If you’re jonesing for your Breaking Bad fix (but can’t wait for the movie) then we’re here to help you out. The show has been permanently enshrined as a definitive crime story of our era. Its outstanding achievements in writing, acting, cinematography, and music have made it something that’s ranked alongside most major movies in the genre.
It can feel like there’s nothing contemporary out there that really matches its relatable drama and compelling villainy. But it's easy to find if you know where to look. Here’s our list of ten great crime movies that share some of the show’s best qualities.
10 Shot Caller
Ric Roman Waugh’s prison thriller stars Game of Thrones actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as a successful California stockbroker who pleas down to a short prison sentence after a fatal car accident. Once inside the system, however, he finds himself at the mercy of prison’s gangs, particularly the local White Supremacists, and is forced to sink further and further into a life of violent crime in order to survive.
The harsh realities and almost Kafkaesque absurdity of the system that the main character finds himself trapped within echo many of Breaking Bad’s social commentaries. Not to mention the all too ignored White Supremacist element in American criminal culture.
9 Life Without Principle
Johnnie To’s Hong Kong crime drama follows a loosely-connected ensemble of small-time players (a cop, a low-level gangster and a bank teller) as they face morally compromising situations in their collective quest to simply get by in modern life.
Fans of Breaking Bad’s focus on the mundane reality of crime, and the frantic desperation that spawns it, will find a lot of similarities in Life Without Principle. Particularly in its examination of moral equivalency and guilt. To’s following crime movie, Drug War, also being worthy of note due to its similar subject matter to Breaking Bad, despite a more traditional cops and robbers structure.
8 Gangs of Wasseypur (Parts 1 & 2)
If you’re looking for something a little different in your sprawling crime saga then look no further than Anurag Kashyap’s gangster epic, Gangs of Wasseypur, in its complete, two-part glory. Spanning over fifty years of bloody rivalry in the titular Wasseypur neighborhood of India, it sets its scenes and conflicts in rich detail. Ultimately facilitating a gargantuan story of iconic personalities and bitter family feuds.
Wasseypur’s desert landscape and the movie’s shocking violence will bring back memories of Breaking Bad’s alternate take on the kind of tragic crime fable that was more often than not reserved for the American mafia or the metropolitan streets of tourist hubs like New York, Paris or Hong Kong.
7 Animal Kingdom
Writer and director David Michôd's Australian crime drama concerns a highly dysfunctional family of bank robbers in Melbourne, as they face extinction from a trigger-happy police squad that’s out to finish them once and for all. After the overdose of his mother, 17-year-old Joshua Cody finds himself flung back into this family that his mother attempted to keep him from and he’s irrevocably sucked into their paranoid, murderous, world.
James Frecheville’s performance as Joshua will no doubt conjure up images of Jesse Pinkman being in way over his head. But the whole ensemble, including Ben Mendelsohn’s terrifying sociopath and Jacki Weaver’s unforgettably evil matriarch, evokes the flawless network of performances that went into making the realistic ecosystem of Breaking Bad's drama. Unsurprisingly, the movie has since been adapted into a US-set TV show.
Breaking Bad was a show that you could feel adapting and experimenting to find whatever worked best for a particular idea whilst always striving to feel cinematic. This often draws comparisons to Quentin Tarantino’s mish mashing of genres and techniques (and there are a lot of straight-up references to Tarantino in the show). But there are many distinct similarities, intentional or not, to be found between Breaking Bad and Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting.
There’s a strong resemblance between Boyle’s overall use of cameras, particularly smaller ones attached to actors or props, and Michael Slovis’ cinematography on Breaking Bad. With each of their honest, heartbreaking and wildly creative portraits of drug culture and addiction being of particular note, seen especially in Aaron Paul's and Ewan McGregor's performances as young, disaffected, men trapped within them.
Jamie Foxx is the underachiever under the wing of a bad element, and Tom Cruise the psychotic mastermind, in Michael Mann’s story of a cab driver forced to drive around and assist a hitman through one night of work across Los Angeles. There’s no drug business but there is more duality, lies, manipulation and towering criminal persona than you can shake a stick at.
The confined space that the lead duo finds itself in, like Breaking Bad’s RV, pushes the pair of actors to create the biggest fireworks out of their characters’ dialogue and dynamic. And sparks do fly. Foxx was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at that year’s Oscars, losing to Morgan Freeman but going on to win Best Actor for Ray that same night.
4 Good Time
Josh and Benny Safdie’s whirlwind crime spree through New York is very reminiscent of Breaking Bad’s DIY, think-on-your-feet perspective of serious crime. Robert Pattinson creates another protagonist so bad that you can’t help but be impressed. His amateur bank robber will do anything to protect his brother and the entire city becomes a playground, or battlefield, in his mission to avoid the cops and get paid.
It’s rare to see a protagonist as devoid of morality as Pattinson's is in anything, let alone a feature film. The realism not only accentuating this but, like Breaking Bad, creating a world where the sharp turns in the story seem all the more genuine and incredible.
3 Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time
Yoon Jong-bin’s chronicling of a particularly corrupt moment in South Korea’s history serves as a fascinating character study that, like Breaking Bad, highlights how the biggest forces in the volatile world of crime are often the wannabes.
Choi Min-sik provides a Bryan Cranston-esque icon for the era with his performance as a minor customs official with aspirations of criminal kingpinery. His character’s mixture of impressive ingenuity and utter buffoonery demonstrating a range of emotion and dedication to the performance that feels once in a lifetime level good.
2 A Prophet
Being mostly set in prison doesn’t make Jacques Audiard’s modern crime epic feel any less far-reaching. Like Breaking Bad, it’s bursting with intelligent tricks to make its world feel more real whilst never letting that world feel predictable. Sudden bursts of intense, almost bizarre, violence can inject themselves into the monotony of day to day life at any moment.
From a prison cell, Tahar Rahim’s nobody finds his way in a vast underworld of warring factions, cultures and languages in modern France. As Breaking Bad does, A Prophet serves as much as a time capsule as it does as entertainment.
If you took all of the tensest, most violent moments from Breaking Bad, condensed them and dialed up their cinematic features into overdrive, then you’d get something like Sicario. Denis Villeneuve’s brief glimpse into the deepest, darkest recesses of the criminal underworld that stretches across nations and governments, is a web of manipulation and swift, ruthless, actions.
Fans of Dave Porter’s pulse-pounding score in Breaking Bad’s crisis scenes will enjoy Jóhann Jóhannsson’s intensely ominous magnum opus from Sicario. With legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, similarly, outdoing himself to stunningly convey a world of limitless deception and almost religious evil within the US/Mexico drug trade.