They may also boast their fair share of sex, drugs, and colorful personalities, but in mafia movies, the real drama comes from wondering who’s going to be whacked next and where … and when … and by whom. Oh, the suspense! Which gangster hit comes in first for style and grace and sheer mafia goodness? Read on…
10. Pope John Paul I (Raf Vallone) in The Godfather: Part III (1990)
Sure, the idea of a plot between the Mafia, an Archbishop, and the Vatican’s accountant to assassinate the Pope and Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is outlandish. In fact, it’s so outlandish that when the Pope is murdered with poisoned tea in the midst of a Godfather-style murder montage, it’s an electric moment that kind of works, if for no other reason than its sheer audacity.
9. Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Departed (2006)
Just when it looks like Costigan has the upper hand against his nemesis Sullivan (Matt Damon), as he takes him down an elevator at gunpoint, the doors open and BAM! He’s shot in the head by a bit player whose name nobody knows (James Badge Dale). The hit comes completely out of nowhere, and for sheer shock value it breezes into ninth place.
8. Everyone in Reservoir Dogs (1992)
The orgy of killing that erupts in the climactic ending of Reservoir Dogs isn’t a mob hit by traditional standards. There is no meticulously planned murder or men in trench coats. What there is, though, is a classic Mexican standoff ending in an inspired mass whacking of the movie’s entire cast of villains. Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) kills Mr. Blonde (Michael Masden) … Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) kills Mr. Orange … Mr. … oh you get the idea.
7. Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in Scarface (1983)
Montana goes out with a bang in a blood-soaked finale nearly unparalleled, even amongst gangster flicks, for its outrageous violence. As hit men surround his mansion, what does Montana do? He snorts a mountain of coke and readies his weapons. Unlike many Mafia hits, where whomever is whacked simply gets a few surprise bullets to the back of the head, Montana, doesn’t go quietly. Instead he kills dozens of assassins with a rifle and a rocket launcher (!), before finally giving in.
6. Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) Goodfellas (1990)
Everyone knows Tommy (Joe Pesci) doesn’t like to be laughed at, as evidenced by the infamous “Am I a clown” scene. Batts finds out the hard way. He mocks Tommy and in return, Tommy and Jimmy (Robert De Niro) beat him to death. Naturally, they then toss Batts’ body in their trunk and drive to Tommy’s mother’s house, where they borrow her tools and bury the body outside — but not before tucking into a delicious homecooked Italian feast. Buon appetito!
5. John Rooney (Paul Newman) Road to Perdition (2002)
What it lacks in surprise and blood, Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks)’s murder of his father-figure Rooney makes up for in its dramatic sensibility. The pair confront each other one last time earlier the same day and Rooney tells Sullivan to assure his son gets to heaven. Then, it becomes clear what is coming. Yet when Sullivan regretfully guns down Rooney with a Tommy Gun in the rain, under cover-of-darkness, it fulfills the prophetic nature of the entire flick and ends up being as moving as if the two had just called it even and given up.
4. Sonny (Chazz Palminteri) in A Bronx Tale (1993)
Sonny is a pretty nice guy for a mobster, looking out for local kid C (Lilo Brancato) and playing the sly devil on the kid’s shoulder to Robert De Niro’s angel. His final act is to pull C away from going on an excursion to a black neighborhood with his friends, an outing which gets them all killed. As C runs to thank him, he watches Sonny get shot in the head from behind. Sonny’s slow-motion ending in front of the kid who adores him earns him fourth place.
3. Fredo (John Cazale) in The Godfather: Part II (1974)
The hit on Fredo essentially lasts for the entire second half of The Godfather: Part II, as older brother Michael heeds his fathers best advice and keeps Fredo ‘close.’ At first it seems like Fredo might get a shot at redemption, but all hope is lost the second he gets on the boat with Michael’s number one killer. The shadowy shot to Fredo’s head in the lonely boat may not have the big-time bang of some other mafia hits, but the emotional toll is far larger.
2. Nicky (Joe Pesci) in Casino (1995)
The award for most gruesome hit on this list goes to the murder of Nicky by his own crew. As things fall apart for the crew assembled in Vegas by Sam (Robert De Niro), the formerly untouchable Nicky goes to meet with the gang in a field. What follows is more akin to a horror movie than your average mob flick, as Nicky and his brother are beaten bloody with baseball bats and then buried alive in freshly dug graves.
1. Sonny (James Caan) in The Godfather (1972)
Utter the words “Sonny at the toll booth,” and any movie fan instantly knows what you’re talking about. When the Corleone family’s acting Godfather, pulls up to the causeway, its obvious something’s not quite right. Within moments, a dozen dudes with Tommy Guns open fire and Sonny staggers out of the car and falls to the ground, absolutely riddled with bullets. Sonny’s killers may have gotten him in spectacular fashion, but they seal their own doom in the process: the hit ends up elevating cold-hearted Michael Corleone to Boss.