Tag: TheGodfather

Boardwalk Empire

The 7 Greatest Movies and Shows About Organized Crime That Started Out as Books

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As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to read about gangsters. They’re wise guys, punks, and hoodlums—but they’re also old-fashioned, self-made royalty. Their glamorous lives belie their so-called bad behavior.


The best crime movies question how bad the behavior is—and many of the best gangster stories out there are based on books. So if a TV show or movie has ever swept you up in the world of organized crime, and you were not excited to leave the life behind, then maybe you’d be interested in picking up the books they were based on. Here are seven of the best organized crime movies and TV shows that started out as just regular old small town books. Check them out.


1. The Godfather


The Godfather still movie

Image Via Paramount Pictures


Based on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name, Francis Ford Coppola’s epic crime saga is, obviously, the industry standard. Forget being one of the greatest book adaptations, it’s one of the greatest movies—end of sentence. Following the Corleone family business, The Godfather has all the trademarks of a classic crime film: conspiracies, betrayals, severed horse heads. The basics! It’s an Oscar-winner and has influenced countless crime movies since. And to think it all started with a humble book by a New York City kid.


2. McMafia


McMafia AMC

Image Via AMC Networks


AMC’s eight-part series takes some of the best parts of The Godfather and builds something new from them. Based on journalist Misha Glenny’s bestselling nonfiction book McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld, the series is an in-depth exploration of international crime. It follows Alex Godman, whose father has ties to the Russian mafia. Though Godman’s father has tried to distance himself from his past, crime has a way of creeping back up. As his father’s past rears its ugly head, Godman has to decide whether or not he’s a corrupt man. It’s an explosive story, and a must-watch for those hungry for a new organized crime story. Check out the premiere February 26th at 10/9pm CT on AMC!


3. Goodfellas



Image Via Warner Bros. Pictures


Based on Nicholas Pileggi’s nonfiction book Wiseguy, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation feels like an epic, two-and-a-half hour sprint to the finish. It’s exhilarating and fun in exactly the same way The Godfather isn’t. It came out in 1990, and Scorsese already had a couple of crime movies under his belt. He knew the formula, and he knew how to subvert it. And Pileggi’s story was the perfect one to shuffle up gangster movie conventions. The story goes that Scorsese waited and waited for Pileggi’s book to be released, and called the writer up after reading it. “I’ve been waiting for this book my entire life,” Scorsese said. Pileggi’s response? “I’ve been waiting for this phone call my entire life.” A match made in New York.


4. Once Upon a Time in America


Once Upon a Time in America

Image Via Warner Bros. Pictures


Based on Harry Grey’s autobiography The Hoods, this adaptation tells the actual story of David “Noodles” Aaronson (Grey’s character) as he becomes a big shot in New York’s organized crime world. Though Noodles was just a boy growing up in a Jewish ghetto in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, he became a major criminal figure. It’s spaghetti western director Sergio Leone’s final film before his death. Grey’s book is also fascinating as it’s one of the few stories of organized crime told from the perspective of the criminal in question—Grey wrote the book while doing time in New York’s Sing-Sing prison.


5. The Untouchables


The Untouchables

Image Via Paramount Pictures


As with Once Upon a Time in America, 1987’s The Untouchables is based on an autobiography by someone actually involved in organized crime—Eliot Ness, an agent in the Bureau of Prohibition. That it’s told from the perspective of law enforcement differentiates this story from the rest of the list. Ness’ story follows his experience of going after Al Capone in the 1920s and 30s. It’s a wild story, and the 1987 adaptation is directed by Scarface’s Brian de Palma, so you know it’s got teeth.


6. Casino


Casino Robert DeNiro

Image Via Universal Pictures


The second collaboration between Scorsese Pileggi, Casino’s based on Pileggi’s nonfiction book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. Like Goodfellas, it’s a sprawling narrative that weaves together the nitty gritty of mafia life with the turmoil it causes in the characters’ personal lives. Departing from many of the others on this list, Casino omits New York organized crime in favor of Chicago and Las Vegas. It’s an enlightening investigation of the world of gambling. Though we all know gambling’s iffy at best, Scorsese and Pileggi reveal the many layers of its iffiness.


7. Boardwalk Empire


Boardwalk Empire

Image Via HBO


Quick question: ever hear of Martin Scorsese? No? Oh, he’s just this guy who makes these little things called the greatest crime adaptations of all time. Boardwalk Empire is his baby, which he executive produced and directed the pilot episode of. For those not privy, the show is HBO’s sweeping exploration of the organized crime that developed in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, New Jersey. It features some splendid performances from Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, and the stellar Kelly Macdonald. Best of all? It’s based on the nonfiction book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson.


I think you have your nonfiction TBR pile for the next few months!


Feature Image Via HBO