Martin Scorsese's 10 Best Movies

The Greatest Movies of One of America's Greatest Directors

If Mount Rushmore depicted the greatest American filmmakers instead of the greatest American Presidents, surely Martin Scorsese would be one of the first faces selected for inclusion. Over his fifty-year career, Scorsese has directed some of the most award-winning and iconic films in Hollywood history. He is also noted for his documentary films and his leading stance on the preservation of film history through his organization, the Film Foundation.

After more than fifty years of filmmaking, Scorsese shows no signs of slowing down. His latest film, Silence, a project he has been working on since the 1990s was released in late 2016 and an exhibit and major retrospective of his work is currently on view at the Museum of the Modern Image in his hometown of Queens, New York (where Scorsese was born and spent the first eight years of his life).

To celebrate Scorsese's continued success, here is a primer of Scorsese's greatest films. Of course, choosing the very best films out of Martin Scorsese's filmography is a near impossible task, but these ten, in chronological order, are considered among his very best narrative films.

Mean Streets (1973)

Mean Streets
Warner Bros.

Scorsese's first two features—1967's Who's That Knocking at My Door and 1972's Boxcar Bertha—showed promise, but neither was the revelation that Mean Streets is.

Scorsese drew from his own life to create this film about Charlie, a young Italian-American (Harvey Keitel) who is trying to make a name for himself in the New York mafia. However, his friendship with untrustworthy gambler Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) and Charlie's religious faith come between him and his aspirations.

The gritty, street-level depiction of New York City became a trademark for Scorsese.

Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver
Columbia Pictures

Few films are as influential as Taxi Driver, which continues to color our perception of themes of vigilantism, alienation and even heroism seen in so many movies. De Niro stars as Travis Bickle, a former Marine who is a depressed loner. Upon becoming a taxicab driver in New York City to escape from his insomnia, he becomes disgusted with the urban decay that surrounds him. Scorsese's reputation for violence came from the film's thrilling climax, a shootout sequence that asks viewers to consider Bickle's actions.

Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull
United Artists

Scorsese turned this biopic of champion middlewight boxer Jake LaMotta into high art. De Niro stars as LaMotta, with then little-known actor Joe Pesci as his older brother and manager. Scorsese depicts the bloody rise and destructive fall of LaMotta with stunningly beautiful black and white cinematography and with unforgettable editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, who has since edited all of Scorsese's features.

The King of Comedy (1982)

The King of Comedy
20th Century Fox

Serving as a sort of complement to Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy stars De Niro as a failed comedian and celebrity stalker who will do anything to become famous—even harass late night talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). The interplay between De Niro and Lewis is caustic and made this film, which was underappreciated upon its initial release, one of Scorsese's best. In today's celebrity-worship culture, The King of Comedy seems even more profound.

After Hours (1985)

After Hours
Warner Bros.

Another frequently overlooked gem, After Hours is about Paul (Griffin Dunne), a man who undergoes a series of unfortunate events during one hellish night in New York City after he is stranded with only a few cents in his pocket. After Hours celebrates the weirdness of Lower Manhattan when the sun goes down at a time before conveniences like cell phones and bank cards (not to mention artisan coffee shops.)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

The Last Temptation of Christ
Universal Pictures

Scorsese's Catholic faith has been central to many of his films. The Last Temptation of Christ was extremely controversial upon its release for depicting Jesus (played by Willem Dafoe) being tempted by the failings of his human side.

The controversy ignored that this film—which is not based on the Gospels—reaffirms Jesus' divinity. Nearly thirty years later, most critics have come around and now appreciate its artistic value.

Goodfellas (1990)

Warner Bros.

"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster"

All the mafia stereotypes that didn't originate in The Godfather came from Goodfellas, a brilliant look at the rise—and even bigger fall—of a trio of gangsters. The film stars Scorsese regulars De Niro and Pesci as "Jimmy the Gent" Conway and Tommy DeVito respectively, and Ray Liotta as Henry Hill. The iconic camerawork, dialogue, and direction is Scorsese's ultimate exploration of the mafia, and it is one of the most quotable movies of all time.

Casino (1995)

Universal Pictures

Casino, which reunited many of the players from Goodfellas (including De Niro, Pesci, and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi), is based on the mafia's influence on the gambling operations in Las Vegas during the 1970s. While it isn't quite as legendary as Goodfellas, Casino explores similar themes of crime, corruption, trust, and unchecked ambition.

The Departed (2006)

The Departed
Warner Bros.

For three decades, film critics and fans wondered how Martin Scorsese never won an Oscar for Best Director. He finally won the coveted award with The Departed, a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio—Scorsese's "regular" lead since 2002's Gangs of New York—Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Mark Wahlberg in an elaborate double-crossing scheme involving Boston cops infiltrating gangsters and gangsters infiltrating cops. The cat-and-mouse nature of the film makes it an edge-of-you-seat thriller.

Hugo (2011)

Paramount Pictures

In 2011, Scorsese released his first-ever children's film, Hugo. Though 126 minutes may seem long for a kids' movie, Scorsese's first 3D film is a celebration of film history that can be appreciated by viewers of any age. Asa Butterfield stars as Hugo, a boy who lives in a Paris train station. He befriends a young girl named Isabelle, the goddaughter of Georges Méliès, one of the earliest film pioneers.