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Top 10 Movie Crime Epics

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Matthew Thomas. Let’s shine a spotlight on the criminal underbelly. In this video, counts down our picks for the top 10 movie crime epics. Sweeping sets, powerful performances and scintillating stories come together to form some of the greatest crime movies ever made. For this list, we’re looking at movies that tell stories that focus on the criminal world. A film like “GoodFellas,” though masterful, doesn't fit the traditional definition of a film epic. Special thanks to our user jkellis for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Matthew Thomas.

Top 10 Movie Crime Epics

Let’s shine a spotlight on the criminal underbelly. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 crime epics in film.

For this list, we’re looking at movies that tell epic stories that focus on the criminal world. A film like “GoodFellas,” though masterful, doesn’t fit the traditional definition of a film epic.

#10: “Gangs of New York” (2002)

When you combine two of the greatest actors of this or any generation – in this case, Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis – with the skills of director Martin Scorsese, the results are bound to be fabulous. Bill “The Butcher” Cutting is an entity unlike any other we’ve ever seen; violent and theatrical, he’s a crime boss who holds immense political sway over those around him by force of will alone. When our protagonist sets out to bring him down, it is an almost insurmountable task, but also one of necessary and – yes, epic – proportions.

#9: “American Gangster” (2007)

This Oscar-nominated biographical crime drama depicts the life and times of gangster Frank Lucas and his journey to become one of Harlem’s most successful drug dealers. As can be imagined, nothing is easy; and Lucas must contend with another mafia boss in the city as well as the brutally honest detective that’s investigating him. The result is a stark and engaging flick filled with vibrant acting and heavy themes that won the praise of critics and movie-goers alike.

#8: “Scarface” (1983)

First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the women. When Cuban refugee Tony Montana arrived in Miami, a life of mediocrity was never in the cards. Willing to do anything and everything to gain the respect that he knows he deserves, Tony’s life story is fraught with violence, vulgarity and excess and we get to see it play out in front of us in this crime drama. Hugely influential on many films that followed, as well as pop culture in general, this rags-to-riches story depicts every stage of a crime kingpin’s life in glorious and graphic detail.

#7: “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967)

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were criminals and lovers who managed to capture the attention and hearts of the public in the midst of the Great Depression. In the capable hands of producer Warren Beatty and director Arthur Penn, who told the story in style, “Bonnie and Clyde” was a breakthrough in New Hollywood cinema and featured an infamously bloody conclusion. Despite the titular characters’ violent and destructive actions, the sentiment of taking from the rich made the criminal pair folk heroes during their heyday and has continued to ring true with audiences to this day.

#6: “The Departed” (2006)

Martin Scorsese brought together an all-star cast to bring his vision for this film to life, and it’d all be worth it, as “The Departed” finally landed him the Oscar for Best Director that had eluded him up until that point. A story where the lines between good and evil are blurred, the remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film “Infernal Affairs,” sees Leo’s undercover cop infiltrate the mob and Matt Damon playing a mole in the police for the same crime family. Meanwhile, Jack Nicholson’s Frank Costello, in one of many great performances in his storied career, is an absolute joy to behold.

#5: “L.A. Confidential” (1997)

Based on the novel of the same name, Curtis Hanson’s film adaptation was strong enough to launch the Hollywood careers of Guy Pearce and future heavyweight Russell Crowe. “L.A. Confidential” is focused on a group of LAPD officers who overcome their differences to seek justice for the victims of the serial killer known as the Nite Owl. With substance, style and beautiful cinematography, the neo-noir detective flick manages to drop you directly into the 1950s in the best way possible. Thanks to its tackling of crime, the psychology of its characters and its representation of Los Angeles, it also won two Oscars and earned rave reviews.

#4: “Heat” (1995)

Marketed mostly around the fact that Hollywood heavyweights Al Pacino and Robert De Niro would be sharing big screen time, “Heat” is actually so much more than that. Featuring what is arguably the greatest modern shootout scene in film history, it is without a doubt a superb crime epic as well as a masterpiece in a bevy of other genres. Cited as a heavy influence on several films that followed it, including “The Dark Knight,” the critically acclaimed film is deep, compelling and well-acted; plus its dark themes and story of L.A. had us all hooked.

#3: “The Untouchables” (1987)

Al Capone is a legendary gangster who has found his way to the screen several times, but it was his portrayal by Robert De Niro that is one of the most memorable. The fact that it wasn’t a major role in comparison to Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness makes it all the more impressive. Depicting the story of a small group of officers who deduce a way of bringing down the crime boss through the pedestrian route of tax evasion, “The Untouchables” is tense and riveting thanks to Brian De Palma’s directing. Meanwhile, Sean Connery, in yet another highly heralded supporting role, landed the only Academy Award of his career as Jimmy Malone, an Irish-American cop and mentor to Ness.

#2: “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984)

Sergio Leone was a filmmaker known for crafting some of the best westerns of all time. So to choose to direct an epic crime drama as his last movie ever seemed like a bold move at the time. Fortunately, this bold move paid massive dividends for audiences everywhere. Even with runtimes ranging from 139 to a mind-boggling 251 minutes depending on the region of release, each version of “Once Upon a Time in America” is beloved. Set during the Prohibition Era, and tackling issues as varied as love, sex, money and death in the world of organized crime in New York City, there can be little debate that this film deserves its place on this list.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- “The Dark Knight” (2008)
- “White Heat” (1949)
- “City of God” (2002)
- “The Sting” (1973)

#1: “The Godfather” (1972)

Spanning from Italy to America, as well as two generations of a crime family, “The Godfather” is the most preeminent crime epic in film history. When family patriarch Vito Corleone finds his life is in danger, his children come together to keep him alive and to maintain their position at the top of the crime world. Followed up by one of the best sequels of all time, the Francis Ford Coppola flick was surrounded by so many production worries that the studio kept a standby director at the ready. But, considering how much critical acclaim it was showered with, and the fact that it took home more awards than we can list here, there’s no doubt that Coppola and “The Godfather””s cast and crew came together to create an absolute masterpiece.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite epic crime film? For more film Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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