A contract killer, a psycho killer, a crime boss, a man out for revenge, a fraudster, a greedy stockbroker. These and many other negative portrayals in cinema have made crime movies one of the most fascinating and heart-thumping genres of all time. They may be anyone from lowly criminals to sophisticated fraudsters. Still, the way they play their roles and captivate the audiences is enough for crowds to throng the theaters to catch a glimpse of crime stories that keep audiences on the edge of their seats when they are inside and in awe of a story well told when they are outside. In this list we’ve lined up for you, we bring you 10 brilliant and captivating crime movies that were crowd pullers. We will also tell you why! And although we cannot discuss every mind-blowing scene in each of these movies, we do bring you one iconic scene from each of these movies that played its part in the success of the film. So ready yourself for a scintillating ride that will take you through some of the best crime movies out there. And if you still haven’t watched any of them, we suggest you do so right away, for, in this particular realm, crime does pay!
10. American Psycho
A narcissistic New York investment banker’s journey into the horrifying excesses of his own mind proves to be the foundation for this psycho-thriller that Christian Bale carries on his shoulders with surprisingly effortless ease. Given the actor’s own inimitable personality in life beyond the camera, some reviews even had him pegged as the only actor who could have carried out the role with such conviction. Equally strong portrayals by Willem Dafoe and Jared Leto, among others, are enough to put this Mary Harron directive venture at the start of our list.
An iconic scene in American Psycho:
American Psycho has several scenes that prove to be shockers, but few match the psychopathic ego that Patrick Bateman lets show for a while during the scene where the top investment banking executives of his firm compare visiting cards. The intellectual showmanship that Bateman’s character reflects throughout the movie gives way to a rather non-flattering show of oneupmanship in this scene, showing how even the slightest of slights can force a psychopath’s mind off the rails.
Benicio Del Toro leaves more than just a brilliant impression on the audience as he takes them on a journey of revenge and little regard for anything and anyone standing in his way. Ruthless killings and underhanded betrayals notwithstanding, what truly stands out in the movie is Alejandro’s willingness to manipulate just about every situation to make sure that he gets to his goal of avenging the deaths of his close ones. The constant tension and on-the-edge sequences bring to the forefront a storyline that is done complete justice by others in the cast, including Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Daniel Kaluuya.
An iconic scene in Sicario:
The culmination of every effort that Alejandro has taken to reach his target, this scene plays out perfectly to give the main protagonist of the film exactly what he wants — revenge. And to think that he gets it on a silver platter with loads of time to decide how he will play this ultimate act out is even more satisfying to the audience. What proves to be a shocker is Alejandro’s absolute disdain for his enemy, a hatred that does not allow him to spare even the young children of the house.
The 1950s and 60s were a good time for crime in America, and the Italian mafia ruled the roost for every illegal business in the States. A perfect backdrop for a crime movie? Yes, of course! And while there have been plenty of films that have tried to capture the essence of the Italian mob to portray as best as they could on the big screen, few works come close to Martin Scorcese’s iconic work in Goodfellas. With an equal iconic cast that included Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino, and Lorraine Bracco, among others, Scorcese produced a masterpiece that’s as gripping a work today as it was when it was first released in 1990.
An iconic scene in Goodfellas:
Tommy DeVito’s excesses throughout the movie always make it seem like he’s taking things a bit too far, even for a protected member of the mob. And we all know it’s only a matter of time before he finally meets his match. So, imagine everyone’s surprise when James Conway and Henry Hill find themselves celebrating the great news of the bosses’ decision to give Tommy the honor of a “made man” instead. The celebrations are short-lived, though, with a shot to the head ending Tommy’s dreams of creating a name for himself as a made member of the Italian mafia. Especially heartbreaking is his pal Conway’s heartbreak over the killing.
7. Catch Me If You Can
A captivating sequence of events in movie form encapsulating the thrilling life of crime led by Frank Abagnale Jr., Catch Me If You Can is one of the best works of both Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hanks. Based on a true story, the iconic duo may be at loggerheads throughout the movie, with each of them seeming to be only one step ahead of the other at all times. Still, the camaraderie and friendship, despite being on opposite sides of the law, do shine through in a wonderfully woven storyline. One of the most endearing characteristics of the movie, the underlying spark, is second only to Di Caprio’s innocent and warmhearted portrayal of one of the most notorious fraudsters of all time.
An iconic scene in Catch Me If You Can:
The charming arrogance that Frank Abegnale Jr. shows in winning over the confidence of Carl Hanratty when Hanratty is really in the room to arrest him is one of the most nail-biting yet coolly pulled-off face-offs in cinematic history. When everyone in the audience is expecting this to be a final showdown, the scene only shows how confidence can probably help you win over the devil should it turn up at your doorstep. The best part comes when the criminal asks the FBI agent to show some identification! This one’s as good as they come!
6. Pulp Fiction
Knowing that it was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino is enough to tell us all that Pulp Fiction could possibly be about, and yet, this film, with its over-the-top sequences and equally flamboyant characters, keeps surprising the audience from start to end. With a straight-from-hell cast consisting of the best in the industry, including Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Maria de Medeiros, Harvey Keitel, Ving Rhames, and Tim Roth, among others, this one’s an all-out entertainer. And every scene gives you a peek into just how casually delirious the world of crime can get.
An iconic scene in Pulp Fiction:
The scene with Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega coolly walking into an apartment, and unleashing a barrage of bullets without the in-control attitude of the duo skipping even a beat, is probably one of the most impressive yet unabashedly cold and heartless movie sequences of all time. The dialog that evolves between the characters and the seemingly comfortable conversation about Big Kahuna burgers and tasty beverages give viewers no inkling of what’s to come. The iconic narration of the biblical verse is still considered one of the strongest deliveries of all time and, even now, shows just how impactful even a single line can be in a movie — if delivered right! And this one was indeed as good as it gets!
5. The Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster bring to life a story that certainly isn’t a run-of-the-mill one. And as much as Hollywood experiments with different genres, this film proved to be a groundbreaking one even for the revolutionary ways of the US film industry. Directed by Jonathan Demme and grossing more than $270 million in revenue worldwide, the criminal excesses of Hopkins’ character in the movie even gave the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter the tag of the most dangerous villain of all time. Foster’s character of Clarice Starling also received rave reviews and is counted among the most famous film heroes of all time.
An iconic scene in The Silence of the Lambs:
Dr. Hannibal Lecter gets under the skin of the audience through every scene in this movie. Still, this one makes a particular impact because of the portrayal of an absolutely satisfying calm that the doctor seems to find in killing his victims. It showcases how even cannibalistic killers are capable of impressive amounts of intelligence, enabling them to lead their prey into a trap they so cleverly put together, all this to satiate their compelling need to kill. Labeled one of the scariest movies of all time, this scene from the film gives you a peek into just how intense the storyline is!
4. No Country for Old Men
Led by a cast that included Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Woody Harrelson, No Country for Old Men is one of those very few crime movies that push the audience to feel nothing less than disgust and helplessness at the absolute mayhem that a psycho killer unleashes onscreen. Played to perfection by Bardem, the absolute arrogance of Anton is like a punch to the stomach in every scene, and one wonders when and how this killer will finally meet his match.
An iconic scene in No Country for Old Men:
This video is even labeled “The Most Intense Scene in Cinema History,” and we’d have to agree that this iconic scene from the movie is indeed one of the most dramatic ones ever to be created onscreen. One of the most gripping showdowns between two of the movie’s protagonists, Anton Chigurh and Llewelyn Moss — both villains in their own way — this scene shows Anton losing confidence and backing down for the first time in the movie. Shot in its entirety without a soundtrack, the audio engineering throughout this scene makes for even more exciting viewing.
3. The Wolf of Wall Street
Leonardo Di Caprio makes Wall Street crimes look oh-so-satisfying in the Wolf of Wall Street and, along with the other equally impactful cast members, takes you on a ride that’s lavish and sinful, to say the least! Inspired by the true story of the real-life Jordan Belfort, the movie gives us a glamorous glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous who resort to crime and corruption to satisfy their endless greed for a life of luxury. The over-the-top cast of Jonah Hill, Mathew McConaughey, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, and more maintain the momentum that Di Caprio lends the movie, leading up to a crescendo until the final downfall.
An Iconic Scene in The Wolf of Wall Street:
“…huge upside potential with very little downside risk…”! Well, does that ring a bell? Clearly one of the most engaging scenes in the movie, this one has Jordan Belfort making his first sale on penny stocks. And an impression on what would soon be his go-to team on Wall Street! The scene sets the stage for Jordan’s eventual foray into the world of big money and bigger risks and tells the audience, and probably even him, how intelligent and worthy he really was when compared to the other players in the business. Working hard and working smart, without a hint of conscience allowing him to pull back from a deal that rakes in money, this scene gives us our first peek into the brilliance that is Jordan Belfort.
Anyone who saw even a glimpse of the movie agreed at once that Joaquin Phoenix deserved an Academy Award for the role he so brilliantly pulled off, and he did too! A film that shows the angst of a man who society has done wrong at every turn, this movie is one of the very few where even audiences applaud the turning point where the main protagonist finally loses his mind and takes to a life of crime. While the eight-minute standing ovation the Joker‘s premiere received from the audience at the Venice Film Festival says it all, you have to watch this film in a movie hall indeed to allow its emotions and darkness to take over your senses completely. After Phoenix, it would be extremely difficult for any actor to fill the Joker’s shoes again!
An Iconic Scene in Joker:
Arthur Fleck, after a lifetime of enduring ridicule and even frequent violence due to his condition, seems to have accepted his fate. But when three suited loudmouths take him to task and resort to uncalled-for violence, Arthur finally loses it. The first step that this otherwise docile victim of circumstances takes towards what turns into a killing spree of epic proportions, this scene is indeed one of the most poignant ones in the movie. Especially moving — even if extremely violent — is Arthur’s determined killing of the third victim and emptying of his gun’s chamber when pumping bullet after bullet into the injured man. Phew! This scene is bound to give you goosebumps every time you watch it!
1. The Godfather
One could rightly argue that there are indeed several other movies out there more gripping than The Godfather. Still, the one reason why the movie makes it to the top of this list is the sheer brilliance with which every scene in the film has been executed. As intoxicatingly slow as a glass of wine in the hands of a wine connoisseur and as emotionally gripping as the heartbreak of a passionate young lover, the movie is a masterpiece for more reasons than one. Cinematographic brilliance that captivates us even today, the presence of the most impactful actors in cinema, a storyline that doesn’t drag even for a minute despite being slow-moving, and an emotional rollercoaster that takes us through the ecstasy and agony of each character give us plenty of reasons to put The Godfather on top of our list.
An Iconic Scene in The Godfather:
We told you! This movie that tops our list has so many iconic scenes that it’s difficult to choose just one. But if you’re really going to hold a gun to our head, we’ll choose the one where Michael Corleone takes the first step towards becoming the next Don Corleone. Always keeping away from the Corleone family’s business of crime, the love for his father forces Michael into the picture, and once things go haywire, he doesn’t just step up to the plate, he takes swings that no one could see coming!
Allow Us to Put An End To This Crime Spree!
It’s time we put an end to a list that has had audiences, in some cases for decades, screaming for more. After all, we wish to leave you enough time to pick out the best titles that have impressed you from the list here and spend the evening witnessing their brilliance. Oh, and don’t forget to close the doors and windows when you’re watching your favorite ones. Some of the iconic scenes in these movies are truly so convincing that audiences have been known to even look at one another with suspicion and fear!