Martin Scorsese gained a reputation as one of the most snubbed filmmakers in Oscar history with unsuccessful bids for directing “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), “Goodfellas” (1990), “Gangs of New York” (2002), and “The Aviator” (2004), as well as for writing “Goodfellas” and “The Age of Innocence” (1993). He finally hit the awards jackpot with his gangland epic “The Departed” (2006), which walked away with victories for Best Director and Best Picture. He subsequently competed for directing and producing “Hugo” (2011) and “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013).
Ranking Martin Scorsese 25 narrative films in his career.
25. BOXCAR BERTHA (1972) Screenplay by Joyce H. Corrington and John William Corrington, based on the book ‘Sister of the Road’ by Ben L. Reitman. Starring Barbara Hershey, David Carradine, Barry Primus, Bernie Casey, John Carradine. Early in his career, Scorsese went through the Roger Corman guerrilla school of filmmaking, a training ground for just about every director of his generation (including Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, and Jonathan Demme). This cheap “Bonnie and Clyde” cash-in stars Barbara Hershey and David Carradine as Depression-era train robbers turned murderers. Though competently made, “Boxcar Bertha” displays little of the style and thematic motifs that would come to define Scorsese’s work. Indie maverick John Cassavetes apparently told him to never make a movie like this again, and he listened.
24. THE COLOR OF MONEY (1986) Screenplay by Richard Price, based on the novel by Walter Tevis. Starring Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver, John Turturro, Bill Cobbs. One has to wonder why exactly Scorsese made “The Color of Money.” Perhaps he needed a hit after a string of critically-acclaimed films that failed to connect with audiences? Or maybe he just really likes the pool? Either way, this quasi-sequel to “The Hustler,” which finds an aging Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) teaching a cocky young protégé (Tom Cruise) the tricks of the trade is a slick enough entertainment, but it lacks the psychological complexity and stylistic fervor that animates the director’s best work. The film did bring Newman a long-overdue Oscar win for Best Actor (which he wasn’t present to accept). 23. KUNDUN (1997) Written by Melissa Mathison. Starring Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, Tencho Gyalpo, Tsewang Migyur Khangsar, Lobsang Samten. Before devoting himself to filmmaking, Scorsese dabbled with becoming a Catholic priest, and that spiritual upbringing often presents itself in his work through imagery and subject matter. As was the case with “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Kundun” finds the director examining the life of a prominent religious figure, this time the Dalai Lama. But unlike his study in the final enticements of Jesus, Scorsese remains at a distance with the Tibetan spiritual being, never imbuing him with a human side. Still, this is a handsome production, with Oscar-nominated cinematography, art direction, costumes, and music. 22. NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977) Screenplay by Mardik Martin and Earl Mac Rauch, story by Rauch. Starring Liza Minnelli, Robert De Niro, Lionel Stander, Barry Primus, Mary Kay Place, Georgie Auld. Though most remembered today for Frank Sinatra‘s iconic version of the film’s theme song (though Liza’s version in the film is pretty terrific), Scorsese’s dramatic musical “New York, New York” remains a fascinating hiccup in what had been the director’s steadily rising career. Now known in some movie circles as a film historian almost as much as a director, the director intended the film as an homage to the movie musicals with which he grew up — those with dramatic lighting, heartfelt songs, and artificial-looking sets — all of which he incorporated into “New York, New York.” Scorsese was reportedly having drug problems at the time, which may account for the mixed critical and box-office reaction to the film. But no one can say that “New York, New York” wasn’t ambitious.
21. CAPE FEAR (1991) Screenplay by Wesley Strick, based on a screenplay by James R. Webb and the novel ‘The Executioners’ by John D. MacDonald. Starring Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Joe Don Baker, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam. Scorsese delivered a box office smash with this operatic remake of the 1962 thriller about a convicted rapist (Robert De Niro) stalking the lawyer (Nick Nolte) who sent him to prison for 14 years. The director adds a psychological complexity lacking from the original, changing Nolte’s Sam Bowden from a pristine hero into a flawed everyman who regularly disappoints his wife (Jessica Lange) and daughter (Juliette Lewis). He also turns De Niro’s Max Cady into an almost Biblical baddie, replete with tattoos and a wrathful rage. Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, and Martin Balsam (stars from the first version) make cameos. 20. WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? (1967) Written by Martin Scorsese. Starring Harvey Keitel, Zina Bethune, Lennard Kuras, Michael Scala. Scorsese spent years making his feature debut, a grungy independent that showcased the various themes and stylistic tropes the director would soon become famous for. Harvey Keitel makes his acting debut as a devoutly Catholic Italian-American who starts dating a girl (Zina Bethune) he thinks is a virgin. Not wanting to “spoil” her, he abstains from sex until marriage, but he’s soon disappointed to learn she was once raped by an ex-boyfriend. “Who’s That Knocking” caught the attention of critic Roger Ebert and underground director John Cassavetes, who both championed it as the arrival of an exciting new talent.
19. SHUTTER ISLAND (2010) Screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Max von Sydow. “Shutter Island” was initially greeted with a tepid reception from audiences anxious to see how Scorsese would follow up his Oscar win for “The Departed.” Not to be boxed in, the director dipped his toes into the horror genre with this adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s psychological thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a U.S. Marshal in 1954 investigating the disappearance of a murderer from a hospital for the mentally insane. Scorsese pays tribute to some of his heroes, most notably Alfred Hitchcock and Val Lewton, creating an atmospheric chiller that’s also a disturbing examination of a man’s deteriorating psyche. 18. BRINGING OUT THE DEAD (1999) Screenplay by Paul Schrader, based on the novel by Joe Connelly. Starring Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore. Scorsese reunited with “Taxi Driver” screenwriter Paul Schrader for another surreal and nightmarish journey into the abyss. Nicolas Cage stars as Frank Pierce, a Manhattan ambulance paramedic who is haunted by the patients he fails to save. John Goodman, Ving Rhames, and Tom Sizemore costar as fellow EMTs who accompany Frank as he struggles to maintain his sanity over the course of three nights. Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson create a vision of the city that feels straight out of Hieronymus Bosch, as if Frank is entering the Underworld to do battle with evil through his white, four-wheeled chariot.
17. GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002) Written by Jay Cocks, Kenneth Lonergan, and Steven Zailian, story by Cocks. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson. Scorsese’s fascination with the urban underworld continued even into period pieces such as this adaptation of Herbert Asbury‘s non-fiction book “The Gangs of New York.” In 1862 New York, political gangs held great sway, the most prominent of which was led by political kingmaker Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) who was under the thumb of the politically powerful “Boss” Tweed (Jim Broadbent), and the “Natives,” as their gang was called, who were virulently anti-Irish and anti-Catholic. Enter Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his makeshift immigrant gang who takes on Bill and his gang just as the Draft Riots of 1863 break out. As much as Amsterdam’s rebellion is political, it is also personal as he is determined to make Bill, his father’s killer, pay for his crime. “Gangs of New York” brought Scorsese his fourth Oscar nomination as Best Director.
16. HUGO (2011) Screenplay by John Logan, based on the book ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ by Brian Selznick. Starring Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Jude Law. “Hugo” was Scorsese’s first foray into the use of 3D for this family film based on Brian Selznick‘s graphic novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” The story of Hugo (Asa Butterfield), a young Parisian orphan boy who maintains the clocks at the railway station at Gare Montparnasse while hiding out from the determined Station Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen), provided an opportunity for the director to take the improved technology of 3D and tell his story as well as weaving a tribute to the early film pioneer Georges Méliès into the storyline. Scorsese’s direction and Logan’s script in particular caught the attention of film critics, as well as the Academy, which showered “Hugo” with 11 Oscar nominations, including Scorsese’s seventh Oscar nomination as Best Director.
15. THE AVIATOR (2004) Written by John Logan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Jude Law, Gwen Stefani. What Warren Beatty couldn’t successfully achieve in “Rules Don’t Apply” — a coherent biography of Howard Hughes — Scorsese made look easy in “The Aviator,” his 170-minute biopic of the eccentric billionaire. It’s not surprising that the director, working with John Logan‘s script, emphasized Hughes’ (Leonardo DiCaprio) successful Hollywood years, when he was making movies and dating some of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars, such as Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani), Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) and Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett in her Oscar-winning role). As Hughes’ life gets darker, that’s the time when the film kicks it up a notch, illustrating how OCD and fear of germs took their toll on his sanity and drove him farther into seclusion. Scorsese never appears to judge his subject, and that encourages us never to turn our back on him as well. 14. AFTER HOURS (1985) Written by Joseph Minion. Starring Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Verna Bloom, Tommy Chong, Linda Fiorentino, Teri Garr, John Heard, Cheech Marin, Catherine O’Hara. Following the collapse of “The Last Temptation of Christ” at Paramount, it’s easy to see why Scorsese would’ve been in a dark mood. That he could laugh at it is encouraging. “After Hours” is as pitch black a comedy as they come, a surreal fantasia about an ordinary word processor (Griffin Dunne) who experiences the worst night of his life when he decides to meet an attractive young woman (Rosanna Arquette) in SoHo. Scorsese presents New York after dark as a virtual hell, which is nothing new for the filmmaker, only this time we’re laughing uproariously while squirming in our seats. 13. SILENCE (2016) Screenplay by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese, based on the novel by Shūsaka Endō. Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano, Ciarán Hinds, Liam Neeson, Issey Ogata. A passion project for more than 25 years in the making, “Silence” finds Scorsese once again examining man’s relationship to God. But unlike “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “Kundun,” this is a stark, unrelenting epic that asks how someone can stay faithful to a lord who remains in the shadows. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver star as 17th century Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to locate their mentor (Liam Neeson), who has committed apostasy. While there, they face persecution for spreading their faith to the locals. Though it deserved at least half a dozen Oscar nominations, it was only recognized for its stunning cinematography. 12. ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1974) Written by Robert Getchell. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, Diane Ladd, Jodie Foster, Alfred Lutter. The genesis of “Alice,” Scorsese’s first true studio production, was from Warner Bros.’ desire to work with “Exorcist” star Ellen Burstyn, who was enamored with Robert Getchell‘s script about a young widow who travels across the country to seek a better life. Lacking a director, the actress asked Francis Ford Coppola for advice, and he suggested that she watch the as-yet-unreleased film “Mean Streets.” She did, and the rest is movie history. Scorsese’s assured helming demonstrated to Hollywood that not only could he make more than urban gangster thrillers, but he could direct actors to Academy Awards, which he did with Burstyn’s portrayal as Alice. Scorsese was on his way.
11. CASINO (1995) Screenplay by Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese, based on Pileggi’s book. Starring Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Don Rickles, Kevin Pollack, James Woods. Though “Casino” features a top-flight cast, including Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone (in her very best film performance), Scorsese’s three-hour crime epic has a fourth major character — 1970s Las Vegas. This is not the Vegas of today, which feels more like an amusement park; this is the Vegas where gambling felt dangerous, almost sinful. Running the town (by which I mean managing the casinos) is Sam “Ace” Rothstein (DeNiro) who wields the power because he is known for running operations smoothly. That is, until a high-priced call girl (Stone) and a volatile childhood friend (Pesci) come into his life. Though not as highly regarded critically as “Mean Streets” or “GoodFellas,” “Casino’s” epic scale offered Scorsese a trial run for larger epics still to come. 10. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993) Written by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese, based on the novel by Edith Wharton. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Miriam Margolyes, Geraldine Chaplin, Michael Gough, Richard E. Grant, Mary Beth Hurt, Joanne Woodward. For moviegoers who primarily think of Scorsese as a director focused on the American underworld, “The Age of Innocence” came as quite a surprise. Set in the world of high society in the 1870s, the film is a lavish period piece on a scale in which the director had never worked before. Based on the classic novel by Edith Wharton, the film focuses on the conflict that a man (Daniel Day-Lewis) faces when he is torn between his own emotions and the pressure placed on him by high society that is itself on the brink of change. Though it was not a financial success, it was embraced by critics, particularly for the direction by Scorsese, who demonstrated a wide range of filmmaking skills that he had never before shown. 9. THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988) Screenplay by Paul Schrader, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Starring Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Harry Dean Stanton, Barbara Hershey. Though a few Scorsese films (notably “Taxi Driver”) have been called out on their use of violence, none of the director’s movies caused as much controversy as his 1988 film of Nikos Kazantzakis‘ novel “The Last Temptation of Christ.” The film depicts Jesus (Willem Dafoe) being tempted by a wide variety of carnal sins throughout his life, culminating in being taken down off the Cross and marrying Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey). The idea of Christ having sex sparked protests by right-wing fundamentalists around the world, from picketing when the film opened in the U.S. to an arson attack on a theater that was showing it in Paris. Critics nonetheless rallied to praise its defense, and though the film received no other Oscar nods, Scorsese garnered a Best Director Oscar nomination for his work. 8. THE KING OF COMEDY (1983) Written by Paul D. Zimmerman. Starring Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard, Ed Herlihy, Tony Randall. Almost scarily prescient in its observations on the public’s fascination with celebrity culture, Scorsese’s black comedy “The King of Comedy,” largely dismissed at the time of its release, feels a lot smarter today. In the perceptive script by Paul Zimmerman, Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), an aspiring comic with major delusions and limited talent, is rebuffed in his efforts to appear on a major talk show hosted by comic legend Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). So he decides to kidnap the celeb and hold him for ransom until he’s given the opening spot on that night’s “Jerry Langford Show.” With “The King of Comedy,” a plot that was thought to be outlandish three decades ago now feels like it could be torn from today’s headlines.
7. THE DEPARTED (2006) Written by William Monahan, based on ‘Infernal Affairs’ by Alan Mak and Felix Chong. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Alec Baldwin. The sixth time proved the charm for Scorsese, as his work on “The Departed” finally brought him his first Academy Award as Best Director and his film his first for producing the year’s Best Picture. It’s easy to see why the subject matter appealed to the filmmaker: It’s all about Catholic guilt and the deception one must utilize to go undercover on either side of the law. Colin (Matt Damon), a young protégé of Boston gang boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) is ordered to enroll in the Police Academy, where he soon becomes a rising star and a useful mole for the mob. Meanwhile, aspiring cop Billy (Leonardo DiCaprio) is ordered by his captain (Martin Sheen) to infiltrate the Costello gang. Both men achieve their goals but are torn up by guilt for having to do it, a conflict that brought out the best in Scorsese, and the Academy evidently agreed.
6. MEAN STREETS (1973) Written by Martin Scorsese and Mardik Martin. Starring Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, David Proval, Amy Robinson, Richard Romanus, Cesare Danova. It seemed to come out of nowhere. It was my first New York Film Festival in 1973, and there was this small film with a little-known director and cast, so I skipped attending the premiere of “Mean Streets.” Shows you what I know. But when the reviews came out (with a particular rave from Pauline Kael), suddenly all of the New York movie world (and eventually the country) was talking about Martin Scorsese. As roughly shot as this indie film was, it gave us an initial glimpse of several themes that would recur throughout the director’s career — a fascination with the urban underworld, both the aspiring career gangsters such as Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and the unpredictable wild cards such as the reckless Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro), all overlaid with a serious helping of faith, sin and Roman Catholic guilt. The serious Scorsese career has begun.
5. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) Screenplay by Terence Winter, based on the book by Jordan Belfort. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chander, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin. Scorsese’s highest-grossing film worldwide ($392 million internationally), “The Wolf of Wall Street,” based on the memoir by corrupt stockbroker Jordan Belfort, marks the fifth time that the director has worked with Leonardo DiCaprio. The director’s tale of rampant fraud on Wall Street in the early 1990s was a bold mixture of black comedy, investigative drama, and unchecked self-indulgence, including nudity, drug use, and scenes with animals. (No wonder it grossed so much money!) “The Wolf of Wall Street” earned five Oscar nominations and marked Scorsese’s eighth nomination as Best Director, more than any other living filmmaker. Another fun stat: according to various sources, the movie dropped the “F-bomb” anywhere between 506 and 569 times, the most ever for a studio title.
4. TAXI DRIVER (1976) Written by Paul Schrader. Starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle, Cybill Shepherd. At rare times, a character just happens to capture the zeitgeist, and in the alienated 1970s, that was cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in Scorsese’s extraordinary “Taxi Driver.” Like many in that decade, all Travis wants to do is to make a connection in a way that other people do. But his total lack of social skills keeps getting in his way, whether it’s an embarrassing meeting with a political candidate (Leonard Harris), an awkward date with a beautiful woman (Cybill Shepherd), or an ill-advised rescue of a 12-year-old hooker (Jodie Foster). Isolated, he realizes that the only way he can get attention is with a gun as he asks his mirror, “You talkin’ to me?” DeNiro and Foster deliver iconic performances, and Scorsese’s direction was lauded by critics who, with “Taxi Driver,” began to recognize an emerging filmmaking style.
3. THE IRISHMAN (2019) Written by Steven Zaillian. Starring Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Graham, Jesse Plemons. I’m sure that Mr. Scorsese would not mind if I compared “The Irishman” to the later great films by John Ford and Howard Hawks, but his latest film has that elegiac feeling not unlike such late-career works as “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” and the like. Late into his career himself, Scorsese utilizes his famed repertory company of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci (out of retirement), and Harvey Keitel to create what may be his final look at a kind of criminal underworld that may no longer exist as it did before. Add to that, bringing Al Pacino into the Scorsese world seems like a marriage made in heaven. Not to mention that De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino here deliver what’s easily their best work in the past three decades.) Yes, it’s a lengthy film (209 minutes) but as we see the fates of these characters played by actors we’ve known and loved for so long, the film’s final half-hour brought me to the verge of tears. It’s beautiful.
2. RAGING BULL (1980) Written by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin, based on the book by Jake LaMotta, Joseph Carter and Peter Savage. Starring Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty, Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana, Frank Vincent, Johnny Barnes. When “Raging Bull” is listed next to “Rocky” in lists of the greatest boxing movies ever made, it does drive me a little nuts. No knock on “Rocky” — it’s a terrifically entertaining movie that does what it does very well — but what it does has little to do with what “Raging Bull” is really about. Yes, Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is a famed boxer, but a tactician he is not. Instead, he uses boxing as a vehicle to channel what he is feeling at the time. Sometimes he fights to inflict pain, particularly if it’s in a jealous rage on a man who dared to look twice at his beautiful wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), or to get the crap beaten out of himself as some sort of penance for his many sins he continues to make. With “Raging Bull,,” Scorsese earned his first Oscar nomination as Best Director, and Academy Awards went to DeNiro, as well as to Thelma Schoonmaker for her brilliant editing.
1. GOODFELLAS (1990) Written by Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese, based on the book ‘Wiseguy’ by Pileggi. Starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino. In what is arguably his most acclaimed gangster movie, Scorsese placed the violent life story of rising mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) within a small memory play filled with detailed moments that I suspect came out of the director’s memory bank. Part of what makes “GoodFellas” so refreshing is that the filmmaker doesn’t shy away from the glamour of being a gangster — the suits, the jewelry, the cigars, as well as the fear/respect that a one gets while walking through the neighborhood. Add to that the fact that Scorsese and his co-writer Nicholas Pileggi choose to have the film narrated by Henry and his wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco), so that both characters’ point-of-view can be heard throughout the story, demonstrating that women as well as men can be turned on by the spoils of the gangster life. As long as things are going their way.