The Movies Directed By Martin Scorsese, Ranked

The One Perfect Shot team ranks the films of one of American cinema's finest directors.

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18. Hugo (2011)

Hugo Article

Hugo is a film that enables parents to introduce their children to Scorsese without having to grapple with the “do I show this young, impressionable sponge R-rated content?” dilemma and by virtue of that alone, it is net good. Additionally, it’s basically one of the fundamental laws of movies that every auteur will feel, at least once in their career, compelled to make a movie about movies. Scorsese is no exception, but when he felt this call he answered with a film that is not about a chauvinistic filmmaker going through a mid-life crisis. And this is emblematic of why he’s an MVP because we already have 8 1/2 and like 5,000 others. Also, he cast Ben Kingsley as Georges Melies, which is wonderfully wholesome. Scorsese’s one kid-friendly film is also his one foray into 3D, because he’s the sort of open-minded guy who will try almost anything at least once in the name of cinema, from digital to CGI de-aging, neither a die-hard old-school purist or a neophile who swears allegiance to the latest frontiers of the digital revolution, but a happy middle ground. There are few of Scorsese’s usual trademarks to be found here, which is understandable considering his usual trademarks are overwhelmingly not what one would call “kid-friendly.” No one walks out of Taxi Driver thinking “that guy should make a kids’ movie,” but Scorsese did, and it’s a damn fine one, which if you’ve seen most other kids’ movies you know is a significant accomplishment. Hugo might not be at the top of most Scorsese connoisseurs’ lists, but it’s the ultimate demonstration of the filmmaker’s range and a quality piece of children’s entertainment. In the words of my mother after I told her I was writing about Hugo, “oh, that was a cute movie, I liked that one.” (Ciara Wardlow)


17. Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull Ropes

Raging Bull is a biopic about Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a self-destructive boxer whose rage, jealousy, and personal demons destroyed his family and career. However, this bleak character study of a troubled real-life figure is one of Scorsese’s most personal movies. Despite an initial reluctance to direct the film, Scorsese eventually came around to the idea after relating to LaMotta’s story. At the time, the director was suffering from a cocaine addiction and fighting to save his career, like a fighter in the ring, striving to overcome the odds. Raging Bull is a cinematic therapy at its most honest and raw, and it’s a film that helped Scorsese come back from the brink. (Kieran Fisher)


16. Mean Streets (1973)

Mean Streets Article

Of course a Scorsese hangout movie is also brutal and devastating. Inspired by the always blunt John Cassavetes telling him that Boxcar Bertha was “a piece of shit,” Scorsese decided to make Mean Streets, a film inspired by his own experiences in New York. His affection for the place and the people is palpable as Scorsese’s meandering narrative follows the exploits of Charlie (Harvey Keitel), a well-meaning low-level mobster whose primary concern is keeping his hot-headed friend Johnny (Robert De Niro) out of the trouble he continually causes for himself. Charlie feels conflicted between the ideals of his religion and the actions he takes to make it through each week, and while Scorsese would go on to refine these themes in his career, Mean Streets demonstrates that these impulses — not to mention talents — were present early-on. (Anna Swanson)


15. Casino (1995)

Casino Article

Casino‘s only sin is that it’s not Goodfellas. Remove the rise and fall of Henry Hill from Scorsese’s filmography, and we would probably hail Casino as a masterpiece of epic gangster storytelling right up next to The Godfathers (no, not III, never III). Casino feels like a genuine peek behind the criminal enterprise that built Las Vegas and operates more like a tell-all than a relatable drama of greed run amuck. Scorsese erects a grand sweeping saga of a man with an IN on a city on the rise. Through tactical charm and charisma, Robert De Niro’s Sam Rothstein navigates his way to the tippy top of a mountain of cash. The stack of money may be built on a pile of meat and bones, but that makes its spending all the sweeter. (Brad Gullickson)


14. The Age of Innocence (1993)

The Age Of Innocence Article

Based on Edith Wharton’s novel of the same name, this historical drama chronicles love and social etiquette among the upper-class denizens of 19th century New York. Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a promising lawyer who is set to marry May Welland (Winona Ryder). However, when May’s shunned cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), returns to the city after her relationship with a Polish count falls apart, the lawyer finds himself drawn to her. The Age of Innocence is an excellent movie about frustrated love and the pressures of keeping up appearances, spearheaded by top-notch performances and boasting some of the finest cinematography in Scorsese’s entire filmography. (Kieran Fisher)


13. The Aviator (2004)

The Aviator Articlr

What separates passion from madness? The question rears itself over and over again in Scorsese’s work. Clearly, the director is concerned about his own obsession. In The Aviator, he’s able to probe the thought while also championing the great artists and works of cinema that fueled his childhood. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes is a terror, but he brings heaps of pain into such an intimidating character that he’s impossible not drape with some form of empathy. You recognize his ache. You’ve felt it yourself. Hughes was a tyrant, but the venom spits from fixation and a desire to live up to the dreams in his head. When he achieves such a demand, he is glorious. When he fails, he is utterly pathetic. (Brad Gullickson)


12. Cape Fear (1991)

Cape Fear

Ok. So, we’re going to remake Cape Fear. Fine. Let’s do it, but if we’re going to do it, then we’re going to do it in a way that is true to the first film’s spirit, but delivers in areas that the original filmmakers couldn’t possibly imagine. Scorsese’s Cape Fear is a mean, ugly bastard of a movie. Robert De Niro signs up to play the maniac, and he delivers a character unlike any other he’s portrayed before. There are moments in this film where he’s legitimately hard to look at. He’s not a mysterious boogeyman. He’s one of those killers you see staring out at you from America’s Most Wanted. He’s evil in a way that only a human could possibly achieve. He’s the sin we all bear when we ignore the truth and chase selfish wants. He’s a product of our society and our hypocritical pursuits. He’s the death we deserve. Cape Fear is a thriller. Is it a fun one? No. It’s a regurgitative bath in which we stew. Get me the hell outta here. (Brad Gullickson)


11. Silence (2016)

Silence Crucifixtion Article

Scorsese’s second epic-scale crisis of Catholic faith doubles down on the metaphysical angst of The Last Temptation of Christ but switches to a minor key. Instead of going the hugely controversial route of reimagining the gospel with a far more fallible version of Jesus than traditionally advertised, Silence looks to Catholic history of the early modern period and Shüsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name for inspiration. A passion project of Scorcese’s that languished in development hell for several decades before finally coming to fruition, the tale of two young Jesuit missionaries, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), who feel called to serve in Japan despite the ongoing persecution of Christians by the Tokugawa shogunate definitely benefited from its lengthy gestation period. It’s a strong gin and tonic to Last Temptation’s Molotov cocktail; it doesn’t explode on impact but you’ll feel it later. Both approaches are valid, and each has its pros and cons, but ultimately Silence very much comes across as the latter work of the two, as the work of an older and more measured filmmaker.

It’s a crisis of faith film, but the crisis moves beyond questioning God’s wisdom and basic existence to a range of moral, ethical, and political questions highly pertinent to Christian history. Questions like, what is the relationship between evangelization and colonization? And what responsibility do evangelizers have to their converts, when conversion puts them on a path towards mortal danger? Martyring one’s self is one thing, after all, but shepherding souls towards terrible slaughter is another. Silence is the sort of film that asks tough questions and takes the time to unravel their complexities without doing these questions, and viewers, the foolhardy disservice of trying to answer them. It’s a truly mature, self-possessed work that doesn’t hold your hand or beg for your eyeballs with needless bells and whistles. It trusts that the worthy audience will be able to sit patiently and trust that they’re in good hands. And they are. Silence is the sort of film that feels longer than 161 minutes has any right to but also lingers in your mind long after the credits roll. (Ciara Wardlow)


10. Kundun (1997)

Kundun

We failed Kundun. We initially dismissed the film as little more than another entry in Hollywood’s ’90s infatuation with the plight of Tibet. Guys, do not treat this movie like that other politically minded and rather limp Brad Pitt effort that was released mere months earlier. Kundun is not Seven Years in Tibet, dammit. Scorsese pushed himself out of his comfort zone to explore the contents of a purely compassionate soul. Such strength takes work. Such knowledge takes time. Scorsese languishes in the life of the 14th Dali Lama and considers the nurture and the nature that brought him into being. The film is a gorgeous and considered work of human contemplation. Not a Hollywood vanity project. (Brad Gullickson)


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