10 Movies Like ‘American Gangster’ | TheReviewGeek Recommends

More Gangster Crime Dramas To Enjoy

In late 2007, Ridley Scott’s crime drama American Gangster hit theaters. The true story is about the rise and fall of Harlem crime boss Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington. Matching that storyline, the film also follows outcast cop Richie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe. Richie learns of Frank’s business plan of smuggling pure heroin out of Vietnam during America’s war with the country.

Despite its box office success, the film never reached the level of some others that define the gangster genre. Yet it does follow a lot of the same tropes we see in other gangster films, which makes it a good pair for a crime drama double feature.

For those who have finished and are looking for alternate picks, we’ve combed through the archives and saved you the hassle with our top choices for alternate viewing. Here are ten movies like American Gangster. As usual, let us know your thoughts about our picks in the comments below!

Across 110th Street (1972)

A standout urban crime drama of the 1970s, Across 110th Street is about a robbery in Harlem that turns into a massive murder. Yaphet Kotto plays a young black police officer who is assigned to the case and partnered with a surly, prejudiced white police officer played by Anthony Quinn.

The two have their racial clashes as they try to track down the suspects in the murder, all the while a mob boss is also on the hunt for the suspects. Like American Gangster, Across 110th Street shows both sides of crime in 1970’s New York City. Lastly, the film’s theme song by Bobby Womack is used in a montage sequence in American Gangster.

Harlem Nights (1989)

Comedy legends Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor lead the way in the prohibition-era crime comedy, Harlem Nights. Murphy wrote and directed the film about a father and adopted son who run a speakeasy in Harlem during the 1930s. Despite their business booming, they catch some jealous heat from Italian gangsters and corrupt police officers.

Critics were not too kind to Harlem Nights, but it has gained respect as a cult classic. Although depicting different eras, the two films capture Harlem nightclub life really well during their respective time periods.

Hoodlum (1997)

In theory, Hoodlum is based on a true story about the alliance between Italian and Jewish gangsters of the 1920s and 30s who went to war against the black gangsters of Harlem. Yet, this is a highly fictionalized take on the source material.

It’s directed by character actor Bill Duke and stars Laurence Fishburne as Bumpy Johnson. In real life, Bumpy would become known as the godfather of Harlem. Hence the title of the television series starring Forest Whittaker. Bumpy would also be played by Clarence Williams III in American Gangster in a brief scene at the beginning of the film. And oddly enough, Clarence Williams III is in Hoodlum. It all comes full circle.

New Jack City (1991)

New Jack City is another crime drama that tells both sides of the story in the New York drug game. In one of his best-known roles, Wesley Snipes plays Nino Brown, the man on top of the New York City narcotics empire. His throne is threatened when two undercover police officers (Ice-T and Judd Nelson) make their way into the organization and learn the inner workings of it.

A great moment here that can be missed if you’re not paying attention is when Nino is in his suburban mansion watching Scarface. He stands up and says that he won’t make the same mistakes as Tony Montana does in the film. As he says this, the shot of Tony’s dead body is projected across Nino.

Public Enemies (2009)

Michael Mann is a master of the crime drama genre. Like American Gangster two years prior, Public Enemies would tell the true story of another American-made criminal, John Dillinger (played by Johnny Depp). The film is a cat-and-mouse game between Dillinger and Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale).

Purvis is the FBI agent who is head of a task force to bring down Dillinger and his gang of bank robbers. Similar to American Gangster, The film very much follows both lead roles until their brief intersecting moments with one another.

Road to Perdition (2002)

When you think of Tom Hanks, you don’t really think of gangster films. Yet, in true Tom Hanks fashion, he can pull off just about anything. Road to Perdition is a revenge tale as well as a film about self-discovery between a father and son. Hanks plays Mike Sullivan, an enforcer for Midwest mob boss John Rooney (Paul Newman). Sullivan’s son witnesses a hit, and now he must protect him from the mob that he works for.

Director Sam Mendes doesn’t seem like the ideal filmmaker for a gangster film, but he brings a great aesthetic to it not seen in other films with this material. There is a theme in Road to Perdition that deals with the weight of what a life of crime can do to a family. A lot like what Frank Lucas’ family goes through in American Gangster.

Little Caesar (1931) 

Little Caesar is one of the earliest gangster films and the blueprint for the genre going forward. Edward G. Robinson is in the title role as a gangster looking to join up with a new mob and rise to the top of the criminal underworld. Like Frank Lucas, Caesar (or “Rico”, his alias) has the drive to get to the top and be the guy that everyone looks at. But his greed to be on top is also his downfall. Luckily, Frank Lucas only does prison time. Little Caesar has a far worse ending to his reign.

The Untouchables (1987)

American Gangster and The Untouchables share a lot of similarities in the sense that they both have more of an uplifting feel to them at times, as strange as that may sound. Both films share the feeling of rooting for the police rather than watching a gangster being glorified. The Brian De Palma-directed film has a star-studded cast of Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, and Robert De Niro as Al Capone.

You want the good guys to win in The Untouchables, which feels like a first for the genre at this point. Both films share the topic of police corruption, as most of  prohibition-era Chicago had many police and politicians bought by Capone and his crew. Just like the crooked police detectives in 1970s New York City.

Heat (1995)

Hailed as one of the greatest crime thrillers of all time. Heat would give us the first on-screen interaction between two of the best actors ever, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. The tones between this film and American Gangster are different, but the list of similarities is interesting.

The fact that De Niro and Pacino have very little screen time together in a three-hour film is a lot like Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, who don’t share the screen until the films last ten minutes. Both do a great job of showing the parallels between cop and criminal and their ways of thinking, all the way up to the films thrilling climaxes.

Scarface (1983)

There are many gangster films that have come before it and many that have come after it. But Brian De Palma’s 1983 crime epic, Scarface, has set the standard for the gangster picture over the last forty years. Al Pacino plays the charismatic Tony Montana, a Cuban refugee who turns to a life of murder and drug dealing because that was the only thing that got him ahead in this world.

There are some parallels there with Frank Lucas and his rise to power in Harlem. If anything, Scarface set the model for the rise and fall of gangsters in movies going forward. Many fans of the genre still reference the film to this day, as it is an enduring classic.

There we have it, our list of best movies that are similar to American Gangster. What do you think about our picks? Did one of your favourites make the list? Let us know in the comments below!

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