The Mafia has a rather interesting history. It originated in Sicily, Italy in the nineteenth century as a criminal syndicate. When Sicily was transforming from feudalism to capitalism, the Mafia was formed as a loose organization with protection racketeering of the merchants who paid them in return for protection. It was difficult for the State to enforce property contracts under the new free market economy and therefore the property owners had to turn to extralegal arbitrators and protectors. Gradually, the Mafia transformed into an obnoxious, criminal organization, however still retaining the tag of ‘men of honour’.
In the original sense of the word, Mafia only referred to this family crime organization in Sicily although now it is widely used as a generic term for any criminal network with common code of conduct and interests. Many people still do not approve of this usage as all-inclusive for the criminal network and prefer the word gangster. Here is a list of top ten films made on Mafias/gangsters.
10 A Prophet
This film was originally made in French and opened to widespread critical acclaim from critics all around the world and a 97% aggregate on Rotten Tomatoes. It is about a prisoner of Algerian descent in a jail, who rises to the top in the inmate hierarchy as he tides through the Muslim and Corsican factions there. The film is the perfect blend of fine performances and gritty gangster acts. The two criminal subcultures in the prison and their manifestations give this film a typical Mafia appeal. The film was nominated for the Best Film in the Foreign Category at 82nd Academy Awards and is frequently counted amongst the best pictures of all time. I would strongly recommend to this everyone.
9 The Usual Suspects
This picture was released falteringly after it was shown out of competition at 1995 Cannes Film Awards. It generated very fervid reviews and was eventually given a wider release. In San Pedro Bay, a ship is set ablaze, and the FBI tries to investigate what happened on the boat. The film tracks the story of Roger Kint, who is one of the only two survivors in the ship. He tells the police a perplexing tale of his mafia boss and how he and his accomplices came to the boat. The story ends with a twist in the tale. The film won two major Academy Awards and was acknowledged as the tenth best mystery film by the American Film Institute.
8 The Untouchables
Based on David Mamet’s book of the same name, The Untouchables has Robert De Niro and Kevin Costner in the lead roles. De Niro plays the famous American gang-leader, Al Capone, of the Prohibition era. The screen play is autobiographical and shows how Costner (Government officer, Eliot Ness) and his team, Untouchables, managed to pin down the gang-leader. The film does not have a single dry moment (pun intended) and is a thorough entertainer. The picture was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning one of them, and was a big Box Office success.
Casino is another typical De Niro film, also starring Sharon Stone. It is based on Nicholas Pileggi’s book of the same name. Rober De Niro, who plays a handicapper in the film, is called by the Mob to look over the affairs of their Tangiers Casino. He doubles the profits of the casino and another Mob enforcer, Nicky Santaro is sent over to make sure that things continue to be fine. As the film progresses, the twists and turns become intense. If you like gory movies with excessive violence, you cannot afford to miss this one. Sharon Stone received an Academy Award for her performance as Ginger, De Niro’s alcoholic and adulterous wife.
6 American Gangster
This 2007 film also follows a biographical approach to present the story of Frank Lucas, a gangster who smuggled heroin into the States through the planes coming in from the Vietnam War. It shows the classic America of the 1970s.The film stars Russell Crowe in the lead; he plays detective Richie Roberts who nabs the gangster. It is based on a book entitled, ‘The Return of a Superfly’ by Mark Jacobson. Both, Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington give immense depth to their characters, enhancing the impact of the picture. The film was received well by critics and the audience alike and was nominated for two Academy Awards.
5 The Departed
There is barely anyone who has not seen this film. The film is directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon. The film is set in Boston where the Irish Mob plants a spy in the State Police. At the same time, the Police force sends an undercover cop to infiltrate the mafia’s crew. The track follows as both sides discover that there is a mole within their respective organizations. This film will keep you on the edge of your seat with its brilliant storyline and power-packed performances. The picture won four Academy Awards and considered the Best film of 2006 by many critics.
Scarface is a 1983 cult film directed by Brian De Palma, starring Al Pacino. It traces the story of a Cuban refugee who comes to Miami and becomes a drug cartel boss during the time of the cocaine boom in the 1980s. The film initially received a lukewarm response from the critics and was also rated for its excessively violent content. However, it is now considered one of the best films ever made under the Mob film genre.
Martin Scorsese’s all three films on organised crime made it to this top-ten list. His Goodfellas is the screen adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy. The film is about the Lucchese Crime Family and how Henry Hill and his friends move up the mob hierarchy. It stars Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in the leads. Joe Pesci won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a supporting role and the film received five other nominations. Goodfellas is considered one of the greatest films ever made by many film critics.
2 Pulp Fiction
This is one of those films that leave you wondering after you have finished watching them. Due to its unconventionality, you may not even understand it fully at the first watch; if so, see it again. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, the film is about interconnected storylines all working at different levels, centred on the Mob. It has brilliant dialogues, a fine mix of humour and violence and pop culture references. Also, the brilliant performances by John Travolta, Uma Thurman and Samuel Jackson are just out of this world. It is one of most unique films ever made and is considered the herald of postmodern cinema. The film was nominated for seven Oscars and is considered one of the greatest films of all time.
1 The Godfather: Parts 1 and 2
It is a matter of no surprise that this film gets the first position. The film is the Mafia, in the original sense of the word, which is the Sicilian organised crime. The Godfather is a brilliant piece of art in every aspect of filmmaking. Based on the book of the same name by Mario Puzo, the film shows the reign of the Mafia leader, Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando) and the circumstances leading to Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), taking the chair of the Mafia. The film is considered the Second Greatest Film in World Cinema and is one of the highest grosser of all time. The film went on to win three Oscars- for Best Actor, Best Picture and the Best Adapted Screenplay.
It is not easy to decide whether the first or the second part is better. I personally favour the second part. The film is both a sequel and a prequel to The Godfather, presenting two parallel dramas. The sequel is about Michael Corleone keeping up the family business as the new Don,and the prequel follows the story of Vito Corleone’s younger days and the founding of the Mafia family. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won six of them. This film, like its predecessor, was a gargantuan success at the box office and is considered one of the greatest films ever made. It was followed by a sequel, Godfather: Part 3, which released in 1990.