Whether it’s James Cagney in The Public Enemy or Al Pacino in The Godfather, audiences have long thrilled to the exploits of gangsters and nefarious underworld types. Akin to a voyeuristic need to slow down at a traffic accident, there’s something both exhilarating and repugnant about watching a character lie, cheat, steal, and murder their way to the top of success.
Mob movies are often highly popular and successful both critically and commercially. This is probably due in large part to star-studded casts enacting real-life events in concert with an amazing script, which has often given audiences some of the most iconic lines in cinematic history.
10 “LEAVE THE GUN, TAKE THE CANNOLI” from The Godfather
Organized crime is not the most forgiving of professions, especially for those who have been proven to be or even perceived to be “rats.” Informants to the police or rival gangs are immediately seen as lower than dirt and are dispatched with great speed and prejudice.
This was illustrated perfectly in The Godfather, where low-level bodyguard Paulie was killed for his role in the attempted assassination of Vito Corleone. On a drive with Clemenza and another life-long associate, Paulie is shot in the back of the head. Shortly afterward, Clemenza and his accomplice vacate the scene of the crime with the desserts that had just picked up in tow.
9 “THERE ARE THREE WAYS OF DOING THINGS AROUND HERE: THE RIGHT WAY, THE WRONG WAY, AND THE WAY THAT I DO IT.” from Casino
Sam “Ace” Rothstein was one hell of a handicapper, which earned him the position of casino manager on behalf of the Mob in the aptly titled, Casino. As the man directly responsible for overseeing “the skim,” (or stolen money) from the Tangiers Casino, Rothstein was as meticulous as they came and didn’t suffer fools lightly.
That was evident in his treatment of a low-level employee he had to tolerate for political reasons. Although it was obvious that the man was a yokel without an ounce of common sense, Rothstein still felt he had to illuminate him as to how he and the Mob operated when he delivered this line.
8 “FORGET ABOUT IT” from Donnie Brasco
Donnie Brasco was a hard-hitting and gritty adaption of real-life undercover FBI officer Joe Pistone’s 5-year stint as a mole in New York’s Bonnano crime family. Deftly played by Johnny Depp, Brasco/Pistone’s friendship with Al Pacino’s “Lefty” Ruggiero was the emotional lynchpin of the film, as Brasco/Pistone learned all aspects of life as a wise guy.
Aside from knowledge of the identities and operations of the mob’s highest-ranking movers and shakers, Brasco/Pistone learned everything from the mob’s inner workings to its lingo. In one memorable and humorous scene, Pistone related the lexiconic dexterity of the phrase “forget about it,” as meaning everything from “I agree,” to “go to hell.”
7 “NOW YOUSE CAN’T LEAVE.” from A Bronx Tale
A Bronx Tale was more of a coming-of-age/romance with elements of mobster films intertwined, but the Mob elements that the film depicted were epic nonetheless.
In one notable scene, a motorcycle gang decides to stop by the neighborhood Mob bar for a drink. After the local Mob boss, Sonny, allows them to stay, the bikers repay his kindness by spraying the bartender with beer. Sonny politely asks them to leave, but when they rudely rebuff him, he locks the front door of the bar and informs them, “now you can’t leave.” What followed was a one-sided beat-down that left the bikers with no doubt as to who ran that neighborhood.
6 “NEVER RAT ON YOUR FRIENDS AND ALWAYS KEEP YOU MOUTH SHUT.” from Goodfellas
Goodfellas is chock-full of iconic movie moments, but one of the biggest lessons of mob life is handed down to Henry Hill by Jimmy Conway early in the film. Following his first arrest when he was a teenager, Hill exits the courthouse to a hero’s welcome from Conway and a bunch of other gangsters.
Confused, Hill wonders why being arrested was something to celebrate, but Conway illuminates him as to the rules of being a gangster: “Everybody gets pinched. But you did it right. You told ’em nothing and they got nothing…I’m proud of you. You took your first pinch like a man and you learned the two greatest things in life: never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.”
5 “SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!” from Scarface
The rise and fall of Tony Montana in 1983’s Scarface is one of cinema’s most epic journeys. Expertly played by Al Pacino, Montana begins his ascent to the top of the criminal underworld as a refuge from Cuba and ends up a kingpin in Miami’s drug trade.
Running afoul of some associates and rival gangs, Montana prepares to fend off their assassination attempt with some major firepower: a grenade launcher. Bursting out of his office, Tony utters the line, “Say hello to my little friend,” before dying in a hail of bullets.
4 “JUST WHEN I THOUGHT I WAS OUT, THEY PULL ME BACK IN” from The Godfather Part III
Although usually seen as inferior when compared to the first two, The Godfather Part III was, for the most part, a great movie. Charting Michael Corleone’s attempt to leave his life of crime behind and illustrating the tragedy those actions left in their wake, one of the film’s greatest lines was delivered when Michael realized his time in the Mob wasn’t quite done.
Having escaped an assassination attempt at an underworld meeting he thought would serve as his retirement, Michael stands in his kitchen and in rage and frustration, grates out the line, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
3 “KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE, BUT YOUR ENEMIES CLOSER.” The Godfather Part II
Don Corleone still looms large over The Godfather Part II, pervading even the scenes that he doesn’t appear in. However, it’s Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone who really propels the narrative. Audiences were undeniably captivated as he further descended the ladder of crime while losing his soul in the process.
Part of the character’s undeniable charm was his intelligence, which he managed to wield impeccably to maneuver his enemies where he wanted them. His cold and calculating demeanor earned him the top spot amongst all other crime families, due in part to this sage advice he received from his father.
2 “HOW AM I FUNNY?” from Goodfellas
It’s been one of the most parodied and oft-quoted lines in movie history. As Henry Hill and his mobster associates laugh and enjoy Tommy DeVito’s stories at a bar in Goodfellas, Hill makes the mistake of commenting on how funny Tommy is. Almost immediately, the mood changes from one of mirth to deadly seriousness, as Tommy believes Hill is mocking him.
Tommy grills him, wondering just what exactly is so “funny” about him, and if he’s a “clown” to him. Although it was revealed to be a joke on Tommy’s part, it’s a small reminder of just how spontaneously dangerous the underworld can be.
1 “I’LL MAKE HIM AN OFFER HE CAN’T REFUSE.” from The Godfather
It consistently ranks as one of the most popular lines in movie history. Uttered by Don Corleone in The Godfather, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” sounds deceptively generous at first, before the audience comes to realize that a potential refusal means death.
This was most evident in the first movie where a famous movie director learned the hard way not to refuse Don Corleone’s requests and woke up to a horse’s head in his bed. It wasn’t too long after this that he allowed the Don’s godson a starring role in his new movie.
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