5 Movies That Turned Criminals Into Iconic Figures

As human beings, we are often intrigued by our morbid curiosity, with the rise of serial killer documentaries becoming increasingly popular in recent years. This fascination with the darker aspects of human nature has spilled over into cinema, where filmmakers have capitalized on this curiosity by depicting the lives of despicable individuals on the screen. While these criminals are typically written in a way that aims to not glorify their actions, there are instances in which a notorious criminal has become somewhat of an iconic figure due to their portrayal in film becoming legendary.

These depictions can sometimes blur the line between condemning the actions of the criminal and inadvertently glorifying their notoriety. As a result, this often  leads to a complex and thought-provoking exploration of the darker aspects of human behaviour. With that said, here are 5 movies that turned criminals into iconic figures.

5. Bronson (2008)

Tom Hardy in Bronson (2008)

Tom Hardy is no stranger to playing unhinged men with a penchant for violence, and he does it in a utterly enthralling way. Before his breakout villainous performance as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, and long before his Oscar-nominated bad guy role in The Revenant, Hardy played one of the most notorious criminals of all time – Charles Bronson. The film, simply titled Bronson, was directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, who would later go on to direct the cult classic, Drive.

Bronson delves into the tumultuous life of one of Britain’s most infamous criminals, Charles Bronson. While initially known for his violent and dangerous behaviour in his early years, the crimes committed by Bronson are not commensurate with the lengthy prison sentences he has served. Rather, it is the ongoing trouble he constantly finds himself in within the confines of various prisons that have kept him incarcerated for extended periods of time, earning him the reputation as Britain’s most dangerous prisoner at one point.

The movie intricately explores the complexities of Bronson’s character, shedding light on the psychological and emotional turmoil that fuelled his erratic and violent tendencies. This ultimately painted a nuanced portrait of a man grappling with his own inner demons and societal constraints. As Tom Hardy has continued to grow in status, more and more people have worked their way through his filmography, therefore watching Bronson and finding themselves captivated by the despicable yet enthralling man. Charles Bronson was denied release from prison in 2023 following his public parole hearing that engulfed the attention of the British public.

Watch Bronson on Netflix

4. Chopper (2000)

Chopper (2000)

The 2000 film Chopper is based on the true story of one of Australia’s most notorious criminals, Mark “Chopper” Read (played by Eric Bana). The plot follows Chopper’s violent and chaotic life, filled with criminal activities, time in prison, and his larger-than-life persona that captivated the public’s attention. Over the years, the movie has continued to grow in cult status, resonating with audiences for its raw and unflinching portrayal of Chopper’s criminal exploits.

Despite his brutal crimes, Mark Chopper Read strangely became a pop culture icon, celebrated for his larger-than-life personality and the mythos surrounding his criminal persona. The film delves into the complexities of Chopper’s character, shedding light on the motivations behind his actions and the societal fascination with true crime figures like him, ultimately creating a complex and compelling narrative that continues to captivate audiences worldwide. Mark “Chopper” Read died of liver cancer on 9 October 2013, aged 58.

Watch Chopper on Apple TV+

3. Legend (2015)

Tom Hardy in Legend (2015)

The 2015 film Legend serves as a prime example of a movie that somewhat romanticizes the lives of two notorious criminals, with the very title “Legend” serving as the operative word. The plot revolves around the true story of the Kray twins, Reggie and Ronnie, who were infamous gangsters in 1960s London. Tom Hardy effortlessly portrays both twin brothers, showcasing their starkly different personalities – Reggie being the suave and charming businessman, while Ronnie is the volatile and unpredictable enforcer. Despite their differing traits, both brothers are depicted as extremely violent and ruthless in their criminal activities. Tom Hardy’s skilful portrayal of the twins highlights their complexities and the duality of their characters, ultimately creating a captivating and enthralling cinematic experience.

Watch Legend on Netflix

2. Goodfellas (1990)

Robert De Niro, Joseph D'Onofrio, and Christopher Serrone in GoodFellas (1990)

While The Godfather is widely regarded as the pinnacle of mafia cinema, Goodfellas is not far behind in terms of cultural impact and cinematic excellence. Undeniably groundbreaking, Goodfellas was the first gangster film to truly permeate pop culture, solidifying the criminal characters within it as icons in their own right, albeit in a disturbing and twisted manner. Martin Scorsese’s masterful direction and the raw performances of the cast, including Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta, brought to life the ruthless world of gangsters in a way that had never been seen before. The film’s gritty realism and unflinching portrayal of violence and criminality captivated audiences and critics alike, cementing its status as a classic in the mafia genre.

Watch Goodfellas on Netflix

1. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Outside of Al Capone, real-life bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde were among the first criminals to receive the Hollywood treatment that amplified their notoriety. The 1967 film, simply titled Bonnie and Clyde, focused on the infamous duo and not only brought their story to a wider audience but also solidified their status as pop culture icons. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s romanticized, yet violent, escapades captured the imagination of filmmakers and audiences alike, inspiring a wave of crime movies that focused on duos.

Films like Natural Born Killers, Thelma & Louise, and True Romance drew inspiration from the Bonnie and Clyde narrative, exploring the dynamics of criminal partners and the allure of living outside the boundaries of society. The legacy of Bonnie and Clyde as cinematic figures has left an indelible mark on the crime genre, influencing the portrayal of criminal duos in film for generations to come. Want to read about more crime movies? Here are 20 heist movies that stole the show.

Watch Bonnie and Clyde on Apple TV+

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