In the lead up to The Irishman’s release, I wanted to go through most of Martin Scorsese’s filmography. Now that I’ve seen all of his movies including The Irishman, I decided to create a ranking of all of his feature films. It wasn’t particularly easy, especially with 25 movies to go through, but I’m pretty firm on my placings for the time being.
Scorsese’s has an impressive body of work and even today is still making incredible movies. Of the filmmakers active since the 70s who are still making movies today, he’s by far the best of them, continuing to challenge himself, trying new things, and evolving with the times. Most of his movies are great, and even those at the bottom of this list aren’t necessarily bad. With a few exceptions, I’d say that most of the movies on this list are well worth watching.
25. Boxcar Bertha
Martin Scorsese’s second movie wasn’t the best progression for him as a filmmaker. While it is a technical improvement over his first movie, Who’s that Knocking at My Door, it didn’t feel like one of his movies, it felt like a Roger Corman exploitation movie, because that’s what it really was. It ticked the boxes of an exploitation movie, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll get what you want. But for the rest of us, we aren’t exactly left with much.
What ultimately elevates this movie to being above average was a lot of what Scorsese manages to do with his direction. You can tell that although it has to meet the criteria of a Roger Corman movie, its being directed by someone quite capable. The climax of the movie particularly takes quite a turn and starts to feel like a Scorsese movie, as he takes the plot to a dark place. Some of the performances here are also good, especially from the lead performance by Barbara Hershey. Although I think that Boxcar Bertha is by far and away Martin Scorsese’s worst movie, there is some merit to it. However, unless you’re really into exploitation movies, I’d say only check it out if you’re wanting to watch every single movie in Scorsese’s filmography.
24. Who’s that Knocking at My Door
Let’s face it, if you’re considering watching this movie, it’s only because Martin Scorsese directed it. Indeed, it actually takes quite a bit of probing and searching to even find a copy of this to watch. Now he didn’t start off his career firing on all cylinders with his debut movie, it’s very low budget and unpolished, it drags at points, and has its fair share of issues. It’s nothing remarkable all things considering, going into this movie definitely requires looking at it like it’s a student film, and as that it’s quite good.
You do see shades of what Martin Scorsese would have later in his movies, from his great use of music to the scenes, to some prominent themes like catholic guilt. As a dialogue driven movie (written by Scorsese as well), it’s actually solid and feels rather genuine and real. Also the lead performances from Harvey Keitel and Zina Bethune ultimately carry much of the movie. On its own I’m not sure I can call it a good movie, but if you’re interested in seeing where Scorsese started, then give it a watch.
23. New York, New York
New York, New York was Scorsese’s musical experiment, and it was definitely one I was very curious about as I didn’t know what to expect from him. Unfortunately, it’s a little bit of a mess. For one, it’s trying to be a tribute to musicals, but it also attempts to deconstruct them, and the two really clashed. The more unpleasant aspects of the movie surrounds Robert De Niro’s character, who plays one of the most unlikable (co) protagonists I’ve seen in a movie. While I get the feeling that the lead relationship (between De Niro and Liza Minnelli’s characters) is deliberately toxic, it still makes it really hard to watch. I couldn’t get invested in the lead characters, and so the movie suffered for it, it mostly felt uncomfortable more than anything. Lastly, Scorsese movies can be long, but you really felt the 2 hour and 40 minute runtime, and it dragged at many points. Overall it wasn’t easy to sit through.
That’s not to say that this movie is bad, there’s a lot of good parts to it. Liza Minnelli was really good, whether it came to her singing and performing, or the more dramatic portions. Additionally, while I bagged on De Niro’s character, he does play the role really well for what he’s given to work with, maybe a little too well. The musical sections elevated the movie up when they happened, when Scorsese is just going for a tribute to musicals he actually excels greatly at it, and I actually wish that New York, New York was more like that. The last 30 minutes of the movie I thought were handled well, both in terms of the musical side and for where the characters end up. New York, New York was a rather mixed bag unfortunately, but there’s still a lot of good to be found there if you’re willing to give it a try.
22. Gangs of New York
Every rewatch of Martin Scorsese’s films that I’ve seen before have been quite positive, with me liking each film even more than the last time I saw it. Gangs of New York is unfortunately the exception, and was actually rather disappointing. Despite the likes of Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan working on it, the script is rather messy, with so many characters and subplots, most of them not particularly well developed in interesting in the slightest. It’s also one of the rare movies of Scorsese’s where it just drags. Even some of the cast are a mixed bag. However it seems like much of the film’s problems can be attributed to that of producer Harvey Weinstein, who seemed to have interfered heavily with the production. From the cutting of an entire hour to certain directional and technical decisions seeming not like Scorsese at all, even if the movie still would’ve been very flawed, I can’t imagine that most of the problems weren’t because of him.
It’s not all bad though. The setting and premise certainly was interesting, we haven’t seen that time period shown in movies much so it definitely had potential. Had the movie focussed a lot more on that and lessened the focus on some of the characters’ subplots, it might’ve worked a little better. A lot of Scorsese’s talent shines through very well, it feels like on a grand scale, and the production design, costumes, etc, are all fantastic. There are even some moments of the film that are truly excellent, and it definitely picks up in the second half. Some of the actors also do well, but the highlight is Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher, with his performance making this film essential viewing. Gangs of New York may not be Martin Scorsese’s worst movie, but it’s definitely his most disappointing, especially as this was a movie he’s been meaning to make for decades beforehand. It’s still worth watching, but it’s rather flawed.
21. After Hours
After Hours is one of Martin Scorsese’s weirdest movies, but on the whole it’s really good. There’s not necessarily a bad thing with the movie, however I feel like it’s missing something. While I was rather entertained by the movie, I was wondering what the point of everything was. Not that every movie needs to have a point, but I got the feeling that the movie was trying to say something, and I haven’t picked up on what that is yet, even after two viewings. But it’s hardly an actual flaw, nonetheless I can see myself liking the movie a lot more if that aspect is resolved for me.
After Hours is straight forward and simple, a nightmarish and surreal representation of a night that never ends, with the lead character coming across disastrous event after even more ridiculous incidents. While at first it seemed like it would be a tense thriller, it features some effective comedy which makes it rather entertaining. It’s also a stunning movie, and Scorsese really captured the setting very well. The cast of unique characters were also good, anchored by a solid everyman lead performance by Griffin Dunne. Even if I don’t consider After Hours amongst Scorsese’s best movies, I’d say that it’s still very much worth watching. In fact, I’d say that every movie in this list from this point upwards is worth seeing.
20. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
This is one of Martin Scorsese’s lesser known movies. You wouldn’t think that between Mean Streets and Taxi Driver that he would take on a family drama, but that’s what he did with some really good results. Outside of a few parts that dragged a little bit and a needless comic relief character, this movie is really well made and deserves a lot more attention than it had received.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a genuine and emotional journey with a mother and son as they try to find a new life together. While it easily could’ve felt melodramatic, it feels sincere enough that you’re able to stay on board for the entirety of the story. The cast was great, from the likes of Diane Ladd, Kris Kristofferson, Harvey Keitel and others who perform their parts really well. But it’s Ellen Burstyn’s central performance as Alice that stands out, this is ultimately her movie. If anything, this movie is essential viewing for her Oscar Winning work alone. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore really should be seen by more people.
19. Cape Fear
A remake of the 60s thriller Cape Fear after making the now classic Goodfellas seemed like a not so exciting move from Martin Scorsese, but he still manage to add a lot to the material that most directors probably wouldn’t have done. It’s a genre movie for sure and at times is a little ridiculous, but at least you get the feeling that Scorsese knew that and played on that quite well. Additionally, he still managed to give the movie much more complexity, making it more compelling on the whole.
Cape Fear is a slow burn thriller that’s constantly engaging all the way through, with the tension building up as it progresses, culminating in a thrilling final act. The cast was fantastic, with Robert De Niro made for a very menacing and memorable villain, at least being on part with Robert Mitchum’s Max Cady from the original, albeit very different. However the most noticeable upgrade is with the family characters. Their actors with Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis play their roles exceptionally, but also the characters are much more complicated and flawed compared to the typical and clean family from the original. This made the movie not only a tense thriller, but a modern family drama. Cape Fear may not reach a level above being a solid thriller, but it didn’t need to be much more than that, and there are some surprises in there as well.
18. Mean Streets
Mean Streets is the movie that put Martin Scorsese on the map as a filmmaker to pay attention to. Sure it’s very rough and loose, but at the same time there’s something endearing about it, and it actually kind of works for the nature of the plot, characters, and the world they exist in. Even though I couldn’t really emotionally connect to the plot and characters, I was still somewhat interested to see where it was going, and more importantly see how far Scorsese progress as a filmmaker and how he started.
Part of what made Scorsese known so much when this movie came out of it was just the amount of energy he added to it. Sure he hasn’t reached the technical skill yet for future films like Raging Bull, the direction is a little rough and the budget was quite low, but from this film alone you can definitely tell that the director behind the camera is very talented. There are a number of memorable scenes in the movie, and much of it is because of how well it’s directed. The cast is also good, with Harvey Keitel in the lead role giving one of his best performances. And then there’s of course Robert De Niro, in one of his most explosive and memorable roles as Johnny Boy, marking the first (and not last) collaboration between him and Scorsese. Martin Scorsese has for sure made plenty of better crime movies as well as movies on the whole, but this is undoubtably one of his most important films of his career.
17. The Color of Money
The Color of Money is sometimes looked at in a negative way and dismissed as just a pointless sequel to The Hustler, which was known as a classic. Aside from the fact that I liked this movie a lot more than The Hustler (I just think that was okay), I really liked the movie on the whole and it surprised me quite a bit. It may not be anything too special, but it’s just too well made to skip out on.
As someone not super into pool games, if a movie about that really gets you invested in it throughout, you know that it’s good. It’s written sharply and is very well paced, never allowing for a moment for you to lose interest. The trio of Paul Newman, Tom Cruise and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio are great and work perfectly together. However the reason why this movie works so well is the direction, and it’s outstanding on a technical level. Everything from the camera movements, the cinematography and the editing were on top form, the pool scenes are particularly engaging and entertaining to watch. The Color of Money isn’t anything special, but it’s just so entertaining and excellently made that it’s really worth checking out.
All I knew about Kundun going in was that it was about the Dalai Lama and that Martin Scorsese directed it. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was really surprised at how great it was. I guess maybe some of the early portions were a little slow and the plot didn’t have any real structure, but at a certain point I was engaged all the way through to the end, and I was constantly impressed at how fantastically made the whole film was.
As someone who didn’t know much about Dalai Lama, it was a very interesting and informative experience, and I learned a lot about him and the history around him. It certainly helped knowing that the script was written based on interviews with the real life Dalai Lama. So it’s already interesting, but what made it even better was how it worked on a technical level. Martin Scorsese’s masterful direction, Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing, Roger Deakins’s gorgeous cinematography and Phillip Glass’s grand and haunting score all work together flawlessly. I was constantly astounded at how well this movie was made, it was on such a grand scale and handled with such care, it was really impressive. Whether you’re here for the story of the Dalai Lama or to see a very well made movie, you should definitely see Kundun.
15. The Age of Innocence
The Age of Innocence is quite different to Martin Scorsese’s other movies, but it’s still rather impressive overall. I’m not sure I can quite say that I love it quite yet, it does take a while to get into the movie, and the voiceover explaining everything can be annoyingly overbearing at times. However there’s a lot here that I appreciate, from his direction, to the story, to the great lead performances.
After the first half an hour or so, I become invested enough with the characters and the story, more than I thought I would. On a technical level, it was stunning to watch, the production design, costumes, were all well made, and it was just very well directed on the whole. The trio of Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder also give some great performances at the centre of the film. I think there’s a lot to this film that there is to unpack, and I only experienced some of it on my first viewing. I get a feeling like I’d get a lot more out of it on a second viewing, but even now I’d say that it’s definitely worth seeing for yourself.
Hugo was the first film I saw from Martin Scorsese, I liked it back then but it’s a movie that older audiences are likely to ‘get’ more. As an older person now, I can definitely say that I appreciated much more of the movie, and there’s a lot more to the movie than it initially appeared to be. Aside from some unneeded comedy (mostly surrounding Sacha Baron Cohen’s character), it’s a great movie.
8 years later, Hugo is still visually gorgeous and stunning to watch, Martin Scorsese really used CGI in the right way to create an exciting environment for the film to take place in. While it is a bit of an adventure, it’s not the kind that you’d expect it to be. Hugo is secretly Martin Scorsese’s tribute to cinema, and particularly to the silent era, a period of cinematic history that’s not usually talked about. The cast was good, with every performer doing their part, even if they are only in a few scenes (or in Jude Law’s case, just one). Of the bunch, I’d say Ben Kingsley stands out the most as Georges Méliès, with this remaining his best performance in a very long time. Hugo doesn’t get a lot of praise nowadays but it’s good, it still really holds up well.
13. The King of Comedy
The King of Comedy started off being one of Martin Scorsese’s forgotten movies but over time has been receiving a bunch of recognition and has built up quite a following. Despite the title, it’s not necessarily funny (at least not much of the time), it’s unnerving, and unfortunately still relevant to today’s culture with regard to celebrity and fame obsession.
The King of Comedy is quite an original movie, and is greatly written. The only disappointing part of the movie that the direction by Martin Scorsese was quite good, but there was nothing too special to it, it certainly wasn’t very flashy and you didn’t really notice it throughout. Robert De Niro here is in one of, if not his weirdest character as Rupert Pupkin. It’s a performance like no other he’s taken on before. The rest of the cast also did well, including a solid performance by Jerry Lewis. The King of Comedy may be uncomfortable to watch, but it’s great and is among the essential Scorsese films to watch.
12. The Aviator
The Aviator and Gangs of New York are the closest thing to ‘award baiting movies’ that Martin Scorsese has made, and the former certainly seemed like it would be just that, with it being a biopic of a famous person. However, watching The Aviator again more recently really reminded me how fantastic the movie actually is, and doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with the group of ‘just another biopic’ movies. Incredibly ambitious, detailed and great on a technical, and acting level.
Biopics can be hit or miss, as their can often just follow conventions and structures. However Scorsese treating the biopic of Howard Hughes like a character study (which Scorsese is familiar with the likes of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, etc) went quite a long way to making this work. Along with the setting being interesting, Scorsese makes it entertaining and interesting as we go through some decades of Hughes’s life. At 2 hours and 50 minutes, of course there are small portions which may drag a little, but on the whole I was thoroughly engaged in the movie. The acting is great, with all the performers with the likes of John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Kate Beckinsale and more delivering their parts, and of course Cate Blanchett who’s fantastic as Katharine Hepburn. However it’s Leonardo DiCaprio, who is at the centre of the whole film as Howard Hughes. He and Scorsese brought this person onto the big screen and captures so many sides to Hughes and all of his nuances. DiCaprio has a number of fantastic performances but his work here is a strong contender for his best. The Aviator is quite a lot to take in, but I do think that it really should be seen.
11. Bringing Out the Dead
Another one of Martin Scorsese’s forgotten movies, Bringing Out the Dead is really great and I personally think it’s among his best. A strange, haunting and disturbing yet fantastic movie.
This movie is a Paul Schrader written character study on a very different protagonist for Scorsese, and it was very well made. It’s even surprisingly darkly hilarious at points, actually making it entertaining and not as depressing as it seemed like it would seem at first. Martin Scorsese captures a haunting and gloomy New York, and getting you into the head of the barely sane protagonist. Nicolas Cage gives an outstanding performance at the centre of the movie, and its one of his best. Throughout he really conveys someone who’s burnt out and haunted. And yes, his iconic brand of craziness (which shows at points in the movie) works perfectly for his character. Definitely a movie worth seeing.
10. Shutter Island
Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller from the early 2010s still holds up pretty well. On the first viewing it’s a great mystery thriller, it’s engrossing and captivating, as has some twists, turns and suspense, keeping you guessing until the very end. Martin Scorsese directs it incredibly well, placing you right at that gothic location effectively, with some gorgeously dark and gloomy cinematography fitting the tone of the movie so well. The cast are all good, with Leonardo DiCaprio giving a spectacularly great performance, especially in the third act. So on the whole, it’s already great as a one time viewing.
However, you really get the full experience on a second viewing, when you know everything that really happens, it’s almost a different movie and an even better experience when watching it. Outside of an explanation of a reveal towards the third act that isn’t really handled the best, on the whole it really works well. Check it out if you haven’t already and if you have seen it once, give it another viewing when you can.
9. The Last Temptation of Christ
I wouldn’t have guessed before watching that The Last Temptation of Christ would rank among my favourite Scorsese movies but here we are. There have been plenty of movies about Jesus, and it seemed like it could very well be more of the same. With this very realistic and human take on Jesus however, I was rather invested in it.
Even on a lower budget, Martin Scorsese delivered incredibly well on directing this, from the cinematography to the production design and the editing. The performances were also great, particularly an outstanding Willem Dafoe as the very human and conflicted Jesus. Even if you’re not particularly interested in religion, I’d say that it’s really worth watching The Last Temptation of Christ, there’s a lot to admire about it.
8. Raging Bull
Raging Bull was Martin Scorsese’s comeback after the disappointing performance of New York, New York, and it ranks amongst his best work. is a hard watch for sure, but it’s undeniably so well made that it really needs to be seen. It’s a classic for a reason.
Raging Bull is directed wonderfully by Scorsese, in fact this is one of his best directed movies. From the black and white cinematography, to Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing, it’s a masterclass in filmmaking. The acting all round is good but it’s Robert De Niro who’s front and centre as the self destructive Jake LaMotta. Such a transformative and excellent performance, and even in a much lesser movie, it would be watching for his work alone. Raging Bull is brutal and excellent, and essential viewing.
It’s easy to see why Goodfellas made a massive impact on its release. No other gangster movie beforehand had been like this, so full of energy and put together in this way, and this launched Scorsese’s career even further.
Even at 2 hours and 30 minutes, Goodfellas is incredibly fast paced, never allowing for a moment for you to grow even slightly bored. Taking you through the life of Henry Hill, it throws you into his lifestyle of thrills and excess and gives you a glimpse into why people like him would get into crime. The performances by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and more are great too, all playing their parts excellently. Although there’s still quite a number of his movies I consider better than Goodfellas, it’s one of the most essential Scorsese films to watch.
6. The Wolf of Wall Street
This is the closest that Martin Scorsese has made to a full on comedy, and he did a great job at this. A different kind of crime movie, this time taking place with white collared criminals, it’s well written, darkly hilarious and entertaining, and just incredibly well made.
Martin Scorsese directed this on such an impeccable level, filled with an incredible fast pace and high energy, really getting you into the headspace of our main characters (who unfortunately are real people). It’s incredibly entertaining and memorable. While some people have definitely taken the movie the wrong way in thinking that this movie endorses them (both resulting in backlash and unintentional support with people celebrating the main characters, which wasn’t the intention), Scorsese actually does pretty well balancing all the elements and telling the story as it is, just like he did with his gangster movies. The cast are all good with the likes of Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Jon Bernthal, and more, but it’s Leonardo DiCaprio who really stands out, giving a career best performance as Jordan Belfort. The Wolf of Wall Street is a reminder about how excellent of a filmmaker Scorsese still is.
Silence is not easy to watch at all, but it’s incredibly well made and essential viewing. Scorsese’s latest film about faith is very well put together, and I’d go so far as to say that it’s at least a near masterpiece.
Silence is an extraordinary movie in just about every aspect. Martin Scorsese is very restrained with his direction, and his work here is beautiful. The acting across the board is great, from Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Shinya Tsukamoto, to Issey Ogata and more. However it’s Andrew Garfield’s show, he’s in almost every scene of the movie, and the movie follows his journey throughout. It’s by far the best performance of his career. Silence is one of Scorsese’s least rewatchable movies, with the pacing and how gruelling it can be, but it’s also one of his finest put together films.
4. The Departed
The Departed is what gave Martin Scorsese his first Best Director and Picture Oscars, but despite what a lot of people say about it apparently being makeup awards for him, the acclaim was well deserved. It’s a great crime thriller, very entertaining and very well put together, and it still holds up for the most part.
Although it’s a remake of a foreign movie, The Departed really worked well for what it is. It is greatly written, incredibly memorable and with very quotable dialogue. There’s also an outstanding ensemble cast, with the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, and more, all delivering on their parts very well. 14 years later, The Departed remains one of Scorsese’s finest films.
Now these next few films are interchangeable.
Bringing this down from number 1 was incredibly difficult. Casino was the movie that got me into film as an art form, even at the age of 15 and not fully understanding everything in the movie, I knew that what I was watching was something special. I wondered how differently I would view this movie watching it 4 years later, but I only love it even more now.
To briefly address this the obvious, yes, I do like it noticeably more than Goodfellas. Although there are many similarities, I liked the larger scale, it was more ambitious and I even though Joe Pesci was better here (despite playing a similar character). It’s directly excellently as well, and Scorsese managed to make that 3 hour runtime fly by. The cast was also great, with the trio of Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci working excellently and at the top of their game. Casino unfortunately gets labelled just Goodfellas all over again, but it deserves a lot more praise than that, I think it’s one of Scorsese’s best.
2. Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver is a psychological thriller that made quite the impact on its release, and it has held up well over 4 decades later. It’s masterfully made on pretty much every level.
An excellent character study, effectively written by Paul Schrader. Scorsese directed this incredibly well, the city of New York is captured so well, and you effectively feel dirty and disconnected throughout. Robert De Niro gives possibly a career best performance as Travis Bickle, completely embodying the unstable and deranged protagonist of the film. I know that many of Scorsese’s movies could be called masterpieces, but Taxi Driver really is a masterpiece.
1. The Irishman
Maybe it’s a little premature to put this at the top of his list, but having seen this movie twice, I’m reasonably confident in my decision. The Irishman is some of Scorsese’s finest work, and it really shows how much he’s evolved as a filmmaker.
While The Irishman is another gangster movie from Martin Scorsese, it’s a fresh take on it that he hasn’t done before. From start to finish, The Irishman is excellent. Despite being 3 and a half hours long, it actually flies by and done greatly. For the first third or so it’s Scorsese in familiar gangster territory, and he’s particularly great at that. After that point however, it becomes something entirely different. The Irishman is about looking back at life, mortality and regret, and that last act is some of Scorsese’s most emotional work yet. The cast is outstanding, with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, all 3 legendary actors, giving some of the best performances of their career. Unsurprisingly Scorsese handled all of this excellently, all his decades of filmmaking experience have led up to this movie. The Irishman is a spectacular movie, and one of the best films of the last decade for sure.
What’s your ranking of Martin Scorsese’s films?