Gangster Movies & The Real Life Criminals They Were Based On

While earlier this year we had Tom Hardy as two of Britain’s most notorious gangsters in Legend, this week sees Johnny Depp playing one of the most legendary real-life bad-guys of all time, as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass. Cinema has always had a bit a love-affair with the gangsters and their seductive lifestyles, so here’s a look at some of the most famous organised crime villains we’ve ever known, and the movies based on their lives.


While he popped up in a Night At The Museum sequel, was semi-parodied in Bugsy Malone, and has a handful of low-profile movies about him, he’s been most famously portrayed by Robert DeNiro in The Untouchables. While he doesn’t get a huge amount of screen-time, anyone who remembers that scene with the baseball bat will know he left an impression. He was also the inspiration behind the 1932 version of Scarface.


Despite the fact that this is the name of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed, that role wasn’t based on him (if anything, Nicholson was playing a version of Whitey Bulger). Instead, Costello was the primary influence on Marlon Brando’s role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, who had a similarly raspy voice and looked down on drugs trafficking as a “dirty business”.


He’s appeared more than a few times, getting Harvey Keitel a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Bugsy, seen briefly in L.A. Confidental, alluded to in The Black Dahlia, and finally shown in all of his glory by Sean Penn as the big-bad guy being hunted down by Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin in Gangster Squad.


Here’s another gangster who was leaving a lot of “inspired by” characters in some of our favorite gangster movies. While Dustin Hoffman played him directly in The Lost City, as well as Ben Kingsley in Bugsy (another Best Supporting Actor nomination), he was also the basis for James Woods’ character Max Bercovicz in Once Upon A Time In America, while both Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg) and Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in The Godfather Part II are based on Lansky, too.


Now this is a guy who gets mentioned a lot, but not seen all that often. While his death was and still is a great mystery to the general public, it’s been mentioned in everything from The Sopranos to Analyze This to The West Wing, but perhaps his most famous portrayal remains another “inspired by” character, as Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) in the multi-Oscar winning On The Waterfront was based on Anastacia.


Words – Rory Cashin
BLACK MASS is at Irish cinemas from November 25th