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Gangs of New York is a 2002 American epic period drama film set in the mid-19th century in the Five Points district of New York City. It was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan. The film was inspired by Herbert Asbury's 1928 nonfiction book, The Gangs of New York. It was made in Cinecittà, Rome, distributed by Miramax Films and nominated for numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The film begins in 1846 and quickly jumps to 1862. The two principal issues of the era in New York were Irish immigration to the city and the Federal government's execution of the ongoing Civil War. The story follows Bill "The Butcher" Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) in his roles as crime boss and political kingmaker under the helm of "Boss" Tweed (Jim Broadbent). The film culminates in a violent confrontation between Cutting and his mob with the protagonist Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his immigrant allies, which coincides with the New York Draft Riots of 1863.


In the slum neighborhood of Five Points, Manhattan, in 1846, two gangs have engaged in a final battle (or "challenge") in Paradise Square over "who holds sway over the Five Points"; these two factions participating in this event are the Nativist Protestants led by William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting, and a group of Irish Catholic immigrants, the "Dead Rabbits", led by "Priest" Vallon. At the end of this battle, Bill kills Vallon and declares the Dead Rabbits outlawed. Having witnessed this, Vallon's young son hides the knife that killed his father and is taken to an orphanage on Blackwell's Island.

Sixteen years later, in 1862, Vallon's son, using the alias of Amsterdam, returns to the Five Points seeking revenge and retrieves the knife. An old acquaintance, Johnny Sirocco, familiarizes him with the local clans of gangs and thieves, all of whom pay tribute to Bill, who controls the neighborhood. Amsterdam is finally introduced to Bill, but keeps his past a secret, seeking to be recruited. He learns that many of his father's former loyalists are now in Bill's employ. Each year, Bill celebrates the anniversary of his victory over the Dead Rabbits; Amsterdam plans to murder him secretly during this celebration.

Amsterdam becomes attracted to pickpocket and grifter Jenny Everdeane, with whom Johnny is infatuated. Amsterdam gains Bill's confidence and Bill becomes his mentor, involving him in the dealings of corrupt Tammany Hall politician William M. Tweed. Amsterdam saves Bill from an assassination attempt, and is tormented by the thought that he may have done so out of honest devotion.

On the evening of the anniversary, Johnny, in a fit of jealousy over Jenny's affections for Amsterdam, reveals Amsterdam's true identity and intentions to Bill. Bill baits Amsterdam with a knife throwing act involving Jenny. As Bill toasts Priest Vallon, Amsterdam throws his knife, but Bill deflects it and wounds Amsterdam with a counter throw. Bill then beats him and burns his cheek with a hot blade. Going into hiding, Jenny nurses Amsterdam back to health and implores him to escape with her to San Francisco.

Amsterdam, however, returns to the Five Points seeking vengeance, and announces his return by hanging a dead rabbit in Paradise Square. Bill sends corrupt policeman Mulraney to investigate, but Amsterdam kills him and hangs his body in the square. In retaliation, Bill has Johnny beaten and run through with a pike, leaving it to Amsterdam to end his suffering. The incident garners newspaper coverage, and Amsterdam presents Tweed with a plan to defeat Bill's influence: Tweed will back the candidacy of Monk McGinn for sheriff and Amsterdam will secure the Irish vote for Tammany. Monk wins in a landslide (the election had been rigged by the Dead Rabbits), and a humiliated Bill murders him. McGinn's death prompts an angry Amsterdam to challenge Bill to a gang battle in Paradise Square for order, which Bill accepts.

Citywide draft riots break out just as the gangs are preparing to fight, and Union Army soldiers are deployed to control the rioters. As the rival gangs face off, cannon fire from naval ships is fired directly into Paradise Square, interrupting their battle shortly before it begins. Between the cannons, soldiers, and rioters, many of the gang members are killed. Bill and Amsterdam face off against one another until Bill gets wounded by a piece of shrapnel. Amsterdam then uses his father's knife to stab Bill, killing him and ending his reign at last. Afterward, Amsterdam and Jenny leave New York together to start a new life in San Francisco. Before they leave, Amsterdam buries Bill in a cemetery in Brooklyn next to his father. As Amsterdam and Jenny leave the cemetery, the final scene of the film shows the skyline changing in a time-lapse over the next hundred and forty years as modern Manhattan is built, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the World Trade Center, and the cemetery becomes overgrown and forgotten.


  • Leonardo DiCaprio as Amsterdam Vallon
  • Daniel Day-Lewis as William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting (based on William Poole)
  • Cameron Diaz as Jenny Everdeane
  • Jim Broadbent as William "Boss" Tweed
  • John C. Reilly as Happy Jack Mulraney
  • Henry Thomas as Johnny Sirocco
  • Liam Neeson as "Priest" Vallon
  • Brendan Gleeson as Walter "Monk" McGinn
  • Gary Lewis as McGloin
  • Stephen Graham as Shang
  • Eddie Marsan as Killoran
  • Alec McCowen as Reverend Raleigh
  • David Hemmings as John F. Schermerhorn
  • Lawrence Gilliard Jr. as Jimmy Spoils
  • Cara Seymour as Hell-Cat Maggie
  • Roger Ashton-Griffiths as P. T. Barnum
  • Barbara Bouchet as Mrs. Schermerhorn
  • Michael Byrne as Horace Greeley
  • John Sessions as Harry Watkins
  • Richard Graham as Harvey-Card Player
  • Giovanni Lombardo Radice as Mr. Legree


Filmmaker Martin Scorsese had grown up in Little Italy in the borough of Manhattan in New York City during the 1950s. At the time, he had noticed there were parts of his neighborhood that were much older than the rest, including tombstones from the 1810s in Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, cobblestone streets and small basements located under more recent large buildings; this sparked Scorsese's curiosity about the history of the area: "I gradually realized that the Italian-Americans weren't the first ones there, that other people had been there before us. As I began to understand this, it fascinated me. I kept wondering, how did New York look? What were the people like? How did they walk, eat, work, dress?"


In 1970, Scorsese came across Herbert Asbury's The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld (1927) about the city's nineteenth-century criminal underworld and found it to be a revelation. In the portraits of the city's criminals, Scorsese saw the potential for an American epic about the battle for the modern American democracy.[4] At the time, Scorsese was a young director without money or fame; by the end of the decade, with the success of crime films such as Mean Streets (1973), about his old neighborhood, and Taxi Driver (1976), he was a rising star. In 1979, he acquired screen rights to Asbury's book; however, it took twenty years to get the production moving forward. Difficulties arose with reproducing the monumental city scape of nineteenth century New York with the style and detail Scorsese wanted; almost nothing in New York City looked as it did in that time, and filming elsewhere was not an option. Eventually, in 1999, Scorsese was able to find a partnership with Harvey Weinstein, noted producer and co-chairman of Miramax Films.[4] Jay Cocks was retained by Scorsese for the film script adaptation which was reported in The New Yorker in March 2000 as having gone through nine revised drafts of development with Scorsese.[5]

Set design

In order to create the sets that Scorsese envisioned, the production was filmed at the large Cinecittà Studio in Rome, Italy. Production designer Dante Ferretti recreated over a mile of mid-nineteenth century New York buildings, consisting of a five-block area of Lower Manhattan, including the Five Points slum, a section of the East River waterfront including two full-sized sailing ships, a thirty-building stretch of lower Broadway, a patrician mansion, and replicas of Tammany Hall, a church, a saloon, a Chinese theater, and a gambling casino.[4] For the Five Points, Ferretti recreated George Catlin's painting of the area.

Rehearsals and character development

Particular attention was also paid to the speech of characters, as loyalties were often revealed by their accents. The film's voice coach, Tim Monich, resisted using a generic Irish brogue and instead focused on distinctive dialects of Ireland and Great Britain. As DiCaprio's character was born in Ireland but raised in the United States, his accent was designed to be a blend of accents typical of the half-Americanized. To develop the unique, lost accents of the Yankee "Nativists" such as Daniel Day-Lewis's character, Monich studied old poems, ballads, newspaper articles (which sometimes imitated spoken dialect as a form of humor) and the Rogue's Lexicon, a book of underworld idioms compiled by New York's police commissioner, so that his men would be able to tell what criminals were talking about. An important piece was an 1892 wax cylinder recording of Walt Whitman reciting four lines of a poem in which he pronounced the word "Earth" as "Uth", and the "a" of "an" nasal and flat, like "ayan". Monich concluded that native nineteenth-century New Yorkers probably sounded something like the proverbial Brooklyn cabbie of the mid-20th century.


Principal photography began in New York and Rome on December 18, 2000, and ended on March 30, 2001. Due to the strong personalities and clashing visions of director and producer,[clarification needed] the three year production became a story in and of itself. Scorsese strongly defended his artistic vision on issues of taste and length while Weinstein fought for a streamlined, more commercial version. During the delays, noted actors such as Robert De Niro and Willem Dafoe had to leave the production due to conflicts with their other productions. Costs overshot the original budget by 25 percent, bringing the total cost over $100 million. The increased budget made the film vital to Miramax Films' short term success.

Post-production and distribution

After post-production was nearly completed in 2001, the film was delayed for over a year. The official justification was after the September 11, 2001 attacks, certain elements of the picture may have made audiences uncomfortable; the film's closing shot is a view of modern-day New York City, complete with the World Trade Center's towers, despite their having been destroyed by the attacks over a year before the film's release.[11] However, this explanation was refuted in Scorsese's own contemporary statements, where he noted that the production was still filming pick-ups even into October 2002.[8][12] The filmmakers had also considered having the towers removed out of the shot to acknowledge their disappearance, or remove the entire sequence altogether. It was ultimately decided to keep the towers unaltered.[13]

Weinstein kept demanding cuts to the film's length, and some of those cuts were eventually made. In December 2001, Jeffrey Wells[who?] reviewed a purported workprint of the film as it existed in the fall of 2001. Wells reported the work print lacked narration, was about 20 minutes longer, and although it was "different than the [theatrical] version ... scene after scene after scene play[s] exactly the same in both." Despite the similarities, Wells found the work print to be richer and more satisfying than the theatrical version. While Scorsese has stated the theatrical version is his final cut, he reportedly "passed along [the] three-hour-plus [work print] version of Gangs on tape [to friends] and confided, 'Putting aside my contractual obligation to deliver a shorter, two-hour-and-forty-minute version to Miramax, this is the version I'm happiest with,' or words to that effect."[11]

In an interview with Roger Ebert, Scorsese clarified the real issues in the cutting of the film. Ebert notes,


Robbie Robertson supervised the soundtrack's collection of eclectic pop, folk, and neo-classical tracks.


Scorsese received both praise and criticism for historical depictions in the film. In a PBS interview for the History News Network, George Washington University professor Tyler Anbinder said that the visuals and discrimination of immigrants in the film were historically accurate, but both the amount of violence depicted and the number of Chinese, particularly female, immigrants were much more common in the film than in reality.[15][16]

Asbury's book described the Bowery Boys, Plug Uglies, True Blue Americans, Shirt Tails, and Dead Rabbits, who were named after their battle standard, a dead rabbit on a pike.[4] The book also described William Poole, the inspiration for William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting, a member of the Bowery Boys, a bare-knuckle boxer, and a leader of the Know Nothing political movement. Poole did not come from the Five Points and was assassinated nearly a decade before the Draft Riots. Both the fictional Bill and the real one had butcher shops, but Poole is not known to have killed anyone.[17][18] The book also described other famous gangsters from the era such as Red Rocks Farrell, Slobbery Jim and Hell-Cat Maggie, who filed her front teeth to points and wore artificial brass fingernails.[4]

Anbinder said that Scorsese's recreation of the visual environment of mid-19th century New York City and the Five Points "couldn't have been much better".[15] All sets were built completely on the exterior stages of Cinecittà Studios in Rome.[19] By 1860, New York City had 200,000 mostly Catholic Irish immigrants[20] in a population of 800,000.[21]

According to Paul S. Boyer, "The period from the 1830s to the 1850s was a time of almost continuous disorder and turbulence among the urban poor. The decade from 1834–1844 saw more than 200 major gang wars in New York City alone, and in other cities the pattern was similar."[22]

As early as 1839, Mayor Philip Hone said: "This city is infested by gangs of hardened wretches" who "patrol the streets making night hideous and insulting all who are not strong enough to defend themselves."[23] The large gang fight depicted in the film as occurring in 1846 is fictional, though there was one between the Bowery Boys and Dead Rabbits in the Five Points on July 4, 1857, which is not mentioned in the film.[24] Reviewer Vincent DiGirolamo concludes that "Gangs of New York becomes a historical epic with no change over time. The effect is to freeze ethno-cultural rivalries over the course of three decades and portray them as irrational ancestral hatreds unaltered by demographic shifts, economic cycles and political realignments."[25]

In the film, the Draft Riots are depicted mostly as acts of destruction but there was considerable violence during that week in July 1863, which resulted in more than one hundred deaths, mostly freed African-Americans. They were especially targeted by the Irish, in part because of fears of job competition that more freed slaves would cause in the city.[26] The bombardment of the city by Navy ships offshore to quell the riots is wholly fictitious. The film references the infamous Tweed Courthouse, as "Boss" Tweed refers to plans for the structure as being "modest" and "economical".[citation needed]

In the film, Chinese Americans were common enough in the city to have their own community and public venues. Although Chinese people migrated to America as early as the 1840s, significant Chinese migration to New York City did not begin until 1869, the time when the transcontinental railroad was completed. The Chinese theater on Pell St. was not finished until the 1890s.[27] The Old Brewery, the overcrowded tenement shown in the movie in both 1846 and 1862–63, was actually demolished in 1852.[28]


The original target release date was December 21, 2001, in time for the 2001 Academy Awards but the production overshot that goal as Scorsese was still filming.[8][12] A twenty-minute clip, billed as an "extended preview", debuted at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and was shown at a star-studded event at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès with Scorsese, DiCaprio, Diaz and Weinstein in attendance.[12]

Harvey Weinstein then wanted the film to open on December 25, 2002, but a potential conflict with another film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Catch Me If You Can produced by DreamWorks, caused him to move the opening day to an earlier position. After negotiations between several parties, including the interests of DiCaprio, Weinstein and DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, the decision was made on economic grounds: DiCaprio did not want to face a conflict of promoting two movies opening against each other; Katzenberg was able to convince Weinstein that the violence and adult material in Gangs of New York would not necessarily attract families on Christmas Day. Of main concern to all involved was attempting to maximize the film's opening day, an important part of film industry economics.[8]

After three years in production, the film was released on December 20, 2002, a year after its original planned release date.[12] While the film has been released on DVD and Blu-ray, there are no plans to revisit the theatrical cut or prepare a "director's cut" for home video release. "Marty doesn't believe in that," editor Thelma Schoonmaker stated. "He believes in showing only the finished film."[11]


Box office

The film made $77,812,000 in Canada and the United States. It also took $23,763,699 in Japan and $16,358,580 in the United Kingdom. Worldwide the film grossed a total of $193,772,504.[29]

Critical reception

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 73% based on 210 reviews, with an average rating of 7.11/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Though flawed, the sprawling, messy Gangs of New York is redeemed by impressive production design and Day-Lewis's electrifying performance."[30] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, gave the film a score of 72 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[31]

Roger Ebert praised the film but believed it fell short of Scorsese's best work, while his At the Movies co-star Richard Roeper called it a "masterpiece" and declared it a leading contender for Best Picture.[32] Paul Clinton of CNN called the film "a grand American epic".[33] In Variety, Todd McCarthy wrote that the film "falls somewhat short of great film status, but is still a richly impressive and densely realized work that bracingly opens the eye and mind to untaught aspects of American history." McCarthy singled out the meticulous attention to historical detail and production design for particular praise.[34]

Some critics were disappointed with the film, with one review on CinemaBlend feeling it was overly violent with few characters worth caring about.[35][36] Norman Berdichevsky of the New English Review wrote in a negative critique that some locals in Spain who had watched Gangs of New York had several anti-American beliefs "confirmed" afterwards, which he felt was due to the film's gratuitous violence, historical inaccuracies, and general depiction of American society "in the worst possible light".[37] Others felt it tried to tackle too many themes without saying anything unique about them, and that the overall story was weak.[38]

Top ten lists

Gangs of New York was listed on many critics' top ten lists.[39]

1st – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone 1st – Richard Roeper, Ebert & Roeper[40] 2nd – Richard Corliss, Time Magazine 2nd – Ann Hornaday, Washington Post 3rd – F. X. Feeney, L.A. Weekly 3rd – Scott Tobias, The A.V. Club[41] 5th – Jami Bernard, New York Daily News 5th – Claudia Puig, USA Today 6th – Mike Clark, USA Today 6th – Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club[41] 6th – Chris Kaltenbach, Baltimore Sun 8th – A.O. Scott, The New York Times 9th – Stephen Holden, The New York Times Top 10 (listed alphabetically) – Mark Olsen, L.A. Weekly Top 10 (listed alphabetically) – Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer


Award Category Recipient Result
Academy Awards Best Picture Alberto Grimaldi and Harvey Weinstein Nominated
Best Director Martin Scorsese Nominated
Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan Nominated
Best Cinematography Michael Ballhaus Nominated
Best Production Design Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo Nominated
Best Costume Design Sandy Powell Nominated
Best Film Editing Thelma Schoonmaker Nominated
Best Sound Tom Fleischman, Eugene Gearty and Ivan Sharrock Nominated
Best Original Song Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen
For the song "The Hands That Built America"
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Alberto Grimaldi and Harvey Weinstein Nominated
Best Direction Martin Scorsese Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Daniel Day-Lewis Won
Best Original Screenplay Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan Nominated
Best Cinematography Michael Ballhaus Nominated
Best Film Music Howard Shore Nominated
Best Editing Thelma Schoonmaker Nominated
Best Sound Tom Fleischman, Ivan Sharrock, Eugene Gearty, and Philip Stockton Nominated
Best Production Design Dante Ferretti Nominated
Best Costume Design Sandy Powell Nominated
Best Makeup Manlio Rocchetti and Aldo Signoretti Nominated
Best Special Visual Effects R. Bruce Steinheimer, Michael Owens, Ed Hirsh, and Jon Alexander Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Director Martin Scorsese Nominated
Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Template:Win
Best Cinematography Michael Ballhaus Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Picture Nominated
Best Director Martin Scorsese Nominated
Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Won
Directors Guild of America Best Director Martin Scorsese Nominated
Empire Awards Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Nominated
Scene of the Year The flag speech Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Won
Best Director Martin Scorsese Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Director Martin Scorsese Won
Best Actor– Motion Picture Drama Daniel Day-Lewis Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Cameron Diaz Nominated
Best Original Song Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen
For the song "The Hands That Built America"
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Won
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards Best Actor Won
Best Original Song Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen
For the song "The Hands That Built America"
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Won
Best Production Design Dante Ferretti Won
New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Won
Online Film Critics Society Awards Top 10 films Draw
Best Director Martin Scorsese Nominated
Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Won
Best Cinematography Michael Ballhaus Nominated
Best Ensemble Nominated
Best Art Direction Dante Ferretti Nominated
Best Costume Design Sandy Powell Nominated
Best Sound Tom Fleischman, Eugene Gearty, Ivan Sharrock Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Nominated
Best Art Direction Dante Ferretti Nominated
Best Costume Design Sandy Powell Nominated
Best Makeup Manlio Rocchetti and Aldo Signoretti Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Won
Satellite Awards Best Actor - Drama Won
Best Art Direction Dante Ferretti Won
Best Costume Design Sandy Powell Nominated
Best Cinematography Michael Ballhaus Nominated
Best Editing Thelma Schoonmaker Won
Best Sound Tom Fleischman, Eugene Gearty, Ivan Sharrock Nominated
Best Visual Effects Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Won
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards Best Director Martin Scorsese Won
Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Won
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Best Film Nominated
Best Director Martin Scorsese Nominated
Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis Won
Visual Effects Society Awards Best Supporting Visual Effects Michael Owens, Camille Geier, Edward Hirsh and Jon Alexander Nominated
Best Matte Painting Brett Northcutt, Ronn Brown, Mathieu Raynault, Evan Pontoriero Nominated
Writers Guild of America Best Original Screenplay Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan Nominated