What all crime movies have in common is a fantastic story sure to get you glued to the screen.
What all crime movies have in common is a fantastic story sure to get you glued to the screen. These are the 10 best crime movies of all time, ranked in order using our proprietary GFR score.
Al Pacino rightfully finds himself once again (for the fourth time) on the list of 10 best crime movies of all time as Tony Montana, a Cuban refugee who comes to America to wreak some havoc. The film, written by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian DePalma (who went on to direct Pacino in Carlito’s Way), is extremely violent as it follows Montana into the crime-ridden life of drugs.
Pacino is perfect as Montana and is helped in his performance by Steven Bauer as his partner in crime, Manny Ray, Michelle Pfeifer as Elvira, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Gina, and Robert Loggia as Frank Lopez. Scarface is over-the-top, but such a great crime movie. It also has one of the most quotable lines in the history of film – “Say hello to my little friend.”
9. The Usual Suspects
Another crime film that deserves to be put on any best crime movies of all time list. The Usual Suspects tells the story of Roger “Verbal” Kint, played by Kevin Spacey who took home an Academy Award for this performance, a small-time crook who is handicapped. He is one of two survivors of a massacre and fire on the boat docks.
Kint tells his story in a series of flashbacks that include members of a gang he was involved with. They include Gabriel Byrne as Dean Keaton, Stephen Baldwin as McManus, Benicio del Toro as Fenster, and Kevin Pollak as Hockney. The film also stars Chazz Palminteri as Agent Dave Kujan and Giancarlo Esposito as Agent Jack Baer.
As Kint lays out the details of how the gang got together and how they were not given a choice in their final job, a name pops up that intrigues Agent Baer, that of a mysterious crime figure, Keyser Soze. Who is this man and what does he have to do with Kint’s gang?
The Usual Suspects builds to the point where you won’t see the ending coming as it expertly delivers a twist of all twists.
8. L.A. Confidential
Without a doubt one of the best crime films ever. The movie, based on the James Ellroy novel of the same name, stars Russell Crowe and Guy Pierce, two relatively unknown (at the time) Australian actors who caused concern because of their relatively light Hollywood film career to that point.
The film also stars Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito, David Strathaim, and in her Academy Award-winning performance, Kim Basinger. The movie finds itself in the Top 10 of best crime films because it is so well written, directed, and acted.
L.A. Confidential is set in the early ‘50s Los Angeles and tells the story of crooked cops, criminals, a brutal murder, and the criminal element trying to take over the drug trade after Mickey Cohen is arrested and there is a big void to be filled. Who is trying to fill it?
7. The Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins was already a well-known quantity in Hollywood before the role of Hannibal Lecter, everyone’s favorite cannibalistic serial killer. It is hard to imagine, this long after the fact, but Hopkins was not director Jonathan Demme’s initial choice. That went to Sean Connery, who turned down the role. Hopkins then stepped in and slurped it up with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
On top of Hopkins’s amazing performance, the film also had one from Jodie Foster who plays Clarice Starling, the FBI agent assigned to help track down the infamous Buffalo Bill, who was played by the scene-stealing and wonderfully creepy, Ted Levine, whose penchant was to skin women as to wear them. The back and forth between Foster’s Clarice and Hopkins’s Lecter is what crime movies are all about.
Director Michael Mann got tongues wagging when he was able to snag two of the most legendary actors to be part of Heat, a 1995 crime caper that saw the pairing of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The result of this pairing ended up with De Niro and Pacino spending a little over six minutes of screen time together. Underwhelming, to say the least, but one restaurant scene they are in together, commiserating about life as cop and criminal, was riveting, nevertheless.
Heat is one of the Top 10 best crime movies of all time and is based on the true story of criminal Neil McCauley and Detective Chuck Adamson, who ended up taking down McCauley after McCauley and his crew robbed a bank.
Mann’s story has De Niro playing McCauley and Pacino as Lt. Vincent Hanna, a career cop who has his sites on capturing the big dog. As the cat and mouse game begins, Hanna seems to be one step behind but remains relentless in his pursuit. Val Kilmer, Jon Voigt, Tom Sizemore, Amy Brenneman, and Ashley Judd also star in this top-notch crime thriller.
5. Pulp Fiction
There is no doubt that Quentin Tarantino knows how to write a riveting screenplay. He also knows a thing or two about directing and the combination of both in Pulp Fiction has many considering the film to be his singular masterpiece of all his other masterpieces.
Tarantino pretty much resurrected John Travolta’s career when he cast him as Vincent Vega, the brother to Vic Vega, played by Michael Madsen in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Madsen was to return as Vega but eventually passed to star in Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp, a move that Madsen regrets to this day. Speaking of Day, the role was being pushed on Daniel Day-Lewis, but Travolta eventually got it by accepting a massively reduced rate to star in the film.
The film presented out of chronological order, includes 7 sequences following 3 storylines, so audiences needed to be on their toes watching this one. On top of Travolta, the film also stars Tarantino favorite Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Rosanna Arquette, Ving Rhames, and Christopher Walken. To see it is to love it.
Martin Scorsese’s failure to win the Academy Award for best director for Goodfellas is a crime in itself. As the fourth best crime movie of all time, Scorsese co-wrote the script with author/screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, who based the story on his 1985 non-fiction tome, Wiseguy.
The story follows the rise and fall of Henry Hill Jr., a mafia associate who eventually turns into an informant for the feds. Ray Liotta plays Henry Hill while Scorsese muse, Robert De Niro plays James Conway. Joe Pesci is on board as scene-stealing Tommy DeVito while Lorraine Bracco is Henry’s wife, Karen.
Goodfellas is as classic as it comes and earned the right to be considered as one of the Top 10 crime movies of all time.
3. The Departed
Martin Scorsese put together a cast led by Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Mark Wahlberg in what would become Scorsese’s one and only Oscar win. The film, written by William Monahan, is a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Internal Affairs, while also being loosely based on the real-life story of the Winter Hill Gang crime syndicate, led by crime boss, Whitey Bulger.
Nicholson plays mob boss Frank Costello, who plants one of his own, Colin Sullivan, inside the Massachusetts State Police so he can keep tabs on everything they are trying to do to stop him. At the same time, the police department uses one of their own, Billy Costigan (DiCaprio), to go deep undercover and infiltrate Costello’s gang.
As things begin to play out, both sides start to realize that there are plants within their organizations. Now Sullivan and Costigan must work quickly and quietly to figure out who the plant is before they themselves are discovered. Absolutely one of the 10 best crime movies of all time.
2. The Godfather: Part II
If you are going to have the first Godfather film the best crime movie of all time, then you definitely must have The Godfather: Part II. To many critics (not counting Coppola himself), the sequel is a superior film and it is hard to disagree with that assessment.
Al Pacino returns as Michael Corleone, the new Godfather, and added to the cast is Robert DeNiro as a young Vito Corleone. The brilliance of this film and what Francis Ford Coppola has done is take audiences back to when Vito was a young man, first learning what a crime family was all about in Italy, then bringing this knowledge to America, where he flourished as a mob boss.
The film jumps back and forth from Vito’s start to Michael’s eventual downfall as he takes out his revenge on all that have wronged him, including his older brother Fredo (John Cazale). This stunning crime film also returns Robert Duvall as consigliere Tom Hagen, Diane Keaton as Kay, and Talia Shire as Connie. This Top 10 Best Crime Movie can be summed up in one word – brilliant.
1. The Godfather
1972’s The Godfather is, by the numbers, the best crime movie ever made. It’s not up for debate.
The Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece is a brilliant mixture of violence and terror with a beating heart that revolves around family. True, that family is the Corleone crime family, but it was this family bond that mesmerized audiences throughout its nearly 3 hour running time.
The film, for Coppola, was not an easy one to get made. Paramount balked at a number of the actors he wanted to hire for major parts in the film including Marlon Brando as the Godfather, Vito Corleone, and Al Pacino as his youngest son, Michael Corleone. It was a fight that Coppola would eventually win and one that, in hindsight, Paramount is relieved to have lost.
The film, told in epic fashion, tells the story of the Corleones, a crime family who has already found their footing by the time we first see them. It is Vito’s daughter Connie’s (Talia Shire) wedding day and as the festivities are beginning, Don Corleone is holding court in his office. We immediately see his power and the respect given to him.
When Michael arrives at his sister’s wedding, he is the innocent, fresh-faced soldier with his girlfriend Kay (Diane Keaton) in tow. Michael understands his father’s “business,” but has purposely stayed out of it. Little does he know, the business is coming to him and it will be an offer he won’t be able to refuse. The Godfather is a classic crime movie, a must-see.
- GFR Score calculated using averages of audience and critical reactions across multiple platforms.