entertaining, heartfelt, and a compulsory part of your organized crime movie education.

2. The Godfather Part I (1972) 

Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan
Budget:  $6-7.2 million
Box Office: $250-291 million
Running Time 120 minutes
IMDB Rating:  9.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 97%/98%

If you must watch just one Mafia film, make it The Godfather – and there are so many reasons, including the cultural references (“leave the gun, take the cannoli“), the stellar cast, and as a precursor to the Godfather Part II, this is not only one of the best Mafia movies but one of the best movies ever, period.

Based on Mario Puzzo’s novel of the same name, the story follows the reluctant Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) joining the family business after returning to New York City as a World War II veteran and his relationship with his wife Kay (Diane Keaton).

The move spawned a whole era of Mafia-related movies and kept Al Pacino and Robert de Niro in jobs for most of their careers. Not only did it paint a picture of the inner workings of the Italian organized crime in New York, but it was also a masterpiece of cinematography, using lots of the chiaroscuro technique to paint a moody and sometimes ominous picture.  

3. Godfather Part II (1974)

Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, Diane Keaton
Budget:  $13 million
Box Office: $48-93 million
Running Time 202 minutes
IMDB Rating:  9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 96%/97%

Al Pacino returns as Michael Corleone in the sequel to The Godfather, now head of the family and attempting to expand the business in Las Vegas. Simultaneously, the story also covers how Vito Andolini moved to America from Sicily following the death of his family to become Vito Corleone (Robert de Niro). 

As Michael descends deeper into the family business, his relationships with his brother and wife are pushed to breaking point.

Another masterpiece of cultural references, cinematography, and a significant development in the arc of the story of Michael, the Godfather Part II stands up as one of the best movies of all time.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Many will be aware that The Godfather is a trilogy. However, The Godfather Part III is universally panned for being poorly conceived and decidedly the runt of the litter. Did we like it? No, not really. Should you watch it, nonetheless? If you are invested in the protagonist’s arc, it concludes a storyline you will have been invested in. Equally, quitting while you’re ahead is not the same as quitting.

4. Scarface (1983)

Directed by: Brian de Palma
Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfieffer
Budget:  $25 million
Box Office: $66 million
Running Time 170 minutes
IMDB Rating:  8.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 79%/94%

Al Pacino makes another appearance in our list as Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant in 1980s America. Scarface, so called due to a large scar across Tony’s face, surrounds Tony’s arrival in Miami as an asylum seeker from Cuba as he rises through the cocaine scene, making enemies along the way.

Whereas Scarface, in our humble opinion, may not be as artistically accomplished as The Godfather and relies on excessive violence and swearing to shock and capture the audience, it is still more than worthy of its spot. 

Al Pacino brings the character to life and coins several memorable soundbites, including the infamous “Say hello to my little friend,” which, together with the pure 1980s soundtrack prepared by Giorgio Moroder, firmly cements the cocaine kingpin in the hearts and minds of its audience.

5. Goodfellas (1990)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Ray Liotta, Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci
Budget:  $25 million
Box Office: $45 million
Running Time 145 minutes
IMDB Rating:  8.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 96%/97%

Another classic mafia movie, with the typical cast and typical director, yet it does not miss a beat and still hits all the right notes and typical mafioso cues while having a cracking storyline. The movie also succeeded in the award rounds, gaining both nominations and wins at the BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and the Oscars. 

Based on Nicholas Pileggi’s book “Wiseguy” and centered around the real-life travails of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and his associates, Hill grew up in the Lucchese mob family yet became an FBI informant. As Hill and his co-conspirators go from crime to crime, getting involved in entertainment, drugs, and murder, their skeletons follow them until all their chickens come home to roost. 

6. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Directed by: Sergio Leone
Cast: Robert de Niro, James Wood, Elizabeth McGovern
Budget:  ~$30 million
Box Office: ~$5 million
Running Time 230 minutes
IMDB Rating:  8.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 87%/93%

This movie is surprisingly highly rated, despite requiring the audience to sit through an almost-4-hour marathon. With that running time, it is no wonder it was a box-office flop. Despite this, Leone’s last movie is still considered a classic in the space. 

This epic follows the rise from street urchin of David ‘Noodles’ Aaronson (De Vito) and his associates. Starting out committing petty crimes for a local ‘Don,’ the boys become inseparable and rise through the ranks. 

Noodles eventually ends up in prison following a botched robbery, only to be released during the height of Prohibition. He then finds his friends have now become big-time bootleggers. The story winds and twists to include romances, heists, friends falling out, and their criminal enterprise’s inevitable and eventual failure.  

7. Casino (1995)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone
Budget:  ~$52 million
Box Office: ~$116 million
Running Time 180 minutes
IMDB Rating:  8.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 79%/93%


Based on another Nicholas Pileggi book of the same name, Casino follows the rise of gangster Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (De Niro) as he is selected to run the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. He becomes a victim of his success as his wife Ginger (Stone), his enforcer Nicky Santoro (Pesci), and some other characters jeopardize Ace’s positions.

8. The Irishman (2019)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese 
Cast: Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino
Budget:  ~$160 million
Box Office: ~$8 million*
Running Time 210 minutes
IMDB Rating:  7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 95%/86%

As a surprising first in this field, the movie was picked up by Netflix, and despite its billing as another classic Mafia movie, it was released straight to streaming with limited theater releases. Therefore, the box office receipts are misleading. 

The massive budget for the movie ballooned owing to the extensive use of CGI to make the aged cast look less ‘seasoned’ than they do. Although generally well-received, this is one of those movies that felt like a past-due swansong for the old guard of the Mafia movie royalty and should have been left alone or at least cast with any number of younger talented actors.

The movie is set in the 1950s and follows Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a union truck driver who dabbles in Philadelphia organized crime scene. Frank is introduced to the fabled Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) and becomes his bodyguard. 

Hoffa’s participation in the Teamsters is sidelined when he is arrested thanks to a politically-led task force. Still, after being released by President Nixon in 1971, he started to work towards regaining his power. As Hoffa’s moves rustle feathers in the leading mob families, Sheeran must keep the situation under control.       

9. A Bronx Tale (1993)

Directed by: Robert De Niro 
Cast: Robert de Niro, Chazz Palminteri, Lillo Brancato
Budget:  ~$10-21 million
Box Office: ~$17 million*
Running Time 120 minutes
IMDB Rating:  7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 97%/93%

Allegedly based on Palminteri’s own experience of a murder he witnessed growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s, this was also De Niro’s directorial debut.

Calogero (incidentally Palminteri’s name, played by Brancato) joins the cred of local gangster Sonny (Palminteri). As Calogero gets deeper into the mob, he butts heads with his father (De Niro). The neighborhood is endangered when his love interests cross over a boundary.

Undercover Cop / Mole in Mafia Gang

10. The Departed (2006)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson
Budget:  $90 million
Box Office: $~290 million
Running Time 150 minutes
IMDB Rating:  8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 91%/94%

Yet another notable mention for Martin Scorsese. Set in Boston, Massachusetts, Billy Costigan (Leo DiCaprio), an undercover cop in the Massachusetts state police, infiltrates the Irish mob in South Boston, run by Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).

A game of cat and mouse ensues as Costello’s own mole in the police force, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), and Costigan try to uncover one another with dangerously high stakes.

The movie is gritty, engaging, and one of those accomplished gems that come about so infrequently. One of the reasons we love this movie is that even amidst a star-studded cast, Leo DiCaprio, coming off his first handful of roles after Titanic (think Aviator and Catch Me If You Can), really shone and laid claim to his moniker as a leading man in serious challenging roles.

11. Donnie Brasco (1997)

Directed by: Mike Newell
Cast: Al Pacino, Johnny Depp, Michael Madsen 
Budget:  $35 million
Box Office: ~$125 million
Running Time ~145 minutes
IMDB Rating:  7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 88%/89%

In the late 1970s in New York, Joseph Pistone (Johnny Depp), an FBI agent, gains the trust of ‘Lefty’ Ruggiero (Al Pacino) to infiltrate the fabled five families as the titular character, Donnie Brasco. 

As he gets deeper undercover, Pistone is away from his family for months, and his personal life starts to fall apart. Lines become blurred, and he must decide whether to complete his mission or save his new friend.

Surprisingly for a mafia movie – probably due to the perceived short time expectancy of ‘rats’ – Donnie Brasco is not only a true story, but its protagonist, the real Joe Pistone, is a credited writer. 

The story is not the stereotypical mafia film with paper villains. It has a lot of texture and is multi-dimensional so that viewers can enjoy multi-faceted characters and storylines.

12. American Gangster (2007)

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Budget:  $100 million
Box Office: ~$260 million
Running Time 155 minutes
IMDB Rating:  7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 81%/89%

Ridley Scott took a break from epic action films and sci-fi horror flicks to tell the true story of Frank Lucas. Lucas (Denzel Washington) inherited the vast illicit business empire of Bumpy Johnson in 1960s New York City, and by buying heroin directly from the source in South East Asia, he single-handedly broke the dominance of the Italian mob in the narcotic hold. 

Meanwhile, drug squad cop Ritchie Roberts (Russell Crowe) slowly tries to uncover the source of this vast supply of heroin and uncovers Lucas’s vast criminal network. 

Washington, as he often is, is exceptional in this film. He captures the angst and manner of the real Frank Lucas, who consulted on the movie while giving his characteristic spin to bring the character to life. 

All the more impressive is that this movie is based on a true story. The scale of the ambition of this one individual, who was not part of the establishment yet still went on to become one of the most prolific gangsters of them all, is all the more incredible.

The English Gangster Movies

13. Legend (2015)

Directed by: Brian Helgeland
Cast: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton 
Budget:  ~$25 million
Box Office: ~$40 million
Running Time 130 minutes
IMDB Rating:  6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 61%/59%

It is a rare instance of a movie making the list because it is one of our favorites, as opposed to being widely accepted as a great movie. Hear us out, though. This movie makes our list for two reasons: 

1) This movie recounts the true story of the Kray twins, Ronny and Reggie, who ruled London’s 1960s underworld. These people were violent and ruthless, robbing and killing their way across London, from the salty East End to Central London’s glamorous nightclubs. The Krays were notorious across the city, and even today, in parts of East London, the names of these homegrown boys are spoken with hushed reverence.

2) Tom Hardy. He is actually two reasons as he plays both Ronny Kray, the suave sharp one, and Reggie Kray, the deranged and peculiar one. The movie may not be a classic or a success by any definition. Still, Hardy does well to give life to the film as he does and delivers many memorable moments, including dialogues and fights – mostly with himself.    

14. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran 
Budget:  ~$1.35 million
Box Office: ~$28 million
Running Time 105 minutes
IMDB Rating:  8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 75%/93%

Lock, Stock was Guy Ritchie’s breakout directorial debut and won many British accolades, including the BAFTA for Film of the Year when it was released. 

Eddy (Nick Moran) gets in over his head when he ends up owing a local crime boss £500,000 or risk losing his father’s bar in a high-stakes poker game. In desperation, Eddy and his friends rob their neighbors, who, in turn, rob some local drug dealers. With everyone keen on getting their money back, the storylines converge to an exciting and bloody conclusion.

The movie is a fresh, delightful, and fun spin on a ‘normal’ gangster movie. The dialogue is punchy; the characters are roguish, charming, and very three-dimensional. The Cockney slang used in the film lives long in the mind of the viewers. Ooh, there’s Sting in it as well.  

15. Layer Cake (2004)

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Daniel Craig, Sienna Miller, Michael Gambon 
Budget:  ~$6.5 million
Box Office: ~$12 million
Running Time 105 minutes
IMDB Rating:  7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 80%/84%

While you may think that Guy Ritchie has missed out on a clean sweep of the English gangster scene, bear in mind that Vaughn gave Ritchie his big break with Lock, Stock, so while it is a different director, it is still very much the same style.

A London-based nameless cocaine dealer (Daniel Craig) plans to get out of the game – just one more scam before he hangs up his boots. He gets more than he bargained for when he gets dragged into a series of deals, including abducting a rival gangster’s daughter and orchestrating a sizeable pills deal, with all the interests converging in on our unnamed anti-hero.

16. The Gentlemen (2019)

Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery
Budget:  ~$22 million
Box Office: ~$115 million
Running Time 110 minutes
IMDB Rating:  7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 75%/84%

At this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking the only name in London Town when it comes to gangster movies is Guy Ritchie. It would be unfair to say he’s a one-trick pony because The Gentlemen has much more scale than some of his previous movies, albeit with a very familiar look and feel.

Mickey Pearson (McConaughey) is an American marijuana kingpin in London looking to get out of the game. Rivals smell blood in the water, and a series of plans kick into action, with everyone trying to get their piece.

The all-star cast helps to move the storyline along, with everyone’s favorite Hugh Grant ‘narrating’ and a salty Colin Farrell lending his roguish charm. 

A worthy contender for a night-in, especially when the movie frequently appears on Prime or Netflix. 

17. RocknRolla (2008)

Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Idris Elba 
Budget:  ~$18 million
Box Office: ~$25 million
Running Time 100 minutes
IMDB Rating:  7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 60%/71%

Another London-centric gangster flick by none other than Guy Ritchie. 

The story is complex and full of plot twists, making your head spin. To grease the wheels for London real estate deals, anyone must pay hommage to London gangster Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson). Our protagonists, One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba), are keen on getting into it. Some money, and a painting, are stolen, and the interested parties start to make life difficult for One Two and Mumbles.

It is clever, fast-paced, and a worthy part of the Ritchie Pantheon.

18. Eastern Promises (2007)

Directed by: David Cronenberg
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller Stahl 
Budget:  ~$50 million
Box Office: ~$56 million
Running Time 100 minutes
IMDB Rating:  7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 89%/83%

Eastern Promises was not a box office success by any stretch of the imagination, and David Cronenberg a relative unknown in the genre. However, the movie still garnered positive reviews from critics and fans. 

Other than Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings series, this was one of the first roles we saw Viggo Mortensen reprise after the series wrapped, and he killed it.

Set in London, midwife Anna Khitrova (Watts) receives a bleeding pregnant Russian teen at her hospital – only the baby is saved. To try and find the baby’s family, Khitrova looks to get the woman’s diary translated and soon uncovers the sinister touch of the Russian Mafia. Nikolai (Mortensen), a gangster driver rising through the mob’s ranks, helps Khitrova uncover the truth and run from the danger that ensues.    


The Alternative Choices

19. Sin City (2005)

Directed by: Frank Miller, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen 
Budget:  ~$40 million
Box Office: ~$150 million
Running Time 120 minutes
IMDB Rating:  8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 76%/78%


Set in the fictitious Basin City, a city ravaged by crime, Sin City follows several separate storylines: a salesman (Josh Hartnett); Marv (Rourke) avenging the murder of his ‘gal’; and Willis reprising the role of a wizened and salty policeman. 

Sin City is not an obvious choice for this list. With its mix of violence, mobsters in a city gone to hell, and a damsel in distress, the noir rendition of the graphic novel has all the elements of an exciting shock-a-minute crime thriller. 

Best Gangster Series

Nowadays, it is impossible to ignore content that makes its way onto TV. Granted, some of our picks are more vintage than others, but speaking about Mafia on the big screen is nearly impossible without speaking about those on the TV.

20. The Sopranos (1999-2007)

Created by: David Chase
Cast: James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco
IMDB Rating:  9.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 92%/96%


You cannot trawl the internet for lists of the best series about organized crime without referencing the Sopranos, partly because it is the obvious choice, partly because it was part of HBO’s golden age of programming, and partly because it is that good.

Running over six seasons and eighty-six episodes, with the iconic opening credits and memorable musical intro (“Woke Up This Morning”), few series, much less one a specialist from the Mafia genre, have that staying power to stay on the air as long as it did.

James Gandolfini reprises the role of his life as Tony Soprano, a New Jersey gangster. Soprano suffers panic attacks and starts to explore his deep-seated issues with his therapist Jennifer Melfi (Bracco). This is the great thing about the dark comedic, sometimes tragic series – sure, you get the gratuitous violence and machismo of alpha-male Italian Mafiosi, but on the flip side, you see the human insecurity, confusion, and family travails. Just like the rest of us. But with guns.

21. McMafia (2018)

Created by: Hossein Amini and James Watkins
Cast: James Norton, David Strathairn, Juliet Rylance
IMDB Rating:  7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 71%/88%

A BBC crime drama that thankfully does not subject the Italian people to the stereotype of being Mafiosi – it is the Russians this time. All joking aside, it is a timely and authentic setting – an exiled Russian Jewish family linked to organized crime in Moscow living in Knightsbridge.

Enter Alex Godman (James Norton), the anglicized and civilized crown prince of the family, running his own London financial firm, is dragged into his family’s shady past following the assassination of his dear uncle, Boris. He finds his dark side somewhere between trying to save his family and taking revenge on his uncle’s killers.

Norton reprises the role well and manages the mix of English gentleman and cold Russian gangster superbly. The setting is varied and exotic, including London, Tel Aviv, Moscow, and Prague. The storyline is exciting, and although it wraps up in only eight episodes, the door was left open for a juicy sequel – sadly, yet to be fulfilled and growing increasingly unlikely since the original was released in 2018. Still, it has aged well.

22. Peaky Blinders (2013-2022)

Created by: Steven Knight
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson, Sophie Rundle
IMDB Rating:  8.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 93%/93%

With a rostrum of celebrity fans, Peaky Blinders is another BBC classic. It has to be said – if West Coast rapper Snoop Dogg is a fan, you know it has gangster credibility.

It would not be unfair to say to other cast members, including Tom Hardy (Alfie Solomons) and Helen McRory (Auntie Polly), excellent as they are, that the real star is Cillian Murphy. 

Set predominantly in Birmingham, England, in the years after World War I, the series borrows its name from a gang from the city which sewed blades into their flat caps and would slash at the eyes of their victims (ergo, the Peaky Blinders name). 

The Shelby clan, led by Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy), goes from small-time gambling to an empire, stretching interests in alcohol, clubs, narcotics, weapons, and even politics.

Tommy is a man haunted by his ambitions and his past. His love interests, friends, family, and people he served with, have a knack for dying in service to his dreams. 

He is a damaged and purposeful man, yet a shell of the person he was before the war. His poised speech also gives rise to some memorable quotes (one of our favorites – “I’m unaccustomed to being spoken like that“). Yet the ruthlessness of the series ensures that no one is safe in the wake of Tommy’s ambitions.

Fret not; while the sixth series was the last, capping off thirty-six episodes, a feature-length film is in the works (with a potential release date of spring 2024) to conclude the Shelby saga.

23. Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014)

Created by: Terence Winter
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald
IMDB Rating:  8.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer / Audience Score: 92%/95%

A highly rated and critically acclaimed series, with Emmys and BAFTAs aplenty. And just in case you thought you could escape Martin Scorsese by searching for shelter on the small screen – he directed this too.

The show is set in prohibition-era Atlantic City and based on the real, if heavily-embellished, existence of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a politician who essentially ran the city in the 1920s and 1930s. 

It is visually stunning and another gem from the HBO golden age (before Netflix and Prime started dropping the big bucks on TV content). Anecdotally said to have cost more than $5 million per episode (56 episodes total), with the pilot alleged to have cost a mind-boggling $18 million, HBO spared no expense.

The show pays homage to several prolific gangsters of the time, including Capone and Arnold Rothstein, and while Steve Buscemi is not someone you would automatically think of as a leading man, he plays the lead so well. 

The series has the drama of a Greek tragedy and paints a glamorous but dangerous and dark picture of the dirty underworld lurking skin-deep in Atlantic City.

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