Martin Scorsese celebrates his 76th birthday on November 17, 2018. While the Oscar-winning director is perhaps best known for his violent and psychologically complex gangster pictures, he’s found success in a variety of other genres as well. In honor of his birthday, let’s take a look back at all 24 of his films, ranked worst to best.
After graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Scorsese directed the independently-financed “Who’s That Knocking at My Door?” (1967), which introduced Harvey Keitel. He became a star director with “Mean Streets” (1973), an intensely personal and brutal examination of the neighborhood he grew up in. The film was the first of many he would make with Robert De Niro, who shot to stardom as the reckless hoodlum Johnny Boy. The two reunited for the nightmarish “Taxi Driver” (1976), the first of several collaborations between the director and screenwriter Paul Schrader.
He scored his first Oscar nomination as Best Director just four years later for “Raging Bull” (1980), a psychologically intense biopic of boxer Jake LaMotta (De Niro), again penned by Schrader. De Niro knocked out the competition in Best Actor, gaining 70 pounds to play the pugilist later in life. Scorsese went home empty-handed, despite helming what several critics declared the film of the decade.
Scorsese gained a reputation as one of the most snubbed filmmakers in Oscar history with unsuccessful bids for directing “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), “GoodFellas” (1990), “Gangs of New York” (2002), and “The Aviator” (2004), as well as for writing “GoodFellas” and “The Age of Innocence” (1993). He finally hit the awards jackpot with his gangland epic “The Departed” (2006), which walked away with victories for Best Director and Best Picture. He subsequently competed for directing and producing “Hugo” (2011) and “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013).
Tour our photo gallery above of all 24 of Scorsese’s narrative feature films, including a few for which he should’ve won Oscars.
24. BOXCAR BERTHA (1972)
Early in his career, Scorsese went through the Roger Corman guerrilla school of filmmaking, a training ground for just about every director of his generation (including Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, and Jonathan Demme). This cheap “Bonnie and Clyde” cash-in stars Barbara Hershey and David Carradine as Depression-era train robbers turned murderers.
23. THE COLOR OF MONEY (1986)
One has to wonder why exactly Scorsese made “The Color of Money.” Perhaps he needed a hit after a string of critically-acclaimed films that failed to connect with audiences? Or maybe he just really likes pool? Either way, this quasi-sequel to “The Hustler,” which finds an aging Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) teaching a cocky young protégé (Tom Cruise) the tricks of the trade.
22. KUNDUN (1997)
Before devoting himself to filmmaking, Scorsese dabbled with becoming a Catholic priest, and that spiritual upbringing often presents itself in his work through imagery and subject matter. As was the case with “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Kundun” finds the director examining the life of a prominent religious figure, this time the Dalai Lama.
21. NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977)
Though most remembered today for Frank Sinatra‘s iconic version of the film’s theme song (though Liza’s version in the film is pretty terrific), Scorsese’s dramatic musical “New York, New York” remains a fascinating hiccup in what had been the director’s steadily rising career. The director intended the film as an homage to the movie musicals with which he grew up.
20. CAPE FEAR (1991)
Scorsese delivered a box office smash with this operatic remake of the 1962 thriller about a convicted rapist (Robert De Niro) stalking the lawyer (Nick Nolte) who sent him to prison for 14 years. The director adds a psychological complexity lacking from the original, changing Nolte’s Sam Bowden from a pristine hero into a flawed everyman who regularly disappoints his wife (Jessica Lange) and daughter (Juliette Lewis).
19. WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? (1967)
Scorsese spent years making his feature debut, a grungy independent that showcased the various themes and stylistic tropes the director would soon become famous for. Harvey Keitel makes his acting debut as a devoutly Catholic Italian-American who starts dating a girl (Zina Bethune) he thinks is a virgin.
18. SHUTTER ISLAND (2010)
“Shutter Island” was initially greeted with a tepid reception from audiences anxious to see how Scorsese would follow up his Oscar win for “The Departed.” Not to be boxed in, the director dipped his toes into the horror genre with this adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s psychological thriller. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as a U.S. Marshal in 1954 investigating the disappearance of a murderer from a hospital for the mentally insane.
17. BRINGING OUT THE DEAD (1999)
Scorsese reunited with “Taxi Driver” screenwriter Paul Schrader for another surreal and nightmarish journey into the abyss. Nicolas Cage stars as Frank Pierce, a Manhattan ambulance paramedic who is haunted by the patients he fails to save. John Goodman, Ving Rhames, and Tom Sizemore costar as fellow EMTs who accompany Frank as he struggles to maintain his sanity over the course of three nights.
16. GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002)
Scorsese’s fascination with the urban underworld continued even into period pieces such as this adaptation of Herbert Asbury‘s non-fiction book “The Gangs of New York.” In 1862 New York, political gangs held great sway, the most prominent of which was led by political kingmaker Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis) who was under the thumb of the politically powerful “Boss” Tweed (Jim Broadbent), and the “Natives,” as their gang was called, who were virulently anti-Irish and anti-Catholic. Enter Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his makeshift immigrant gang who takes on Bill and his gang just as the Draft Riots of 1863 break out.
15. HUGO (2011)
“Hugo” was Scorsese’s first foray into the use of 3D for this family film based on Brian Selznick‘s graphic novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” The story of Hugo (Asa Butterfield), a young Parisian orphan boy who maintains the clocks at the railway station at Gare Montparnasse while hiding out from the determined Station Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen), provided an opportunity for the director to take the improved technology of 3D and tell his story.
14. THE AVIATOR (2004)
What Warren Beatty couldn’t successfully achieve in “Rules Don’t Apply” — a coherent biography of Howard Hughes — Scorsese made look easy in “The Aviator,” his 170-minute biopic of the eccentric billionaire. It’s not surprising that the director, working with John Logan‘s script, emphasized Hughes’ (Leonardo DiCaprio) successful Hollywood years, when he was making movies and dating some of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars, such as Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani), Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) and Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett in her Oscar-winning role).
13. AFTER HOURS (1985)
Following the collapse of “The Last Temptation of Christ” at Paramount, it’s easy to see why Scorsese would’ve been in a dark mood. That he could laugh at it is encouraging. “After Hours” is as pitch black a comedy as they come, a surreal fantasia about an ordinary word processor (Griffin Dunne) who experiences the worst night of his life when he decides to meet an attractive young woman (Rosanna Arquette) in SoHo.
12. SILENCE (2016)
A passion project more than 25 years in the making, “Silence” finds Scorsese once again examining man’s relationship to God. But unlike “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “Kundun,” this is a stark, unrelenting epic that asks how someone can stay faithful to a lord who remains in the shadows. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver star as 17th century Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to locate their mentor (Liam Neeson), who has committed apostasy.
11. ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1974)
The genesis of “Alice,” Scorsese’s first true studio production, was from Warner Bros.’ desire to work with “Exorcist” star Ellen Burstyn, who was enamored with Robert Getchell‘s script about a young widow who travels across the country to seek a better life. Lacking a director, the actress asked Francis Ford Coppola for advice, and he suggested that she watch the as-yet-unreleased film “Mean Streets.” Burstyn win then win Best Actress at the Oscars.
10. CASINO (1995)
Though “Casino” features a top-flight cast, including Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone (in her very best film performance), Scorsese’s three-hour crime epic has a fourth major character — 1970s Las Vegas. This is not the Vegas of today, which feels more like an amusement park; this is the Vegas where gambling felt dangerous, almost sinful.
9. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993)
For moviegoers who primarily think of Scorsese as a director focused on the American underworld, “The Age of Innocence” came as quite a surprise. Set in the world of high society in the 1870s, the film is a lavish period piece on a scale in which the director had never worked before. Based on the classic novel by Edith Wharton, the film focuses on the conflict that a man (Daniel Day-Lewis) faces when he is torn between his own emotions and the pressure placed on him by high society that is itself on the brink of change.
8. THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)
Though a few Scorsese films (notably “Taxi Driver”) have been called out on their use of violence, none of the director’s movies caused as much controversy as his 1988 film of Nikos Kazantzakis‘ novel “The Last Temptation of Christ.” The film depicts Jesus (Willem Dafoe) being tempted by a wide variety of carnal sins throughout his life, culminating in being taken down off the Cross and marrying Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey).
7. THE KING OF COMEDY (1983)
Almost scarily prescient in its observations on the public’s fascination with celebrity culture, Scorsese’s black comedy “The King of Comedy,” largely dismissed at the time of its release, feels a lot smarter today. In the perceptive script by Paul Zimmerman, Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), an aspiring comic with major delusions and limited talent, is rebuffed in his efforts to appear on a major talk show hosted by comic legend Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis).
6. THE DEPARTED (2006)
The sixth time proved the charm for Scorsese, as his work on “The Departed” finally brought him his first Academy Award as Best Director and his film his first for producing the year’s Best Picture. Colin (Matt Damon), a young protégé of Boston gang boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) is ordered to enroll in the Police Academy, where he soon becomes a rising star and a useful mole for the mob. Meanwhile, aspiring cop Billy (Leonardo DiCaprio) is ordered by his captain (Martin Sheen) to infiltrate the Costello gang.
5. MEAN STREETS (1973)
It seemed to come out of nowhere. It was my first New York Film Festival in 1973, and there was this small film with a little-known director and cast, so I skipped attending the premiere of “Mean Streets.” Shows you what I know. But when the reviews came out (with a particular rave from Pauline Kael), suddenly all of the New York movie world (and eventually the country) was talking about Scorsese.
4. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)
Scorsese’s highest-grossing film worldwide ($392 million internationally), “The Wolf of Wall Street,” based on the memoir by corrupt stockbroker Jordan Belfort, marks the fifth time that the director has worked with Leonardo DiCaprio. The director’s tale of rampant fraud on Wall Street in the early 1990s was a bold mixture of black comedy, investigative drama, and unchecked self-indulgence, including nudity, drug use and scenes with animals.
3. TAXI DRIVER (1976)
At rare times, a character just happens to capture the zeitgeist, and in the alienated 1970s, that was cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in Scorsese’s extraordinary “Taxi Driver.” Like many in that decade, all Travis wants to do is to make a connection in a way that other people do. But his total lack of social skills keep getting in his way, whether it’s an embarrassing meeting with a political candidate (Leonard Harris), an awkward date with a beautiful woman (Cybill Shepherd) or an ill-advised rescue of a 12 year-old hooker (Jodie Foster).
2. RAGING BULL (1980)
When “Raging Bull” is listed next to “Rocky” in lists of the greatest boxing movies ever made, it does drive me a little nuts. No knock on “Rocky” — it’s a terrifically entertaining movie that does what it does very well — but what it does has little to do with what “Raging Bull” is really about. Yes, Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is a famed boxer, but a tactician he is not. Instead, he uses boxing as a vehicle to channel what he is feeling at the time.
1. GOODFELLAS (1990)
In what is arguably his most acclaimed gangster movie, Scorsese placed the violent life story of rising mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) within a small memory play filled with detailed moments that I suspect came out of the director’s memory bank. Part of what makes “GoodFellas” so refreshing is that the filmmaker doesn’t shy away from the glamour of being a gangster — the suits, the jewelry, the cigars, as well as the fear/respect that a one gets while walking through the neighborhood.