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Image source: Stockholm Film Festival

7 Movies like American Gangster: Mafia Mobsters

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Andy_McKendry_itcher_contributorThere are plenty of movies like American Gangster so I’ve tried to pick some that you may not have seen. My suggestions include Once Upon a Time in America, King of New York, and Killing them Softly. ~ Andy McKendry

Mafia Kingpins and a Changing World

American Gangster is an epic film starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. It charts the meteoric rise of criminal heavy weight Frank Lucas (Washington) who uses his own ingenuity to attain his bastardised version of the American dream.
It’s an exciting film with great cinematography and if you enjoyed it then here are some films similar to American Gangster for you to watch next.

Movies Similar to ‘American Gangster’…

‘Once Upon a Time in America’ (Sergio Leone, 1984)

This is a long film and one that requires some patience but it pays off in the end. Starring Robert De Niro, James Woods, Jennifer Connolly, and Joe Pesci, this Ennio Morricone scored criminal epic is well worth watching.

Leone brings his distinctive directorial style to this movie ensuring that this tale of gangsters in 1960s New York feels just like a Western. It’s a particularly American story of big city criminals and its indicative of the Hollywood love affair with tales of criminality.

A sprawling epic tale of criminal life in The Big Apple, Once Upon a Time in America is a film that set the tone for much of the gangster epics that have followed.

‘Mean Streets’ (Martin Scorsese, 1973)

A definitive gangster movie, Mean Streets is the story of petty criminal life on the fringes of Mafioso culture. Once more a movie starring Robert De Niro, Mean Streets also boasts an acting credit for a young Harvey Keitel.

It’s an early outing for Scorsese and De Niro but it’s a great example of what the two could accomplish when working on the same story. For fans of a romantic snapshot of criminal life you can’t go wrong with Mean Streets.

Another very American tale of criminality replete with cocksure gangsters in New York City, Mean Streets was influential in paving the way for films like American Gangster.

‘King of New York’ (Abel Ferrara, 1990)

There are plenty of familiar faces in Ferrara’s King of New York including Christopher Walken, Laurance Fishburne, David Caruso, Wesley Snipes, and Steve Buscemi. It’s a great film that’s clearly helmed by its casting choices.

The story involves a criminal in New York City who attempts to control the illegal drug market and give the proceeds back to the poor. It is a reworking of the folk tale of Robin Hood and it relocates its narrative to the modern era and the American continent.


New York was once a city full of notable criminals and both King of New York and American Gangster set their stories in a past replete with action, violence, and the lucrative proceeds of crime.

‘Killing Them Softly’ (Andrew Dominik, 2012)

Starring Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, and Ray Liotta, Killing Them Softly is a more methodical take on the modern crime saga. It’s a film about incompetence, violence, and a hit man (Pitt) brought in to clear everything (and everyone) up.

Pitt’s performance is compelling, terrifying, and like Tom Cruise in Michael Mann’s Collateral it seems like nothing can stop him. Death comes for us all and in Dominik’s film it takes the form of Pitt’s effective killer.

A far more modern take on the age old crime saga, Killing Them Softly is a great piece of cinema – focussed, meandering, and frightening in its inexorable nature.


If You like ‘American Gangster’, You Will like…

The films listed above are all great examples of the American crime narrative. In effect the characters hark back to an earlier more rudimentary time in the country’s past – the gunslingers of the Wild West.

But there are plenty of crime films that hail from countries other than the States. Here are some other movies like American Gangster that tell similar stories but are set far from the American homeland.

‘A Prophet’ (Jacques Audiard, 2009)

A truly epic film, this French crime drama follows the story of Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) who is a young Muslim man attempting to survive in a violent prison. He starts working for a Corsican crime boss and slowly his life slides ever further into the world of organised crime.

A Prophet charts a rise to criminal prominence in much the same way as American Gangster.

‘Infernal Affairs’ (Andrew Lau, Alan Mak, 2002)

The first in a trilogy of films, Infernal Affairs is a twisty tale of espionage and counter espionage set in the world of Triad’s and the police fighting them. It also served as the basis for Scorcese’s The Departed.

Perhaps slightly culturally constrained, Infernal Affairs is no less compelling to Western audiences and it is (arguably) a better film than The Departed.

‘Animal Kingdom’ (David Michod, 2010)

Australian cinema can often be dark and gritty and Animal Kingdom is no exception. It tells the tale of a particular family and their descent into the murky world of crime, drugs, and violence.

Set in a world that seems so alien, Animal Kingdom is a powerful film that showcases the potential of contemporary Australian cinema.


My Thoughts

American cinema has a colourful past full of crime driven epics. But those stories can be found in the cinematic output of other cultures too. Personally I would recommend watching any of the above if you’re looking for a film similar to American Gangster. Be sure to give some foreign films a chance too.

Let me know what you think with a comment below.
I’m a writer. It’s what I do and what I′ve always done. As a child I wrote on walls with a crayon. Now I write for websites. I write for my blog where I post reviews of films, TV, and occasionally write short stories and I also run a writer and illustration collective. Whatever I do involves words, and plenty of them. I’m an avid cinephile, a screenwriter, and I love telling stories. I have an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University, UK, and I work on a freelance basis and drink far too much coffee.
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