When you go through Martin Scorsese’s complete narrative filmography, the first thing that stands out is that it’s not all gangster movies at all. To begin with, in spite of this, the overwhelming majority still are. The undisputed master of the crime picture, Martin Scorsese, is an Italian-American cinema buff from Flushing, Queens, yet Scorsese’s career has regularly touched different notes and recurrent subjects. There are the loners, the freaks, and the weirdos, as well as the huge, filthy metropolis of New York City. For whatever reason, there’s a surprising fondness for period films and tragic love stories. And, of course, Robert De Niro is prominently featured.
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Even among Hollywood’s most acclaimed filmmakers, none can match Martin Scorsese’s 25 feature films, each with its own unique flair, texture, and neuroses. GQedit of all of them in honor of the man’s 78th birthday today.
25. Boxcar Bertha (1972)
After his first film, which he made when he was just 28, Scorsese returned with a sequel that had all the exhilarating brutality of his later classics, but with far less of the elegance. Carradine and Hershey starred as train robbers on the run in the American South, Bonnie and Clyde-style, while famous producer Roger Corman oversaw everything behind the scenes, cementing Scorsese as one of the New Hollywoodenfant terribles.
24. Bringing Out The Dead (1999)
What did you know about Martin Scorsese’s paramedic character who is haunted by the ghosts he couldn’t save? And Nicolas Cage portrayed the paramedic? Most people don’t either, as Bringing Out The Deadonly made back around half of its production costs at the box office. There are moments of violence and a sense of unease, but is it a groundbreaking, genre-defining Scorsese film? Possibly not.
23. Kundun (1997)
Anyone familiar with the clever people, boxers and crooked elites that litter Scorsese’s films would understand his decision to make a sympathetic biopic of the 14th Dalai Lama (that’s the present one, if you’re not familiar with the glasses and slightly unpleasant smile). So controversial with the Chinese government that it reportedly resulted in a ban on Scorsese’s visit to the nation and Disney’s distributors getting cold feet when faced with the prospect of being frozen out of an enormous market. It was promptly denounced by CEO Mike Eisner and Sino-Disney relations were restored. This year would have been a lot more tough if we hadn’t had Mulan’s live-action flavor to help us get through it.
22. After Hours (1985)
When it comes to Scorsese, After Hours is one of those films that is frequently cited as an underrated Scorsese release. The film is part of what is known as the “yuppie nightmare cycle,” which sees one Reagan-era hotshot thrown into various barely believable nightmare scenarios over the course of a few days. Paul, a man who had a post-work rendezvous with a woman, ended up being intimidated, assaulted, and even converted into a living statue. It’s odd, but it’s true. If you haven’t seen any of the films on this list by director Martin Scorsese, you should definitely check out this one.
21. New York, New York (1977)
Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro star in this all-singing, all-dancing costume musical in honor of Scorsese’s homeland (see below). Even though Scorsese tried to move away from his usual darker themes with New York, New York, critics were left baffled by the film’s lack of success and were left wondering what had happened to the man they had come to like. Rather than making a sequel to “Taxi Driver 2,” he swung wildly away to try something new, even if it didn’t quite land. This now stands as a monument to his originality and bravery.
20. Who’s That Knocking At My Door (1967)
For Harvey Keitel, Scorsese’s first starring part in a film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door was not only his directing debut, but also his first theatrical role. An Italian American man, JR, is troubled when he discovers that his current fiancée, who he had assumed to be a virgin, had been raped by her prior partner and isn’t as virginal as he thought. Toxic masculinity or a real pig-headed, insecure machismo is now a more generic word for this type of topic matter. A superbly subtle balance is struck between exploring JR’s engrained, chauvinistic reaction and not endorsing it in a 1967 film.
19. The Color Of Money (1986)
As Scorsese set up Paul Newman and Tom Cruise to outdo each other in The Color Of Money, it was more than just a game of wits: it was a passing of the torch from one Hollywood golden child to the next. The Color Of Money is a guilty delight, a muscular, hammy, and even filthy homage to the best 1980s movies.
18. The Age Of Innocence (1993)
The smoky streets and alleys of New York City are replaced with a world of crushed velvet, oil paintings, and elbow-length kid gloves in the film by director Martin Scorsese. With the help of Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder, that switch was a great success. What we’ve always known about Scorsese is that he has a secret romantic streak in him, whether he’s shooting a film about the mob or about 1870s upper-class courtship.
17. Hugo (2011)
You can show your 10-year-old Taxi Driver if you really want to, but you can’t go wrong with Hugo, the only family film by Scorsese (at least explicitly). He portrays orphan Hugo, a Parisian street kid who lives in the Gare Montparnasse until he stumbles onto an unsolved mystery concerning Georges Méliès, his late father. A young Asa Butterfield plays Hugo. That is why Scorsese’s own foundation, The Film Foundation, is dedicated to preserving the pioneering films of the 1910s and 1920s.
16. The Aviator (2004)
The Pilot, a film about Howard Hughes, a businessman, film director, and aviator, is one of the clearest examples of how a person’s obsessive determination to achieve something monumental can devastate their life. Despite his obsession with building ever faster and more capable planes and breaking flight records, Hughes’ high-profile relationships with Hollywood celebrities, such as Ava Gardner and Katharine Hepburn, began to erode in the face of his compulsions. In this picture, Leonardo DiCaprio proved to be an exceptional actor, and it was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship between the two.
15. The Last Temptation Of Christ (1988)
The Gospels, as a film, is the most grandiose storytelling endeavor that can be achieved. After three hours and twenty minutes of scourging and crucifixion and “what ifs” about Jesus’ life, The Last Temptation Of Christ leaves you feeling weary, even with the help of Paul Schrader’s writing. On the other hand, the venture required tremendous guts to even consider (Scorsese received death threats and there was even a fundamentalist Christian terrorist attack on a cinema showing the film in France). Because of the potential for offence, it’s unlikely that this film would be filmed today. That, in and of itself, is an impressive artistic endeavor.
14. Shutter Island (2010)
Do you think Shutter Island’s story twist is the best since the turn of the millennia? As with other Marty-Leo films, this one is a terrifying movie with some brains in it. To solve the case of a missing lady who committed suicide after drowning her children, a detective in 1950s New England travels to a remote island asylum, balancing between psychological thriller and out-and-out horror. Things gradually escalate to the level of dread depicted in the narrative.
13. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, starring Ellen Burstyn and directed by Martin Scorsese, is a lighthearted spin on the road movie genre. After her husband dies, Alice, played by Burstyn, wanders aimlessly but inexorably across the Southwest United States, from New Mexico to Monterey, California, working odd jobs and meeting a diverse assortment of 1970s men.
12. Silence (2016)
Silence is one of the few films that captures absolute and complete solitude with nothing but faith as a source of support. Filmmaker Martin Scorsese spent more than 20 years on his film version of a 17th-century novel by Shusaku Endo about the horrific treatment of Jesuit missionaries in Japan when they arrived in the 1600s to convert the public. Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield are outstanding as the devoted teenage missionaries whose faith is tested as they are pursued through the foggy, hardscrabble coastal villages of medieval Japan. It was well worth the wait.
11. The King Of Comedy (1982)
It wasn’t until this year’s publication of Todd Phillips’ Joker that Rupert Pupkin’s (fictional) existence was resurrected, thanks to the popularity of The King of Comedy. Pupkin’s delusional, obsessive drive for fame on a late-night talk show was a major influence on Phillips’ picture, which owes a lot to Scorsese’s scathing parody of celebrity culture.
10. Cape Fear (1991)
Cape Fear’s furious ex-con Max Cady, played by Robert De Niro, is one of Martin Scorsese’s greatest primary characters and the film’s obvious driving force (De Niro was so dedicated to the role that he had his teeth filed down at his own expense to make himself look more threatening, then had them restored after filming). Foreshadowing of current American problems may be found in the film’s clash between Cady and the well-to-heeled court-appointed counsel he believes did not do enough to keep him out of prison. It’s the ultimate story of a criminal outsider aggressively battling a system that he regards as slanted against him, and it shows the comeuppance of elites who are arrogant enough to pronounce judgment on their peers.
9. The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)
You come to empathize with criminals in the best films like Goodfellas (more on that later), before being brutally blindsided by their life’s charms (such as its glittering glitz or exhilarating thrills) in the third act of those flicks. Just like a box of Quaaludes, The Wolf Of Wall Street tapped into the part of everyone’s brain that tells you, “Well, I know it’s illegal, but it looks like a lot of fun.” One of the most pirated films of all time, appropriately enough for two hours of pure, hypermasculine greed porn. Remember all those idiotic lads who went around banging their chests and growling for a few months? That’s your punishment. We’ll allow the humming thing go because it featured a lot of great 1980s business pinstripe tailoring and brought Margot Robbie from obscurity.
8. The Irishman (2019)
The most current film by Martin Scorsese, which was distributed on Netflix and followed Scorsese’s criticism of Marvel’s “theme parks,” was very much of its time. De Niro and Pacino starred in it and deployed epic narrative about the personal cost of crime, which is eternal. Even though we had watched it before, we still enjoyed it. Can this picture compete with Goodfellas or The Departed in the gangster genre? Possibly, but it’s a damn near approximation (digitally de-aged De Niro struggling to curb stomp a man notwithstanding).
7. Gangs Of New York (2002)
This is the earliest appearance of Scorsese’s beloved New York in a Scorsese film, as well as his first collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio. When the year is 1863, the Irish Catholic immigrants and the Protestants who have lived there for generations are at each other’s throats in a mucky clapboard slum. Bill The Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis), the leader of the Protestant gang, brutally murders Leo’s father in a huge brawl, and the young Leo sets out for retribution. The final product is a gruesome and disgusting wonder.
6. Casino (1995)
From beginning to end, Casino is a film that borrows heavily from prior Scorsese works, while also hinting at what is to come. In this example, it established that Scorsese’s crime schtick could work in a different location from the Five Boroughs—in this case Las Vegas. Prior to making The Irishman, Scorsese had already shown a keen interest in the Teamsters union, whose pension fund had been implicated in the real-life casino skimming scheme on which the film Casinois is loosely based. This is a theme that carried through Goodfellas as well, but Scorsese focuses on it more in this film as De Niro’s mobster, Sam Rothstein, falls in love with dancer Ginger McKenna played by Sharon Stone while running his Vegas institution for the Chicago Outfit. Although Casino wasn’t as highly received when it first came out as Goodfellas, a rising number of people today believe that it is a superior film.
5. Mean Streets (1973)
In many ways, Mean Streets is an early, pre-Scorsese blockbuster. Two of the three big-name actors the director worked with in the first half of his career, the New York mafiosi who struggle with the values enforced by their stringent Catholicism, are featured in the film. It’s Keitel and De Niro who shine here (Al Pacino is sadly absent). Mean Streets was the first film in which director Martin Scorsese developed his own voice and had the money to back it up, following the low-budget personal piece Who’s That Knocking at My Door. No, he didn’t let us down!
4. The Departed (2005)
Surprisingly, The Departed is Scorsese’s only Oscar win out of 14 nominations in the categories of Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director (of course, actors in his films have won dozens). Although the Academy deemed Kevin Costner’s direction on Dances With Wolves superior to that of Martin Scorsese on Goodfellas in 1990, it isn’t hard to see why he won the Academy Award for this film in 2006. In The Departed’s rat-versus-rat scenario, the Boston Police Department and the Irish mob race to identify moles in their respective organizations. Everything is tight and fast-paced. Based on Infernal Affairs, but with extra Bostonian cops and Southie mobsters who are only slightly less boorish, it also contains one of the best “man says the name of the movie during the movie” moments in cinematic history.
3. Raging Bull (1980)
Raging Bull is a rat king of intertwined jealousies, sexual cravings, desperate fury, and violent rages (the clue’s in the name). If you believe that it’s truly about sports, which is arguable, then it’s perhaps the best sports film ever created.. Scorsese was addicted to cocaine while filming and first rejected the project, even though De Niro constantly asked him to read Jake LaMotta’s memoirs with the intention of adapting it for the screen. De Niro as LaMotta became a man fighting his own demons and shortcomings every time he stepped into the ring in Raging Bull; the outcome was a transcendental experience for the audience. His career was rescued, and the following 40 years were history.
2. Taxi Driver (1976)
What do you want us to say about you? If you don’t already know, it’s Taxi Driver. Scorsese had De Niro’s Travis Bickle, the film’s protagonist lone ranger, sift through the concrete and engine oil of New York City in the 1970s to find meaning in his life. A high-profile presidential contender and a child prostitute are both targets of his assassination, to the degree that he ever chooses anything.
However, in this scenario, the film’s quality cannot be judged just on the basis of whether or not it is still “relevant” or “urgent” 45 years later. When society no longer has a purpose for Bickle, the insomniac Vietnam veteran, he is a decrepit, furious husk that could become a mass shooter or neo-Nazi if he were to stumble into the right underground meeting or the right section of the internet. Despite the fact that New York has been cleaned up, with brothels being replaced by Starbucks and dank dive bars being beautifully washed clean of any genuine edge, the resentful Bickle family is just waiting for the proper moment to illustrate that violence is still what propels society forwards.
1. Goodfellas (1990)
Goodfellow finally realized that mob stories could be conveyed as successfully as soap operas or Shakespearean tragedies. There have been sweeping, multigenerational mafia epics before this, such as The Godfather. The Lucchese mafia family was made exciting, outrageously joyful, and dangerously macho by director Martin Scorsese. Indeed, because to Joe Pesci’s “funny guy” qualities, the film was at times hilarious, and laughter hadn’t been linked with gangster films much until Goodfellas.
Scorsese’s depiction of life in the mafia, whether it was chopping garlic in a prison cell with a razor blade and sipping red wine, or lavishly celebrating a wedding (complete with flashy envelopes of cash), was a joy to watch. Just like a superstar, there were times when you had to stab a guy in the trunk of your car to keep things operating properly. Henry Hill had always wanted to be a gangster from the time he could remember. It was the genius of Goodfellas that they realized that, when we really thought about it, so did we as well.