Press "Enter" to skip to content

Movies That Were Actually Financed by the Mafia and Gangsters


The mafia, while very much real, has been romanticized on screens across the world for what seems like forever. The rugged, cutthroat protagonists of these projects have not only been met with critical acclaim but with the adoration of avid fans years beyond their conclusion. Whether it be the continued fascination with the Chicago Outfit’s notorious ringleader Al Capone or the legion of fans that have rallied behind Tony Soprano, American fascination with the mafia goes far beyond the characters seen on screen.

Many celebrated icons of the industry were either loosely affiliated with the mafia or in some cases, close enough to be considered members. As a result, members of the mafia used their newfound connections and influence to modify movies and eventually, create their cinema.

The mafioso’s entryway into Hollywood was crafted by none other than Al Capone. The Chicago gangster, in hopes of expanding his country-wide empire, sent a few of his associates to Los Angeles. One in particular, “Handsome Johnny” Rosselli was tasked with networking on behalf of Capone, appealing to the industry’s producers, writers, and directors, most of whom fled the East Coast.

Fueled by frustration with the likes of Thomas Edison, these East Coast directors saw the glimmering gem of Southern California as a new refuge to begin their new lives. Naturally, the city would be apprehensive towards external entities with interests of their own. Thus, when Capone reportedly came to visit Tinseltown, he was met with police officers ordering him to leave in under twelve hours.

Following the passing of the notorious Prohibition laws, “Handsome Johnny” sought to capitalize off of the high demand for alcohol. Due to his desirability, he was able to find work as an “actor by day, bootlegger by night.” With such influence, Rosselli’s flexibility landed him in many different positions in his lifetime. From Monogram Studios to the CIA, to say that the multi-hyphenate’s life was anything but cinematic would be an understatement.

Similarly, Bollywood has ties to the Indian Mafia. The original don of Mumbai, Haji Mastan, created films starring his mistress, hoping to help her acting career blossom. This isolated act is connected to a larger pressure from Indian filmmakers to finance their films. As a result of laws passed by the government, Indian filmmakers found it difficult to fund their movies and thus, were forced to allocate funds through other means.

So just how influential was the mafia in media? Here are a select number of films that truly display the mafia’s wide versatility in the media projects they chose to influence over the years.

It probably does not come as a shocker that the legendary crime drama starring Al Pacino had an origin story containing actual members of the mafia. However, the story of Scarface does not begin in 1983 as many would hope, but rather in 1932. The initial film based on Armitage Trail’s 1929 novel of the same name, followed Italian mobster Antonio “Tony” Camonte and his violent rise to the top of the Chicagoan food chain.

Thought to be inspired by Al Capone, the infamous gangster reportedly “sent a few of his lackeys” to Hollywood, hoping that his associates would convince producers to stray away from any offensive or “cheap” depictions of him or the mafia at large In his autobiography, screenwriter Ben Hecht admitted to meeting with Capone’s “lackeys” and it seemingly influenced the direction of the film, claiming that naming the film after one of Capone’s many monikers would persuade people to attend viewings, referring to the decision as a “part of the racket we call showmanship.”

The mafia has horror stories to tell. However, it’s probably doubtful that anyone expected The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise would be one of them. From the film’s inception, the mafia was involved. Previously involved with the creation of the pornographic film Deep Throat, Louis “Butchie” Peraino used the funds from a successful yet deeply controversial cult classic to open the Bryanston Distributing Company. Later on, Peraino’s ties to the Colombo crime family were disclosed to the public and this association played a huge factor in his subsequent success.

Related: 10 Greatest Gangster Movies Made Outside the U.S.

Directed by Tobe Hooper, the first of many Texas Chainsaw Massacre films follows a group of friends who try to escape the clutches of a family of cannibals led by the legendary Leatherface. At the time, the film suffered mixed reactions to the film’s gory nature as well as the production company received criticism for cheating the cast and crew out of their share of the revenues after the film.

Despite the behind-the-scenes swindling, the initial film led way to a multi-million-dollar franchise spanning decades. As for Peraino, he was met with obscenity charges for his involvement with Deep Throat, exposing him to more litigation that would eventually result in the Bryanston Distributing Company going defunct a few years after its opening in 1973.

The Robert De Niro-led film released in 1999 chronicles the tale of a mafia boss taking up therapy to deal with his anxiety, sounds familiar? Naturally, De Niro wanted to capture the mafia boss archetype in the most authentic way possible for Analyze This. He reportedly sought out multiple mobsters to learn from, one of whom was Anthony “Fat Andy” Ruggiano of the Gambino crime family. De Niro allegedly invited the mobster on set, an event that had not been confirmed until two decades later.

A photo of the two surfaced during a trial, to which De Niro’s spokesperson Stan Rosenfeld claimed that it was a long time ago and that his client had “simply forgotten” about his association with one of the country’s most influential mobsters.

The 1984 Francis Ford Coppola film starring Richard Gere, Nicolas Cage, and Laurence Fishburne followed the life and adventures of musicians and mobsters alike in the revered New York jazz club. Produced by Robert Evans, the film was by no means a commercial success. Despite its status as a box office flop, the movie was lauded by critics, receiving Golden Globes and Academy Awards nominations.

Much like the aforementioned films, the set of The Cotton Club experienced its fair share of drama. However, the fallout between the creatives at hand and the mafia involved would prove to be one of the bloodier situations. Evan’s co-producer Roy Radin was originally a concert promoter looking for an entryway into the film industry. The two were joined by Evan’s then-girlfriend Lonie Jacobs, their mutual coke dealer, which proved to be a fatal decision.

Related: Best Mafia and Gangster Movies Ever Made

Feeling excluded from financial compensation, Jacobs and her muscular affiliates kidnaped and murdered Radin. Startled by the killing, Evans reportedly sought solace from the Doumani brothers, hotel owners with alleged ties to the Chicago mafia. Supplying the frightened director with backup, the production of the film concluded without any other instances of murder. However, with an incentive to protect their bosses’ financial interests, several associate producers were reportedly roughed up in the process of filming.

In search of authenticity, financial security, or satisfying one’s insatiable greed, many members of the mafia found their way into the hearts of various Hollywood studios. Some productions saw their fruitful collaboration blossom into booming classics of the 20th century while others led to rather catastrophic conclusions. Not only does this highlight already existing connections between organized crime and cinema, but further accentuates the idea that everything is not what it seems.



Spread the love