Explore the criminal underbelly with some of cinema’s greatest visionaries.
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Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to be a mobster.
Those are the opening words of Goodfellas’ Henry Hill. However, who else could have come up with such a memorable starting line? Almost every kid who has access to a super soaker has at some point contemplated the concept. It’s a good thing that most of us give up on a life of crime very early on and instead settle for watching gangster movies instead. Real thrill can be found there.
Netflix boasts the broadest selection of recent crime films of any streaming provider (BFI Player is your one-stop shop for early and mid-century capers as well as foreign films, FYI). Get a taste of our favorite Martin Scorsese films by checking out the selections below.
1. Mean Streets (1973)
Mean Streets depicts the story of a young Italian-American, Charlie, who is divided between his Catholic faith and the grunt work he does for his mafioso uncle. Martin Scorsese had previously directed Who’s That Knocking at My Door and Boxcar Bertha, but the picture is commonly regarded as his first feature-length film. As a result of its success, but also because of the manner it introduced the world to director Martin Scorsese in a way that goes far beyond movie poster credits. When the 31-year-old auteur, armed with a shoestring budget and an unknown cast that included Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, decided to make a film about his adolescent experiences in the crime-ridden streets of New York’s Little Italy, he found himself at the forefront of the New Hollywood movement. A must-see classic that’s both gritty and captivating.
2. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The diamond heist caper of Quentin Tarantino’s first, Pulp Fiction, is widely regarded as his best film. In any event, the unapologetically gory 1991 indie hit is nonetheless responsible for some of the most memorable pop culture moments of the last thirty years, whether or not that’s the case (it isn’t) (as well as the go-to Halloween costume for lazy men across the world). However, Pulp Fiction’s popularity two years later relegated it to obscurity; it was only after that picture’s success that it began to receive its due credit for being a Tarantino film.
3. Snatch (2000)
Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels sequel, perhaps best known for Brad Pitt’s performance as Mickey O’Neil, didn’t really offer anything new to the table, but that’s fine. Laddish satire of the London underground, it is what it is, with wooden acting and sick humor. Brad Pitt, Benicio del Toro, and Stephen Graham star in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which has a considerably better cast than the Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
4. The Town (2010)
Film adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s Prince of Thieves, Ben Affleck plays as a conflicted bank robber in this excellent adaptation of the novel, which follows an organized group of crooks as they deal with post-heist complications. The cast, which includes Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, and Blake Lively, is all on top form in this film’s script.
5. Goodfellas (1990)
As a result of the failure of New York, New York and a debilitating drug addiction, Martin Scorsese had an uneven eighties. While Raging Bull is today widely regarded as one of the finest pictures ever made, its box office performance was disappointing following Hours. King of Comedy flopped and The Color of Money’s triumph did little to restore Marty’s stature as a revered filmmaker in the Coppola mold. With Goodfellas, the 1990 film that brought him back to the world of organized crime, Michael Corleone once again returned to gangland. Iconic performances by Joe Pesci and an excellent soundtrack complete the package in this gripping crime novel adaptation of crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi’s Wise Guy.
6. Uncut Gems (2019)
In the realm of tense filmmaking, the Safdie brothers are unrivaled. The 135-minute anxiety attack that is Howard Ratner’s (Adam Sandler) bet in this film is sure to test your patience if you struggled through Good Times. The gang is losing tolerance with the compulsive diamond dealer’s gambling debts, which are driving him to go deeper and deeper into debt. But Howard has a $1 million black opal that he acquired from the terrible mines of Ethiopia to give him an escape route. It’s a shame he can’t find it.
7. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven had a stellar cast of Noughties stars, including Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, and a slew of cameos. That doesn’t mean that this adaptation of the (underwhelming) Sixties rat pack heist movie of the same name is just a cash-grab, though. It’s a rollicking, fast-paced blockbuster that still stands the test of time.
8. True Romance (1993)
This pulpy, offbeat action film, written by Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott, was lauded by reviewers but failed to recoup its production costs at the box office. Clarence, a Christian Slater-wearing Hawaiian shirt-clad Christian Slater, has subsequently gone on to become an odd menswear style legend thanks to the film’s cult following. After Clarence kills Alabama’s pimp and steals his stockpile of cocaine at the behest of Elvis’s ghost, we begin on a getaway from the mob with Clarence and his new bride, former call girl Alabama (Patricia Arquette), in their pink Cadillac. We think it’s only fair. James Gandolfini and Christopher Walken are also on board for the ride.
9. The Irishman (2019)
Before Netflix stepped in to save the day, director Martin Scorsese battled to find money for this 3 hour 30 minute epic about love, legacy, death, family and friendship. In order to age Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino authentically, Scorsese opted to use innovative VFX technology instead of just applying make-up. A common accusation leveled against director Spike Lee is that he romanticizes the gangster lifestyle.