MANILA, Philippines – So you’ve finally watched The Godfather after years of putting it off and now you’re sitting in quarantine with cotton balls in your cheeks, cat on your lap, and answering Zoom calls like you’re Don Corleone.
So what? Big deal. (Joe Pesci voice)
If you do find peace and entertainment in the violent pleasures of the mobster cinematic universe, have we got a list for you. Here are 10 picks now streaming on Netflix:
Imperial Dreams (2014)
On the polar opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum, we have America’s modern gangster films that highlight both criminal and social injustice.
Take for instance this 2014 Sundance drama starring then-unknown John Boyega of Star Wars fame. Penned and directed by first-timer Malik Vitthal, Imperial Dreams is about a former gangster and inmate whose dreams of becoming a writer are hampered by familial and criminal ties.
For a more grounded depiction on modern gang life, paired with the melancholic tones of Flying Lotus, this one’s for you.
American History X (1998)
Emphasizing the racial aspect of inner city gang conflict, this 1998 cult classic sadly still rings relevant in today’s world.
Similar to Imperial Dreams, it also begins with the freeing of a former prisoner – this time, a reformed Neo-Nazi. In an Oscar-nominated role, Edward Norton portrays this character as he tries to rescue his fanatical brother from the same toxic ideologies that landed him in jail.
American History X also earned a Best Original Screenplay nomination for then first-time writer, David McKenna (Blow, S.W.A.T.).
HONG KONG CRIME WAVE
A Better Tomorrow (1986)
The next few entries hail from Hong Kong’s wave of triad films that began in the ’80s. Netflix offers a handful of such titles, but best start with an earlier work from the godfather himself, John Woo.
A Better Tomorrow follows – you guessed it – a reformed gangster on a dangerous path to reconcile with his distant brother, a policeman. Aside from elevating the international careers of both John Woo and superstar Chow Yun-Fat, A Better Tomorrow is ultimately, like any gangster film, a family affair.
Premiering at the 58th Cannes Film Festival, this more recent selection narratively mirrors The Godfather’s story of a criminal underworld’s struggle for power.
The story begins when a mob boss contests the customary appointment of a new leader, shaking the bureaucratic foundations that built Hong Kong’s formidable triad centuries before. Election is directed by Johnnie To, a big name to Hong Kong cinema fans such as Quentin Tarantino.
Infernal Affairs (2002)
Famously known for inspiring Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed, this gangster classic by co-directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak exhibits all sides of organized crime.
Infernal Affairs takes the form of a parallel thriller between a policeman who infiltrates a gang, and a gangster who infiltrates the police. In the film, Andy Lau (different from the director) pairs up with Hong Kong icon Tony Leung for the lead roles that were subsequently played in the remake by Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively.
Peaky Blinders (2013)
Needing no introduction, this Netflix Original series takes us to the streets of Birmingham and into the shady endeavors of the mighty Shelby family. Starring Cillian Murphy, the hit series ran locally on BBC before expanding globally through Netflix, eventually adding the likes of Tom Hardy and Adrien Brody to its cast.
Set in the period between the two world wars, Peaky Blinders stylistically combines history and fiction, featuring figures like Winston Churchill while simultaneously cutting action montages to the sounds of Radiohead and David Bowie.
Sons of Anarchy (2008)
The other series on the list, Sons of Anarchy, is The Godfather of bike gangs.
Also featuring an heir’s rise to power, the show hinges on the concept of morality within organized crime. Whereas Don Vito Corleone ruled off drug trafficking, Sons of Anarchy’s Jax Teller aspires to fulfill his father’s wish to retire from arms dealing.
Starring English actor Charlie Hunnam, the hit FX show was inspired by California’s infamous Hells Angels – featuring cameos from real life members. Another fun fact: both The Godfather and Sons of Anarchy have been adapted into boardgames that are often compared to each other.
The Untouchables (1987)
What Netflix lacks in foreign fare, it makes up for with American classics. And when we say “gangster film,” another title that immediately springs to mind is Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables.
Adapted by theater legend David Mamet, the film tells the true story of Elliot Ness and the ragtag team that successfully took down Chicago mob legend, Al Capone.
Starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery and Robert De Niro as Capone, The Untouchables is truly a star-studded work of cinema, both inside and out.
Perhaps the biggest name in the mafia genre, Martin Scorsese built his prestigious career on his experiences growing up in Little Italy, mob haven of New York.
Starring the unholy trinity of Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci, Scorsese’s Goodfellas chronicles the rise and fall of real life mobster, Henry Hill Jr. If you get a kick out of Scorsese and his rogues gallery, we recommend a double-feature with the film’s baby brother, 2019’s The Irishman.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
And if this wasn’t an obvious enough pick – now you too, can participate in the timeless debate for the best Godfather movie (it’s not the third one). Most striking about this film is its archetypal structure – a parallel narrative between the rise of Michael Corleone and the humble history of his father Vito. You might have seen this more recently adapted in 2018’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
Half-jokes aside, with De Niro playing a young Vito (Marlon Brando in the first film), The Godfather Part II essentially gives us a double-feature starring mafia cinema’s two greats.
Between De Niro, Scorsese and John Woo, it seems global crime cinema runs a mafia of its own. But remember, this list is only a primer of titles available on Netflix.
We do hope to see more diverse additions to the catalog, such as Japanese yakuza films by Takeshi Kitano and Seijun Suzuki, or Brazil’s highly-acclaimed City of God by Fernando Meirelles (The Two Popes). Either way, this should all be enough to initiate you into the cinematic underworld that is the mafia genre.
Now spit those cotton balls out of your mouth. You’re scaring the cat. – Rappler.com
Outside of Rappler, Pawi is an independent filmmaker and founder of Manila Movie Nights, a weekly film club hosted at Borough, Bonifacio Global City. As both a New York-trained cinephile and Marvel fanboy, Pawi promotes movies that overlap mainstream and arthouse circles in the hopes of cultivating a more inclusive film community.
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