Late last year, fans of De Niro, Scorsese, and gangsters, rejoiced. A new Scorsese movie sailed onto the horizon. Netflix bankrolled the pricey crime movie The Irishman for Scorsese to tell the story of a mob enforcer who had ties to Jimmy Hoffa and the directory used this vast cash to de-age De Niro. It was brutal, epic and of course slick as hell.
Martin Scorsese is easily considered one of the greatest directors of all time, a giant of modern filmmaking, and someone who holds the dubious record of having four films feature in the top fifty films with the most uses of the word “fuck” – two in the top ten, one in the top five. Scorsese only has one Best Director oscar to his name, which is a criminal offence, but what he lacks in awards he makes up for in movies. Here we’re going to go from worst to best of his narrative films, we’ll save his documentary work for another day.
24. BOXCAR BERTHA (1972)
Essentially forgotten Scorsese’s second feature is the story of train robbers in the American South. Thanks to Barbara Hershey and David Carradine doing their best the film is awful but the low budget shows and it’s clearly the work of someone beginning and learning their trade. Scorsese clearly learned a lot from this film and from working with shlock master Roger Corman but aside from hershey giving Scorsese the book that would be the basis for The Last Temptation of Christ, this film doesn’t bare revisiting.
23. WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR (1967)
The debut of Scorsese as a writer and a director, the debut of Harvey Keitel as an actor and the first time that Thelma Schoonmaker would collaborate with Scorsese on editing (she would edit every film of his from Raging Bull onwards), this is a classic Scorsese film. It lacks the style and the fire of his later work but dealing with guilt, and Catholic ideals is so classic to what Scorsese does that it hardly matters about the film itself.
22. AFTER HOURS (1985)
A black comedy that lacks any real bite to it and features Cheech and Chong in it, this Scorsese movie sits uneasily in the time frame that saw him make The King of Comedy and the Colour of Money. As such this so-so misadventure film doesn’t quite cut the mustard in terms of his work but manages to raise a smile once in a while.
21. SILENCE (2016)
Rounding off the loosely connecting religious trilogy of Scorsese films, Silence is perhaps one of the more out there Scorsese films. After the excess and debauchery of his Jordan Belfort movie, Silence is more sombre and contemplative. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver are two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to find their missing master Liam Neeson. The silence of the title refers to the lack of response they hear from God and begin to question their faith. It’s clearly a deeply personal film for Scorsese but it’s slow pace cuts down it’s emotional core.
20. THE COLOUR OF MONEY (1986)
Brilliantly winning Paul Newman a Best Actor award for his performance this belated follow-up to The Hustler sees Newman’s Fast Eddie up against a young hotshot played by Tom Cruise. The film fizzles with the feel of an easy going film that just wants to have a good time and Newman is on fire. Clearly the original means a lot to Scorsese because this is an honourable follow-up and a brilliant way to bring a character back to see what’s changed.
19. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993)
Despite featuring definitely insane Daniel Day-Lewis, this adaptation of the Edith Wharton novel co-written by Scorsese with frequent collaborator Jay Cocks is a little wet behind the ears. The performances are all good with a cast that includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Miriam Margolyes, Geraldine Chaplin, Michael Gough, Richard E. Grant, Robert Sean Leonard, Jonathan Pryce and Stuart Wilson but the score by Elmer Bernstein and the Michael Ballhaus cinematography can’t cover up that the film is just a bit boring.
18. BRINGING OUT THE DEAD (1999)
Written by Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader and featuring Scorsese on stylish form this drama about paramedics features a good cast that is headlined by Nicolas Cage but the film is at it’s strongest when on the streets and the human drama sometimes falls a little flat. It’s no fault of the writing, directing or acting but the situations of paramedics is much more interesting than someone struggling with personal issues.
17. HUGO (2011)
An ode to the birth of cinema Scorsese’s children’s adventure fantasy features Ben Kingsley as Georges Melies and a fun all star cast this film would work better if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s a Scorsese film and therefore feels at odds with his other work. Despite this the loving adoration of cinema and the magic that it can illicit clearly means a lot to Scorsese and Sacha Baron Cohen is clearly having fun with his role.
16. NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977)
Much like Tarantino, Scorsese knows music, and knows how to use it. What Scorsese has never shown any ability with is musicals and it shows in this. Playing out in a kind of La La Land prelude a singer and a jazz musician fall in love in guess which place, and the troubles that follow show that maybe romance and musicals aren’t the forte of the great American auteur.
15. KUNDUN (1997)
Here is a strange premise, a film written by the woman who wrote E.T. and directed by the man who made Raging Bull about the life and writings of Tenzin Gyatso. Who’s Gyatso? Good question. Gyatso, actually called Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso but born Lhamo Thondup is the 14th Dalai Lama, a position he has held since 1940 and does to this day. The film is out there, strange, following episodes from his life not a narrative, and as a result got Scorsese, Mathieson and the cast banned from China, the film also caused friction with Disney, but Mulan was released to try and smooth it over. As a result what we get is a film that sits as a weird mix of historical epic and Phillip Glass backed mind trip. Neither of which are compelling.
14. THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)
Instead of following the gospel, this film about Jesus looks to a novel about the struggles of a human man and what that would do. Adapted from the Nikos Kazantakis novel by Paul Schrader with re-writes by Scorsese and Jay Cocks, perhaps the weird choice is that it casts Willem Dafoe, easily the scariest looking man in the world as Jesus Christ. The film earned a nomination for Scorsese’s direction, and praise aimed at Hershey’s Mary Magdalene was good, but Peter Gabriel’s music, and a cast that includes David Bowie and Harry Dean Stanton just don’t make much sense sadly. It’s noble, and epic, but misses the emotional mark.
13. ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1974)
Perhaps working more on the great performance by Ellen Burstyn and support from Kris Kristofferson this sometimes funny, sometimes sad film is one that perhaps showed there was more to Scorsese than the hard hitting. The story of a mother trying to find a better life for her son in the Southwestern US is one that speaks to the level of love he had for his own mother Catherine who featured in a number of his films. It’s sweet even if it never properly takes flight the way you would hope.
12. SHUTTER ISLAND (2010)
Proving to be the highest earning Scorsese film at the Box Office, and the only DiCaprio / Scorsese film not to win any nominations at the Oscars, this has gone on to become something of a favourite among movie goers. Scorsese dives into his Corman roots for this scary Asylum movie where DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo try to uncover the case of a missing patient on a Psychiatric Hospital island run by Ben Kingsley. It’s twisty, often jumpy and very very enjoyable.
11. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)
The film considered to have the third most uses of the word Fuck in it, with 569 uses in it’s 180 minute run time making it an average of one fuck every 3.16 minutes, Scorsese’s comedy epic about a corrupt Wall Street stock broker who played the system, got rich and went about being the worst of the worst is an ode to the American Dream. DiCaprio and Jonah Hill are on fire in this film, and Scorsese throws every stylish trick he can but ultimately the film is about a human piece of crap who beat his wife and scammed innocents out of money… it is funny though.
10. THE AVIATOR (2004)
Another film that celebrates Scorsese’s love of film, The Aviator is a tribute to a twenty year span of Howard Hughes life. DiCaprio plays the aviation master and film producer and the film revels in it’s old hollywood style. The cast are unanimously fantastic, DiCaprio both charming and unhinged as Hughes’ OCD begins to ruin his sense of self while Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, Ian Holm, John C Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law and Willem Dafoe are included in the cast. It was nominated for several academy awards and manages to nab five of it’s eleven including a Supporting Actress turn for Blanchett’s Katharine Hepburn.
9. GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002)
Despite having had to fight Harvey Weinstein a lot on his epic about the founding of what we know to be New York, and Daniel Day-Lewis being his usual bonkers self, this take on the war of the five points is an interesting ode to history born of violence. Day-Lewis is good in his role, as is the whole cast while DiCaprio holds his own with his scenes with the acting giant. The most moving point of the film however might be the end that opts not to edit out the old NY skyline with the Twin Towers, opting to celebrate those who made New York and not to think about those who sought to kill it.
8. MEAN STREETS (1973)
Possibly the first Scorsese masterpiece, Mean Streets is a sort of crime drama by way of Catholic morality tale and coming of age story with Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel sharing the screen. The two are in their young days and clearly are hungry for hard hitting work which Scorsese gives in this no holds barred film that doesn’t shy away from the darker elements of human nature.
7. CAPE FEAR (1991)
Scorsese on remake form as he takes the classic Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum starring thriller. This time De Niro is the criminal, and Nick Nolte is the public defender he seeks revenge on. It’s a remake that honours the original including some cameos by the original cast but becomes it’s own thing. De Niro and Juliette Lewis were awards nominated for their turns and it’s become something of a modern Scorsese classic for it’s darkness and De Niro’s intense portrayal of a man who is on the verge of frenzy.
6. THE DEPARTED (2006)
Taking the Hong Kong crime film Infernal Affairs, and it’s sequels, and turning it into a Boston mafia epic is no small task but with DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson leading an all star cast you know it’ll work. The Departed is often hilarious, and twisted as a cop infiltrates the mob, and a mobster poses as a cop, in this game of rat and rat. Nicholson has never been more mad and the film has the style of Scorsese on form, there’s even some Gimme Shelter to prove he’s having fun, and it won him his only Best Director award.
5. CASINO (1995)
Boasting to have the sixth most uses of the word fuck in a film (Scorsese loves the bag language) and a cast that includes De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Frank Vincent and Don Rickles this crime drama about casinos and the mafia is a sort of companion piece to Goodfellas, to prefer it over that film is a matter of taste but there’s no denying that Scorsese knows how to make us fall in love with the mob and Rickles playing a character called Billy Sherbert is already funny.
4. RAGING BULL (1980)
The true story of boxer Jake LaMotta whose rage, appetite for self destruction and general lack of self awareness began to cost him his entire life is a moving if graphic one. De Niro convinces as a boxer, and Joe Pesci gets the better role as his well meaning brother while the boxing sequences are hard to watch, the emotional explosions are even harder. Scorsese may have found the whole film a hard process but the film has a beauty and an elegance even if it’s darkest moments.
3. TAXI DRIVER (1976)
Perhaps even more prescient today than it was some forty years ago, the story of one man’s paranoia taking over and making him believe he is to be charged with what is right and wrong seems like an apt parable for the Trump climate we currently live in. Yes, Travis Bickle might just be De Niro’s best performance, and there’s no doubt that “you talkin’ to me” is a cool line, but the film is anything but, not celebrating the man’s insanity but warning society that they exist and they’re waiting to explode. A warning no one seems to heed.
2. THE KING OF COMEDY (1982)
Taking the concept of the unhinged man from Taxi Driver but twisting it slightly, The King of Comedy is a great two-hander between De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin and Jerry Lewis’ Jerry Langford. The story of a comedian desperate to be like his hero and ultimately driven to madness because of it is again a very telling thing about the times we live in now with our celebrity obsession. It’s not hard to think of this as a response to the John Hinckley incident inspired by Bickle in the previous film.
1. GOODFELLAS (1990)
The story of how crime does pay but then also serves up lengthy prison time. Ray Liotta is great as Henry Hill a drug-abusing, wife abusing, law abusing guy looking to get into the mafia and succeeding if only for a limited time. De Niro and Pesci (who won an Oscar for his role) are great, and the film feels like it’s Scorsese’s most fun time. From musical cues to the violence, to the darkly comic moments, this is clearly a film that means a lot to Scorsese even down to his own mother playing Pesci’s for a scene that feels like it’s being improvised. A film that made an entire generation want to be a gangster.
Paul Klein is a Film Studies Graduate from London, former writer at The Metropolist.