As mobster Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini had the kind of role that reached the very heights of popular culture — a character so famous we end up quoting him, comparing real-life people to him and knowing more about him than our own friends and neighbors. Gangsters have long made for some of the most colorful and quotable characters in TV and movie history. Here are a few who top the list:
—The Corleones: Decades after the release of Mario Puzo’s million-selling novel “The Godfather” and Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar-winning movies, the Corleones remain out front among fictional crime families, from Marlon Brando’s rasping Vito to James Caan’s thin-skinned Sonny to Al Pacino’s fallen Michael, the son who tried to break away. As family patriarch, Vito gets the honors for being the first to utter an eternal catchphrase: “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
— Tony Montana: He made the Corleones seem civilized in the ultra-profane, ultra-bloody “Scarface,” released in 1983. Brian De Palma directed, Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay and Al Pacino starred as Montana, the doomed Cuban kingpin who shouted out such unforgettable lines as “Say hello to my little friend!” and countless others that can’t be printed.
— Frank Booth: He was a vision in leather and a terror with his trusty inhaler. Like Tony Montana, Dennis Hopper’s psychotic killer from “Blue Velvet” rarely completed a sentence without at least one unrepeatable word. David Lynch directed the 1986 cult favorite.
— Little Caesar, aka “Rico”: Edward G. Robinson had the title role in “Little Caesar,” the 1930 classic about a mobster’s rise and fall. As his character realizes his number is up, Robinson utters one of the first great spoken lines in those early days of talkies: “Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?”
— Tom Powers: If the name doesn’t strike a bell, think of a snarling Jimmy Cagney jamming a grapefruit into his girlfriend’s face. Cagney starred in the 1931 release “The Public Enemy,” yet another cautionary tale about a hood who gets his that only made audiences root for the bad guys.