There will be blood—and lots of it.
While you could definitely make a case for the Western, there’s probably no genre more American than the gangster movie. These stories tell us something about our ruthless pursuit of success, obsession with violence, and need to always have more. The following gangster movies on Netflix are a sampling of the genre’s best, in the U.S. and abroad. Most of them are a bloody good time. Some are just bloody.
The best gangster movies on Netflix
1) The Godfather Saga
It’s difficult to even talk about The Godfather without considering the monumental impact it had on cinema and pop culture at large. The first film defined the gangster genre and gave us icons in Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone and Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone. The second film subverted the expectations set by the first one while also making newcomer Robert De Niro a star. The third film… well, the less said about the third film the better. Regardless, Francis Ford Coppola’s trilogy still stands as one of the finest American movie epics of all time. A defining immigrant story, a revelatory take on the nature of violence, and a profound meditation on family and power, The Godfather is all it’s cracked up to be and more. —Chris Osterndorf
Scarface is a movie that has been so totally devoured by pop culture, it’s hard to approach it simply as a film. Yet beyond all the famous one-liners, there’s still a great movie there, one that both stands on its own and exists as the very embodiment of ‘80s excess. Brian De Palma, working from a script written by Oliver Stone, pushes everything to the limit and then a bit further. The performances from Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer are unforgettable, despite being reduced a thousand times to parody. The movie’s handling of race might not hold up so well, but if you’ve gone your whole life without seeing Scarface, you should finally find out what you’ve been missing. —C.O.
3) Once Upon a Time in America
Hey, you look like a person who’s got four hours! Why not watch this classic crime film from Sergio Leone? If you can get past the length, this epic starring Robert De Niro as prohibition-era Jewish gangster David “Noodles” Aaronson is worth it. The final feature he completed before his death, the film is filled with Leone’s classically cinematic imagery, not to mention another legendary score by his longtime collaborator, Ennio Morricone. Eat your heart out, Quentin Tarantino. Leone owns the “Once Upon a Time” thing forever. —C.O.
4) L.A. Confidential
Despite being an homage to classic film noir, L.A. Confidential is also classic ‘90s. From the violent, masculine themes to the cast of rising and established stars (some of whom are better left unmentioned), it’s an ideal time capsule of the decade. Even the movie’s loss to the lesser Titanic (sorry everybody!) at the Academy Awards feels like a piece of ‘90s history—though it’s worth mentioning that Kim Basinger did pick up Best Supporting Actress for her first-rate turn as a prostitute who’s a lookalike for Veronica Lake. —C.O.
Mexican crime film The 4th Company doesn’t rise to the level of genre mainstays like Goodfellas, City of God, and A Prophet, but you can see what co-directors Mitzi Vanessa Arreola and Amir Galvan Cervera are aiming for. The film, set in the late 1970s, follows Zambrano, a young man with a passion for American football who gets sent to the Mexico Distrito Federal Penitentiary for car theft. Zambrano joins the prison’s football team, Los Perros, which doubles as the warden’s personal goon squad, the 4th Company. Arreola and Cervera are clearly determined to show the corruption of the prison system. Unfortunately, that means the football aspect of the story feels like an afterthought. But if you enjoy crime films, this one will scratch your itch until the next one comes along. —Eddie Strait
6) Touch of Evil
Touch of Evil is Orson Welles’ great recovered masterpiece. Infamously butchered by the studio upon its initial release for being too dark, Welles’ film noir about about police corruption and murder in a Mexican bordertown was re-released in its original form in 1998. Since then, it’s gone on to earn the rightful reputation of one of the greatest movies ever made. There’s a lot to praise in Touch of Evil, from the tight script to the fantastic cast, which includes a strong supporting turn from Janet Leigh, memorable cameos from Marlene Dietrich, Joseph Cotton, Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor, and an iconic leading performance from Welles himself as Police Captain Hank Quinlan (pretty much everyone is great except Charlton Heston, unconvincingly playing Mexican.) But as always, it’s Welles’ direction that steals the show. The movie is worth watching for the opening crane shot alone. —C.O.
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The best gangster shows on Netflix
1) Breaking Bad
To even put Breaking Bad in the gangster genre seems like a misnomer, given that the show is so much more than what comes to mind for most people when they think of traditional “gangster” stories. Yet the story of terminally ill chemistry teacher Walter White’s descent into evil as he rises to power as a drug lord is ostensibly still a genre show. Breaking Bad is not a conventional crime thriller, but it does fit into a category the same way that The Sopranos or The Wire do—which is to say, not neatly. The show succeeded because, like many other TV dramas from this era, it used genre tropes to explore deeper ideas. It’s the reason why 10 years after it first premiered, Breaking Bad is still routinely called the best television show of all time. —C.O.
Narcos chronicles the rise and fall of legendary drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, as well as the men tasked with bringing him to justice. Where does the show go from here? Obviously, the war on drugs wasn’t just a war on one man. While Narcos could easily have finished Escobar’s story and then bowed out, there’s plenty more real-world drama to be explored in our country’s controversial and seemingly never-ending battle against narcotics as we gear up for season 3. Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela and the Cali Cartel will become the new “big bads” of the show. Producers also hinted that the action will eventually turn to Mexico and another legendary drug kingpin: Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. But start from the beginning: Narcos will make you root for Pablo, and it’s full of sweltering action as it rolls to its inevitable end. Narcos season 4 has already been confirmed, and it appears to be heading south of the border. —David Wharton
Beneath the charming sarcasm of Jason Bateman’s exterior, there’s always been a hint of malice. That makes him the perfect lead for this attempt at prestige drama. Financial adviser Marty Byrde flees Chicago with his wife, Wendy (Laura Linney), and two children for Lake of the Ozarks. Once there, he’s tasked with laundering $8 million for a Mexican drug cartel. Marty is in over his head almost as soon as Ozark begins, and he struggles to keep from drowning throughout the 10-episode season. As is always the case with this kind of show, that’s the sick fun of it. —C.O.
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This German-made pre-WW2 drama takes viewers back in time to the Weimar Republic in the Golden Twenties. Creators Tom Tykwer, Hendrik Handloegten, and Achim von Borries recreate the atmosphere with stunning detail. With production costs exceeding $40 million, the show is the most expensive German TV series and non-English language drama series ever. The end result is Cabaret meets crime television. It also offers Americans a dire warning. As the plot progresses, heroes must choose between their morals and nationalism. Babylon Berlin shows us how a progressive nation can crumble when it allows bigotry and intolerance to fester. —Tess Cagle
5) Drug Lords
Each episode of Drug Lords explores the life of a different narcotics boss, as well as their organizations and the law enforcement officials who eventually brought them down. All of these stories have been fictionalized at least once, inviting comparisons to their Hollywood retellings. Many players from these events are interviewed, with results that range from extremely candid and revealing to by-the-book recounts of historical events. —C.O.
Through a bounty of interviews with cops, criminals, and addicts, Dope makes one thing clear: The war on drugs is, and always has been, horrible. The show’s casually depressing portrayal of America’s narcotics policies makes it a frustrating watch, shocking and completely unsurprising at once. But, despite its other faults, it’s worth watching. —C.O.
Need more ideas? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, rom-coms, LGBT movies, gangster movies, Westerns, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.