Six Ethnic Mobs and Their Portrayals in Movies

There are literally dozens of movies that depict the culture and lifestyle of criminal organizations, particularly those in which ethnicity is required for membership.  Whether you refer to them as the mob or the mafia, these organizations seem to always have their hands in various enterprises and will do away with anyone that stands between them and their money.  It’s safe to say that movies will continue to feature stories involving the mob. I’m sure that every ethnicity has some type of criminal organization, but six really seemed to stand out from the rest.  Here’s a look at those six ethnic mobs as portrayed in movies:

The Italian Mafia – The Godfather, Goodfellas, et al.


No mob has been featured in American movies more than the Italian mafia, and it isn’t even close.  The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are widely considered two of the greatest films ever made, and Vito Corlenone is one of American cinema’s most recognizable characters.  The Italian mafia has also been portrayed in Goodfellas, Casino, The Untouchables, A Bronx Tale, and Donnie Brasco.  A lot of what people know about the Italian mafia comes from movies like this (and The Sopranos, of course), and “mafia” has become nearly synonymous with “Italian mafia.”

The Russian Mafia – Eastern Promises, 25th Hour


Spike Lee’s 25th Hour gives us a small glimpse of the Russian Mafia and its involvement in drug trafficking, but Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises takes viewers much futher inside the organization’s workings.  Eastern Promises shows not only the violent side of the Russian mafia, but the cultural as well, such as the brilliantly shot dinner scene in which the camera pans across the dinner table and captures the tradition of the Russians all in a single take.  Most impressive, however, were the accurate depictions of the Russian gangster tattoos, particularly the symbolic stars on knees.

The Irish Mob – Road to Perdition, The Departed


Scorsese, most known for portraying the Italian mafia, tackled the Irish mob in The Departed.  Irish mob boss Frank Castello places his protege in the Massachusetts State Police in hopes of furthering corruption within the department and making transactions easier for his crew.  Boston felt like the perfect setting for the events of The Departed to transpire.  Also featuring the Irish mob is Road to Perdition, in which Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a hit man/enforcer who goes to great lengths for his son, including going against his boss and the Irish mob as a whole.  Road to Perdition showed that the Irish mob can be as violent as any other.

The Yakuza – The Yakuza, Ichi the Killer


The Yakuza, or Japanese mob, are as heavily featured in Japanese movies as the Italian mafia is in American movies.  However, American films, too, have depicted the Yakuza.  Sydney Pollack’s The Yakuza dives into the Japanese gangster culture and features contracts for death, katanas, Seppuku, and everything else we’ve come to love about the Yakuza.  In the Japanese-made Ichi the Killer, violence is prevelant throughout the movie and the film’s protagonist, Ichi, attaches blades to the heels of his boots and uses them as weapons.  Obviously, the tone of Ichi the Killer is quite different from that of The Yakuza, but both movies involve the Japanese mob as a central player in their respective plots.

The Mexican Mob – Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico


I’m guessing the accuracy of Robert Rodriguez’s depiction of the Mexican mob may be a little bit off, but the over-the-top violence in Desperado is enjoyable enough that it’s easy to forgive any discrepancies.  In Desperado, the leader of the Mexican mob is the notorious Bucho, who has dozens of men at his disposal.  The Mexican mob was featured once again in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, a movie that also contained absurd, ultraviolent scenes.  Unlike in some of the other movies in this article, the mob is used primarily as an antagonistic, violent device and the inner workings and structure of the mob are never really given much attention.

The British Mob – Snatch


Snatch is a hilarious movie, but Brick Top and his English mob are no laughing matter.  Like other mobs, the British mob has its hand in a variety of enterprises, most notably bare knuckle boxing.  Failure to play nice with the British mob can get you a plastic bag over your head and maybe even a trip to a barn where you’ll be eaten by pigs.  It seems the only match for the British mob in Snatch were the equally crazy Pikeys, groups of gypsies that operated somewhat like a mob themselves.

I didn’t list every single movie in which ethnic mobs were featured for obvious reasons, so I tried to mention the ones in which the mob is prominently featured.  If you know of any flicks that I may have overlooked, let me know in the comments section.  I’m always down for watching a movie about organized crime that I haven’t yet seen.

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  1. Great list! I wouldn’t have minded a Boondock Saints mention, but kudos for Snatch! :-}

    Speaking of mob movies, I don’t know if you guys have caught the buzz about this one yet, but it looks like Gomorrah is poised to blow pretty much every mob movie out of the water. Its still in pre-release but already has been breaking box office records:

  2. You forgot the Jewish mob.

    Portrayed in Snatch(mentioned, but overlooked), Hoodlum (also shows early black mobsters), Godfather Part 2 (HYMAN FUCKING ROTH, based on Meyer Lansky), Billy Bathgate, Casino, Lansky, Lucky Number Slevin and others i can’t think of right now…oh yeah and there was a subplot in GTA 4 with the diamond business.

  3. The (A) Prophet is a phenomenal French film about the Corsican mob in prisons one of the best films of the last few years well worth a watch if you can handle the subtitles ok

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