Best Scorsese movies

Written by:
September 25, 2019
Columbia Pictures

Best Scorsese movies

From his earliest feature film onward, director Martin Scorsese has distinguished himself as a singular and passionate voice in American cinema. He’s also one of the medium’s foremost historians, who’s always eager to share and expound upon his favorite works. Pair that vast knowledge with copious amounts of personal perspective and the result is one of the most rewarding and distinctive oeuvres in movie history.

Inexorably linked to Scorsese’s output are two key influences: His early love of movies and his upbringing in New York’s Little Italy. Stricken with asthma at a very young age, he spent lots of time in front of the TV or at the local movie theater. Films such as 1947’s “Black Narcissus” taught him about stylistic techniques while films like 1948’s “Bicycle Thieves” and “Rome, Open City” connected him with his Italian roots.

All the while, the young Scorsese was absorbing the various personalities and exchanges outside his front door, later referring to his neighborhood as being "like a village in Sicily." It’s the confluence of these two factors that would come to define early efforts such as “Who’s that Knocking at My Door” and, more famously, 1973’s “Mean Streets.” The city of New York itself would likewise provide the setting for a number of his most iconic films.

If there’s one more main ingredient to Scorsese’s unique perspective, it’s the role that faith has played in his life. Hoping to emulate his favorite local priest, he enrolled in seminary school as a teenager, only to get kicked out one year later. Nevertheless, his Catholic faith remains fundamental to both his outlook on life and several of his most personal films. It’s for this reason that he spent decades developing passion projects such as “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “Silence.”

Today, Stacker is ranking Scorsese’s movies from worst to best. To create the list, Stacker compiled all the IMDb data on feature films directed by Martin Scorsese, ranking each one according to its user rating, and breaking any ties by the number of votes. Feature films co-directed by Scorsese were included, but documentaries and short films were not. Here are the best Martin Scorsese movies.

You may also like: Best Robert De Niro movies

1 / 25
American International Pictures (AIP)

#25. Boxcar Bertha (1972)

- IMDb user rating: 6.1
- Votes: 7,630
- Metascore: 61
- Runtime: 88 min

Scorsese would achieve much greater things than this low-budget “Bonnie & Clyde” knock-off from 1972. Produced by B-movie legend Roger Corman, it comes chock full of leaden performances and exploitative violence. The story follows the title character (Barbara Hershey) and a union man (David Carradine) on a Depression-era crime spree.

2 / 25
Touchstone Pictures

#24. New York Stories (1989)

- IMDb user rating: 6.4
- Votes: 15,878
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 124 min

This 1989 anthology film comprises three different segments, only one of which was directed by Scorsese. Dubbed “Life Lessons,” it centers on the turbulent relationship between a middle-aged painter (Nick Nolte) and his younger assistant (Rosanna Arquette). Despite Scorsese’s iconic relationship with New York, critic Roger Ebert claimed that the director’s segment “could have been set in many big cities.”

3 / 25
Trimod Films

#23. Who's That Knocking at My Door (1967)

- IMDb user rating: 6.7
- Votes: 7,320
- Metascore: 63
- Runtime: 90 min

Scorsese’s feature debut takes place in Little Italy and stars Harvey Keitel as J.R., a man whose life is changed by a mysterious woman (Zina Bethune). Influenced by French New Wave cinema and the director’s personal experiences, it marked a bold new voice in American cinema. The movie’s themes of identity, faith, and masculinity would pop up time and again throughout Scorsese’s career. 

4 / 25
Chartoff-Winkler Productions

#22. New York, New York (1977)

- IMDb user rating: 6.7
- Votes: 16,460
- Metascore: 62
- Runtime: 155 min

Actor Robert De Niro has appeared in nine Martin Scorsese feature films to date, including this atypical musical from 1977. Set just after WWII, it chronicles the rocky romance between a volatile saxophonist (De Niro) and talented pop singer (Liza Minnelli). When crooner Frank Sinatra recorded his version of the movie’s main theme in 1980, it became one of his most signature tunes

5 / 25
Paramount Pictures

#21. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Votes: 59,469
- Metascore: 70
- Runtime: 121 min

Despite high expectations and positive reviews, this late-’90s drama from Scorsese and “Taxi Driver” scribe Paul Schrader was considered something of a letdown. Awash with the director’s audio-visual trademarks, it follows the exploits of a burnt-out NYC paramedic (Nicolas Cage). For the emergency room scenes, the film crew built a set on the ground floor of Bellevue Hospital. 

6 / 25
De Fina-Cappa

#20. Kundun (1997)

- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Votes: 24,437
- Metascore: 74
- Runtime: 134 min

No stranger to religious subject matter, Scorsese turned his attention toward Tibetan Buddhism in this biographical drama. Forced to flee from a Chinese invasion, the 14th Dalai Lama grows up in exile. It was released the same year as “Seven Years in Tibet,” performing less well at the box office but ranking higher amongst critics and viewers. 

7 / 25
Touchstone Pictures

#19. The Color of Money (1986)

- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Votes: 68,683
- Metascore: 77
- Runtime: 119 min

Reprising the role of "Fast Eddie" Felson, Paul Newman won his first and only Academy Award for Best Actor for this mid-’80s drama. Set 25 years after “The Hustler,” it sees Felson taking on a young and arrogant protégé played by Tom Cruise. Foreshadowing what would later become routine, Cruise performed nearly all of his own pool stunts

8 / 25
Paramount Pictures

#18. Silence (2016)

- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Votes: 87,184
- Metascore: 79
- Runtime: 161 min

Decades in the making, this historical drama follows two 17th-century Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) to Japan in search of their mentor (Liam Neeson). The film was a true passion project for Scorsese, who continues to uphold his Catholic faith. A box office flop, it divides viewers between those who think it’s overlooked and those who think it’s overlong.

9 / 25
Columbia Pictures

#17. The Age of Innocence (1993)

- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Votes: 44,975
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 139 min

Edith Wharton’s classic novel leapt onto the big screen in 1993, with Scorsese handling both directing and co-writing duties. Set in 19th-century New York, it depicts the romantic entanglements of three well-heeled elitists (Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder). Five Academy Award nominations yielded just one win for Best Costume Design. 

10 / 25
Warner Bros.

#16. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)

- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Votes: 19,103
- Metascore: 78
- Runtime: 112 min

Ellen Burstyn gives an Oscar-winning performance as Alice Hyatt in this critical and commercial hit, which exhibits a softer side of Martin Scorsese. Broke and widowed, Alice hits the road to pursue a singing career. Besides co-starring Kris Kristofferson, the movie features supporting roles from Harvey Keitel and a young Jodie Foster. 

11 / 25
Warner Bros.

#15. Mean Streets (1973)

- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Votes: 86,692
- Metascore: 96
- Runtime: 112 min

Set in Scorsese’s childhood neighborhood of Little Italy, this micro-budget masterpiece follows a small-time hood named Charlie (Harvey Keitel). Grappling with feelings of guilt and a psychotic best friend (Robert De Niro), Charlie attempts to move past his life of crime. With its infectious soundtrack, pulsating camerawork, iconic characters, and gritty violence, “Mean Streets” set the template for Scorsese’s most enduring and identifiable style. 

12 / 25
Amblin Entertainment

#14. Cape Fear (1991)

- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Votes: 155,975
- Metascore: 73
- Runtime: 128 min

Putting his signature spin on a 1962 classic, Scorsese churned out his one and only remake of an American film. Robert De Niro raises hairs as Max Cady, a maniacal ex-convict who seeks revenge on his former defense attorney (Nick Nolte). According to Roger Ebert, Scorsese’s version distinguishes itself from the original by creating a world in which “there are no heroes.” 

13 / 25
Paramount Pictures

#13. Hugo (2011)

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Votes: 287,243
- Metascore: 83
- Runtime: 126 min

Scorsese isn’t exactly synonymous with PG-rated family fare or 3-D adventures, which makes this award-winning adaptation an outlier of sorts. On the other hand, its many odes to the magic of cinema put it right in the director’s wheelhouse. In 1931 Paris, young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) uncovers automatons and other wonders while investigating his father’s death.

14 / 25
Miramax Films

#12. The Aviator (2004)

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Votes: 311,640
- Metascore: 77
- Runtime: 170 min

Clocking it at just under three hours, this sprawling biopic chronicles the life and times of Howard Hughes (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). When not making movies or dating celebrities, Hughes takes enormous risks on building expensive and improbable aircrafts. This was the second of five feature film collaborations between Scorsese and DiCaprio, with another one in development

15 / 25
Miramax Films

#11. Gangs of New York (2002)

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Votes: 376,570
- Metascore: 72
- Runtime: 167 min

The ongoing partnership between Scorsese and DiCaprio kicked off with this violent drama, which takes place in 1862 New York. Seeking revenge on his father’s killer (Day-Lewis), young Amsterdam Vallon (DiCaprio) climbs the ranks of a vicious gang. It was a film Scorsese had wanted to make since first picking up the source material in 1970

16 / 25
Universal Pictures

#10. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Votes: 47,058
- Metascore: 80
- Runtime: 164 min

Working off an adapted screenplay by Paul Schrader, Scorsese brought this long-running passion project onto the big screen in 1988. For its depiction of Jesus Christ (played by Willem Dafoe) as a flawed and even libidinous individual, the film was met with immediate outrage from various religious groups. Stunning cinematography and Peter Gabriel’s intense score help bring the director’s personal vision further to life. 

17 / 25
The Geffen Company

#9. After Hours (1985)

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Votes: 50,853
- Metascore: 90
- Runtime: 97 min

The 1980s found Scorsese exploring a broad range of styles and narratives, resulting in his loosest era from an aesthetic point of view. This madcap crime comedy serves as an excellent case in point, whereas only the New York setting will seem familiar to loyal fans. While trying to make his way home from the Soho district, a computer word processor (Griffin Dunne) encounters an endless string of surrealist misadventures. 

18 / 25
Twentieth Century Fox

#8. The King of Comedy (1982)

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Votes: 69,334
- Metascore: 73
- Runtime: 109 min

Overlooked upon its initial release, Scorsese’s 1982 satire is now considered way ahead of the curve. Robert De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a struggling comedian who takes drastic measures in his pursuit of the spotlight. The new “Joker” movie—which also stars De Niro—was directly inspired by this cult classic. 

19 / 25
Paramount Pictures

#7. Shutter Island (2010)

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Votes: 1,023,769
- Metascore: 63
- Runtime: 138 min

Scorsese’s third-highest grossing movie adapts a best-selling novel by Dennis Lehane and takes place in 1954. While investigating the disappearance of a mental patient, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) finds himself at the heart of a mind-bending mystery. Culling from one of his favorite films, Scorsese used the “Black Narcissus” effect for certain shots of the coastline.

20 / 25
Chartoff-Winkler Productions

#6. Raging Bull (1980)

- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Votes: 292,918
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 129 min

Scorsese pulls no punches in his depiction of boxer Jake LaMotta (played by Robert De Niro), juxtaposing brutal bouts in the ring with equally brutal episodes of domestic violence. Despite its gritty edge and harsh characterization, the film’s new wave sensibilities lend it an underflow of poetic grace. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning for Best Actor and Best Editing.

21 / 25
Universal Pictures

#5. Casino (1995)

- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Votes: 420,381
- Metascore: 73
- Runtime: 178 min

A companion piece to 1990’s “Goodfellas,” this ambitious drama chronicles the rise and fall of mob-fronted casino boss Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal (Robert De Niro). Over the course of nearly three hours, Scorsese weaves a vivid tale of greed and betrayal between Rosenthal and his two closest companions (Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci). The real-life Frank Rosenthal only saw the movie once and reportedly didn’t like it, citing somewhat trivial inaccuracies. 

22 / 25
Paramount Pictures

#4. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Votes: 1,055,793
- Metascore: 75
- Runtime: 180 min

The exploits of Wall Street conman Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) provide the basis for this biting satire, which leaves no stylistic stone unturned. It also represents a brilliant pivot for Scorsese, who strays from mobster violence to focus on a different kind of corruption. DiCaprio and Jonah Hill deliver some of the best performances of their careers, while the real-life Belfort makes a brief cameo.

23 / 25
Columbia Pictures

#3. Taxi Driver (1976)

- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Votes: 648,839
- Metascore: 94
- Runtime: 114 min

Movies like “Mean Streets” might have introduced Scorsese as a singular voice, but it was this twisted drama that certified him as one of Hollywood’s foremost auteurs. Robert De Niro tackles the role of NYC cab driver Travis Bickle, whose mounting misanthropy develops into something far more dangerous. Scorsese appears in a rare speaking guest role, plotting the murder of his wife while sitting in the back of Bickle’s cab. 

24 / 25
Warner Bros.

#2. The Departed (2006)

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Votes: 1,092,454
- Metascore: 85
- Runtime: 151 min

Scorsese won a long-overdue Oscar for this Boston-based crime epic, in which a cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) and criminal (Matt Damon) go undercover on opposite sides of the law. Bringing the story to life is a cast of A-list talent along with the director’s most identifiable trademarks. While based on the 2002 Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs,” Scorsese insisted that “The Departed” was too different to qualify as a remake

25 / 25
Warner Bros.

#1. Goodfellas (1990)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 921,855
- Metascore: 89
- Runtime: 146 min

Scorsese’s most quintessential (and influential) work is also his best, according to pretty much anyone who knows anything about cinema. Chronicling three decades of life in the mafia, it tells the fact-based story of gangster Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta). Everything that the director is best-known for—from the narrative devices to the fully realized set pieces to the unforgettable characters to the incredible music—is here on full display.

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