25 movies spanning the 60s to the 10s, and the man’s not done yet. Martin Scorsese is one of the premiere filmmakers alive, one of the great talents who understands every aspect of the craft and how to exploit it. His three main influences were Howard Hawks, Federico Fellini, and Michael Powell, but he created a style all his own that combined elements from all of them and more.
His work will forever be defined by his films about gangsters, in particular Goodfellas, but he has made such a wide variety of movies of different genres, styles, and settings. Through it all are familiar themes, techniques, and actors, creating a surprisingly distinctive feel across his filmography.
This hasn’t always been a fun run (anyone who would call the masterpiece Silence fun is lying), but he has been engrossing and interesting at a bare minimum since the seventies.
So, here is his body of work ranked. There are a shocking number of great films to this man’s name, so the ranking becomes superfluous at a certain point. However, the Listicle gods must be appeased. Do check out my other rankings, full of definitiveness.
25. Boxcar Bertha
“The movie has a certain technical polish from time to time, but ultimately it’s a mess of a film as a director with a more European art cinema sensibility tries to function under the constraints of American exploitation rules.”
“There’s a lot to admire in New York, New York. The production itself is wonderful to look at. De Niro and Minelli are very good together. The music is very good, even going so far as to be the source of the song that has become the Big Apple’s anthem, but the complete inability to sort through what is on the screen to find the emotional core hampers it from beginning to end.”
23. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
“The movie is a light entertainment about a woman realizing something small and populated with entertaining side-characters that help provide the film’s sense of humor. It could have been more, digging deeper or being funnier, but as it is, it’s a nice little movie. Entertaining enough to stand on its own.”
22. Cape Fear
“It’s an imperfect thriller that seems to end up giving into genre thrills to the max rather than focusing on a more effectively thrilling, but smaller, ending. This feels like Scorsese selling out, to a certain extent. He does it well, but Cape Fear is a well made and entertaining film more akin to Boxcar Bertha than the direction he had been taking ever since.”
21. Who’s That Knocking at My Door
“It’s a rough picture, made piecemeal over years, but it also is obviously the work of a talented and hungry young filmmaker. Using many tools from montage, inserts, freeze frames, and long shots depending on the situation and applied intelligently, Scorsese showed that he had a surprising command of the medium at such a young age and with such little experience.”
“This feels like Martin Scorsese on autopilot.”
“It’s lightly entertaining and well-made, not a whole lot more, and sometimes that’s enough for two hours of entertainment.”
“The movie’s intelligent in its subject matter, but remote emotionally. This is something to be admired from a distance rather than engaged with fervently. Scorsese was trying something different here, going for a more intellectual approach rather than an emotional one, and I think he was moderately successful.”
“There’s too much going on for the runtime. I think a longer cut would have made the second half flow better, but I do wonder if this was ever going to be great. It’s really good, a movie that struggles to bring all of its so many pieces together into a whole, and it gets awfully close.”
“I do kind of love this film. As an experience, it’s never dull, often outrageous, and the moral aspect of the Bacchanal life is actually well done. There are shots of Belfort’s children watching on innocently when Belfort is at his absolute worst, undercutting the audience’s enjoyment of the display in heart wrenching ways. The only way it fails is in the criminal aspect of it which remains intentionally opaque, undermining the effect of the film’s final sequences.”
“This movie is funny, uncomfortable, and puts a harsh lens up to celebrity culture. Anchored by de Niro’s dedicated performance as a loser and Jerry Lewis’ steady performance as himself rather than his well-known film persona, The King of Comedy is a gem from Scorsese’s early 80s output.”
“This is Scorsese oddest great movie, I think. It often feels like it’s about to fly apart, but there’s always a goal in mind that it’s working towards. It goes towards that goal in different ways, but there’s always movement towards it, and the catharsis at the end is really quite satisfying.”
13. The Aviator
“Scorsese drops us into this world, and it’s thrilling from beginning to end. Hughes led a life we would all love to lead at some level. He lived brashly, well, and dangerously. Going along for the ride with well-rounded characters, impeccable cinematic technique, and strong performances all around, The Aviator is the work of a master filmmaker bringing his passion into a project and making it his own.”
12. The Irishman
“The movie’s huge and intimate all at once. The special effects to de-age our three main actors are largely very good. It leaves with such a complete sense of solemn loss and isolation that gets built up to exceedingly well over the course of its three and a half hours. I loved this film.”
11. After Hours
“Funny, satirical, almost manic in energy, and well performed, After Hours is Scorsese at his most playfully comedic. That it’s also a rather dark adventure makes it all the more entertaining.”
10. The Departed
“The Departed is the work of a screenwriter providing concrete settings and intelligent character work to an existing plot while an incredibly talented director builds performances that fill out the characters and pulls all of the other disparate elements into a complete package. It really is a great film.”
9. Raging Bull
“This is a tough, hard-edged film filled with anger and sadness centered on a man who can’t express himself in any way other than through violence. It really is one of Scorsese’s best.”
8. Taxi Driver
“Taxi Driver is a fantastic movie that looks at the ugliness of the world clearly while painting a compelling portrait of a man driving himself to madness. It came from a place of pain in Paul Schrader that Martin Scorsese brought to compelling life on screen.”
“This is Scorsese’s La Dolce Vita, the movie that could be viewed as a celebration of excess and immoral behavior, but ends up condemning it.”
6. Mean Streets
“Scorsese moved beyond homage and made his style in his third feature film, the first one born from himself completely and with a single, consistent production schedule. This makes it the first real feature film that could be called Scorsese’s, to a certain degree. The first two films essentially amounted to practice, and he worked out so many kinks in those two outings. His third film, Mean Streets, is a down and dirty independent film that evokes a specific time and place to great degree while telling a compelling story at the same time.”
“It’s also evidence that he is one of the greatest of filmmakers, making his unique approach fit well with material that seems unnatural to his previous body of work.”
“Both completely of Scorsese’s filmography and apart from it, Hugo is a masterful adaptation of the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick from one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers, using all of the modern tool set to create a visually lush and dense feast for the eyes matched by a wonderful emotional journey that intelligently synthesizes several different story elements into one cohesive experience. Free of guile and irony, this is Scorsese’s most earnestly heartfelt film that feels closest to his own heart. His love for the subject is infectious.”
“Still, this movie is great, and it’s one of Scorsese’s best. Intelligently written by Laeta Kalogridis, beautifully photographed by Robert Richardson, and scored by a variety of classical music arranged by long-time Scorsese collaborator Robbie Richardson of The Band, Scorsese’s Shutter Island shows the advantages of a master of the craft given a large budget to fully tell a story that appeals to him.”
“This is a triumph of a film. An emotionally wrenching piece of cinema asking hard questions of its characters and its audience about their goodness in times of crisis. As Kichijiro says, “Years ago, I could have died a good Christian. There was no persecution. Why was I born now? This is so unfair.”
I adore this film.”
1. The Last Temptation of Christ
“I think that the movie comes to the conclusion that ultimately, no matter what path we chose, we must be willing to give it all away in the service of God up to and including our lives. It’s not an easy thing. In the movie, the character of Jesus was taken away from his final pain and offered temporal salvation from a terrible fate, but it wasn’t good enough. It provided him with temporal reprieve, but it left him unsatisfied and at a distance from God. Was that easy life favorable to the ultimate embrace with God in Heaven? The movie says no. It says that we must follow where God leads us, no matter what we have to give up in order to reach the destination.”
32 thoughts on “Martin Scorsese: The Definitive Ranking”
I haven’t see several of these, you did pique my interest on a few that I haven’t seen – Hugo perhaps I’ll try to see, maybe one or two others. Of what I’ve seen, the 3 favorites, movies I’d watch again, are Goodfellas, The Aviator, and The Irishman. A few others on the list either I didn’t like (Bringing out the Dead), or it’s been so long I’ve forgotten them (NY NY), or are ok with but no interest in seeing again.
Yeah, Bringing Out The Dead is probably his most aggressive movie, stylistically speaking. I can easily imagine it rubbing many people the wrong way.
My only hope is that I encourage you to see something that you end up enjoying.
I will be revising some of these, and seeing some for the first time.
So, thanks for doing this.
Odd ranking but it’s yours.
It’s definitive, dammit.
Casino at #20 out of 25? And 3 spots behind Gangs of New York, no less?
Let’s see now—what was it Billy Madison’s principal told him all those years ago? Oh yes, now I remember: “What you have just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point I’m your rambling, incoherent….” You know the rest I’m sure.
Other than that though, it’s a pretty good list.
When I first discovered Casino in my early twenties, I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It was one of my favorites.
A few years go by, I buy the 4K disc (which is really pretty, by the way), and I watch it for the first time in a decade. That first hour of voiceover driven summary really dragged the whole thing down for me. And then Sharon Stone’s Ginger never gelled into the story like Lorraine Bracco’s Karen did in Goodfellas. There’s a lot to like, but there’s also a lot holding it back. The quick turnaround on the script and the scope of the story it was trying to tell didn’t help matters, I don’t think.