59 Dead Game of Thrones TV Characters Who Are Still Alive in the Books

Kerry Ingram stars as Shireen Baratheon in Game of Thrones.
Kerry Ingram stars as Shireen Baratheon in Game of Thrones.
Helen Sloan, HBO

George R.R. Martin may be famous for killing off fictional characters, but let’s not downplay the homicidal tendencies of Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and Davis Benioff. The list of alive-and-kicking book characters whose on-screen counterparts have gone to the great godswood in the sky just keeps growing, especially now that the show’s many plotlines have flown past their book counterparts. And who knows? Maybe the final episodes will get the “dead in the show, alive in the books” list up closer to three digits. After all, valar morghulis: All men must die.

WARNING: Spoilers for all aired Game of Thrones episodes and all published books.

1. Jeyne Westerling/Talisa Of Volantis

Helen Sloan, HBO

One of the major book-to-show changes made by Game of Thrones is a complete overhaul of the character of Robb Stark’s wife. In the books, she’s Jeyne Westerling, the daughter of one of Stark’s minor vassals. In the show, she’s Talisa, a noblewoman from the foreign land of Volantis. Whatever the specifics about Mrs. King in the North, in the show she’s dead—memorably killed during the Red Wedding—and in the books she’s alive, mourning her late husband and possibly (according to some fans) carrying his child.

2. Jojen Reed

This one’s a bit iffy, because if you believe a popular fan theory, Jojen Reed—one of Bran Stark’s traveling companions and the one who taught him about his supernatural powers—is actually dead in the books. In the show, however, it’s a sure thing: the season four finale saw him get stabbed multiple times by a zombie skeleton (a wight, in Thrones parlance), before his sister Meera mercy killed him by slitting his throat. Oh, and then his body was blown up. This character is no more. He has ceased to be!

3. And 4. Pyp And Grenn

Game of Thrones book readers were shocked when season four’s penultimate episode, “The Watchers on the Wall,” saw Jon Snow’s close friends Pyp and Grenn killed during the battle between the Night’s Watch and the Wildling army of Mayce Rayder. They’re still around as of A Dance with Dragons, serving at Castle Black and freezing their butts off.

5. Shireen Baratheon

Helen Sloan, HBO

In one of Game of Thrones’s more gruesome scenes (and there have been a fair number of those), season five’s penultimate episode saw Stannis Baratheon burn his teenage daughter Shireen at the stake as an offering to the god R’hllor, who counts sacrifices of those with king’s blood among his very, very favorite things. In the books, Shireen and her mother Selyse are still at Castle Black, while Stannis and his army are snowed in several days’ march from their intended destination of Winterfell. Showrunners Weiss and Benioff have implied that Shireen’s show fate is what eventually happens to her in the books, though if that’s true, the specifics of her death may change.

6. and 7. Rakharo And Irri

By the end of A Dance with Dragons, these two members of Team Daenerys—one of her bloodriders (essentially a bodyguard) and one of her handmaidens, respectively—are out hunting for their MIA queen, who took one of her dragons out for a quick jaunt and never came back. In the show, the pair of them have been long dead: Rakharo killed offscreen in early season two by an anonymous khalasar, Irri strangled to death a few episodes later as part of a plot to steal Daenerys’s dragons.

8. Xaro Xhoan Daxos

Irri’s death, as revealed in a deleted scene, came at the hands of fellow handmaiden Doreah, who had secretly been conspiring against her Khaleesi with the merchant prince Xaro Xhoan Daxos. As punishment, Daenerys locks the pair of them in Xaro’s vault, leaving them to die. In the books, while Doreah’s dead (of a wasting disease), Xaro’s still around to be a pain in Daenerys’s queenly neck. In book five, he pops up in Meereen to try and bribe her into going to Westeros and stop messing around with the slave trade. She refuses, and Qarth declares war on her.

9. Pyat Pree

This character—warlock, bald, purple lips, creepy—is in the same boat as Xaro Xhoan Daxos: They were both part of season 2’s Qarth storyline, they both conspired to steal Dany's dragons, they both died in the show (Pyat Pree was burned alive, which is just what happens when you mess with dragons), and they are both still alive and nursing major chips on their shoulders in the books. Pyat, a minor character, hasn’t actually been present for several books now, though Xaro mentions to Daenerys in book five that his warlock bud is still very much alive and plans to get revenge against her for burning the House of the Undying to the ground.

10. Mance Rayder

Helen Sloan, HBO

The death of Wildling King Mance Rayder is one of eight season 5 deaths that didn’t happen in the books. In the show, he was burned at the stake for refusing to declare allegiance to Stannis Baratheon. Ditto the books, except—the way Martin writes it—it’s revealed that the man who actually died is a Wildling named Rattleshirt, who was glamored by Melisandre to look like Mance. The show could conceivably still pull a bait and switch and reveal that Mance is alive and protected by a magical disguise, but given HBO’s fondness for truncating plot lines—and how much time there is left—it doesn’t seem very likely.

11. Barristan Selmy

Fans of Barristan Selmy who were upset by his tragic death midway through season 5 can take refuge in the original books, where the former knight and hardcore Daenerys supporter wasn’t slain by the group of insurgents known as the Sons of the Harpy. Instead, book-Barristan assumes the title the “Hand of the Queen” after Daenerys disappears from Meereen and does his best to keep the city standing while his sovereign is away. He has a particularly hard time dealing with Daenerys’s husband, Hizdahr zo Loraq, who, oh yeah …

12. Hizdahr Zo Loraq

… is also not dead in the books—though a scene in the penultimate episode of season five had him stabbed to death by the Sons of the Harpy.

13. Catelyn Stark

This one’s less straightforward, so stick with us: In the books, Catelyn Stark was murdered at the Red Wedding but came back as Lady Stoneheart, a sort of vengeance-minded, zombie version of her former self. In the show, there’s been nary a whisper of Lady Stoneheart, even though we’ve passed the point in the story when she would have shown up. Actress Michelle Fairley has said outright that her character won't be coming back, but hey, this cast has lied before. But for now, Catelyn is dead in the show, and undead in the books.

14. And 15. Doran And Trystane Martell

The Dornish plotline is a lot bloodier in the show than it is in the books. Shortly after Myrcella is assassinated by Ellaria Sand, Prince Doran Martell and his son and heir, Trystane, are murdered as well; Doran by Ellaria, Trystane by his cousin Obara. In the books, Doran is still playing the long game, trying to stay out of a war with the Lannisters while secretly attempting to broker an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen. Book Trystane, younger than his show counterpart, has still only been mentioned, never actually seen.

16. Myrcella Baratheon

Helen Sloan, HBO

In the books, Myrcella Baratheon—the only daughter of Cersei and Jaime Lannister—is currently missing an ear, the result of a botched Dornish plot to install her as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms over her younger brother Tommen, thereby starting a civil war. In the show, she fares quite a bit worse, having been assassinated by Ellaria Sand in the season 5 finale as payback for her family’s role in the death of Oberyn Martell.

17. Stannis Baratheon

The end of A Dance with Dragons leaves Stannis Baratheon and his army in a pretty bad place: en route to Winterfell to take the North back from the Boltons, they’re trapped in a blizzard that shows no signs of relenting. Back at the Wall, Jon Snow receives a letter from Ramsay Bolton claiming that Stannis has been killed. (An already-released chapter from The Winds of Winter gives us some additional information on that front; obviously, there are spoilers.) In the show, Stannis makes it out of the snowstorm after he sacrifices his daughter Shireen (see above) to the Red God, but during the subsequent battle between his army and the Boltons, he’s killed by Brienne of Tarth. Brienne, you’ll remember, vowed vengeance on Stannis for his role in the assassination of his brother (and Brienne’s liege lord) Renly back in season 2. See, Stannis? This is why you don’t kill family members.

18. Selyse Baratheon

Lest you think any of the Baratheons make it out of Game of Thrones happy and whole, Stannis’s wife Selyse hanged herself in the season 5 finale after allowing her daughter to be sacrificed. In the books, as we mentioned earlier, Selyse and Shireen are currently living in Castle Black with the Night’s Watch.

19. And 20. Roose And Walda Bolton

Helen Sloan, HBO

In the second episode of season 6, Lord of Winterfell and betrayer of the Starks Roose Bolton is in turn betrayed by his own (bastard) son, Ramsay, after Roose's wife, Walda, gives birth to a son that Ramsay believes could threaten his standing as the Bolton heir. In addition to stabbing his father to death, Ramsay murders his stepmother and unnamed half-brother by setting his hounds on them.

21. Meryn Trant

In the books, Kingsguard member Meryn Trant hasn’t been up to much lately; since testifying at Tyrion’s trial for the murder of King Joffrey, he’s mostly tooled around King’s Landing guarding the Lannisters. The show, however, sent him off to Braavos as a guard for new Master of Coin, Mace Tyrell. Let’s just say there have been better business trips; Arya Stark, training to be an assassin at the House of Black and White, happened upon Trant and tracked him to a brothel, where she killed him in retaliation for his (presumed) murder of her mentor Syrio Forel back in season 1.

22. Brynden Tully

Fan favorite character Brynden “Blackfish” Tully—uncle to Catelyn Stark—is still alive and kicking alive in the books, out somewhere in the Riverlands causing problems for Lannister forces. In the show, on the other hand, he was ultimately unable to escape the Lannister family’s wrath and received an offscreen death at the hands of anonymous soldiers.

23. And 24. Summer And Shaggydog

Poor, poor direwolves. In Martin’s books, two have been offed so far: Sansa’s Lady, killed in A Game of Thrones, and Robb Stark’s Grey Wind, one of the casualties of A Storm of Swords’s Red Wedding. In HBO’s Thrones, Bran’s Summer and Rickon’s Shaggydog also met violent ends at the hands of the wights and Ramsay Bolton’s allies the Umbers, respectively. Ghost and Nymeria had better watch out.

25. Walder Frey

HBO

One character whose death Thrones fans long craved is turncoat Walder Frey, who was instrumental in orchestrating the infamous (and very bloody) Red Wedding. For his part in the murder of her brother and mother, Arya Stark long had ol’ Walder on her kill list. In the season 6 finale, the youngest Stark daughter made good on her deadly promise and slit Frey’s throat. In the books, Walder’s still around—his extended family being picked off by Lady Stoneheart (who hasn't made it into the show, disappointing fans and Martin himself) and her followers.

26., 27., and 28. Hodor, Leaf, And The Three-Eyed Raven

The wight battle that saw Summer bite the dust also took out three characters who are still, in the books, an integral part of Bran’s storyline: Leaf, a Child of the Forest; the Three-Eyed Raven (called the Three-Eyed Crow in the books), Bran’s mentor; and Bran’s longtime companion Hodor, whose death and backstory revelation (“Hold the door”) was a particularly traumatic one for Thrones fans.

29., 30. and 31. Margaery, Loras, And Mace Tyrell

Game of Thrones’s season 6 finale was, in a word, a bloodbath. Cersei’s grand plan for vengeance came to fruition when she and Qyburn managed to blow up King’s Landing’s Great Sept, with—among others—Margaery, Loras, and Mace Tyrell trapped inside. When matriarch Olenna died one season later, the Tyrell family officially became a thing of the past. In the books, the Lannisters’ rival family (one of them, anyway) is still more or less intact.

32. and 33. The High Sparrow And Lancel Lannister

Two other poor characters who went kablooey in the season 6 finale are the High Sparrow, leader of a fanatical religious group, and his acolyte Lancel Lannister. In the books, the whole “Cersei vs. the Church” plotline is still playing out, and Cersei has so far been unsuccessful at outmaneuvering her cultish enemies (again, so far). Another character, Septa Unella, has been captured by Cersei in the show and handed over to Gregor Clegane, a.k.a. The Mountain, to be tortured. She appears, for all intents and purposes, to be out of commission, but she’s not technically dead.

34. Ramsay Bolton

Helen Sloan, HBO

Turnabout is fair play for the sadistic Ramsay Bolton. Season six’s penultimate episode, “The Battle of the Bastards,” sees Jon Snow finally go head-to-head with Bolton at Winterfell. Snow beats Bolton half to death and then locks him up in his kennels … but it’s at the hands of his own starving dogs, unleashed by Sansa Stark, that Bolton finally meets his doom.

35., 36., and 37. Rickon Stark, Osha, And Wun Wun

Before being eaten alive, Ramsay and his men managed to take out three still-alive-in-the-books characters: The Wildling giant Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun, a.k.a. Wun Wun; youngest Stark child Rickon; and Rickon’s Wildling guardian Osha. In the show, Rickon and Osha were betrayed by Smalljohn Umber and delivered to Ramsay Bolton, who stabbed Osha in the neck and, several episodes later, shot Rickon to lure Jon Snow into an attack. In the books, Rickon and Osha haven’t been seen for a while, but we know they’re hiding out on the cannibal-infested island of Skagos. The end of book five has Davos Seaworth embarking on a quest to retrieve the youngest Stark so that his family’s still-loyal allies can rally around him.

38. Brother Ray

As with Jeyne Westerling/Talisa of Volantis, Ian McShane’s Brother Ray is a character who’s different in the show than he is in the books. Or, rather, Ray is something of a combination of two book characters: Septon Meribald, a man of the faith who ministers to war-beset commoners, and the Elder Brother, the leader of a community of monks. Regardless of character specifics, in the books Meribald and the Elder Brother are both alive, while in the show Brother Ray was killed by the marauding Brotherhood Without Banners after one episode.

39. Dagmer Cleftjaw

A fairly minor character in the show and the books, Dagmer Cleftjaw is a warrior and man-at-arms hailing from House Greyjoy. In the show, he and his men received an offscreen death-by-flaying at the hands of Ramsay Bolton after the latter’s capture of Winterfell from Theon Greyjoy. In the books, he has his life and his skin, having been holding the Northern stronghold of Torrhen’s Square with a force of Ironborn for quite some time.

40. Tommen Baratheon

HBO

Let’s pour one out for little Tommen. The season 6 finale saw Cersei and Jaime’s youngest child join his sister Myrcella in the “Wait, You’re Not Supposed to Be Dead Yet!” club. Pulled back and forth all season by the competing interests of his mother and his wife Margaery, Tommen committed suicide after the former engineered the latter’s death-by-explosion. In the books, the conflict between Cersei and the Tyrells hasn’t come to a head quite yet. Tommen could probably use some hugs before things get really bad.

41. Lothar Frey

One of the more popular theories among A Song of Ice and Fire fans is one called “Frey Pies,” which posits that Stark bannerman Wyman Manderly baked some of Walder Frey’s relatives into meat pies and fed them to him. That theory’s credibility got a boost in the season 6 finale when Arya Stark did that very thing before cutting Frey’s throat. In the show, one of the pie-bound Freys was Lothar, who killed Arya’s sister-in-law Talisa and her unborn child during the Red Wedding seasons earlier. In the books, though still involved in the Red Wedding, Lothar has so far managed to escape that cannibalistic fate.

42. Alliser Thorne

A perpetual … er … thorn in Jon Snow’s side, Night’s Watch master-at-arms Alliser Thorne is all but exiled by Snow in A Dance with Dragons when he’s sent on a mission beyond the Wall. As such, he’s not around for the mutiny that fells Snow (if only temporarily). In the show, Thorne spearheads the mutiny and is hanged for treason once Snow is resurrected.

43. Maege Mormont

Maege Mormont, known as She-Bear, is a loyal follower of House Stark and the matriarch of a whole clan of kick-ass ladies. In the show, she sacrifices her life for her liege, dying in some unspecified battle after appearing very, very briefly in a handful of episodes. Her death makes way for her young, steel-willed daughter Lyanna to become head of her family. In the books, Maege is still involved in the fighting, though readers haven’t actually seen her in quite some time.

44. Dolorous Edd

Oh, Edd. The eternally pessimistic member of the Night’s Watch actually lasted a lot longer than it seemed like he would, given his whole “we’re all going to die” attitude. It was in the third episode of season 8, during the Battle of Winterfell, that Edd finally met his doom, slain by a wight after protecting Samwell Tarly.

45. Jorah Mormont

Helen Sloan, HBO

After seven-plus seasons of being in love with Daenerys , it only made sense that Jorah Mormont would die to protect his queen. Jorah’s death at the hands of many, many stab wounds makes him one of a handful of casualties of the Battle of Winterfell.

46. Melisandre

After being absent for the back half of season 7, the “Red Woman”—Melisandre, priestess of the fire god R’hllor—rode into the Battle of Winterfell to do what she does best: be cryptic and light things on fire. After encouraging Arya to take out the Night King by calling back to an earlier prophecy (that Arya would shut blue eyes forever), Melisandre takes off the necklace that keeps her young and walks off into the sunrise, dissolving into a cloud of dust

47. The Dothraki

When Melisandre showed up at the Battle of Winterfell, she gave Daenerys’s Dothraki soldiers a boost by lighting their weapons on fire. It proved to be cool-looking, but ultimately not all that effective, as the Dothraki marched right into the White Walker horde and were subsequently butchered.

48. The Night King

The big, bad Night King—Targaryen, ruler of the White Walker army, rider of an undead ice zombie dragon—was taken out by Arya Stark and her dagger in season 8’s Battle of Winterfell. In the books, the zombie apocalypse hasn’t quite kicked off yet, and the Night King is still more an urban legend than a tried and true villain.

49. Theon Greyjoy

Oh, Theon. He’s been through a lot. Taken to live with the Starks as penance after his father rebelled against King Robert Baratheon, Theon eventually tried to get back into his biological family’s good graces by betraying the Starks and conquering Winterfell. That lasted about two minutes. Then he ended up in the orbit of the sadistic Ramsay Bolton and … well, let’s just say things got even worse. In the books, Theon has escaped from Ramsay and been handed over to Stannis Baratheon, whose entire army’s looking like it’s going to die in a snowstorm. In Game of Thrones, Theon redeemed himself for his crimes against the Starks by sacrificing himself to save Bran in the Battle of Winterfell.

50. Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish

HBO

One of the most satisfying deaths of season 7 belonged to Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, who finally got his comeuppance after manipulating Sansa Stark for seasons on end. That manipulation culminated when Littlefinger basically sold her off into marriage with the sadistic Ramsay Bolton. In the season 7 finale, he was put on trial for treason and found guilty; his punishment was a throat-slitting from Arya.

51. Benjen Stark

Is Ned’s brother Benjen Stark alive in the books? Depends on which fan theories you listen to. In the first book of Martin’s series, Benjen helps get his nephew Jon inducted into the Night’s Watch before going off on an expedition behind the Wall. And then … who knows? Some book readers believe he pops up later as Coldhands, the part-wight/part-human figure who helps Sam and Gilly in A Storm of Swords and Bran, Hodor, and the Reeds in A Dance with Dragons. That theory gets a boost in the show, when Benjen does indeed pop up as a quasi-undead figure who helps Bran and Meera Reed after they’re attacked by an army of wights. Later Ben saves Jon and his killed for his trouble by an army of the undead.

52. Thoros Of Myr

Fire didn't help Thoros of Myr much north of the Wall. In season 7, the red priest with the flaming sword was mauled by a zombie polar bear—that was on fire, thank you very much—and died of his wounds shortly thereafter.

53. The Waif

In Martin’s books, the relationship between Arya and the Waif—an acolyte of the order of assassins known as the Faceless Men—isn’t as adversarial as it was in the show. In both, the Waif helps train Arya. In the show, the training culminates in the Waif attempting to murder Arya, only to be killed by Arya instead.

54. Olenna Tyrell

Helen Sloan, HBO

In the third episode of season 7, Olenna Tyrell—the last of the Tyrell line—had one badass death scene. Her army defeated by the Lannisters, Olenna pounded back a glass of poison provided by Jaime Lannister, who decided to give her foe a merciful death. He might have regretted that a few seconds later, when Olenna used her last moments to gloat about killing Jaime’s son, Joffrey. “Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.” And…. out.

55. And 56. Randyll And Dickon Tarly

Ok, ok: Randyll and Dickon Tarly barely have a presence in George R.R. Martin’s books. We’ve mostly heard about them from Jon Snow’s BFF Samwell, son of Randyll and brother of Dickon. Randyll is, by all accounts, something of a jerk. He threatened Samwell with death unless he joined the Night’s Watch, thus clearing the way for his younger son, the tougher Dickon, to be his legal heir. It’s entirely possible that Randyll and Dickon could have a somewhat expanded role in the final two books in Martin’s series. In Game of Thrones, though, their time is over. Daenerys had them burned alive for refusing to bend the knee, which made Sam’s season 8 meeting with Daenerys somewhat awkward.

57. And 58. Viserion And Rhaegal

Direwolves aren’t the only mythical creatures to have a higher death rate in the show than they do in the books. In A Song of Ice and Fire, Daenerys still has three dragons. In the show, she’s down by one. Viserion was taken down by the Night King and resurrected as a wight to be his extra special ice zombie dragon mount. In season eight’s Battle of Winterfell, Viserion died a final death when Arya took out the Night King. The very next episode, Rhaegal was killed by Euron Greyjoy’s forces as Daenerys and her troops were en route to Kings Landing.

59. Missandei

The same episode that saw Rhaegal bite the dust—season 8's “The Last of the Starks”—also gave a brutal end to Missandei, one of Daenerys’s most loyal and longstanding supporters. Captured during Euron Greyjoy’s attack on Daenerys’s forces, Missandei is beheaded by Gregor Clegane at the command of Cersei Lannister. Missandei’s last word to Daenerys—dracarys, a.k.a. “burn it all down”—seems to indicate that things will get a little fiery in the show’s final episodes.

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20 Best Gangster Movies of All Time

Viggo Mortensen in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (2007).
Viggo Mortensen in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (2007).
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Since the earliest days of cinema, gangsters have been the characters we’ve both loved and loved to hate. During the era of the Production Code, the heyday of the “gangster film,” Hollywood ensured that they were always brought to justice. But the popularity of their stories almost always owed more to the criminal exploits that led up to that moral reckoning, long after they’d won audiences’ admiration, envy, or even love. Their role was playing society’s outlaw, and their responsibility was to clash with its values to accomplish their own nefarious goals. That journey has endlessly fascinated viewers as a vicarious thrill, an escapist fantasy, or a truly primitive tale of good and evil.

When the Code lost its authority over film productions and stories about gangsters proliferated across the globe, portraits of their behavior, both good and bad, took on even more complex, ambiguous dimensions. Where once they were gleefully flaunting society’s rules, some gangsters sought legitimate paths—only to discover that their opportunities for success demanded that they cut a few corners or make deals with unsavory types; and some unsavory types upheld a certain code of honor that their supposedly law-abiding counterparts seemed to be challenging.

Making a list of the best gangster movies is tough, because there are lots of movies that overlap with this category without quite hitting the target. There are dozens of incredible heist movies, for example, and many others that study the criminal mindset without quite qualifying their characters as “gangsters.” But the films below explore the gangster as both a character and an idea at its fullest, most vivid, and most resounding. These 20 films are proof that crime pays off handsomely onscreen—even if we wouldn’t necessarily want to follow in their footsteps.

1. Public Enemy (1931)

Based on Beer and Blood, an unpublished novel written by two former newspapermen, William A. Wellman’s pre-Code gangster film gave James Cagney the role that would define his career. The story of a young gangster’s rise during Prohibition, Wellman’s film drew inspiration from real-life individuals and true stories from the heyday of Al Capone’s rivalries in Chicago.

Wellman cemented Cagney’s stardom after swapping his and co-star Edward Woods’s roles, but subjected the young actor to a number of dangerous scenarios, including a real punch to the mouth and a set riddled with live ammunition. Meanwhile, Cagney’s feverish intensity paved the way for decades of gangster roles as bracing and unforgettable as the grapefruit that he iconically smashes in co-star Mae Clarke’s face.

2. White Heat (1949)

James Cagney became known for tough guy roles in the early days of Hollywood talkies, giving audiences someone whose criminal exploits they could cheer for—at least until the Production Code imposed strict guidelines to ensure no one wanted to emulate him in real life. In his comeback with Warner Bros., Cagney plays psychotic hoodlum Arthur "Cody" Jarrett, whose fixation with his mother leads him deeper and deeper into trouble. Cagney’s refrain from the film—“Made it, Ma! Top of the world!”—became an instant catchphrase that echoed throughout film history in other films like Ernest Dickerson’s Juice, thanks to the actor’s unforgettable appeal giving the doomed crook glory, even in a tragic death at the hands of the authorities.

3. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Characterized as a “rallying cry” announcing the New Hollywood era at a time already full of turbulent change, Arthur Penn’s chronicle of Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) inches toward the more open portrayals of sex and violence that the Production Code prohibited, and this film’s enormous success enabled later on. Beatty and Dunaway are sexy and mesmerizing as the tragic duo, following a foolhardy dream of becoming bank robbers to escape the boredom of their poverty-stricken lives, bringing Clyde’s equally reckless brother (Gene Hackman), his disapproving wife (Estelle Parsons), and an impressionable kid along for their doomed ride. In a genre dominated by mythmaking, Penn’s film tells how these two outlaws wrote their own story.

4. Get Carter (1971)

British crime exploded in popularity in the late 1960s and ‘70s, and Michael Caine was often the face of its jazziest, most violent expressions. In this adaptation of a 1970 Ted Lewis novel, Caine plays Jack Carter, a London gangster who travels home to discover that his brother was murdered—and decides to take revenge. Working with director Mike Hodges (who later directed the exceptional Croupier with Clive Owen), Caine aimed to deliver a more hardened, gritty portrayal of criminal behavior than he had in previous films like the brisker, more fun The Italian Job, even drawing upon real-life acquaintances he had with underworld types. Meanwhile, Hodges’s use of local bystanders as extras and a cinematographer with previous experience in documentary film further demystifies and grounds the action in this frequently brutal, amoral tale.

5. The Godfather (1972)

Despite the Italian-American Civil Rights League’s insistence that any mention of mafia and cosa nostra be excised from Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Mario Puzo’s story about the fictional Corleone family, no film has become more synonymous with organized crime—and indeed, the mob—than this sweeping drama. Coppola cemented not only his own career but those of Al Pacino, John Cazale, and others with a complex portrait of a family hierarchy where some members eagerly join the “family business” and others struggle against it. An entire legacy of gangster-inspired filmmaking can be traced back to The Godfather, perhaps appropriately, as so much of it is about legacies inherited, defined, and forged—to say nothing of the fact that it features some of the most exceptional writing, acting, and directing in cinema history.

6. Battles Without Honor And Humanity (1973)

Technically, Battles Without Honor and Humanity is not just one film, but five shot by director Kinji Fukasaku in less than two years. It examines the evolution of warrior codes—from sword fights to gunfights—in a post-WWII Hiroshima. Inspired by a series of nonfiction magazine articles, Fukasaku aims not only for an artful interpretation of real events, but utilizes narration, newsreel data, and other techniques to give his storytelling a vivid sense of authenticity. Meanwhile, the series’ violent landscapes track much more than a single gangster’s journey through an unforgiving criminal community, embracing and exploring the hierarchies, the power plays, and the bodies left behind the in the wake of the Yakuza’s march toward dominance—and perhaps self-destruction—at all costs.

7. The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (1973)

So many gangster stories are about low-level hoods and their attempts to navigate their way up the chain of command—to outsmart or outshoot people literally gunning for their job, or their stash. This Peter Yates film follows the title character, an aging delivery truck driver (played by the great Robert Mitchum), as he attempts to satisfy his criminal bosses while avoiding a pending jail stretch that will almost certainly kill him. Heists, double-crosses, and arrests multiply as poor, increasingly drunk Eddie tries to negotiate with an ATF agent who expects him to work as an informer, without betraying the confidence of a local bar owner (Peter Boyle) who he doesn’t know has already betrayed him. With its slow and sad end for an old man hanging on to his last scraps of life, the film depicts a much less noble career in crime than some other examples, which at least offer glory before that precipitous fall.

8. The Godfather Part II (1974)

After examining the path of Italian-Americans and the immigrant experience in the early 1900s with The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola complemented that crime saga with a story inseparable from the fabric of the country in its sequel, following Michael Corleone’s journey at the head of the Corleone family while chronicling his father Vito’s humble origins in the America. Parallel journeys charted by Pacino and Robert De Niro spotlight how intrinsically immigrant lives are woven into the fabric of the country, and many industries that seem “legit,” while Coppola wields his scalpel carving away the last remnants of Michael’s humanity that his father was able to preserve for himself, and had once tried to protect for his children.

9. The Long Good Friday (1980)

The idea of “going legit” is one that is regularly explored in gangster movies, but few do it more effectively than in this British film about Harry Shand (an electrifying Bob Hoskins) and his imploded aspirations to become a businessman. Capturing the energy of late 1970s London, and the many issues that dominated the social landscape of the era, director John Mackenzie shunts Harry first through an intriguing mystery—who committed the murders disrupting his world?—toward an explosive climax between him and no less than the IRA, with his relationship with the American mafia staking his bid for legitimacy hanging in the balance.

10. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Sergio Leone turned down the chance to direct The Godfather to focus on his own crime saga, which he delivered 12 years later as his final film. Different versions forced Once Upon a Time in America to find its audience years after its initial release, but the almost-four hour-long version brought its transcendent virtues vividly into focus. De Niro plays Noodles, a street kid who grows up to become a powerful gangster, only for his scruffy criminal origins to haunt him for the rest of his life—including keeping him from the life and love he desperately seeks. Ennio Morricone’s tack-piano score underlines the melancholy failure of a man left penniless and alone by the same criminal pursuits that helped lift him out of squalor, while Leone’s patience offers a character study that in one operatic swoop encapsulates the achievement of lifelong dreams—and for some, their inescapable cost.

11. The Untouchables (1987)

Working in a different mode than his cocaine-fueled Scarface, Brian De Palma focused this period thriller on the good guys rather than the bad ones, but gave them perhaps one of the most infamous real-life gangsters of all time to square off against: Al Capone, played with simmering menace by Robert De Niro. The director’s homages to classic cinema, such as in the Battleship Potemkin-riffing train station shootout, showcase his effortless craftsmanship. But it’s the battle of wills between Capone, his ruthless henchmen, and Eliot Ness’s upstanding, fearless police unit that gives this film such a lasting charge.

12. Goodfellas (1990)

Where Coppola’s Godfather films—up to and including Part III in 1990—tried to examine the criminality of the Corleone family from a historical and socioeconomic perspective interlaced with the origins of America itself, Martin Scorsese’s mob masterpiece trekked through the invigorating minutiae of a young lieutenant and his hard-stolen success in a world that didn’t recognize his brand of overachieving, which is also why it couldn’t stop him sooner. Ray Liotta’s portrayal of mobster (and perhaps, inevitably, informant) Henry Hill jolts through the details of his life of crime, from the wild affluence to the peaks and valleys of living outside the law, while Scorsese’s propulsive direction draws a powerful question mark about whether it’s worse to be a criminal, or just to get caught—and what each viewer’s answer says about them.

13. King of New York (1990)

Few directors capture the seedy side of New York better than Martin Scorsese, but Abel Ferrara is right up there. In his 1990 crime story, Christopher Walken plays Frank Black, a crime lord recently released from prison who gets in a big hurry to make up for lost time, killing his competitors with ruthless efficiency while frustrating the cops who can’t seem to catch him. A murderer’s row of actors poised for their own stardom fill out its ensemble cast, but it’s Walken’s invigorating unpredictability that elevates his portrayal to classic status, balancing irresistible charisma with an ice-cold sociopathy that leaves audiences on the edge—afraid but also eager to watch his next move.

14. Miller’s Crossing (1990)

In their infinite capacity to recreate an anachronistic time and place with such specificity that you feel like you’re there, Joel and Ethan Coen told this particular story early in their career, a featherweight noir about a gangster’s right-hand man (Gabriel Byrne) and the trouble in which he finds himself after his boss (Albert Finney) and another rival (Jon Polito) go to war over the ne'er-do-well brother (John Turturro) of his sometime lady friend (Marcia Gay Harden). Effortlessly smart, and crackling with the kind of period jargon for which the duo is known, the Coens manage to showcase their protagonist’s endless, inventive maneuvering in a world of shifting loyalties, suggesting that it’s always possible to find another way out—although there’s almost always a punishing beatdown standing in the way.

15. Carlito’s Way (1993)

The Brian De Palma-Al Pacino pairing of Scarface is by far the showier, more popular option most might choose on a list of gangster films. But for many viewers, this 1993 effort written by David Koepp is the superior film, in that it keeps Pacino on a tighter leash playing gangster cues in a more minor, albeit more deeply felt, key. As Carlito’s increasingly corrupt attorney Dave Kleinfeld, Sean Penn enjoys the film’s biggest opportunity to chew scenery, but even if the film culminates in a blood-soaked race to Penn Station, Pacino’s turn gives the story a melancholy, reflective edge that makes you want to see him succeed with his modest, post-criminal dreams, even if the legacy he created for himself, and the associations and loyalties he maintains and even enables, prove to be an albatross he just can’t quite remove from around his neck.

16. Sexy Beast (2000)

Music video director Jonathan Glazer made his feature debut with this hypnotic story of a retired gangster (Ray Winstone) enlisted by his decidedly insistent former colleague Don (Ben Kingsley) to stage a robbery at the behest of mob boss Teddy Bass (Ian McShane). Winstone’s understated role as the reluctant bag man opposite Kingsley gives his co-star ample time to destroy the scenery and anything else in his way, but it’s McShane in the Big Bad role of Teddy that underscores the difference between a friend and a boss: You might be afraid to say no to the former, but when it comes to the latter, you’d better just start with yes.

17. City of God (2002)

Fernando Meirelles directed this sprawling, propulsive drama about the evolution of gangsters within Brazil’s slums between the 1960s and 1980s, and the growth of organized crime. It follows the city’s petty thieves, a.k.a. “The Runts,” as they evade police and accrue the wealth and status that a life of abject poverty refused them an opportunity to earn. Meirelles chronicles the ways that their consolidation of power is met with opposition from both the local, often equally corrupt authorities, and inspires copycats eager to carve out their slice of a very small pie.

18. Infernal Affairs (2002)

Andrew Lau and Alan Mak directed this film that became the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s first Oscar-winning directorial effort, The Departed. The notion of cops and crooks being opposite sides of the same coin is an idea that has long been explored in cinema, particularly in Hong Kong, but Infernal Affairs gives the contrast explicit dimensions when a cop is sent to infiltrate a Triad at the same time that a low-level Triad member is instructed to become a mole in the police force. The movie reckons brilliantly with the emotional challenges of each of these two characters' undercover work, while shuffling them through scenarios meant to test their ability to maintain their true loyalties, to appear to be faithful to organizations they’re betraying, and to help catch their counterpart while not getting caught themselves.

19. Eastern Promises (2007)

After David Cronenberg more or less incidentally made a gangster movie, a masterpiece in its own right, with A History of Violence—arguably more about traditions of violence and what they imprint on families—he followed up with this piercing, full-throated story of a Russian mob enforcer (Viggo Mortensen) trying to juggle his responsibilities babysitting his best friend and boss’s petulant son Kiril (Vincent Cassel) while also dealing with the death of a young prostitute whose child leads back to a ring of kidnappings by the mafia. Mortensen’s buck-naked knife fight in a bath house is certainly the film’s showstopper, but Cronenberg explores the ties that bind, and some that shackle, while delivering a very powerful and evocative study of these characters shaped by privilege and then tested by responsibility.

20. A Prophet (2009)

Director Jacques Audiard created this story to give images “for people who don’t have images in movies, like the Arabs in France.” Whether it’s a good or bad thing that those images are of people ensconced in criminality, Audiard delivered something extremely powerful, following an angry, naïve young convict named Malik (Tahar Rahim) as he becomes part of an organized crime organization while behind bars. Slowly watching and learning as he ascends the ranks beneath his brutal Corsican mob boss, Malik becomes a proxy for the failed, forgotten and seemingly weak who decide to make something of themselves out of sheer determination and will—and sometimes almost without realizing it.