21. White Heat (1949)
The inspiration for this gangster epic’s blisteringly mad and bad lead character Cody Jarret was simple, says writer Ben Roberts: “We synthesised Ma Barker down to having one son instead of four and we put the evil of all four into one man.”
The genius move though was squeezing that malevolence into the pint-sized Jimmy Cagney, here making his first gangster flick since 1939’s
The Roaring Twenties.
As the mom-obsessed psycho bouncing between homicidal wit and shuddering rage, he’s still one of cinema’s most chilling nutjobs.
Killer Scene: Hearing that his mum’s dead, Jarret goes berserk in a prison canteen.
20. The Killer (1989)
Chow Yun-Fat seeks a bloody redemption in John Woo’s seminal actioner, his Hong Kong hitman showing a twisted nobility as he takes on one last job to prevent the girl he injured from losing her sight.
“The killer wants to be good,” the director revealed. “He’s fed up with killing and he’s trying to stop. The problem is, once you pick up a gun it’s hard to put down...”
Slammed at home for glamourising the Triads, The Killer had a better reception abroad, launching the international careers of both star and director.
Killer Scene: The Virgin Mary eating lead in the climactic church shoot-out.
19. Sonatine (1993)
Takeshi Kitano’s minimalist hitmanin-hiding movie is a bravely formalist and philosophical break-out from the gang, played for understated but
“With Kitano,” wrote US critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, “narrative and plot become wholly secondary to the emotions, moods, and associations his images conjure.”
And what images, foremost among them being Kitano’s stony, deadpan fizzog as Murakawa, a pro-killer dispatched to a job that turns out
to be an ambush.
Killer Scene: Power of the unseen: a climactic shoot-out shot from outside, shown only as a light show.