When you are talking about the greatest living filmmakers, Martin Scorsese is one of the first names that will be mentioned. While he doesn’t have as many Oscars as you would expect, or that he arguably deserves, his career has been incredibly impressive. Several of his films routinely appear on movie fans’ lists of favorites. Critics adore him. A few of his movies have been box-office smashes. Ranking his movies is a tough task, but we decided to do it. However, we must note these are only his feature films. It does not include his documentaries like “The Last Waltz” and “Shine a Light.” That didn’t make this any easier, though. Here is our ranking of the man they call Marty’s films.
“Boxcar Bertha” is only Scorsese’s second film, and he hadn’t really gotten to take his career into his own hands yet. The film is a low-budget exploitation film produced by Roger Corman. Now, basically, every director of Scorsese’s generation had to make a Corman film, but that doesn’t mean they are all that good.
This is Scorsese’s first feature, and it would be a few years before he got a chance to make another one. It was also Harvey Keitel’s acting debut. Scorsese wrote the script as well, the only movie he is the sole credited writer on. Like any debut feature, it has flaws, but we like it a smidge better than “Boxcar Bertha” because it feels more personal and less mercenary.
“Kundun” is the Scorsese film that gets joked about, at least by those that even know it exists. They made a “Kundun” joke in “The Sopranos,” after all. In the middle of a fantastic run of movies, Marty took a detour to make a film about the 14th Dalai Lama. It was a bold veer for Scorsese, and nobody really went along with the ride.
Scorsese has made religion, especially Christianity, a big theme of many of his films. That’s definitely the case of “Silence,” which stars Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield. It’s about two priests who head to Japan in the 17th century to find their mentor and to spread Catholicism in an area icy to the religion at best. In fact, there is some of the most brutal violence in any Scorsese movie in “Silence.”
Scorsese loves movies, so you would think a love letter to movies would be perfect for him. The film got 11 Oscar nominations, but of course, nobody loves a salute to cinema more than the Academy. As a film, “Hugo” is a little flat, even if it is cool to see Georges Melies as a character in a movie.
Even the beloved Scorsese films can be kind of pulpy. He doesn’t shy from genre fare or muscularly violent movies. “Shutter Island” is definitely that. It’s based on a Dennis Lehane novel, after all. As Scorsese does, he elevates the material, but either you like Lehane’s storytelling style or you don’t.
A quiet drama about a single mother trying to make it on her own? That doesn’t sound like a Scorsese movie, but he did it with his early film “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” Ellen Burstyn won Best Actress from the film, and the movie was adapted into the TV show “Alice.” The show is best remembered for Flo telling people to “Kiss my grits.”
Nicolas Cage gets a lot of stick for his acting choices, and he has been in a lot of bad films. Even in his good movies, like “Moonstruck,” his performances are out there. That makes him perfect for a movie like “Bringing Out the Dead,” where Cage plays a paramedic dealing with his sanity unraveling. It just doesn’t all come together as well as it could, though there is plenty to like about “Bringing Out the Dead.”
This is another usual turn for Scorsese, even with all the musical documentaries that he’s made. “New York, New York” is a musical, though it’s also all about Marty’s favorite topic: New York City. Liza Minnelli co-stars and sings her famous version of “New York, New York.” That alone makes this a noteworthy movie.
Scorsese and Paul Schrader joining forces to make a movie about Jesus? No wonder it was controversial. While Scorsese would not do anything sacrilegious, his take on the story of Jesus, especially Jesus as a man on Earth, got him a ton of flak from religious groups. He persisted, though, and “The Last Temptation of Christ” is no longer controversial, and is viewed by many as an excellent film.
Famously, Steven Spielberg and Scorsese swapped a couple of movie projects. Marty made “Cape Fear,” which Spielberg made “Schindler’s List.” Honestly, that was probably for the best, though it probably stung Scorsese that Spielberg got his Oscars for “Schindler’s List,” which Scorsese would have to wait. While “Schindler’s List” won Best Picture, Robert De Niro’s turn as Max Cady has had as much cultural impact long term as anything in “Schindler’s List,” save for maybe that one “Seinfeld” episode.
This one was for the masses. Scorsese directed a sequel to “The Hustler” starring Tom Cruise and Paul Newman. “Werewolves of London” is played on the soundtrack. However, Scorsese managed to plus up this delayed sequel with his acting choices. Also, he got Newman his only acting Oscar. The man knows how to direct actors to glory.
Few people seem to properly rate “After Hours” in our mind. They either dismiss it or they champion it as an underrated gem. To us, neither is accurate. The movie – which some call a “comedy” but that’s a real stretch – has its moments and some good performances, but it’s definitely not one of Scorsese’s best. It’s a little too inconsistent and doesn’t really nail its tone, a rare thing for a Scorsese film.
Scorsese went the costumed drama route in this adaptation of the classic Edith Wharton novel of the same name. It wasn’t typical for him, but the man knows how to frame a scene, which is half the battle in a movie like this. Plus, he had Daniel Day-Lewis as one of the stars, which never hurts. Although, it was Winona Ryder who got an Oscar nomination. These kinds of movies aren’t for everybody, including your stereotypical Scorsese fan who loves gangster movies. He showed he knows how to handle this kind of film, though, even if he never did it again.
This is the film that finally won Scorsese Best Director and Best Picture. And yet, most of us agree that it was a career-achievement award. That’s not to knock “The Departed.” It’s a really good movie. It’s also at times a by-the-numbers police thriller. Still, the performances are fun, and its slickness is entertaining.
“Casino” is something of a follow-up, at least spiritually, to “Goodfellas,” which we will get to later. It stars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci as mobsters once again. It’s just a little bloated. If Scorsese had figured out how to trim “Casino” down a bit, it would be even better than it already is. And to be clear, it’s a really good movie. It’s just hard not to think of it in comparison to “Goodfellas.”
Meanwhile, all the bloat and excess of “The Wolf of Wall Street” is necessary. This is a movie about the odious Jordan Belfort, who committed many financial crimes while splashing his ill-gotten cash all around town. Some complained that Belfort is lionized in Scorsese’s film. Apparently, those people needed a flashing neon sign that said “THIS IS BAD” to understand the tone and direction of the movie. It’s Scorsese’s funniest movie, but it can be a little hard to stay in Belfort’s world this long at times.
Cameron Diaz really feels out of place in “Gangs of New York,” but otherwise we can’t say much negative about the movie. Daniel Day-Lewis is absolutely fantastic as Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, and he’s one of several great performances. The movie looks lived in, and the storytelling is gripping. Plus, the ending really gives us a nicely earned turn. This is an epic about war and immigration that really works.
A soaring epic – sometimes literally – that tells the story of the life of Howard Hughes. Hughes lived a fascinating life, working in film, aviation, and dealing with extreme OCD. Leonardo DiCaprio, a frequent Scorsese collaborator, stars as Hughes, though it was Cate Blanchett who won an Oscar in this movie. She played Katharine Hepburn, and while some didn’t like her performance we personally loved it.
Yeah, “The King of Comedy” is kind of a dark comedy, but only sort of. It’s more successful as a drama, with the “humor” coming from the bleakness of the situation. These days, you could refer to it as ’Joker’, but good,” but that undersells it. De Niro is great, and Jerry Lewis gave the best dramatic performance of his career.
“Taxi Driver” was controversial in the ‘70s, and we can see why. It’s brutal and unsparing, and movies like this weren’t getting made all that often back then. Travis Bickle is an iconic anti-hero, the kind that often gets misread by certain viewers which complicates the narrative. Bickle is a disconcerting, pitiable Vietnam vet adrift in life. It’s hard to spend time with him. It’s rewarding to do it for “Taxi Driver,” though.
In modern times, people complain about the length of movies like “The Irishman.” It’s a lengthy epic, but it’s Scorsese’s best epic. Well, if you can get past the de-aging process. We understand if you can’t, but at the heart of the movie are three excellent performances from De Niro, Pesci, and Al Pacino. This is a movie an aging director made about the ravages of age, and it’s heartbreaking and gripping in equal measures.
This is only Scorsese’s third movie, and it’s the one that broke him out as a director. It’s also the movie that broke out De Niro as an actor. His turn as Johnny Boy is when it was clear what a star he was going to become. He’d win an Oscar for “The Godfather Part II” soon hereafter. Oh, and this is a movie about life on the New York streets, crime, and Christianity, naturally.
This was the first time Scorsese couldn’t win an Oscar and people started to note it. Many consider “Raging Bull” an all-time great film. De Niro won an Oscar for it, and it’s possibly the best sports movie ever. Of course, it’s so much more than that. It’s really a Jake La Motta biopic that happens to take place in the world of sports. That’s what Scorsese’s interests were in. “Raging Bull” also looks absolutely beautiful in black-and-white.
Yes, it’s quite common for people to consider “Goodfellas” one of their favorite films. We aren’t trying to be quirky or different here, though. A lot of people consider “Goodfellas” a favorite because it absolutely rules. This is a great movie. It absolutely should have won Best Picture in 1990. Everything about it is Scorsese at his peak. The acting is fantastic, the editing is great, the soundtrack is nearly perfect. It’s fun, funny, terrifying, saddening, and everything on the emotional gamut. Truly, an all-timer, even if you’ve never wanted to be a gangster.