They say crime doesn’t pay, but Hollywood has a different take on the old adage. For decades, the crime genre has produced some of cinema’s most popular films, providing us regular Joes with a look into the lives of mobsters, gangsters, and other high-profile criminals.
Obviously, the fall from grace is always right around the corner (a fact these films rarely shy away from), but the depiction of the extravagant lifestyles is arguably extremely enviable for viewers. Getting even just a little taste of being ungodly rich, partying with bikini models on yachts, and going through days without a care in the world is enough to make anyone want to turn to a life of crime – regardless of the risks that lie ahead or how short the reign may be. With that in mind, here are Screen Rant’s 5 Movie Criminals We Want to Live Like.
Henry Hill – Goodfellas
As far back as Henry Hill could remember, he always wanted to be a gangster and one viewing of Goodfellas’ opening sequence will make you want to be one too. In Martin Scorsese’s classic, we are introduced to the protagonist as a wide-eyed youth who is infatuated with becoming a member of the mob. In a monologue filled with optimism, young Henry glamorizes the lifestyle, claiming that there is no better way to be.
Starting from his job at the cabstand as a teenager to an adult working heists with Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito, Henry spends the first part of Goodfellas validating everything he says in those opening minutes. He becomes rich early in his life, enjoys the family nature of the New York mob, doesn’t have to work a “real” job, and commands the utmost respect from the mob’s associates (symbolized by the famous Copacabana sequence). Herein lies the beauty of Goodfellas. It takes people who murder and steal for a living and turns them into relatable characters.
Of course, Henry’s naivety from his childhood comes back to bite him as the less-appealing aspects of gangster life rear their ugly heads in the film’s second half (most notably, FBI helicopters and jail time). Still, through designer suits, expensive meals, and a feeling of invulnerability – however short-lived – we’d still take his experiences over being a schnook.
Danny Ocean – Ocean’s Eleven
While he does have a knack for landing himself in jail, Danny Ocean’s life seems pretty enjoyable outside of three-to-six month trips to prison. He spends most of his free time planning elaborate heists with his close friends. Who hasn’t dreamed of doing that at least once in their life?
Ocean’s Eleven focuses mainly on the robbing of three Vegas casinos, so we don’t see Danny’s personal life in the actual movie, but there’s enough evidence to suggest most people wouldn’t mind living like him. We’ve already covered the heists, but Danny is also extremely composed (allowing him to be in control of any situation) and has the smarts to outwit his foes – as evident by him winning back his ex-wife from Terry Benedict. Plus, having a share of a $160 million jackpot doesn’t sound so bad either.
What differentiates Danny from other movie criminals is that at his core, he’s a thief with a heart of gold. Unlike certain mobsters and gangsters, he is not corrupt or power hungry and only wants his ex-wife to love him back. At the conclusion of the film, Danny even takes the fall for his entire crew – going to jail while the rest of the team enjoys their share of the heist. Reaching that level of selflessness is something we would like to achieve, especially since most movie criminals are greedy people who are only out for themselves.
Frank Abagnale, Jr. – Catch Me if You Can
The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t the first time Leonardo DiCaprio played a real-life criminal. Frank Abagnale, Jr. may not have made $49 million the year he turned 26, but his accomplishments were extremely impressive. Running away from home as a teenager, Frank spends a number of years posing as an airline pilot, doctor, and lawyer, conning his way to millions of his own all before he turned 21.
While few would sign up for the emotional trauma Frank went through after his parents’ divorce, one can see how useful skills of forgery can be (particularly when it’s difficult to catch you). At a time when most of us are sitting through high school math, Frank is flying with Pan Am stewardesses. Instead of writing college application essays, he’s partying-on at Riverside Apartments in Atlanta. Suave, charming, and highly intelligent, Frank possesses a lot of qualities men want and his brief lifestyle of driving Aston Martins and wooing beautiful women seems fun.
Frank was eventually caught and sent to prison, but he even found a way to get out of that. Serving four years of a twelve-year sentence, Frank gets a job – ironically enough – working in the FBI’s check fraud department, finishing out his punishment as a “free” man. As the film’s closing credits notes, Frank designs checks for banks and Fortune 500 companies, legally earning a large amount of money annually. So even his fall ended up being beneficial.
Marsellus Wallace – Pulp Fiction
Outside of one extremely unfortunate incident in a pawnshop, Marsellus Wallace lives the good life. With loyal henchmen at his side, this crime boss rules Los Angeles with an iron fist, freely taking away “L.A. Privileges” from anyone he wishes. Commanding the respect and fear of anyone who encounters him, Marsellus is basically a god amongst men. Even the cool and laid back Vincent Vega is petrified by what he’s capable of.
We don’t get to see much of Marsellus’ life in the actual film, but there are enough glimpses for us to want to be like him. Not only does he get to lounge poolside while hit men do his dirty work, Marsellus is close to the ultimate “Get Out of Jail Free” card – The Wolf, who is handy in any sticky situation.
Unlike the other entries on our list, we never see if there is a fall for Marsellus (though his abuse during “The Gold Watch” is nothing to sneer at), meaning that he very well could have spent the rest of his years living large, being untouchable, and going medieval on his enemies.
Tony Montana – Scarface
In one of the finest rags-to-riches stories told on film, Cuban immigrant Tony Montana arrives to the States with nothing and ultimately becomes one of the premier drug kingpins. Played with gusto by Al Pacino, Tony symbolizes the American dream and what it’s like to be on the top of the world – something we would all aspire to do.
Pushing it to the limit, he acquires a lifestyle of fame and fortune by gradually building a multi-million dollar drug empire. Living in a mansion, owning a pet tiger, marrying the woman of his dreams, and continually bringing in profits, Tony feels invincible as the luxuries keep piling up. The world is his.
Of course, Scarface also illustrates the downsides to being in Tony’s situation. In the film’s tumultuous third act, his life crumbles around him via feelings of paranoia, deteriorating relationships with those closest to him, and mountains of cocaine. Like Goodfellas, the film operates as a cautionary tale to anyone who may find the life of a criminal appealing. However, since we’ve seen Tony’s exploits, we would know what pitfalls to avoid and would try to keep the charmed life going as long as we could.
They don’t have wizards, dragons, or Hobbits, but the entries in the crime genre work as their own fantasy films. They give viewers a peek into a whole new world and allow them to live vicariously through characters that do truly despicable things. One of the reasons why these films are so popular is because they let us dive into our imaginations and live out our craziest dreams while we still operate as law-abiding citizens in the real world.
Of course, our list is not meant to be all-inclusive, so be sure to name the criminals you would like to live like in the comments below. Whether it’s the prosperous business of American Gangster’s Frank Lucas or the hyper-intelligence of Professor Moriarty, or the jet-setting of Jordan Belfort (pictured above), there are a number of lifestyles to choose from.