It's almost as if all these films and series are in dialogue with one another. As if they occupy the same universe. Ever since The Godfather, each one has set out to fill in the missing piece of the saga. A saga that's nearly as old as the country itself. Each film has been drawn from the same well. The true stories and legends of America's underworld history.
To demonstrate I've laid out all the films in their proper historical order.
Gangs of New York 1846 - 1863
Most of the film takes place in 1863. The two principal issues of the era in New York were Irish immigration to the city and 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 protagonist Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his allies, which coincides with the New York Draft Riots of 1863.
The Godfather Part 2 1901 - 1920
The prequel sections of the film cover the journey of Vito Corleone (De Niro), from his Sicilian childhood to the founding of his family enterprise in New York City.
Miller's Crossing 1929
When the Italian Mafia threatens to kill a crooked bookie (John Turturro), Irish mob boss Leo O'Bannon (Albert Finney) refuses to allow it, chiefly because he's dating the bookie's sister, crafty gun moll Verna Bernbaum (Marcia Gay Harden). Leo's right-hand man, Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), is also seeing Verna on the sly, and when he's found out is obliged to switch sides, going to work for the Italian mob amidst a dramatically escalating gang war over liquor distribution.
Boardwalk Empire 1920 -1931
Period drama that focus's on Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (based on the historical Enoch L. Johnson), a political figure who rose to prominence and controlled Atlantic City, New Jersey, during the Prohibition period of the 1920s and 1930s. It also chronicles the rise and fall of Al Capone.
The Untouchables 1930 -1931
After building an empire with bootleg alcohol, legendary crime boss Al Capone (Robert De Niro) rules Chicago with an iron fist. Though Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) attempts to take Capone down, even his best efforts fail due to widespread corruption within the Windy City's police force. Recruiting an elite group of lawmen who won't be swayed by bribes or fear, including Irish-American cop Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), Ness renews his determination to bring Capone to justice.
Road to Perdition 1931
Mike Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is an enforcer for powerful Depression-era Midwestern mobster John Rooney (Paul Newman). Rooney's son, Connor (Daniel Craig), is jealous of the close bond they share, and when Mike's eldest son, Michael (Tyler Hoechlin), witnesses a hit, Connor uses the incident as an excuse to murder Sullivan's wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and youngest son. Forced to flee, Sullivan and Michael set out on a journey of revenge and self-discovery.
Public Enemies 1933 – 1934
Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger's (Johnny Depp) charm and audacity endear him to much of America's downtrodden public, but he's also a thorn in the side of J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup) and the fledgling FBI. Desperate to capture the elusive outlaw, Hoover makes Dillinger his first Public Enemy Number One and assigns his top agent, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), the task of bringing him in dead or alive.
Bugsy 1943 - 1947
New York mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (Warren Beatty) leaves New York City to dip into the glamour of Hollywood, Calif., and to build up syndicate gambling rackets. Bowled over by actress Virginia Hill (Annette Bening), the dapper Siegel courts her, despite having a wife and children. Obsessed with creating a gambling haven, Siegel takes racketeering to the Nevada desert and helps develop Las Vegas, only to find himself in deep water over his reckless construction of the Flamingo Hotel.
The Godfather 1945 - 1955
Widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, this mob drama, based on Mario Puzo's novel of the same name, focuses on the powerful Italian-American crime family of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). When the don's youngest son, Michael (Al Pacino), reluctantly joins the Mafia, he becomes involved in the inevitable cycle of violence and betrayal.
The Godfather Part 2 1958
Traces the problems of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) as the the new don of the Corleone crime family in 1958.
Once upon a time in America 1920s – 1968
In 1968, the elderly David "Noodles" Aaronson (Robert De Niro) returns to New York, where he had a career in the criminal underground in the '20s and '30s. Most of his old friends, like longtime partner Max (James Woods), are long gone, yet he feels his past is unresolved. Told in flashbacks, the film follows Noodles from a tough kid in a Jewish slum in New York's Lower East Side, through his rise to bootlegger and then Mafia boss -- a journey marked by violence, betrayal and remorse.
Mean Streets 1973
A slice of street life in Little Italy among lower echelon Mafiosos, unbalanced punks, and petty criminals. A small-time hood gets in over his head with a vicious loan shark. In an attempt to free himself from the dangers of his debt, he gets help from a friend who is also involved in criminal activities.
Carlito's Way 1975
A free man after years in prison, Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) intends to give up his criminal ways, but it's not long before the ex-con is sucked back into the New York City underworld. Reconnecting with his dancer girlfriend, Gail (Penelope Ann Miller), Carlito gets entangled in the shady dealings of his friend Dave Kleinfeld (Sean Penn), who also serves as his lawyer. When Carlito and Kleinfeld run afoul of shifty gangster Benny Blanco (John Leguizamo), it sets them on a dangerous path.
The Godfather Part 3 1979
As Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) ages, he finds that being the head of the Corleone crime family isn't getting any easier. He wants his family out of the Mafia, but the mob kingpin (Eli Wallach) isn't eager to let one of the most powerful and wealthy families go legit. Making matters even worse is Michael's nephew, Vincent (Andy Garcia). Not only does Vincent want a piece of the Corleone family's criminal empire, but he also wants Michael's daughter, Mary (Sofia Coppola).
Goodfellas 1955 - 1980
A young man grows up in the mob and works very hard to advance himself through the ranks. He enjoys his life of money and luxury, but is oblivious to the horror that he causes. A drug addiction and a few mistakes ultimately unravel his climb to the top.
Donnie Brasco 1976 – 1981
Joseph Pistone (Johnny Depp) is an FBI agent who has infiltrated one of the major New York Mafia families and is living under the name Donnie Brasco. He develops a relationship with mob hit man Benjamin "Lefty" Ruggiero (Al Pacino) in order to get deeper under cover, but ends up developing a real friendship with the Mafioso. As their relationship develops, Pistone must decide whether or not to complete his job, knowing that it will lead to the murder of his new friend.
Scarface 1980 - 1983
After getting a green card in exchange for assassinating a Cuban government official, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) stakes a claim on the drug trade in Miami. Viciously murdering anyone who stands in his way, Tony eventually becomes the biggest drug lord in the state, controlling nearly all the cocaine that comes through Miami. But increased pressure from the police, wars with Colombian drug cartels and his own drug-fueled paranoia serve to fuel the flames of his eventual downfall.
Casino 1973 - 1983
In early-1970s Las Vegas, low-level mobster Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert De Niro) gets tapped by his bosses to head the Tangiers Casino. At first, he's a great success in the job, but over the years, problems with his loose-cannon enforcer Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), his ex-hustler wife Ginger (Sharon Stone), her con-artist ex Lester Diamond (James Woods) and a handful of corrupt politicians put Sam in ever-increasing danger.
American Gangster 1968 - 1984
Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) earns his living as a chauffeur to one of Harlem's leading mobsters. After his boss dies, Frank uses his own ingenuity and strict business code to become one of the inner city's most powerful crime bosses. Meanwhile, veteran cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) senses a change in the mob's power structure and looks for ways to bring his opponent to justice.
King of New York 1990
A crime lord plots to take control of New York's underground drug economy and distribute the profits to the poor.
State of Grace 1990
Gone for a decade, Terry Noonan (Sean Penn) is welcomed back into the fold in his Irish-American neighborhood in New York City. A one-time street tough, Terry is now an undercover officer targeting crime boss Frankie Flannery (Ed Harris). In the name of duty, Terry rekindles his dormant friendship with Frankie's younger brother, Jackie (Gary Oldman). But as Terry gets closer to his goal, his feelings for the youngest Flannery, his old flame Kathleen (Robin Wright), complicate his mission.
Cop Land 1997
When hotheaded Superboy (Michael Rapaport) accidentally gets involved in an ugly racially-motivated incident, his uncle Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), a corrupt New York City cop, attempts to sweep it under the rug by helping fake his nephew's death. The bungled cover-up leads to investigations by idealistic Internal Affairs officer Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) and Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone), sheriff of the suburban New Jersey town where Donlan and his fellow crooked policemen live.
The Departed 2006
South Boston cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes under cover to infiltrate the organization of gangland chief Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). As Billy gains the mobster's trust, a career criminal named Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) infiltrates the police department and reports on its activities to his syndicate bosses. When both organizations learn they have a mole in their midst, Billy and Colin must figure out each other's identities to save their own lives.
The Sopranos 1999 - 2007
New Jersey based Tony Soprano juggles the problems of his fractious family with those of a "Family" of a different sort - the mob. He sees a therapist to deal with his professional and personal problems, which bring on panic attacks. He deals with personal and professional power struggles, affairs, violence, the threat of exposure and betrayal, and a whole bunch of people being whacked.
Sources: Wikipedia and IMDB