15 Great Crime Movies That Make Us Root for the Bad Guys

15 Great Crime Movies That Make Us Root for the Bad Guys
Image credit: Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures

What makes mafia movies so captivating?

Have you ever thought about why mafia movies are so darn intriguing? There's just something about those films that really sucks you in when they explore the shady world of the mafia. If you are into these kinds of movies, this list is for you.

Goodfellas (1990)

Goodfellas is the kind of movie that makes you feel like you're part of the gang. Directed by Martin Scorsese, this film shows you the allure of the mafia lifestyle: the power, the camaraderie, the thrill of living on the edge.

But the film doesn't shy away from showing the darker side, like the paranoia and the inevitable downfall.

The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather is a legend in its own right. It's not just a movie; it's a cultural phenomenon. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, this film gives us a look into the life of the Corleone family. It's an epic saga that spans generations.

The charm of The Godfather lies in its ability to portray mobsters not just as criminals, but as people with their own codes, values, and struggles. It almost makes you sympathize with them.

Donnie Brasco (1997)

Donnie Brasco brings a different flavor to the table. It's based on the true story of an FBI agent who goes undercover to infiltrate the mafia. What makes this movie so intriguing is its focus on the relationship between the agent (Johnny Depp ) and a low-level mobster (Al Pacino).

The lines between right and wrong blur, and you find yourself empathizing with both the law and the lawless.

A Prophet (2009)

This French film follows an imprisoned young man who gets sucked into the criminal world. A Prophet doesn't glamorize the crime world; rather, it shows the survival instinct and the strategic mind games one must play.

Gomorrah (2008)

Gomorrah offers a gritty, unpolished look at the Italian mafia, specifically the Camorra in Naples. This film stands out for its almost documentary-style depiction of the mafia’s influence on ordinary lives. The characters are not glorified anti-heroes, but real people trapped in a vicious cycle.

This depiction, while stark and brutal, can also be oddly magnetic. The raw power and ruthlessness displayed by the characters provide a grim fascination for viewers, subtly glamorizing the mafia’s brutal rule.

The Departed (2006)

The Departed is a masterful exploration of identity and loyalty within the Irish mafia in Boston. The film's clever plot, engaging characters, and sharp dialogue make the dangerous world of crime seem almost intoxicating.

With characters played by stellar actors, the film brings a certain charisma to its portrayal of mobsters and undercover agents.

Eastern Promises (2007)

This movie takes us into the heart of the Russian mafia in London. The storytelling is intense, and the characters are captivating. Viggo Mortensen, in particular, delivers an unforgettable performance.

What's really intriguing about this film is how it portrays the mafia world as one of honor and loyalty, but beneath that veneer lies a brutal and unforgiving reality.

Road to Perdition (2002)

Road to Perdition is a bit different. Set during the Great Depression, it follows a hitman who seeks vengeance against a mob boss who betrayed him. The movie beautifully captures the period's aesthetic and has an emotional aspect that's often missing in typical mafia films.

What makes this movie stand out is its focus on the father-son relationship at its core.

Miller's Crossing (1990)

Miller's Crossing is a stylish, Coen Brothers film that dives into the power struggles within a crime syndicate. The dialogue is sharp, the characters are complex, and the plot twists keep you on your toes.

It's a film that romanticizes the mafia life with its witty banter and slick suits, but it doesn't fail to show the violence and treachery that comes with the territory.

Black Mass (2015)

Black Mass is a gritty portrayal of one of the most notorious gangsters in U.S. history, James "Whitey" Bulger, played by Johnny Depp, who is almost unrecognizable in the role. This film is worth watching at least for its raw depiction of Bulger's life — from his rise to power to his brutal methods of maintaining control.

Casino (1995)

Martin Scorsese's Casino is a classic when it comes to depicting the glitz and glamor of the mob's involvement in Las Vegas casinos. With Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci leading the cast, Casino offers a vibrant yet dangerous view of how organized crime can infiltrate the highest levels of the casino industry.

The movie makes the mafia life seem almost enviable, if it wasn't for the underlying current of violence and betrayal.

The Irishman (2019)

The Irishman is another Scorsese masterpiece that hit the screens in 2019. This epic film spans decades, telling the story of Frank Sheeran (played by Robert De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hitman involved with criminal Russell Bufalino and his family.

While showing the power and influence of organized crime, the film also paints a poignant picture of its cost on human relationships.

American Gangster (2007)

American Gangster takes us back to the 70s in Harlem, where Frank Lucas (played by the ever-cool Denzel Washington) rises to power in the criminal world. What's so appealing about this movie is the rags-to-riches story.

Lucas starts from the bottom and, through cunning and ruthlessness, becomes the kingpin of a drug empire.

City of God (2002)

This Brazilian masterpiece drops us into the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. It's raw, it's real, and it's powerful. Despite the violence and danger, there’s a sense of freedom and rebellion that’s hard to ignore. The characters carve out their own destinies, and there’s a certain allure to that fierce independence.

Layer Cake (2004)

Layer Cake, a British gem that introduces us to a nameless drug dealer (Daniel Craig before he was Bond) looking to retire from the business. What’s fascinating here is the elegance of the crime world. It’s not just about muscle; it’s about brains and strategy.