By Sarah Russel
Watching crime movies can be a thrilling way to kick back and forget about our own troubles, and they also provide an intriguing opportunity to study society in a way we might not normally be able to do. From Mafia films to cop dramas to westerns to superhero stories, check out how many of the following 100 crime movies you’ve seen, and how much you’ve learned from of a life of crime.
This list features Mafia classics like The Godfather and Goodfellas as well as newer hits.
- The Godfather: Still a favorite after more than 35 years, The Godfather introduces us to the tangled Mafia family of Don Vito Corleone.
- The Departed: Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film won four Oscars thanks to its beautiful direction and all-star cast including Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and others.
- Donnie Brasco: Al Pacino and Johnny Depp star in this movie about an FBI agent who goes undercover in an Italian-American Mafia ring in New York during its last days at the top.
- The Godfather Part II: Nearly as popular as the first film, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II goes back and forth in time to give us a more intimate and startling look at the history and future of the Corleone family. This film won six Oscars.
- Goodfellas: Martin Scorsese’s 1990 movie about moving up in the Mafia in 1960s and 1970s New York stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino and other talented actors. The film also won an Oscar plus numerous other film awards.
- Pulp Fiction: This brutal but comic story from Quentin Tarantino is a classic crime drama that won an Oscar and stars John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman and other big-name stars.
- Road to Perdition: Sam Mendes’ 2002 film about an Irish-American mob family is ruthless. Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig, Paul Newman, and Jude Law star.
- The Untouchables: Brian De Palma’s 1987 film centers around the mob’s attempt to take down Al Capone in 1920s Chicago. Sean Connery won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
- American Gangster: Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe star in this 2007 crime drama about the untold story of the 1970s New York mob boss Frank Lucas.
You may not associate Superman with the top crime movies, but superheroes are the ultimate crime fighters. From Batman and beyond, check out this list.
- The Dark Knight: 2008’s The Dark Night was at once a cult classic and a blockbuster film. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in the Batman film is dark, depraved and fascinating.
- Spider-Man: Tobey Maguire, James Franco, Willem Dafoe and Kirsten Dunst bring Spider-Man to life in this exciting story.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: You might not think of the TMNT as a crime drama, but they taught a generation of kids about fighting crime and discipline.
- Batman Begins: Darker than most superhero movies, the Batman revival starring Christian Bale shows us how it all began.
- Superman: The 1978 Christopher Reeve Superman is a classic good vs. evil story also starring Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman.
Cybercrime and Technology
A new crime genre focuses on cybercrime and more high-tech story lines. Here are our picks for the top films in this genre.
- The Matrix: The Matrix ushered in a new genre of film and storytelling and quickly became a cult classic.
- Untraceable: Diane Lane is an FBI agent who becomes hunted herself in this high-tech crime drama.
Cop dramas are exciting, suspenseful and full of surprises. Our picks include Dirty Harry, Training Day and others.
- The Devil’s Own: Harrison Ford plays a New York City cop who takes in an Irish immigrant, only to find that he is entangled with the IRA. Also stars Brad Pitt.
- Dirty Harry: Clint Eastwood’s famous police drama follows a 1970s cop in San Francisco who hunts a psychopathic serial killer.
- The French Connection: Gene Hackman stars in this classic cop drama about drug smugglers in New York. It’s famous car chase is still a standard for modern films.
- Training Day: Denzel Washington won an Oscar for his portrayal of a corrupt drug detective in Los Angeles.
- Se7en: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey and Gwyneth Paltrow star in this grisly murder mystery featuring the seven deadly sins.
Political and War Crimes
Political crimes and war crimes affect more than just the central characters in the film. They can tell us a lot about our society and introduce a new dialogue into the public domain.
- Schindler’s List: Steven Spielberg tackles arguably the most horrific crime in history, The Holocaust, in this heartbreaking by realistic portrayal of real-life businessman Oskar Schindler.
- Rendition: Learn about the U.S. policy of extraordinary rendition in this modern day political drama about a foreign born Egyptian-American held for interrogation.
- Munich: Steven Spielberg’s movie about the retaliation of a group of Israelis after athletes were murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics was nominated for five Oscars. Stars Eric Bana and Daniel Craig.
- Judgment at Nuremberg: This 1961 black-and-white film starring Spencer Tracey and Marlene Dietrich won two Oscars and is an unsettling classic about the Nazi war crimes.
- Mission Impossible: CIA agent Tom Cruise tries to make sense of the betrayal and double agent action in Brian De Palma’s 1996 film.
These films follow drug traffickers, addicts and other frightening characters.
- Traffic: This film by Steven Soderbergh won four Oscars and gave the public a realistic look at several different aspects of the drug war in the United States and beyond.
- Blow: Johnny Depp plays real-life cocaine king George Jung in this epic drama. Penelope Cruz also gives an incredible performance.
- Scarface: This 1983 film looks at the destructive drug world in Miami. Al Pacino stars as Tony Montana, one of films’ most violent criminals.
- City of God: This beautifully directed film from Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund tells the heartbreaking but realistic story of two boys growing up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and how life separates them.
- Bad Boys II: This film from Michael Bay is an over-the-top, part crime, part comedic film starring Martin Lawrence, Will Smith and Gabrielle Union. It’s full of action and is pretty unrealistic, but it’s a lot of fun.
- Requiem for a Dream: This touching, intense film depicts the stories of seemingly unrelated characters as their drug habits and insecurities ruin their lives.
From James Bond to Martin Scorsese, gambling and casino movies are full of suspicion and high rollers.
- Oceans 11: George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh’s project features a bumbling, all-star cast including Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Elliott Gould, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan and even Julia Roberts.
- Casino Royale: This James Bond film introduced Daniel Craig as a darker, harder Bond who goes to Montenegro to dominate a poker game and take down the terrorist LeChiffre.
- Rounders: Matt Damon and Ed Norton star in this brutal look at underground gambling rings.
- Casino: Martin Scorsese’s film about mobsters in Vegas stars Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci.
This list features films that involve children, from kidnapping stories and more.
- Gone Baby Gone: Written and directed by Ben Affleck, this disturbing story about child kidnappings mainly focuses on two independent detectives hired to find a young girl who was taken from her druggie mother. Stars Casey Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris and Amy Ryan.
- Man on Fire: Little Dakota Fanning finds herself kidnapped in Mexico City and depends on her bodyguard Denzel Washington to save her.
- The Professional: Natalie Portman and Jean Reno star in this 1994 film about an assassin who reluctantly takes charge of a young neighbor.
- The Client: A little boy finds himself involved in a mob fight with the FBI in this film based on the John Grisham novel. Stars Susan Sarandon, Tommy Lee Jones, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony LaPaglia and Brad Renfro.
- Notes on a Scandal: This startling story is wonderfully acted and stars Cate Blanchett as a teacher who starts sleeping with a student. Judi Dench is also magnificent.
- Freeway: In one of Reese Witherspoon’s earlier films, a teenage runaway gets caught up with a freeway rapist and an attempted murder.
- Taxi Driver: A very young Jodie Foster plays a prostitute in this Oscar-nominated film.
Anyone who’s watched a western can tell you that the rules out west are different, and our picks include John Wayne movies as well as newer hits like No Country for Old Men.
- No Country for Old Men: The Coen brothers’ Oscar winning film was released during a Western comeback in the film industry, and this violent drama was also the breakout movie for Spanish actor Javier Bardem.
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: This Oscar-winning Western stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford as train robbers on the run.
- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford: Brad Pitt, Mary Louise Parker and Casey Affleck star in this movie about Jesse James and his gang of outlaws.
- The Wild Bunch: The Wild Bunch is a 1969 Western about outlaws get tangled up with the Mexican army, bounty hunters and a plot to rob a U.S. army train.
- The Comancheros: John Wayne’s 1961 movie involves a Texas Ranger who gets entangled with a gang of thieves.
- The Ox-Bow Incident: Based on the novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, The Ox-Bow Incident is part western, part social commentary as a group of angry men argue about a criminal’s punishment. Stars Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn and Dana Andrews.
- El Dorado: This classic John Wayne film involves a sheriff, gunfighter and revenge.
- Viva Zapata!: This 1952 film directed by Elia Kazan and based on John Steinbeck’s novel tells the story of Mexican revolutionary and bandit Emiliano Zapata.
The following crime movies involve murder plots, serial killers and other grisly tales.
- Summer of Sam: John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino and Jennifer Esposito star in this film about the creepy, true-life Summer of Sam murders in New York City in 1977.
- Zodiac: 2007’s Zodiac is a thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Murk Ruffalo as a journalist and investigator determined to capture the real-life serial killer who plagued San Francisco and the surrounding area during the 1960s and 70s.
- The Silence of the Lambs: This sickening classic stars Jodie Foster as a young FBI agent determined to find a serial killer and get to the bottom of Hannibal Lecter’s story.
- Romeo + Juliet: Baz Luhrmann’s modern remake of Shakespeare’s tragedy stars Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio. The film was nominated for an Oscar and won several critics awards.
- Psycho: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror film involves a robbery and a psychopathic killer.
- Basic Instinct: Michael Douglas has to investigate the murder of a rock star in this steamy, dramatic thriller.
- Dial M for Murder: Alfred Hitchock casts one of his favorite leading ladies, Grace Kelly, in this film about a foiled murder plot.
- Hamlet: This dark tragedy was recreated by Kenneth Branagh in 1996 and stars Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, Julie Christie and more.
- The Bone Collector: Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie star in this 1999 murder mystery that must be solved by figuring out a series of forensics clues.
- Kiss the Girls: Ashley Judd helps Morgan Freeman find a serial killer and kidnapper in this 1997 thriller.
Understand social trends, psychology and history when you watch either of these two films.
- To Kill a Mockingbird: Based on the novel by Harper Lee, the Oscar winning To Kill a Mockingbird is a social, historical film about a lawyer who defends a black man falsely accused of rape. Gregory Peck, Frank Overton and Robert Duvall star.
- American Psycho: This twisted but strangely entertaining film is really a commentary on the materialistic yuppie culture that began to dominate New York City during the 1980s and 90s.
Mysteries and Detective Movies
From Agatha Christie to Alfred Hitchcock, mystery movies make for some of our favorite crime movies.
- Death on the Nile: One of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries, this film version of Death on the Nile stars Mia Farrow, Bette Davis and Jane Birkin.
- And Then There Were None: The grainy black and white picture makes this famous Agatha Christie mystery even creepier.
- Sherlock Holmes The Hound of the Baskervilles: This classic Sherlock Holmes movie is spooky in the best way.
- The Usual Suspects: This intense thriller is one of the ultimate "gotcha" films and stars great actors like Gabriel Byrne, Benicio del Toro, Chazz Palminteri and Kevin Spacey.
- Constantine: Exorcism, hell, suicide and murder plague this dark but intriguing film starring Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz.
- Hollywoodland: Ben Affleck, Diane Lane, Adrien Brody and others recreate the murder and investigation surrounding George Reeves, who played Superman on TV in the 1950s.
- Rear Window: Jimmy Stewart spies on his cryptic neighbors in this 1955 Alfred Hitchcock film that also stars Grace Kelly.
- Citizen Kane: Often thought to be one of the best movies ever made, Citizen Kane is a classic murder mystery.
- Memento: Director Christopher Nolan uses innovative storytelling techniques to tell the story of a man trying to find his wife’s murderer.
Blackmail, Revenge and Corruption
The criminal underworld feeds on blackmail and corruption, and these movies portray it all.
- Charade: Audrey Hepburn is hunted by a gang of men who murdered her husband. Also stars Cary Grant and was nominated for an Oscar.
- Kill Bill Vol.1: Quentin Tarantino’s bloody but immensely popular film is an homage to Japanese fight techniques and film direction.
- The Firm: Tom Cruise gets in way over his head when he moves up the ranks in a Memphis law firm. Directed by Sydney Pollack and based on the John Grisham novel.
- L.A. Confidential: Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and Kim Basinger star in this tale of murder and corruption in Hollywood and the LAPD in the 1950s.
Robbery and Heist
For an exciting heist thriller, check out one of these movies, from Reservoir Dogs to Bonnie and Clyde.
- The Italian Job: This fun heist thriller is a remake of the Michael Caine movie and features a group of thieves as they try to reign in their renegade partner.
- The Sting: This classic film starring Paul Newman, Robert Shaw and Robert Redford won seven Oscars and tells the story of a 1930s Chicago crime ring involving small-time con men and a major crime boss.
- Reservoir Dogs: Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 film about a jewelry heist gone wrong is all about confusion and mistrust.
- Snatch: Guy Ritchie’s bumbling, confusing story about a diamond robbery is full of both violence and comic relief.
- Heist: Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito star in this movie about a jewel thief and a major gang leader.
- Ronin: This well-received action thriller stars Robert DeNiro and features the turmoil and danger of the underground.
- A Fish Called Wanda: Though it’s a comedy, A Fish Called Wanda is still a classic crime movie.
- The Thomas Crown Affair: Pierce Brosnan is a sexy smooth art thief who’s game is compromised when he falls for a detective.
- Entrapment: Catherine Zeta-Jones plays an insurance agent with a double motive in this exciting and sexy thriller.
- Bonnie and Clyde: Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty star as the infamous real-life couple Bonnie and Clyde in this 1967 classic.
- To Catch a Thief: Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 film about a cat burglar in the south of France stars Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Brigitte Auber.
Not all of the best crime movies are from the U.S. For international flavor, watch these films.
- Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: This stunning Chinese film directed by Ang Lee involves the complicated plot of two warriors from the Qing Dynasty, a murder and an undercover police investigator.
- La Haine: The French film La Haine, or Hate, examines the social unrest and tension of poor, Arab-French teenagers in the suburbs of Paris.
- Mou gaan dou, "Internal Affairs": This Hong Kong thriller inspired Scorsese’s The Departed.
Our final list is a mish-mash of some of our favorite crime films, including Sin City and even The Big Lebowski.
- Sin City: Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s dark look at the decaying lives of the residents of Basin City is based on a graphic novel and stars big name actors like Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, Benicio del Toro, Alexis Bledel and more.
- The Bourne Identity: Matt Damon stars as a rogue CIA assassin suffering from amnesia in this thriller.
- The Big Lebowski: A cult classic and favorite comedy, The Big Lebowski follows "The Dude" as he tries to track down the gangsters who ruined his favorite rug in a case of mistaken identity.
- The Accused: Jodie Foster’s controversial story about a gang rape won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
- Unfaithful: Unfaithful begins as a film about an illicit affair, but it ends with a brutal crime.
- The Shawshank Redemption: This beloved film follows a man sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife. It stars Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins.
- A Clockwork Orange: Young hooligans in a future Britain terrorize their community with violence.
- Cool Hand Luke: Another prison film, Paul Newman’s Cool Hand Luke constantly tries to escape.
- On the Waterfront: On the Waterfront is one of Marlon Brando’s earlier films. Directed by Elia Kazan, the story follows an amateur fighter who witnesses a murder on the docks ordered by his boss.