Long before he became the sworn enemy of Marvel movie fans, Martin Scorsese was unafraid to back down from a fight. Throughout his 50-plus-year career, which continues with the elegiac gangster epic The Irishman (in theaters this weekend; on Netflix November 27), the bushy-eye-browed filmmaker has battled a number of powerful opponents. He faced criticism from pundits accusing him of perpetuating negative Italian-American stereotypes, he tussled with the Catholic Church in the '80s, he had one of his films banned by the Chinese government in the '90s, and, even now, people continue to insist he only makes mob movies. At 76, he's still swinging.
Scorsese's origin story is well-established: The child of two parents who worked in New York's bustling Garment District, he grew up in Little Italy, where his asthma prevented him from playing sports outside and rough-housing with other kids. Instead, he would go to the movies, where he discovered his lifelong infatuation with the films that would inspire his own era-defining hits. Along the way, he's served as a reliable public champion for cinema itself, founding the nonprofit Film Foundation, producing movies by younger filmmakers, and passionately arguing on behalf of his personal favorites in his instantly recognizable rat-a-tat speaking style.
In that argumentative spirit, we set out to rank all 25 of Scorsese's narrative features, including his most recent foray into Netflix-assisted digital face-scrubbing. (To make this list more digestible, we didn't rank the many documentaries and short films he's directed, but you'll find mini-sections about them highlighted, along with some of his cameo roles and commercials, as you read through the list.) It's a challenging task: How exactly do you compare the carriage-drawn streets of an impassioned costume drama like The Age of Innocence to the mean streets of a fractured psychological portrait like Taxi Driver? Everyone has their "underrated" pick; everyone has the consensus masterpiece they love in what feels like a wholly unique, totally personal way. Cue up "Gimme Shelter" and let the real infinity war begin.
Embrace the Elements With Fire & Smoke Burgers
25. Shutter Island (2010)
Let's get this out of the way: It was challenging to pick the "worst" movie to put at the top of this ranking. Unlike many of his New Hollywood peers with long careers, like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, or Brian De Palma, Scorsese doesn't have a largely agreed upon turkey or universally derided misfire in his filmography. (Basically, he's never made, respectively, a Jack, a Hook, or a Bonfire of the Vanities.) So, please don't interpret the placement of Shutter Island, an often devastating and unsettling noir-horror pastiche starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo as U.S. Marshals investigating a mental hospital for the criminally insane, as an insult or a total dismissal of everything going on in the movie. Watching a filmmaker like Scorsese craft nightmare-inducing, hallucinatory dream sequences and nail-biting, Hitchcock-worthy suspense set-pieces is undeniably a pleasure, especially when scored by the contemporary classical music selected by Scorsese's frequent collaborator Robbie Robertson, but the experience can feel hamstrung by the predictable puzzle-box narrative mechanics of the source material, a 2003 novel by crime writer Dennis Lehane. While individual images linger, Shutter Island has a tendency to fade from memory. -- Dan Jackson Best scene: The flashback reveal where DiCaprio's character discovers "the truth" about his past, which also includes some incredible acting from Michelle Williams. Best line: "You're a fucking rat in a maze." What to argue about after: Is this really the worst Scorsese movie? Let's fight!
24. Hugo (2011)
The phrase "Martin Scorsese's children's movie" is strange on the tongue, but that's what the director was going for when he adapted The Invention of Hugo Cabret. However odd it may seem that the man behind some of the greatest cursing and violence in cinema history would go ahead and make a caper for kids, the content of Hugo speaks to Scorsese's film historian side. The mystery at the heart of this story of an orphaned boy (Asa Butterfield) working the clocks at a train station in 1930s Paris leads him to Georges Méliès, one of the fathers of movie-making, played by Ben Kingsley. As Scorsese celebrates Méliès' technical achievements, he tries one of his own: working in 3D. Hugo is often a lovely watch, but sometimes delves into silliness that feels out of sync in the Scorsese oeuvre. (Ahem, Sacha Baron Cohen.) -- Esther Zuckerman Best scene: Watching A Trip to the Moon and Georges' memories. There are others that are more ambitious action sequences, but Hugo's heart lies in its tribute to the power of the movies. Best line: "If you've ever wonder where your dreams come from, you look around: this is where they’re made." What to argue about afterward: Was Scorsese really in his element here?
23. Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967)
Beginning life as a class project and shot over the course of several years, with multiple title changes along the way, Who's That Knocking at My Door? is arguably the best student film ever made. Given the youth of its creator -- Scorsese was in his mid-20s at the time of its release -- what's incredible when viewed over 50 years later is how most of the key stylistic tics and thematic obsessions we now associated with Scorsese are right there on the surface of this pugnacious, provocative black-and-white character study starring Harvey Keitel. The impressionistic editing courtesy of Thelma Schoonmaker, the innovative use of pop music cues, the simultaneous curiosity and condemnation of criminal activity in Itlaian-American communities, the psycho-sexual hang-ups of men tormented by religious iconography -- it's all here, vibrating with a real sense of purpose. (Scorsese even makes his first of many cameo appearances in his own work, playing, you guessed it, a gangster.) In later years, Scorsese would learn to deliver the visceral energy on display in more artfully polished ways, but it's enough to give you a head-rush in its uncut form here. -- DJ Best scene: The conversation on the Staten Island Ferry about movies between Harvey Keitel and Zina Bethune Best line: "Everybody should like Westerns. Solve everybody’s problems if they liked Westerns." What to argue about after: That Catholicism stuff really does a number on some folks, huh?
22. The Color of Money (1986)
Scorsese has described himself as a "hired gun" on this project, a decades-later sequel to the 1961 pool shark classic The Hustler starring Paul Newman, and few will confuse the slightly formulaic movie with the director's more nakedly personal, soul-searching films. At the same time, he still throws himself into this crackling "road movie" meets "sports movie" mash-up, which puts Newman in the aging, past-his-prime mentor role and casts Tom Cruise in one those '80s Cruise hotshot parts that require him to learn some tough lessons about life. (Newman won his only acting Oscar for delivering those hard truths.) With the two wildly charismatic leads, dynamite pool scenes, and sharp dialogue from novelist-turned-screenwriter Richard Price, The Color of Money mostly shows how Scorsese can't resist putting his distinct backspin on any story he touches. It's far from the "Cocktail but with pool" vibe you'd expect from the poster. -- DJ Best scene: Tom Cruise wearing a T-shirt with his character's name on it and hustling pool while "Werewolves of London" plays on the jukebox. Incredible. Best line: "Money won is twice as sweet as money earned." What to argue about after: If they made another sequel with Cruise's Vince as the grizzled old pro, what young actor would you cast as the protege?
21. Boxcar Bertha (1972)
This movie is best known for inspiring John Cassavetes to shame Martin Scorsese into being the filmmaker he eventually became. "You just spent a year of your life making a piece of shit," he told him. Harsh! And... a little unfair. Boxcar Bertha is a great deal of fun; a very "of its time" post-Bonnie & Clyde outlaw picture, with a crackling young Barbara Hershey in the lead. The small budget (and low stakes) afforded Scorsese an opportunity to get crafty with editing and whizzing the camera around. Also: It was on this set where Hershey lent Scorsese a copy of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel The Last Temptation of Christ, setting him on the path to making a movie you'll find much further down this list. -- Jordan Hoffman Best scene: Bertha using her feminine charms to dupe a chain-gang guard, then busting her pals out. Best line: "I want somethin' I ain’t never had." What to argue about after: Does a movie need to have a literal crucifixion scene to nail its Christ metaphor?
20. New York, New York (1977)
The conceptual hook of New York, New York is perfectly summarized by Scorsese himself in the introduction he filmed for the film's 30th anniversary DVD: What would happen if you combined the formal elements of classic MGM musicals with more contemporary acting styles? The balance he lands on in this lengthy musical, which charts the A Star is Born like relationship between singer Francine (Liza Minelli) and band leader Jimmy (Robert De Niro), can be both thrilling and exhausting. This movie contains possibly the most outwardly annoying, socially grating De Niro character ever put to film: A walking time bomb of jealousy and resentment, Jimmy somehow makes Travis Bickle look like a solid hang in comparison. Still, it's a spectacular oddball experiment, overflowing with ideas, emotions, and plenty of old-fashioned razzle-dazzle. -- DJ Best scene: Minelli's performance of the title track, which Frank Sinatra turned into a hit after the movie flopped, still kills. Best line: "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere." What to argue about after: It's better than La La Land, right?
Martin Scorsese food moments, ranked
It's still early on in the list, but you're probably getting hungry at this point, right? Watching Scorsese movies -- or just reading about them -- can make you famished. When people talk about how his movies "activate the senses," they often mean that they make your stomach growl. There's are enough great food moments in Scorsese movies to make a longer list of their own, but enjoy this interlude ranking the five moments we love the most.
5. The lobsters in Wolf of Wall Street Who knew these crustaceans made such effective weapons for getting FBI agents off your property? Look at Kyle Chandler run in this scene. 4. The blueberry muffins in Casino Don't give Ace a muffin without the proper amount of blueberries in it. He'll lose his cool! 3. The sauce in Italianamerican Scorsese's mother Catherine is perhaps best known to filmgoers for her funny, food-related cameo in Goodfellas, where she feeds the crew after they engage in a late night grave-digging session, but she's even funnier in the opening to this short documentary, which opens with her arguing about sauce with her son on camera. 2. The steak in Raging Bull Raging Bull is perhaps most famous to the general public for the weight Robert De Niro underwent to get "out of shape" to play older Jake La Motta, which required him to feast on spaghetti and ice cream. But the most famous food moment in the film occurs during an explosive, violent argument over an over-cooked steak. 1. The garlic in Goodfellas Packed with food served in nightclubs, backrooms, and kitchen tables, Goodfellas is about men with dangerous appetites. Still, the prison dinner-prep sequence, with its extreme close-up of Paul Sorvino slicing garlic with a razor, is one of the most mouth-watering sequences in the history of movies. You almost wish you were in prison with those goons.
19. Cape Fear (1991)
Scorsese followed up his Goodfellas triumph with a movie even he admitted was "just a thriller." (Weirdly, it's the result of an auteurist swap: Steven Spielberg was developing it when Scorsese took it off his hands, encouraging him to do Schindler's List, which Scorsese was attached to but felt he didn't have a handle on.) That doesn't mean he didn't give it his all. It's a rollercoaster of film craft and quotable moments with an outstanding Robert De Niro as the buff, tattooed, greasy-haired psychopath out for vengeance and Nick Nolte cast against type as a pushover public attorney. Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, who starred in the 1962 original, both make appearances, as does Bernard Herrmann's terrifying score. -- JH Best scene: Cigar-chomping De Niro "bwah-hah-hah"-ing his way through Problem Child is the single greatest "disruptive dumbass at the movies" moment ever. Best line: "I spent fourteen years in an eight-by-nine-foot cell surrounded by people who were less than human. My mission in that time was to become more than human." What to argue about after: We all know Robert De Niro "surprised" Juliette Lewis by sticking his thumb in her mouth during that creepy seduction scene. But did he at least use Purell?
18. Gangs of New York (2002)
Daniel Day-Lewis' enormous mustache, checkered pants and a dopey hat in this period picture may make you chuckle, but do so at your own peril. As Bill "The Butcher" Cutting, he is the stuff of nightmares. Loosely based on New York history (the "Dead Rabbits" were indeed an actual gang, "Boss" Tweed was a real guy, and the anti-black Draft Riots did occur), there are sections when this deeply immersive film threatens to get away from Scorsese, who battled with producer Harvey Weinstein about the runtime behind the scenes after production wrapped. "America Was Born in the Streets" reads the tagline, and trying to tie the drama of this story into an overarching civics lesson is a bit of a stretch. That said, as a richly detailed film about jealousy and vengeance, and with a strong Leonardo DiCaprio lead performance, it works more than well enough. -- JH Best scene: The brutal opening fight, emerging from the timeless subterranean tunnels. Best line: "Whoopsie daisy!!" What to argue about after: Okay, so where exactly in lower Manhattan were the Five Points? (Redevelopment of the area makes determining the precise location a little complicated.)
17. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
Whether he's stealing the Declaration of Independence in National Treasure or fighting mutant bikers from hell in Mandy, Nicolas Cage brings a degree of live-wire intensity to all his performances. You might think putting him in a Scorsese film is like dunking a lit match in a tank of gasoline, but, shockingly enough, he properly calibrates his more grandiose actorly tics here, delivering a moving portrayal of a hollowed-out adrenaline-junkie paramedic just trying to survive each night. The script by frequent Scorsese collaborator Paul Schrader is a fascinating companion piece to their earlier project Taxi Driver, capturing the frenzied streets and wounded inhabitants of New York from an entirely different vantage point. -- DJ Best scene: Jittery-as-hell Cage and wired-up Tom Sizemore cruising in the ambulance to "Janie Jones" by the Clash. Best line: "Saving someone's life is like falling in love. The best drug in the world." What to argue about after: How injured would you have to be to get in an ambulance driven by Nicolas Cage?
16. The Aviator (2004)
While Gangs of New York marked the beginning of the fruitful collaboration between Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator saw it flourish. It was Leo's idea to do a Howard Hughes movie, and it's the cap on a run of ambitious roles that solidify his talent beyond Titanic heartthrob. A Hughes movie had long been a white whale of sorts for a variety of filmmakers, and Marty and Leo made theirs a glitzy, epic affair complete with lavish set pieces and celebrity cameos. (Remember when Gwen Stefani played Jean Harlow?) The Aviator is giddy fun when it's reenacting Hughes' dealings in 1930s Hollywood, but gets skin-crawlingly upsetting as it plunges into its protagonists madness near the end. -- EZ Best scene: Sorry, you just have to admit the most indelible scene is the one of Howard maniacally watching movies in a room filled with his own piss. Best line: "The way of the future." What to argue about afterward: Is Cate Blanchett's Katharine Hepburn a great piece of imitation or a great performance all on its own? Whither Gwen Stefani's acting career?
15. Kundun (1997)
One of the most underrated and underseen movies in Scorsese's filmography, Kundun, a lush biopic inspired by the life and writings of the 14th Dalai Lama, is the rare studio-produced, Oscar-nominated '90s movie that you can't purchase to rent off iTunes or Amazon. After its release, Disney, which distributed the movie through its Buena Vista Pictures division, pretty much disowned it after experiencing significant financial blowback from the Chinese government, which unsurprisingly didn't appreciate its portrayal of the Tibetan spiritual leader and subsequently banned Disney films for a period. (Don't expect to find it streaming on Disney+ any time soon.) Like Scorsese's two other religious epics, The Last Temptation of Christ and Silence, Kundun examines matters of faith and non-violent action as a lifelong struggle, one that can be spiritually rewarding but emotionally isolating. -- DJ Best scene: The Dalai Lama's escape from Tibet towards the end of the movie is a thrillingly crafted piece of filmmaking enhanced by an outstanding Phillip Glass score. Best line: "I believe I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself." What to argue about after: Is Christopher Moltisanti's endorsement of Kundun the best piece of film criticism ever uttered by a Sopranos character?
14. The Departed (2006)
The film to finally win Scorsese the Oscar for Best Director (and Best Picture, for that matter) is his twisty return to the world of mobsters. In remaking the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, Scorsese blared some Dropkick Murphys and plunged the audience into scumbag Boston for a blisteringly funny, endlessly re-watchable, propulsive ride. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon are at the height of their star power as the two respective rats, but The Departed so often belongs to the wide, threatening smile of Jack Nicholson. Nicholson and Scorsese, despite both being icons of the '70s, hadn’t worked together before this collaboration, but the wait was certainly worth it. -- EZ Best scene: Wahlberg and Baldwin address the officers. ("How’s your mother?") Best line: "I'm the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy." What to argue about afterward: That final shot! Is the rat a brilliant touch or just too darn obvious?
13. The Age of Innocence (1993)
Opera snuck its way into the mix of Scorsese's soundtracks time and again, so it was only fair that he eventually made one. No, there's no singing in The Age of Innocence, but the opulence and emotion at the heart of this Edith Wharton adaptation would fit in as much at La Scala than off Amazon Prime on your couch. So many elegant balls and banquets and long romantic walks! Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer tamp down their explosive pheromones as best they can in the hyper-repressed environment of aristocratic 19th-century society. This is a movie where Day-Lewis, upon realizing he's engaged to a woman he doesn't love, hopes to shorten the engagement, lest he dare act upon his desires with his soulmate. Didn't they have Loveline in 1870?! -- JH Best scene: While riding in a carriage, a bump knocks Michelle Pfeiffer into Daniel Day-Lewis' arms, and while it only lasts a fraction of a second, the smoulder is eternal! Best line: "Shall I come to you?" What to argue about after: Everything looks so gorgeous, but there were no flushable toilets, so it was still really gross.
12. Silence (2016)
A passion project that Scorsese had in development for over 25 years, based on a Shūsaku Endō novel he discovered when shooting Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, in which he appeared in a cameo as Vincent Van Gogh. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver star as 17th-century Portuguese Jesuits on a reconnaissance (and possible rescue) mission of their mentor (Liam Neeson) who went to spread the Gospel in Japan. What follows is a clash between cultures and a crisis of personal faith. Perhaps Scorsese's most cerebral, steady film, it is meditative and anguished, and also asks the audience to identify with individual characters embroiled in a drama rather than what they may represent in a larger, global narrative. (In other words: sympathy for the cultural imperialists.) It is a gorgeous movie and, in another case of auteurs inspiring one another, led Terence Malick to ask Scorsese "what does Christ want with us?" We don't know what he said back, but one can very easily interpret the reclusive Texan's latest film, A Hidden Life, as a variation on the same theme (e.g. when is it righteous to renounce your faith?) but with different results. -- JH Best scene: It's rough to watch, but the men drowning on crosses as the tide comes in is ripped straight from nightmares. Best line: "Apostatize!" What to argue about after: Is it your thoughts or your deeds that matter? Also: since when can Liam Neeson pass for Portuguese?
11. The Wolf of Wall Street (2011)
This movie is disgusting and you should be ashamed of yourself if you liked it. Yeah, yeah, sure, it's a cautionary tale about greed. Go hustle somebody else with that crap! We've all got an angel and a devil on our shoulder and this movie -- this glorious, beautiful, hilarious three-hour movie -- is a pure shot of adrenaline pumped to our amygdala that shows what would happen if we let the devil take over. Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic as the scuzzy, ethics-free douche-bro gobbling drugs and swinging his wallet everywhere. Jonah Hill rules as the loser hanger-on and Margot Robbie is perfect as the "Duchess of Bay Ridge." The yachts and sports cars paired with Scorsese's athletic camerawork and the electric Chicago blues needle-drops merge to form a powerful brew of, um, yes, very noble and not-at-all problematic storytelling. -- JH Best scene: If the "lemmons" scene ended on the phone, dayenu. If it ended at the car, dayenu. That it goes all the way to Jonah Hill choking on cold cuts and DiCaprio getting Popeye "Spinach"-power from a rail of coke and giving him CPR? Genius! Best line: "What kind of hooker takes credit cards?!?" What to argue about after: If people are dumb enough to buy stocks from a stranger over the telephone, do they deserve to get ripped off?
The story of Martin Scorsese's career can't be told by just focusing on his 25 narrative features. Like many modern filmmakers, he's moved fluidly between different formats: shooting documentaries, crafting short films, directing commercials, and popping up in the occasional acting role. It'd be impossible to rank or list all the great Scorsese ephemera out there, so consider this an eclectic 10-item tasting menu.
Italianamerican (1974) Catherine and Charles Scorsese sitting on their couch telling stories. These are the Italian-American grandparents you always wanted. The 49-minute documentary concludes with Mama S's recipe for meatballs and gravy.
The Last Waltz (1978) Any list of best concert films is likely to have The Last Waltz up near the top. The Band’s farewell concert features appearances by Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan. More importantly, though, it features Rick Danko playing "cut-throat" and Richard Manuel explaining how he used to steal baloney.
American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince(1978) This fascinating documentary short is available in full on YouTube, like Italianamerican, and though it lacks the polish of Scorsese's later documentaries, there's an unvarnished brilliance to the stripped-down interviews with Steven Prince, a friend who played the part of Easy Andy in Taxi Driver. One notable fan: Quentin Tarantino, who lifted the story about an adrenaline shot to the heart for that famous scene in Pulp Fiction.
"Bad" music video (1987) Scorsese filmed the King of Pop's West Side Story-inspired showdown with the crew of bullies led by Wesley Snipes at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station in the middle of the night. Go there and dance.
"Life Lessons" from New York Stories (1989) Part of an omnibus film with Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen, "Life Lessons," starring Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette, is a phenomenal look both at the SoHo art scene of the late 1980s and a relationship well past its expiration date. Quite frankly, this 45-minute film is better than many of Scorsese’s features.
Scorsese as Martin Rittenhome in Quiz Show (1994) Scorsese has made more than a few acting appearances over the years in his own movies and the films of his friends, but he's often playing a director, a light operator, or a cameraman. (He does voice a pufferfish loan shark in Shark Tale, so he's got range!) In Robert Redford's Quiz Show, a fantastic docudrama about a famous 1950's TV trivia show scandal, he gets a big scene, facing off against Rob Morrow, and he gets a killer line: "They just wanted to watch the money."
Scorsese as himself in "One Hour Photo" American Express commercial (2003) "My nephew, say cheese. Good direction, Marty."
Scorsese on Scorsese (2004) Unless he decides to write a memoir in the near future, this book of revealing, insightful interviews is probably the closest thing we'll ever get to a Scorsese autobiography. (The book version of his documentary A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies is a must-have as well.) If you love Scorsese or just want to know more about the filmmaking process, it's essential viewing.
Scorsese as himself on Curb Your Enthusiasm (2005) Scorsese has a long, fruitful history with HBO, directing the pilots for both Boardwalk Empire and Vinyl, but his appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm, which features him delivering the line "the balls will never read" with a straight face, is probably the high point of the partnership. At the very least, it's funnier than his Entouragecameo.
Rolling Thunder Revue (2019) The best of Scorsese's late-period music bio docs, this combination of concert performances, behind-the-scenes footage, and truth-blurring modern day interviews is a total blast. It's just as thematically rich, droll, and genuinely strange as Dylan himself.
10. The Irishman (2019)
Scorsese's nowhere near the end of his career, but The Irishman feels like something of a swan song. He's reuniting with old buddies (De Niro and Pesci) and getting together with someone who should feel like an old buddy (Pacino) for an epic meditation on the American experience as seen through the eyes of the lowlifes who have shaped his career. Based on Charles Brandt's book I Heard You Paint Houses, The Irishman follows the life of Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a hitman for the Bufalino crime family who also served Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). It's long and the de-aging technology deployed to show the characters at different stages in their lives is sometimes weird, but all of that boldness and sprawl just adds to the The Irishman's power. When all is said and done, you'll have laughed and felt profoundly depressed. -- EZ Best scene: Old Pesci and De Niro dipping (or attempting to dip) lard bread in grape juice in prison. Best line: "It's what it is." What to argue about afterward: So... is the de-aging actually creepy?
9. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
Whenever Martin Scorsese has a new movie out, one of the topics that surely gets dredged up is how few of his films have featured women in major roles. The counter-example is always Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, one of his few features to center on a female protagonist. Star Ellen Burstyn recruited Scorsese, fresh off Mean Streets, to direct this story of an aspiring singer who loses her husband and sets out on the road with her young son. The feminist bona fides of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore were and still are being debated, but the frankness of Burstyn's performance continues to resonate 45 years later. All of Alice's frustrations (with her situation, with her kid) burst through the screen. It almost makes you wish Scorsese had made more movies like this, allowing regular women to be profane heroes the way his mobsters are. -- EZ Best scene: Alice and her new friend Flo (Diane Ladd) sunbathing and gossiping. Best line: "It ain't Peggy Lee." What to argue about afterward: Why hasn't Scorsese made another movie with a female protagonist since this one? Was Kris Kristofferson hot?
8. Mean Streets (1973)
Scorsese's first masterpiece and one of the most important movies of "New Hollywood" is a startling, lacerating portrait of Little Italy scuzzballs the likes of which had never really been seen before. This healthy mix of violence, rock music and Catholic guilt has all of the necessary elements, including Robert De Niro's magnet-for-trouble performance as "Johnny Boy." While hardly something the tourist bureau would have been happy with, the energy and grit of New York City permeates every frame, be it in slow motion reverie or a frantic explosion of brutality. -- JH Best scene: The pool hall fight set to the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman." Best line: "I'm a mook? What’s a mook?" What to argue about after: At what point do we turn our backs on our friends? (Probably some time before they get us shot in a car.)
7. Casino (1995)
In recent years, it feels like Casino, which found Scorsese re-teaming with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci for another gangster story a mere five years after the triumph of Goodfellas, has become more widely celebrated by fans and critics for its unique sense of scale, history, and brutally dark humor. Maybe it's the Scorsese crime epic most in sync with the anxieties of the Trump era? Either way, this is a maximalist movie, an American tale of excess and opulence told in an appropriately bold, occasionally jarring style and anchored by three unapologetically brash, often exhilarating lead performances from the two aforementioned male leads and a commanding Sharon Stone, playing the scene-stealing Vegas lifer Ginger. Mostly, it's an obsessive, detail-obsessed movie for obsessive, detail-obsessed viewers: De Niro's casino manager Sam "Ace" Rothstein lecturing a pastry chef at his establishment about distributing the exact same amount of blueberries in each muffin remains the perfect metaphor for movie's hyper-compulsive, locked-in approach. -- DJ Best scene: Uh, like the entire first hour? If that's cheating, let's go with the scene where Ace shows how the security team deals with a pair of card-counting con artists. Best line: "From now on, I want you to put an equal amount of blueberries in each muffin." What to argue about after: Better than Goodfellas? Clearly, we're not willing to go that far, but it's a reasonable conversation to have.
6. After Hours (1985)
Perhaps more than any other Scorsese movie, After Hours feels like a time capsule. A yuppie's eye view of New York's downtown art scene when there was still some danger to it, the dark (dark!) comedy is a stressful long night of the soul. What starts as a meet-cute between dead-eyed office worker Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) and the well-read, vivacious Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) quickly turns sour when he pursues her to the SoHo loft of her artist friend. Paul is a little nastier than your average everyman, which makes his odyssey all the more distressing. You're not exactly rooting for him as he tries to make his way back to the safety of the Upper East Side, but you do love peeking around the corners of this seedy universe and seeing what kind of crazy characters pop up. (Catherine O'Hara! Teri Garr!) -- EZ Best scene: God this is hard. After Hours is just one great scene after another. Let's go with Catherine O'Hara's Gail chasing Paul around SoHo in her Mister Softee truck. Best line: "Surrender, Dorothy!" What to argue about afterward: If you want to get all serious, discuss the glib way in which Marcy meets her demise. If you want to have more fun: Does Marty really "get" art freaks?
5. Raging Bull (1980)
A year after Rocky II and The Champ proved audiences couldn't get enough of boxing pictures, Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci got in the ring to issue this K.O. to anyone thinking they were getting an uplifting sports flick. Featuring weird sexual hang-ups, masochism and machismo, Raging Bull is a nasty right hook of complex psychological issues one minute, a gorgeous black and white ballet the next. The fight sequences (both in the ring and the nightclubs) are brutal, as is wounded animal Jake LaMotta berating his loved ones until he's finally all alone. De Niro gobbled an endless bowl of pasta for our sins to look the part of late-in-life LaMotta, so the least we can do is watch this again. -- JH Best scene: De Niro's plummet into the abyss in the Florida jail cell, screaming obscenities, bashing his head against the wall, calling himself stupid. It’s like he's a bull filled with rage or something! Best line: "You overcook it, it's no good. It defeats its own purpose." What to argue about after: Do we have sympathy for this guy, or is he just an asshole?
4. The King of Comedy (1983)
There's something almost charming about the delusional ineptitude wannabe comedian and actual kidnapper Rupert Pupkin has on display in The King of Comedy, just one of the wonderful subversions of this entry into the Scorsese canon. After playing Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, De Niro reunited with Scorsese to inhabit this creepy-sweet avatar of desperation, an inversion of the tough guy roles that had been in his repertoire. With a prescient script by Newsweek critic Paul D. Zimmerman, the film remains an ever relevant interrogation of fame, obsession, and the relationship between fan and star. The masterful bit of stunt casting in which Jerry Lewis plays the jackass TV host Jerry Langford adds layers of meta-textual complexity, but it's Rupert's unnervingly cheery demeanor that stays with you. -- EZ Best scene: Masha's seduction is deeply uncomfortable, but it's phenomenal work from Sandra Bernhard. Best line: "A lot of you are probably wondering why Jerry couldn't make it this evening. Well, he's tied up, and I'm the one who tied him." What to argue about afterward: Did The King of Comedy predict the Donald Trump presidency?
3. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
While Scorsese shows no signs of slowing up, it's unlikely that any of his future projects will inspire civil unrest, the destruction of property, and several serious injuries. The Last Temptation of Christ is a film that most people will tell you is substantially "pro-Jesus," but it certainly ruffled feathers by examining and expanding upon the conflict between Christ's humanity and divinity. (Jesus Christ Superstar does this, too, but with peppier showtunes.) Willem Dafoe is remarkable as the troubled Messiah, as is Harvey Keiteil as Brooklyn's favorite son Judas Iscariot. The location photography, parade of unusual supporting players (Andre Gregory! John Lurie! Irvin Kershner! David Bowie as Pontius Pilate!) and an eerie blend of anachronistic "world" music from Peter Gabriel come together to form a deeply moving and original take on the Greatest Story Ever Told. -- JH Best scene: JC going HAM on the Temple moneylenders is always a winner. Best line: "It is accomplished!" What to argue about after: Anyone have the name of a good carpenter in Nazareth? My usual guy isn't available.
2. Taxi Driver (1976)
From the billowing clouds of exhaust steam floating above the pavement in the opening credits to the dripping droplets of blood falling from Travis Bickle's finger in the final shootout, Taxi Driver is a thriller of tactile images that activate the senses. No matter how many times you've seen it or how watered down it becomes via inferior imitations, like the recent one starring a certain Batman villain, this hypnotic vision of a misanthropic taxi cab driver retains the power to shock and unsettle. Every aspect of the film, from Scorsese's taut direction to Paul Schrader's evocative writing to Bernard Herrmann's eerie score, draws you in and then makes you queasy. Repulsed. Ashamed. That nearly operatic, seedy discomfort is complemented by a group of actors with a tight grip on the human aspects of the story: De Niro is obviously stunning as the alienated protagonist, but Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, and Peter Boyle also invest the material with depth and wit. It plays like a waking nightmare. -- DJ Best scene: The quiet moment where Travis Bickle calls Cybill Shepherd's Betsy to ask about the flowers he sent and the camera drifts away from him, like the conversation is too much to bear. Best line: "You talkin' to me?" What to argue about after: It's the ending. Is it a violent fantasy or a real-life massacre?
1. Goodfellas (1990)
It's never fun to go with the obvious pick, but sometimes it's obvious for a reason. ("Stairway to Heaven" is the best Led Zeppelin song, too, come at me.) Martin Scorsese would not be the household name he is today were it not for Goodfellas. There'd be no Ray Liotta without Goodfellas. There'd be no Sopranos without Goodfellas. There'd probably be fewer guys being loud with one another and shouting "Ho!!!," too, and while that may not be a bad thing, we can't deny the very important legacy this film has had on our culture.
Goodfellas is a perfect work of art: a cautionary tale that dares you to be honest with yourself. Yes, you want to be in with these guys, even though you know it is wrong. How long are you willing to look the other way when your colleagues are pure black holes of immorality? It starts with stealing cigarettes, it ends with Tommy shooting Spider for talking back. "And then finally, when there's nothing left, when you can't borrow another buck from the bank or buy another case of booze, you bust the joint out. You light a match." Henry's description of Paulie sucking a nightclub dry is commentary about his own soul. Only when Jimmy's murderous paranoia finally impacts him does he want out of the life. Not a righteous man! Scorsese trusts you to work this out on your own, which is exactly why there are some schnooks who think this movie is nihilistic. Scruples aside, the music, the editing, the camerawork, the performances and especially the writing all snap together beautifully. This movie spawned a thousand and one imitators but they were all egg noodles and catsup. Now go home and get your fuckin' shinebox! -- JH Best scene: May 11, 1980, 6:55 a.m. Best line: "I'm funny how? I'm funny, like I'm a clown? I amuse you?" What to argue about after: Does garlic really liquify in a pan if you slice it with a razor?