It would be safe to say that Martin Scorsese is one of the most celebrated directors of all time, on a worldwide scale. He has that brutal style which is mostly uninhibited, which gives his films the raw appeal. Over a career spanning 50 years, the filmmaker has directed 24 feature films. Most of the movie enthusiasts like me have watched them all. Barring one 0f his films (Boxcar Bertha) all his movies are certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes! From his 1967 debut Who’s That Knocking On My Door to this year’s Silence, Scorsese has repeatedly proven himself to be not only the greatest American director, but perhaps the greatest director of all time. Very few filmmakers have a filmography that contains just so many classics.
Ranking so many classic films was a task in its own. I love most of them and have watched almost half his movies multiple times. Anyway, without much writing, here’s the ranking in the ascending order.
24. New York, New York (1977)
Story: An egotistical saxophonist and a young singer meet on V-J Day and embark upon a strained and rocky romance, even as their careers begin a long, up-hill climb.
(Musical Romance rarely appeal to me and somehow I thought Robert De Niro was a misfit in the title role)
23. Kundun (1997)
Story: From childhood to adulthood, Tibet’s fourteenth Dalai Lama deals with Chinese oppression and other problems.
(This is not his typical kind of story and – fittingly – neither does it bear his typical direction. Boring and filled with non-actors, was a slight disappointment for me.)
22. Boxcar Bertha (1972)
Story: During the depression, a union leader and a young woman become criminals to exact revenge on the management of a railroad.
(Fun yet forgettable, the movie is technically a great one but certainly does not bear any stamp of the Scorsese style and uninhibited bloodshed with drama)
21. The Color of Money (1986)
Story: Fast Eddie Felson teaches a cocky but immensely talented protégé the ropes of pool hustling, which in turn inspires him to make an unlikely comeback.
(A sequel to “The Hustler”, the movie won Paul Newman an Oscar for best actor. Lacked the grit commonly seen in other Scorsese films, and mostly forgettable.)
20. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
Story: Haunted by the patients he failed to save, an extremely burned-out Manhattan ambulance paramedic fights to maintain his sanity over three fraught and turbulent nights.
(Nicolas Cage gives a restrained performance, and though the narrative is a bit complex it is one of the best films technically with supreme cinematography)
19. Who’s That Knocking At My Door (1967)
Story: A young man struggles with the fact that his girlfriend was once raped. Marks the acting debut for Harvey Keitel as well as Scorsese’s feature film debut.
(This movie deals in Catholicism and considering it was Scorsese’s debut, it surely is a decent watch for his hardcore fans.)
18. The Last Temptation of Christ (1989)
Story: The life of Jesus Christ, his journey through life as he faces the struggles all humans do, and his final temptation on the cross.
(One of the most controversial depictions of Jesus Christ, it may offend many while watching but do wait till the end. One of Scorsese’s best written films.)
17. Cape Fear (1991)
Story: A convicted rapist, released from prison after serving a fourteen-year sentence, stalks the family of the lawyer who originally defended him.
(Frightening film with use of many close-up shots. The best thing-definitely the mad-cap performance by Robert De Niro.)
16. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
Story: A recently widowed woman is on the road with her precocious young son, determined to make a new life for herself as a singer.
(Am amazing performance by Ellen Burstyn is reason enough to check out this film, one of the finest on “woman empowerment”.)
15. Silence (2016)
Story: In the 17th century, two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel to Japan in an attempt to locate their mentor, who is rumored to have committed apostasy, and to propagate Catholicism.
(The latest work by Scorsese, a great work on faith and how there are various perspectives on the same. Andrew Garfield deserved more accolades than he got for this movie.)
14. Hugo (2011)
Story: In Paris in 1931, an orphan named Hugo Cabret who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.
(Many found it really bad, but I loved the visuals, performances and the “Cinema Paradiso” feel. The last half hour really touched my soul for sure!)
13. After Hours (1985)
Story: An ordinary word processor has the worst night of his life after he agrees to visit a girl in Soho whom he met that evening at a coffee shop.
(One of the best dark comedies ever made, a fun-filled ride which surely is Scorsese’s most under-rated work!)
12. The Age of Innocence (1993)
Story: A tale of nineteenth-century New York high society in which a young lawyer falls in love with a woman separated from her husband, while he is engaged to the woman’s cousin.
(On the lines of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, this movie is a slow-burn romantic film which is not the typical Scorsese movie. But for me, it was poetry in motion with a great performance by Daniel Day Lewis.)
11. Casino (1995)
Story: Greed, deception, money, power, and murder occur between two best friends: a mafia underboss and a casino owner, for a trophy wife over a gambling empire.
(Scorsese did what he does best, make a knockout mafia film! Pesci was amazing and Sharon Stone undoubtedly gave her career-best performance!)
10. Shutter Island (2010)
Story: In 1954, a U.S. marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane.
(The first half literally gave me goosebumps but then the climax disappointed me. Leo, as always, spot on! One of the best suspense thrillers, with a slightly disappointing end I would say.)
9. The Aviator (2004)
Story: A biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes’ career from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s.
(DiCaprio takes this love story/war drama to literally great heights! Though a tad long, the portrayal of American history will surely leave you satisfied!)
8. Gangs of New York (2002)
Story: In 1863, Amsterdam Vallon returns to the Five Points area of New York City seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher, his father’s killer.
(Scorsese turns to extreme violence and mature content with this, but this time the setting is not the 20th century but the 1900s! Daniel Day Lewis was just incredible in this movie and the duel between him and DiCaprio is enough reason to catch this brutal drama! )
7. The King Of Comedy (1982)
Story: Aspiring comic Rupert Pupkin attempts to achieve success in show business by stalking his idol, a late night talk-show host who craves his own privacy.
(Under-rated and lesser known, this is by far one of the best black comedies ever made! Overall, the film is a combination of disturbing, entertaining, and unforgettable. DeNiro is impeccable as always!)
6. Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)
Story: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stock-broker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.
(Raw, funny, explicit, bravura! And what can we say about DiCaprio! The whole world was probably shocked when he didn’t take the Oscar home for this!)
5. The Departed (2006)
Story: An undercover cop and a mole in the police attempt to identify each other while infiltrating an Irish gang in South Boston.
(This movie is not higher in my list cause it was adapted from an Asian film. But what an adaptation! And the casting makes this even more superb! Full marks to Scorsese for making it even more raw and brutal than the original “Infernal Affairs”!)
4. Raging Bull (1980)
Story: An emotionally self-destructive boxer’s journey through life, as the violence and temper that leads him to the top in the ring destroys his life outside it.
(One of the darkest films ever made, I watched this movie multiple times just for Robert De Niro’s performance. His best ever!)
3. Mean Streets (1973)
Story: Starring Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro, the movie tells the story of a small-time hood who aspires to work his way up the ranks of a local mob.
(I would say this movie made Scorsese! His first foray into crime and brutality, the movie also marks the start of one of the greatest director/actor collaborations ever!)
2. Goodfellas (1990)
Story: The story of Henry Hill and his life through the teen years into the years of mafia, covering his relationship with wife Karen Hill and his Mob partners Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVitto in the Italian-American crime syndicate.
(Goodfellas has to be one of the best films I’ve ever seen–a true modern classic that will be remembered for what it is: One of the greatest tales told on-screen. The 2nd best gangster film ever made imo, after Godfather-2.)
1. Taxi Driver (1976)
Story: A mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, while attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process.
(Why this is Scorsese’s best work?! Cause everything about this movie is still relevant, almost 44 years after it was released! How successfully the movie predicted the insane attacks over the years in various schools/shrines around the world which occurred after the film came out! This masterpiece on urban alienation will live on for centuries! And yes, DeNiro as well as Jodie Foster were just a class apart!)