Battery. Hijacking. Murder. Lots and lots of murder. Is there any doubt that the wiseguys in Goodfellas are criminals? Movies in the crime genre are all about the lives of lawbreakers. Trips to jail and courtroom scenes are commonplace; violence and police officers are plentiful. While the characters in Goodfellas may be outlaws from head to toe, when it comes to the conventions of the crime movie, Goodfellas plays by the rules.
Drama movies are all about conflict, and, boy oh boy, are the characters in Goodfellas conflicted. They're constantly choosing between right and wrong, good and evil. Furthermore, Henry and his crew are perpetually at odds with people and often at odds with each other. From all of this conflict comes a metric ton of tension. Families are often at the heart of dramatic films, and our main man Henry has not one but two families to try to keep happy. By the end of the movie, as a helicopter full of narcs looms overhead, Henry is in full-blown crisis mode. And, crisis? It's a hallmark of the drama genre.
Less than a minute into Goodfellas, a title card tells us, "This film is based on a true story." Why, hello there, biography.
Biopics (short for "biographical pictures") tell the story of a real person, using their real name, and clinging as close to the truth as possible. In the case of Goodfellas, that real-deal character is Henry Hill, and the film's story is pulled from writer Nicholas Pileggi's Wiseguy, a non-fiction book all about the mobster-turned-informant.
While the movie sticks mostly to the facts—what with its source material including hundreds of hours of interviews with Hill himself—it does tweak a few minor things, like supporting characters' names. But, most of what goes down in Goodfellas—from the Air France robbery to the brutal murder of Billy Batts—happened.