The next most striking thing about the films that have made the top twenty list are the plethora of films either directly or tangentially about criminals. Indeed, of the top twenty rated films, only Dr. Strangelove and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest can be said to not feature a criminal in his traditional role, though even in the latter film the lead character McMurphy is only sent to the mental hospital to keep from going to jail. Disregarding characters such as Darth Vader, the villains featured in the LOTR trilogy, Nazis and the man on trial in 12 Angry Men, nine of the top twenty rated films feature criminals as characters who are vital to the plot. And of those nine, five can be accurately be considered to belong the gangster genre with at least two others that could be strongly argued as featuring gangsters. As one makes his way down through the rest of the top 250 rated films, it quickly becomes obvious that the gangster genre is represented far more than any other genre. And what is the top rated film of all time The Godfather. The Godfather, Part II is rated number 3. Clearly, gangsters (or mobsters or whatever other term one may prefer) touch a nerve with filmgoers in a way that no other single group of individuals ever has; gangster films became a mainstay of Hollywood with the advent of talkies and their popularity has never waned since, unlike the genre's closest rival, the western. Although there are a multitude of reasons why the gangster genre has remained unfailingly popular despite wholesale changes in society since its inception, and though there are just as many reasons why the western has not sustained its popularity, one cannot overlook the importance of how free market ideology is so often perfectly mirrored in the typical tale of the rise and fall of a gangster. From Tony Camonte in the original Scarface to Henry Hill in Goodfellas, these stories more accurately reflect the societal insistence on achieving the so-called American Dream of attaining wealth through nothing more than simple ambition than the western or, indeed, any other genre. In keeping with the spirit of instilling a prevailing ideology through media, however, these films also serve as cautionary tales meant to show what happens when ambition leads to all-out criminal behavior.
Society's fear that gangsters were being glorified and held up as heroes has manifested itself since the earliest classics of the genre, and while there has never been any direct evidence that these fears have been spurred because the story of a successful gangster so effectively mirrors the rise of successful mainstream businessmen, there can be little doubt that the similarity between the achievement of the American Dream by such seemingly disparate individuals as Al Capone and Cornelius Vanderbilt must surely be unnerving to those wishing to preserve the illusion that American businessmen were and are all as pure as the driven snow. Capone is an icon, perhaps the icon, of real life gangsters, and his story has been told either semi-factually, fictionally or semi-fictionally dozens of times, most notably in the original Scarface and the more recent The Untouchables. Although the exact details of Capone's crimes and misdemeanors are a mystery to most of those who are familiar with his name, almost everyone instantly recognizes him as one of America's all-time great criminal characters. Judging by the