25 best Prohibition movies
The sale and production of alcohol was prohibited in the United States between 1919 and 1933. But if the government thought that would discourage people from wanting their favourite tipple, they were dead wrong – and where there's a desire for something, history has shown us that if it can't be acquired by legal means, it'll be acquired some other way. Prohibition allowed crime syndicates who produced or smuggled booze to flourish, and that in turn has inspired some of the greatest movies ever made. Here are our favourites.
The Untouchables (1987)
Brian De Palma’s tense, violent thriller tells the story of Treasury Agent Eliot Ness’ battle against Al Capone’s booze-smuggling Chicago empire. Sean Connery’s supporting role as Ness’ right hand man steals the show and netted his an Oscar – despite his Irish beat cop having a suspiciously Scots-sounding accent...
Little Caesar (1930)
Warner Brothers basically invented the crime genre in the 1930s – along with classics like The Public Enemy, the studio gave us this gangster gem – in which Edward G Robinson turned in a star-making performance as mobster Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello. Loosely based on Al Capone, Robinson's performance was somewhat controversial at the time – W.R. Burnett, author of the book that Little Caesar was based on, was convinced that Robinson was playing Rico as a closeted homosexual.
Bugsy Malone (1976)
Alan Parker’s musical is a joyous (if loose) retelling of the Prohibition era with a twist: all the actors are children, there’s no sign of alcohol and the only violence involves people getting covered in custard.
Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932)
Howard Hughes' gangster epic – loosely patterned after the life of Al Capone – was castigated at the time of its release for its supposed glorification of the criminal lifestyle and its excessive violence. Ironically, both charges were levelled at the later remake by Brian de Palma. Keep an eye peeled for the "x" motif that appears throughout the film, signifying that a character is about to buy the farm.
The Roaring Twenties (1939)
One of the first films to examine Prohibition from a distance, this epic recreated the entire decade of the 1920s, from the aftermath of the First World War to the stock market crash – appropriately, with a newsreel-inspired documentary feel. And who better to play the lead roles than gangster giants Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart? Cagney's WWI doughboy is drawn into a life of crime by the lack of opportunites following the war – briefly enjoying the spoils of bootlegging, before the stock market crash brings it all tumbling down around his ears.