What’s a Gangster Movie?
Gangster films are a subgenre of crime films. They typically involve organized crime and organized criminals, like gangsters, mafia, or gang wars. Generally, these films are based on the global underworld, and their image is one of glamour and violence.
Gangster films tend to evoke the famously thrilling atmosphere of the Roaring ’20s, featuring crimes like bootlegging, gambling, prostitution, and hijacking. Characters in these films typically range from suave and seductive leaders of the underworld to hard-boiled and ambitious molls, or female criminals.
Characteristics of Gangster Movies
Gangster films are characterized by their gritty subject matter and their dark atmospheres. They often take place in large cities, and their stories often center around what happens when crime bosses go to court or contend with each other.
They usually focus on the criminal activities of a particular gang and their attempts to evade the law or fight other gangs. They often feature protagonists who are thieves or have criminal careers, and they often showcase morally ambiguous characters.
History of Gangster Movies
The early roots of gangster films as we know them today can be traced back to the pulp crime novels of the 1920s and 1930s. In particular, the work of authors like James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, and Erle Stanley Gardner inspired films like The Public Enemy and Scarface, both released in 1931.
The 1930s saw a huge spike in gangster films, with films like Little Caesar, The Petrified Forest and Angels with Dirty Faces showcasing the gritty underworld in all its glory. These films often featured criminals as protagonists, exemplifying their recklessness and glamour.
However, the genre was eventually censored due to a public outcry. But in the 1970s, films like The Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde were released, bringing the genre back into mainstream focus.
Notable Gangster Movies
Throughout film history, there have been some iconic gangster films.
The 1972 classic The Godfather is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time and is considered a cornerstone of the gangster genre. It follows the story of the Corleone family, an organized crime family, in late-1940s New York.
Goodfellas, released in 1990, is regarded as one of the greatest films of the gangster genre. It follows the real-life story of a gangster and chronicles his rise and fall.
The 1994 classic Pulp Fiction is another classic gangster film. The film follows various criminals and their dealings, and it is widely acclaimed for its use of non-linear storytelling.
Modern Interpretations of Gangster Movies
Modern interpretations of gangster films often focus on themes of social injustice and complex morality. Films like The Departed and The Town focus on the consequences of gang life and crime. In The Departed, the moral complexity of choices made by gang members is explored as well as the psychological toll it takes on them as individuals.
More recently, films like The Irishman and Joker offer a more critical look at organized crime and its effects on society. They juxtapose the gangsters’ stories with the victims of their schemes and action scenes.
Impact and Influence of Gangster Movies
Gangster films have a wide influence on pop culture. They are widely referenced in films, television, music, and video games. Many video games draw heavily on themes and motifs from gangster films, such as Grand Theft Auto.
Gangster films also have an influence on fashion, with certain clothes, such as pinstriped suits, becoming associated with the genre. They also often use music that has become iconic, such as the theme song for The Godfather, or the iconic saxophone riffs from Big Deal on Madonna Street.
Gangster Movies and Social Issues
Gangster films are often used to discuss social issues. Films like City of God and La Haine use the gangster genre to explore themes of poverty, crime, and inequality in society. City of God follows two boys who grow up in a Rio de Janeiro slum and resort to criminal activities to survive, while La Haine follows three young men living in a rough Paris suburb.
Gangster films can also be used to explore themes of racism and prejudice. In The Color of Money, Eddie Felson, a white man, breaks into the underground pool scene dominated by black gangsters. The film explores how racism affects his story and his struggle to overcome it.
Gangster Movies From Female Perspectives
Gangster films are traditionally portrayed from the male perspective. However, female gangsters have long been part of organized crime and there has been an increasing number of female-driven gangster films released in recent years.
Films like Widows and Hustlers showcase female gangsters and how they fit in the underworld. Widows follows a group of women who organize a heist after their criminal husbands are killed in action, while Hustlers follows a group of strippers who scam their wealthy Wall Street clients.
These films provide a fresh perspective on the genre, as they feature women on the periphery of the criminal underworld and show how they can be masterful criminals while still struggling to make ends meet.
Gangster films are a classic genre of crime films which have been around for decades. They feature protagonists who are thieves and criminals and have been used to explore themes of social injustice and morality. Throughout film history, there have been some iconic gangster films which have become part of popular culture. In more recent years, there have been a growing number of female-driven gangster films, which provide a fresh perspective on the genre and show how women can be clever and powerful criminals.