Is Gangs of New York based on a true story?

Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York is the 2002 action-drama film that is inspired by real life events, but it is not based on a true story.

One of the most memorable films by acclaimed and legendary director Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York was released in 2002.

The epic action-drama period film’s screenplay was co-written by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan, and featured a leading star-studded cast made up of Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis.

The intention of the film continues the filmic language of Scorsese, which is to showcase the violence and lived experience of people in New York.

While the film is inspired by real life events and people who lived in Five Point during the 1860s, the story is widely understood as fictional.

What is Gangs of New York about?

According to IMDb, the premise of Gangs of New York reads, “In 1862, Amsterdam Vallon returns to the Five Points area of New York City seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher, his father’s killer.”

The lead character of Amsterdam Vallon played by Leonardo DiCaprio is a fictional character.

Whereas the character of Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, is believed to be a real-life character that he brought to life through his chilling and captivating performance. To date, Day-Lewis’ performance is still touted as one of the reasons to watch the film.

Is Gangs of New York based on a true story?

Gangs of New York is widely understood to be a fictional epic action-drama period film. However, the events and characters in the film are believed to have been loosely inspired by the historical book by Herbert Asbury of the same title, which was released in 1928.

This is particularly seen in how the film captured the history of the gangs of New York with the Irish-American immigration experience in New York City and America.

Moreover, while Scorsese went to great lengths to authentically recreate what New York City would look like during the 1860s, the extent of the violence which took place in Five Points is believed to be an exaggeration.

Similarly, with the existing characters in the film, some are based on historically existing characters, but the others are believed to have been purely fiction, or inspired by a collection of historically proven characters written into one.

Is Five Points historically true?

One of the historically accurate premises of Gangs of New York is the geographical location of Five Points.

It was given that specific name because of the intersection between Mulberry Street, Orange (now called Baxter) Street, Cross (now called Mosco) Street, Worth Street and Little Water Street.

The five intersection points created a plot called Paradise Square. A matter which is believed to have been exaggerated about Five Points within the film, is the extent of violence that took place in the area.

Historians have suggested that the violence which took place was no different than the violence which took place in other parts of New York at the time.

Is Bill “The Butcher” Cutting a real historical figure?

Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed the captivating character of the antagonist of the film, Bill “The Butcher” Cutting.

The Butcher as a historical figure is believed to have been inspired by the real-life character of William Poole, whose nickname was Bill the Butcher.

While the character was based on Poole, Scorsese took liberties in the portrayal of the character. This is as in reality, Poole died in 1855 after being shot to death, while Day-Lewis’ The Butcher lives to help draft the Riots of 1863.

Who was Amsterdam Vallon’s character based on historically?

Leonardo DiCaprio played the role of the protagonist, Amsterdam Vallon, a character which is understood to be wholly a fictional character. However, his trajectory in the film is believed to have been inspired by historic figure, John Morrissey.

Particularly, in the manner in which Vallon is set up as The Butcher’s rival. Morrissey was also Poole’s adversary as the leader of rival gang, Dead Rabbits.

The Dead Rabbits were hired in order to prevent Poole from seizing and rigging ballot boxes during election time. The two never had the epic fight that was portrayed in the film, but they did get into a boxing fight that The Butcher won.


Gangs of New York is just another one of the many films directed by Martin Scorsese which aims to highlight an aspect or different time in New York.

For this epic action-drama period film, Scorsese told the fictionalised but inspired by true events story and characters of the 1860s in New York.

The film details the violence which took place between gangs in New York, particularly in the historically accurate location of Five Points.

However, the characters and extent of violence showcased in the film are fictional and exaggerated, despite being inspired by real life characters and events.