When most people hear the word "Mafia," it conjures up images of "The Godfather," "Goodfellas" and "The Sopranos." But Italian-Americans are hardly the only ethnic group to establish large organized crime rings.
Irish mobsters regularly challenged the Cosa Nostra for territory throughout American history -- and like their Italian counterparts, their conquests have made for some damn fine movies, dating all the way back to the James Cagney vehicles of the 1930s.
So this St. Patrick's Day, do your part as an educated movie fan and revisit the best Irish Mafia films of all time. We guarantee you'll feel better than your Irish Car Bomb-chugging friends the morning after.
9. 'Gangs of New York' (2002)
New York City was built upon organized crime. With millions of immigrants pouring into the city during 1800s, violence regularly broke out between gangs of different ethnicities. Martin Scorsese's Best Picture nominee begins with a territorial riot between the "Natives" and the Irish Catholic "Dead Rabbits." After seeing his father and Dead Rabbits leader die, Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo Di Caprio) rises up as an adult to battle the man responsible Bill "The Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis).
8.'Road to Perdition' (2002)
Director Sam Mendes chose this movie to follow-up his critically acclaimed breakout, "American Beauty" (1999). Set in Illinois during the Great Depression, Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a hitman for an Irish crime boss John Rooney (Paul Newman), chief rival of Al Capone. When Sullivan's son witnesses a murder by Connor Rooney (Daniel Craig), the event puts the entire family in peril and forces the father and son out on a pensive and bloody road trip.
7.'State of Grace' (1990)
Inspired by the real life Hell's Kitchen gang, The Westies, this underrated neo-noir crime film stars Sean Penn as Terry Noonan who returns to his New York neighborhood after a long time away. His intentions are to join the Irish gang alongside his childhood friend Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman) and led by his older brother Frankie Flannery (Ed Harris). What the Flannerys don't know: Terry has become an undercover cop. D'oh!
6.'The Sting' (1973)
After establishing themselves as one of film's best duos ever with "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," Paul Newman and Robert Redford reteamed for this rip-roarind caper. They play grifters attempting to swindle Irish mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) with a con that's too complicated to explain in the space allowed here. "The Sting" took home seven Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture (making Julia Phillips the first female producer ever to win Oscar's top prize).
5. 'A History Of Violence' (2005)
Adapted from the popular graphic novel, this stunning David Cronenberg thriller was beloved by critics but divided audiences. Small-town restaurant owner Tom Stall (Viggo Mortenson) becomes famous for brutally killing two robbers. Unfortunately, that brings his Irish Mafia past back in the form of scarred gangster Carl Fogerty (Ed Harris). The film's measured pace, spiked with unsuspected moments of graphic violence and sex, makes this one an unforgettable watch.
4.'The Public Enemy' (1931)
James Cagney is one of the most iconic tough guys from the golden age of cinema. Two of his most beloved performances were Irish gangsters Rocky Sullivan in "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938) and Tom Powers in "The Public Enemy." His seventh film, "Enemy" became arguably the most influential gangster picture of its time. Powers is a Prohibition bootlegger working his way up the ranks of organized crime as his shell-shocked veteran brother Mike (Donald Cook) tries to stop him.
3.'Miller's Crossing' (1990)
After the masterful low-budget thriller "Blood Simple" (1984), and darkly hilarious "Raising Arizona" (1987), Joel and Ethan Coen set about making one of the best Mafia films of all time. "Miller's Crossing" follows criminal Tom Reegan (Gabriel Byrne) as he navigates between the Prohibition-era Irish and Italian mobs. The movie is packed with signature elements that have made the Coens film icons: black comedy, unforeseen plot twists, brutal violence portrayed matter-of-factly, eccentric characters and an obscure ending. John Turturro and Steve Buscemi turn in perfect performances as crooked gay bookies.
2.'On The Waterfront' (1954)
Elia Kazan's black and white crime drama starring Marlon Brando is required viewing in film classes for a reason. The story was based on actual mob informers from the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, where longshoreman were paid to look the other way while Irish mobsters did their dirty business. Unfortunately, Terry Malloy (Brando), apparently one of the few dock workers with a conscious, sees his coworker murdered and gets caught in no-win situation. A truly timeless film.
1.'The Departed' (2006)
Martin Scorsese may have earned his reputation with films about tough Italian-Americans like "Mean Streets" (1973), "Goodfellas" (1991) and "Casino" (1995), but it was the Irish Mafia that won him his first Oscar. A remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs" (and by extension, one of the best remakes ever made) and set in South Boston, this exhilarating mob flick is driven by Jack Nicholson as Irish mobster Frank Costello (even Scorsese's Irish characters sound Italian...). It's a twisty masterpiece that blurs the line between good guys and bad guys, and leaves your head spinning in wonder.
Originally published March 16, 2011.