The journey of the (Anti) hero

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A short history of (fictional) organized crime

Adventures of the American mob, from Mafiosi to small-time grifters, have gripped film-goers and TV watchers for half a century. And as real mobsters began to fade from the streets of New York, Boston and Chicago, film and television studios ramped up to feed the American appetite.

Here is a rare, mostly profanity-free sampler of the American mob in film and television, with plenty of ziti, cheeseburgers and bootlegged booze to go around.

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

1972

The Godfather

Novelist Mario Puzo was inspired by courtly intrigues of a real-life Renaissance family, but the Corleones – with their olive oil front company and penchant for illegal gambling – looked more like New York’s Genovese mob dynasty.

“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

– Don Corleone

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

– Peter Clemenza

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

1983

Scarface

With Colombian cartels, drug lords and green card fraud, little has changed in American organized crime.

“I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”

– Tony Montana

“The guys who want it all – chicas, champagne, flash – they don’t last.”

– Frank Lopez

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

1984

Once Upon a Time In America

Although Robert DeNiro’s in this one and his character is nicknamed “Noodles,” this film showed that Prohibition-era Jewish gangsters sought a piece of the action, too.

“To keep from going crazy, you have to cut yourself off from the outside world, just not think about it.”

– Noodles Aaronson

“We’re closed. Nice people don’t drink on Pesach. They go to the synagogue.”

– Deborah Gelly

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

1987

The Untouchables

Chicago was once fertile ground for bootlegging with mob warlord Al Capone at the helm. Feel the pain of generations of cops who live and breathe to snuff out mobsters.

“You want to know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way!”

– Jimmy Malone

“What is bootlegging? On a boat, it’s bootlegging. On Lake Shore Drive, it’s hospitality. I’m a businessman!”

– Al Capone

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

1990

Goodfellas

With the luxury of hindsight, one wiseguy mobster reflects on the glamour, and the usually dirty side, of mob life.

“For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me, that was better than being president of the United States.”

– Henry Hill

“Hey Henry, Henry, hurry up, will you? My mother’s gonna make some fried peppers and sausage for us.”

– Tommy DeVito

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

1992

Reservoir Dogs

Six gangsters in a botched diamond heist sport aliases inspired by the colors of the rainbow.

“If you get a customer, or an employee, who thinks he’s Charles Bronson, take the butt of your gun and smash their nose in.”

– Mr. White

“What, did you forget your french fries, to go with the soda?”

– Mr. White

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

1995

Casino

Here is what happens when a loose cannon, a low-level mobster, an ex-hustler and a trophy wife get together.

“Back home, they would have put me in jail for what I’m doing. Here, they’re giving me awards.”

– Ace Rothstein

“That’s the secret. See, milk-fed veal is pure white. Out here, they got that pink veal. Slide over, honey.”

– Nicky Santoro

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

1997

Donnie Brasco

The New York Mafia has its appeal, even for an FBI agent, and can lead to some meaningful friendships.

“‘Forget about it’ is, like, if you agree with someone … but then, if you disagree, like ‘a Lincoln is better than a Cadillac? Forget about it!’”

– Donnie Brasco

“How much money did you give that guy? A wiseguy never pays for his drinks.”

– Lefty Ruggiero

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

1999

The Sopranos

Sensitive, shorts-wearing Tony Soprano treks to the suburbs from the strip club or sanitation plant to the tune of Alabama 3, regularly spilling his guts to his shrink while spilling the guts of his erstwhile associates.

“I won’t pay. I know too much about extortion.”

– Tony Soprano

“Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?”

– Paulie Walnuts

“So what? No F-ing ziti now?”

– A.J. Soprano

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

2006

The Departed

Boston’s Irish gangs are the antiheroes here, with a mole, a rat and some very dedicated cops.

“One of us had to die. With me, it tends to be the other guy.”

– Frank Costello

[Editor’s note: All food quotes in this film are too profane to print.]

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

2007

American Gangster

How a chauffeur to a Harlem mobster became one of the inner city’s most formidable crime bosses.

“This is my home. My country. Frank Lucas don’t run from nobody. This is America.”

– Frank Lucas

“Close it up. Throw it back in the trunk. Everybody go home. Have some pumpkin pie, warm apple cider.”

– Frank Lucas

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

2010

Boardwalk Empire

The Prohibition era was fertile ground for all levels of government and society to jump on the moonshine bandwagon.

“You can rule by fear or you can rule by love. Remember that if you’re ever in charge.”

– Al Capone

“The day repeal passes, I intend to be open for business legally, in the thirstiest country on Earth.”

– Nucky Thompson

A short History of (fictional) organized crime

2015

Spotless

A family man’s inner demons rise to the surface when his outlaw brother drags him – and his crime scene cleanup business – into London’s murky world of organized crime.

“I decided long ago my life would be my choice. No one else’s.”

– Jean Bastiere

“I used the shrimp to cover the body.”

– Martin Bastiere

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Watch how organized crime comes between two brothers on Spotless premiering Nov. 14 10 | 9c only on Esquire Network.

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1970s
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