We all have different criteria for deciding what makes a director qualify as truly great. For some of us, they must have helmed X amount of movies that are considered classics. For others, longevity and relevance are the main factors. In some cases, it’s boasting a diverse and interesting filmography. When a filmmaker ticks all of these boxes, they’re the real deal.
Martin Scorsese has been making movies for over 50 years, and more than a handful of them are as widely regarded as undisputed masterpieces. His oeuvre encompasses various genres, and even his so-called lesser efforts are worthwhile. Scorsese is a master of his craft, and he’s still a vital force after all these years.
Ranking all of Scorsese’s narrative features was no easy task, but nothing in this life that’s worth doing ever is. However, the process was interesting and we learned that at least one person in our team feels positively about each movie. We debated all of these placements, and we’re happy with the end results.
With this in mind, here is the One Perfect Shot team’s ranking of the movies of Martin Scorsese.
25. Who’s That Knocking At My Door (1967)
Scorsese’s debut shows glimpses of the great director he’d go on to become, but as a whole, the film is a little rough around the edges. The story follows J.R. (Harvey Keitel), a young Italian-American Catholic man who passes his time by drinking with his friends and picking up girls. That is until he meets a seemingly sweet virgin whom he deems worthy enough to marry, only to later learn that she’s been “spoiled.” While the movie is far from perfect, Who’s Knocking At My Door is an interesting examination of the troubled masculinity and Catholic guilt themes that have been commonplace in Scorsese’s work ever since. (Kieran Fisher)
24. Boxcar Bertha (1972)
Prior to becoming one of the most legendary directors in the history of American cinema, Scorsese was a student of Roger Corman. Boxcar Bertha was Scorsese’s second directorial gig, and the project came about during a time when he was struggling to make his mark in the industry. Corman wanted to replicate the success of the female gangster film Bloody Mama, and he hired Scorsese for the job. The movie chronicles the titular train robber (Barbara Hershley) and her lover (David Carradine) as they try to evade the law while embarking on a crime spree. While the movie is far from original (Bonnie and Clyde is an obvious comparison), it is very entertaining, boasting solid direction, charismatic performances, and plenty of bleak violence. (Kieran Fisher)
23. New York, New York (1977)
Up until this musical starring Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro as a pair of musicians and lovers, Scorsese’s New York-based movies explored the grimy side of the city through a nihilistic lens. Compared to Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, New York, New York is an optimistic experience, but it’s far from a feel-good singalong. Here, the director tried to marry the colorfulness of 1940s musicals with gritty ‘70s realism, but the experiment proved to be an incoherent mess that’s both frustrating and fascinating. The movie was a critical and commercial flop upon release, but in hindsight, it’s a film that deserves more credit. The obvious flaws aside, there’s no denying the vision and ambition on display, which makes New York, New York a fun curiosity. (Kieran Fisher)
22. The Color of Money (1986)
Paul Newman won an Oscar for his performance in this sequel to The Hustler, but the movie won’t be remembered as Scorsese’s finest hour. Continuing the story of “Fast Eddie” Nelson (Newman) and his pool hustling exploits, The Color of Money is enjoyable entertainment, but it’s the only film in Scorsese’s oeuvre that feels like a director-for-hire gig. Scorsese’s career in the 1980s was at a commercial low point, and The Color of Money was necessary for him to get back into Hollywood’s good graces. The film was a success, and the director has been making passion projects ever since. That said, the fact that a mid-tier Scorsese movie still garnered some awards recognition is a testament to his ability to always deliver strong work. (Kieran Fisher)
21. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
Scorsese ended the ‘90s by returning to his scuzzy roots for this slice of Y2K-induced panic cinema, and it’s a gem. Directed from a script by Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader, who adapted the story from a Joe Connelly novel, Bringing Out the Dead follows a haunted paramedic (played by Nicolas Cage) through the streets of New York over the course of three nights as he loses control of his sanity. In many ways, Bringing Out the Dead is like the nuttier cousin of Taxi Driver, albeit with more pitch-black humor and nightmarish moments. (Kieran Fisher)
20. Gangs of New York (2002)
Gangs of New York was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and it’s an entertaining movie with plenty of elements deserving of praise. The period setting is sublime, and the story of Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his quest for revenge against the gang who killed his father (led by Daniel Day Lewis) is engrossing. But the movie falls short of being one of Scorsese’s best, mainly due to Cameron Diaz’s terrible Irish accent and the film’s inability to juggle its multitude of themes. Of course, the movie’s ambition can’t be faulted, and there are worse ways to spend three hours. At least one member of our team wanted to rank this one last on the list, but democracy was honored at the end of the day. (Kieran Fisher)
19. Shutter Island (2010)
Shutter Island is another one of those Scorsese flicks where Marty the Kid comes out to play. He just wants to make one of those wild corkers that thrilled him when he was an asthmatic child yearning to be anywhere other than his bedroom. Stealing Dennis Lehane’s novel and transforming it into a bonkers horror-noir determined to spin Hitchcock in his grave, Shutter Island screams from every frame, “LOOK AT ME!” The characters within are not humans. They’re movie people. If you’re feeling the same vibe as the director, then you’ll eat it all up. If you’re watching with an upturned nose, then go rent Goodfellas again, ok? (Brad Gullickson)