The best gangster movies are commentaries on why some people can’t, or won’t, assimilate into a civil society. These films often depict their protagonists as victims of their environment – poverty, ethnic bias, drug and alcohol abuse, broken homes – who have few options other than a life of crime. The challenge for the film director is to present a nuanced portrayal of a criminal that explains his or her behavior and the events that pushed the person into a life outside the law. (For directors who succeeded, see this list of the 50 best gangster movies of all time.)
The worst gangster films fail at nuance, and more than just that. To determine the worst examples of all time, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of December 2021. (All ratings and scores were weighted equally.)
Only movies classified in the crime genre tagged with the keyword “gangster” on IMDb, or that were nominated by the American Film Institute for their 2008 list of top 10 gangster films were considered. We excluded films that did not explicitly center on organized crime or criminals even though they may have dealt in part with that subject or those characters.
Besides failing at subtlety, movies that made our list disappoint because of muddled plots, miscasting, and/or too much violence and gore that overwhelm the film. Some movies on the list are comedies, like “The Godson” and “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” that just aren’t all that funny. Some, like “The Sting II,” with the star power of Jackie Gleason, Oliver Reed, and Teri Garr, are sequels that should have never been made.
Oscar winners Nicolas Cage, Ben Affleck, Clint Eastwood, and Cuba Gooding Jr. starred in movies on this list that they probably regret appearing in. Proven box-office draws such as Burt Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Ving Rhames, and John Travolta were unable to save the clunkers they were cast in on the list.
Twelve of the motion pictures on the list garnered a zero among Rotten Tomatoes critics. “Gotti,” starring John Travolta, was one of the movies that failed to get a positive score among critics. It did manage a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 45 percent, the highest of any gangster film on the list.
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