The American Mafia (or simply the Mafia or Mob in the United States), is an Italian-American criminal society. Much like the Sicilian Mafia, the American Mafia has no formal name and is a secret criminal society. Its members usually refer to it as Cosa Nostra (Italian for "our thing"). The press has also coined the name "National Crime Syndicate" to refer to the entirety of U.S. organized crime, including the Mafia. The Mafia emerged in New York's Lower East Side and other areas of the East Coast of the United States during the late 19th century following waves of Italian immigration, especially from Sicily. It has its roots in the Sicilian Mafia, but is a separate organization in the United States. Neapolitan, Calabrian, and other Italian criminal groups, as well as independent Italian-American criminals, eventually merged with the Sicilians to create the modern pan-Italian Mafia in North America. Today, the American Mafia cooperates in various criminal activities with the Sicilian Mafia and other Italian organized crime groups, such as Camorra, 'Ndrangheta, and Sacra Corona Unita.
The Mafia is currently most active in New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New England, Detroit and Chicago, with smaller families, associates, and crews in places such as Los Angeles, Texas, Florida and Las Vegas. There have been at least 26 cities around the United States with Cosa Nostra families, with many more offshoots, splinter groups and associates in other cities. There are five main New York City Mafia families, known as the Five Families: the Gambino, Lucchese, Genovese, Bonanno and Colombo families. At its peak, the Mafia dominated organized crime in the U.S. While each crime family operates independently, nationwide coordination is provided by the Commission, which consists of the bosses of each of the strongest families.
Law enforcement still considers the Mafia the largest organized crime group in the United States. It has maintained control over much of the organized crime activity in the United States and certain parts of Canada. Today most of the Mafia's activities are contained to the Northeastern United States and Chicago where they continue to dominate organized crime despite the increasing numbers of street gangs and other organizations that are not of Italian origin.
Early gangster films depicting organized crime in America include The Public Enemy (1931), Little Caesar (1931), and Scarface (1932), the latter loosely based on the story of Al Capone.
Arguably the most popular and most praised Mafia films are The Godfather (1972) and its sequel The Godfather Part II (1974). Both films were based on Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather (1969). Since their release, many other films have been produced, like Martin Scorsese's films Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995), which were based on true stories. Other such films include The Untouchables (1987), Mobsters (1991), Donnie Brasco (1997) and the made-for-TV film Gotti (1996).
Other films portraying the Mafia include Once Upon a Time in America (1984), A Bronx Tale (1993) and comedies like Analyze This (1999). American Mafiosi also appear in supporting roles in other films, such as True Romance (1993), Carlito's Way (1993), The Departed (2006), and American Gangster (2007).
While many TV shows like The Untouchables (1959--1963), Crime Story (1986--1988), and Wiseguy (1987--1990) have told fictional accounts of the Mafia, by far the most popular TV series has been HBO's The Sopranos (1999--2007). The show, set in Northern New Jersey, portrays fictional New Jersey Mafia boss Tony Soprano, the Soprano crime family he heads, and its close affiliation with the Brooklyn branch of the New York Mafia. HBO followed up this hit series with the 1920s-setting period drama Boardwalk Empire, based in Atlantic City. Based on the life of Enoch L. Johnson, it features several early-era Mafia characters in supporting roles.
The American Mafia has also been popularized in video games such as the Grand Theft Auto series, The Godfather: The Game, The Godfather II, and the Mafia series.
The Mafia is also the topic of many popular novels, most notably in the work of author Mario Puzo, which include The Godfather, The Sicilian (1984), The Last Don (1997), and Omertà (2000), as well as James Ellroy's L.A. Quartet (first editions published 1987-1992) and Underworld USA Trilogy (first editions published 1995-2009).