The Genre of 80s Gangster Movies
The 1980s were a time of great upheaval in the world of film, marked by the rise of violence in gangster movies and the constant struggle to identify with protagonists in critical urban settings. Gangster movies of the 80s took a variety of forms — many of which have since been duplicated in more recent films — and often debuted sketches of a moral landscape drawn out in the mind of film-goers. While the genre of gangster movie was not endemic to the 80s, the decade was filled with a substantial array of classics from which several modern works have drawn heavy influence.
The genre of gangster movies during the 80s featured dark and abysmal tales of anti-heroes falling deeper and deeper into trouble they unwittingly created. Evocative stories of an individual’s struggle to rise above the darkness often featured characters whose luck appeared to run out, or those who worked their way up the criminal ladder to eventually become true kingpins and come to terms with the repercussion-laden life that lay ahead of them. The films of this era were often darker and shrouded in moral notes of lament and regret, offering a few glimpses of hope as well.
The films were always grounded in a terrain of crime, and while their stories derived from real-life events, their imaginative, symbolic visuals and soundtracks offered viewers an enhanced cinema experience. Dubbed a “hyper-real” aesthetic, these film interposed the gritty, sepia-toned reality of crime-filled streets with daring visual composition that often found the audience in the middle of moral conflict. The interplay between moral ambiguity, danger and seduction offered something of a critique on 80s life in the US.
The success of 80s gangster films also had much to do with their documentary-style filming techniques. This allowed for more raw and human emotions to be projected through the films, with story and characters that seemed to innovate in the genre, becoming “icon” films of the decade. This “hyperreal” style of filming was the pinnacle of innovation in the era. Directors like Martin Scorsese and other film-makers likewise became icons of the genre, as did their prefered stars, like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Sean Penn.
Scorsese’s films, in particular, are credited with shaping the cinematic vision of the gangster genre, making leaps and bounds in the relaying of narrative and the portrayal of scenes that— to the watching audience— would forever be pinned onto their minds. Movies like Mean Streets, Goodfellas and the King of Comedy all made a profound impact in the 80s and are some of the greatest gangster movies watched time and time again today.
The Casting of ’80s Gangster Movies
The casting of 80s gangster movies also served to immortalise the genre. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Sean Penn all played notable landscape-defining roles in the genre, becoming some of the most memorable stars to be featured in the decade’s films. Other infamous villains, such as James Woods, Robert Patrick, and Christopher Walken, were also featured in the movies, bringing an exciting range of characters to the genre and evolving the crime action genre far beyond.
The casting of 80s gangster movies developed the genre, rendering it with more faithful portrayals of the criminal underbelly. Pictures that had already done this in preceding decades, such as The Godfather and Goodfellas, allowed for a new wave of actors and directors to take on the challenge posed by the genre, painting an emotional and moralistic portrait of the protagonists and their lives.
In many places, it is also argued that these films made such an enduring impression due to their intricate blend between classical and neo-noir style. These two competing forms of storytelling were combined in an ambitious attempt to bridge the gap between the two different eras of crime films, courting nostalgia while embracing still-emerging techniques.
The casting of 80s gangster movies also advanced some of the superstars to a new wave of fans, inspiring real-world implications and controversies. Robert De Niro for instance, famously spent time in ‘Little Italy’ to better understand his costume and environment for his leading role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather.
The Depiction of Scenery in ’80s Gangster Movies
Gangster films of the 80s had a memorable knack for capturing the atmosphere and scenery of the time. Those pictures had an ever-growing power to induce a feeling of emotion derived from just a single image. They often have an explorative response to their surroundings, and with the help of early synthesizers and the sonic palette of ambient electronic music, filmmakers were able to play with realistic emotions and create a lasting impact that trends until this day.
Scenery representation through the use of sepia-tone also effectively demonstrated to the audience how hard it was to rise above the low ceilings created by the scopiless quality of the environment. The ability to capture the desolation and beauty of a hard-bitten urban atmosphere became a trademark quality of the genre it seemed.
Atmospherically, the films drove suspense by placing characters in dark areas, with the score uniting to create a powerful mise-en-scène. Scenes from Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ is an example of this persuasive atmospheric charm and is often recognized as an achievement of its own due to the ground-breaking classic dominating the genre.
Possibly the most influential film of the genre, this movie was hailed for the edgy look it gave off. It provoked heavy conversations in public circles regarding scenes deemed overly violent at the time, which only furthered the artistry of the movie and made for a lasting legacy.
The Lasting Legacy of ’80s Gangster Movies
It is clear that ‘80s gangster movies enjoyed a reputation of respect, both critically and among the public, that only came around once in a long while. They remain part of popular culture to this day, particularly amongst audiences eager to delve into rich neorealist stories that echo a period of American life.
The influence of the movies of the era can still be felt today, with directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Guy Ritchie, Christopher Nolan, and Francis Ford Coppola, all citing the film as inspiration for their works. In this way, the lasting legacy of the 80s gangster movie era is one that continues to impress and inspire.
Conclusion and Remnants
The genre of 80s gangster movies remains extremely lucrative, diverse, and influential today. Its far-reaching effects are felt not only in the respective views of criminal activity, but also in the various sub-genres and representations of an urban underbelly that the movies presented to audiences. Moreover, the impact of the genre’s symbols and characters have found a place in the zeitgeist of our collective conscious.
The gritty portrayals and hyperrealist depictions of a violent-strewn criminal underworld not only lured in a substantial audience but also left a lasting impression that can still be felt today. The ‘80s gangster movie remains an enduring and influential feat of audiovisual grace and storytelling, one that continues to capture millions of admirers around the world, who are pulled in by the stories of anti-hero’s and moral strengths that the genre has so notoriously championed.
Popular Culture and the 80s Gangster Movie
The impact of the ’80s gangster movie has been so extensive that it not only polluted popular culture with its language and ideas — such as the phrase “gangsta rap” — but it also became an icon for various popular culture items that derive from music and fashion trends.
Moreover, the impact of the gangster movie was so great that, at times, its influence could be seen in all subcultures, from comedy and music to fashion and streetwear. In this sense, the films provided a story, a cast of characters, and a way of thinking and relating to other subcultures of our time.
The films of the genre also formed discourses of the current global political state and provided a critique on the period’s race and class disparities. This was especially seen in films such as Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, in which the filmmaker tackled systemic racism and class-based marginalization.
The films also provided a critical response to the glamorization of crime, and this was evident in films such as Scarface, where the audience had a literal invitation to delve into the world of crime without suffering any of its devastating consequences.
Recent Works With Roots in ’80s Gangster Movies
Recent films such as the Netflix series Narcos or the recent film Drive are examples of the way in which the genre is continually reinvented and reinterpreted. Such films contain recognizable characters and scenarios that find their roots in decades’ old movies, while weaving in a certain postmodern style that emerges from within an abundant palette of choices.
Carol Reed’s Get Carter is another film that has found success in its reimagined remake. While this film does not fit strictly in the gangster movie genre, its gritty noir tones and densely packed narrative make it a quintessential gangster film.
The remake of Get Carter also stands as a testament to the resurgence of neo-noir films. Such films have sought to explore the technology-driven space of our modern world, as well as the inner psyche of some of its inhabitants. Films such as End of Watch, Sicario and The Departed are some modern favorites, doing exactly that.