When we think of gangster films, we tend to think of the classics—like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Brian De Palma’s Scarface, and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. They belong to a whole genre comprised of New York City Mafia flicks.
But what about gangsters from across the pond? Britain has its own unique type of gangster cinema that you simply can’t catch anywhere else. We’re talking about things like the Cockney sarcasm of Michael Caine and the dark comedy of Guy Ritchie.
Here are some of the best British gangster movies ever made, worth checking out if you want crime cinema with a twist.
10. Blue Story (2019)
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This one’s a little different from the rest of this list. Blue Story shows us the life of modern-day gangsters in England, specifically the Peckham versus Deptford areas of London.
Tragically, Blue Story is based on true events and was written, directed, and narrated by Rapman (aka Andrew Onwubolu) as an expansion of his 2014 YouTube series.
Rapman retells his experiences of intergang violence, where many lives were wasted at the hands of trivial territorial disputes. Far removed from the wit and humor of most British gangster films, Blue Story rings out an urgent cry for the gang crisis happening in London today.
9. Legend (2015)
Tom Hardy is the perfect fit for a modern, tough, oh-so-very-British gangster who’s suited up and ready to punch.
Following his powerful performance as the notoriously brutal bare-knuckle prisoner Charles Bronson in 2009’s Bronson, Hardy appeared as another real-life British criminal. Or should we say, criminals.
The Kray twins practically ran the East End of London during the 1960s, acting as a double threat with their differing personalities. Hardy eloquently captures both—the measured sophisticate and the unpredictable psychopath—under Brian Helgeland’s skillful direction.
8. Brighton Rock (1948)
While Brighton Rock was remade in 2010 by Rowan Joffé, it was far from successful—so we’re sticking to the original for this list.
Brighton Rock is the oldest movie that we’re mentioning, so expect a classic black-and-white gangster flick straight out of the 1940s. You’ll see a baby-faced Richard Attenborough star as Pinkie Brown, who’s a low-level gangster in Brighton, England.
Based on Graham Greene’s 1938 novel, Brighton Rock follows Pinkie as he lies and kills his way through the seaside town. John Boulting’s risky crime drama was banned in New South Wales for it’s “horrific” depiction of violence, but has since been heralded as a noir classic.
7. Sexy Beast (2000)
Gal (played by Ray Winstone) is content and living it up in Spain when his old criminal buddy “who knows a bloke, who knows a bloke, who knows a bloke” comes and ruins it all.
Don Logan (played by Ben Kingsley) nags Gal out of retirement to aid in one final bank heist in London, who doesn’t go down without a fight (and neither would we, given that lush Mediterranean villa).
Like his oceanside view, Sexy Beast comes at you in waves, cleanly directed by Jonathan Glazer. By chucking two hardened Cockney geezers into a luscious Spanish paradise, Glazer successfully makes one black comedy you won’t want to miss.
6. Layer Cake (2004)
“I’m not a gangster, I’m a businessman!” XXXX claims… but who’s seriously going to believe that from a guy named XXXX?
In Matthew Vaughn’s directorial debut—who was producer for many of the Guy Ritchie films below—Layer Cake features all the conventions of the gangster genre in an effortlessly stylish way.
A somewhat gruesome maze of humor and plot twists, Layer Cake follows one criminal’s failure to enjoy retirement. Based on J.J. Connolly’s 2000 novel, Vaughn’s modern British noir boasts an all-star cast of Daniel Craig, Colm Meaney, Michael Gambon, Sally Hawkins, and Tom Hardy.
5. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
What happens when you mix the violence of Quentin Tarantino with the cockiness of East London gangsters? One awesome directorial debut!
Guy Ritchie put his stamp down with Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels by establishing his trademarks: crude fast-talking macho men, brutal (but funny) punch-ups, and some of his favorite actor collabs.
Vinnie Jones, Jason Statham, Jason Flemyng, and Dexter Fletcher star in this scrappy heist movie with tons of edge and energy. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels gives us a very potent warning: don’t play poker with the mob unless you can afford it.
4. Get Carter (1971)
Mike Hodges’s directorial debut stars another Cockney icon of British cinema—one who later became a Hollywood favorite. Michael Caine plays Jack Carter, a mobster of the more sophisticated kind… and one thing’s for sure: you don’t want to vex a professional killer.
When his brother dies in a drunk driving accident, Carter is out for revenge. This authentic anti-hero clearly influenced by early American crime films is quietly ruthless and naturally vicious.
Critics of the time were resentful of Carter’s remorseless character, but modern viewers are smart enough know he’s not a role model!
3. The Gentlemen (2019)
If you’ve seen the new trailer for Guy Ritchie’s upcoming Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, you’ll notice Hugh Grant’s character seems a little… familiar.
Oh yeah, that’s because he played a similar role in that other Ritchie film. What was it called? Ah yes, The Gentlemen. Although not the exact same character, the similarities are striking—and we’re here for it!
Fletcher’s sarcastic deadpan humor perfectly embodies Ritchie’s callous British charm, as Fletcher investigates the cannabis baron Mickey Pearson. Played by Matthew McConaughey, it’s not the first time Ritchie threw a Hollywood star amidst a London criminal empire.
2. Snatch (2000)
Back in 2000, Brad Pitt appeared—unexpectedly—as a Hollywood star caught in the British gangster world. Mickey “One Punch” O’Neil is an Irish traveler who’s talked into a boxing match with a “Brick Top” fighter—who’s a crime boss played by Alan Ford.
Snatch has snappy pacing, aggressive characters, and an ensemble cast of Jason Statham, Stephen Graham, Vinnie Jones, Dennis Farina, Rade Šerbedžija, Jason Flemyng, Lennie James, and Benicio Del Toro.
This British crime flick is full of zany and misfit characters, making it a rollercoaster ride from start to finish!
1. The Italian Job (1969)
“You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” Michael Caine shouts when the bullion van blows up mid-heist training.
Fresh-out-of-prison Charlie Croker already has the mob after him, so he embarks on a heist to steal gold from an armored security truck in Italy. This cult comedy features one of Caine’s most famous roles—much more likable than Jack Carter, despite his thieving ways.
Peter Collinson’s caper movie has been parodied, remade, and referenced time and again, even inspiring an annual charity event in the UK. Though F. Gary Gray did his best with the American remake starring Mark Wahlberg, it will never have the rustic charisma of this British classic.