Best Mafia Movies To Stream On Netflix

The best mafia movies on Netflix include a pair of Martin Scorsese classics and an overlooked Denzel Washington drama.

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

Mafia movies have been some of the best directed and best-acted in movie history. Netflix has thousands of movies available in its vast catalog of films, but the four listed here are the best of the mafia films available to be streamed right now. Ranging from detailed and steeped in the history of the mob to a fictionalized bank heist, each is well worth an afternoon’s viewing.

The Irishman (2019)

The greatest mafia movie of the last few years, The Irishman, is also a Netflix original created by Martin Scorsese. Following the rise of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a mob hitman that gets entangled with Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), based on the true story of Sheeran, extensively documented in the book I Heard Your Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. The film plays a little fast and loose with reality, but as with Scorsese’s other mob classics, Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed, it’s a twisting tale of betrayal, power, and respect.

The Irishman was a success upon its release, despite the incredible running time of 209 minutes, earning an incredible 10 Academy Award nominations. While it didn’t win, it did pick up a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama. Beyond the awards, in an unusual move for a realistic mafia film, it’s the technology and special effects that earned the film the most press.

Martin Scorsese used de-aging effects on the cast, making the legends in front of the camera look like, after post-production effects were done, they were 20-30 years younger. A total of 1,750 digital effect shorts were utilized to achieve the effect of actors in their 70s, playing characters in their 30s and 40s.

American Gangster (2007)

Denzel Washington gives an acting tour de force in American Gangster as Frank Lucas, the real-life mob kingpin that rose to power smuggling drugs into the United States onboard planes returning from Vietnam. Following his meteoric rise, Lucas is targetted by the FBI, led by agent Richie Rob, played by Russell Crowe, but between the rise and fall is a wild ride of excess, combining Scarface with The Godfather.

Though it’s fictionalized, the real Frank Lucas, and his attorney, Richie Rob (yes, the former Federal Agent is now friends with the target of his career-making case), were on hand during development, allowing Washing and Crowe to learn directly from the real people behind their characters. Beyond the two legendary leading men starring together, the rest of the cast includes Cuba Gooding Jr., Armand Assante, Idris Elba, RZA, Common, Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lymari Nadal, and Carla Gugino.

The depiction of Frank Lucas as rising above the mafia families that controlled New York in the 70s is a Hollywood exaggeration, but as a major film, it’s interesting to see one about another big-time player butting heads with the Five Families.

Heat (1995)

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Heat is not only one of the best crime movies ever made but one of the greatest movies of all time. Netflix allowing new generations to watch the 1995 film is a fantastic use for the service, featuring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro at their very best as a cop and robber, respectively. The rest of the cast is filled with acting heavyweights, including Danny Trejo, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Val Kilmer, Jeremy Piven, Hank Azaria, Ashley Judd, and a young Natalie Portman.

One of the most influential films of all time, Heat had an impact on The Dark Knight, The Town, the blockbuster video game franchise Grand Theft Auto, and, unfortunately, countless real-life crimes throughout the world. Yet, the best part of the film, is between Pacino and De Niro in a diner, with each major star giving their all to what is only five minutes of dialogue, but it’s the most tense exchange ever caught on camera.

Director Michael Mann had major successes before and after Heat, but this is his magnum opus and required viewing for all fans of crime dramas, even if it isn’t a mafia movie in the strictest sense of the genre, it hits all the same beats and will appeal to all the same viewers.

The Departed (2006)

With a cast more stacked than The Irishman, The Departed finally earned Martin Scorsese an Oscar for Best Picture after he was denied five times previously. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon as Massachusetts State Police officers with ties to the Boston mob under the control of Jack Nicholson’s Frank Costello, there are the usual twists, turns, betrayals, and a final shot that went down in film history as one of the worst, or best, of all time.

Joining the three award-winning leading men is an equally accomplished cast, including Vera Farmiga, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Anthony Anderson, and Mark Wahlberg. Either supporting DiCaprio’s undercover officer or clandestinely working for Costello’s gang, there’s not a bad performance in the film.

As a modern mafia movie, The Departed shows the current decline of organized crime, similar to The Sopranos, showing the lengths the mob will go to hold onto a few square miles of power. If you only watch one film on this list, it should be Heat, but if you watch two, make sure to catch one of Scorsese’s classics while it’s still available to stream on Netflix, unless you want a film about the mafia before its fall into a small cult of personality.