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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9. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Last Temptation

Jesus Christ was a man. He struggled. He fought desire. He fought sin. Scorsese dared to imagine the humanity of Christ as considered through Nikos Kazantzakis’ already controversial novel. To do this, he did not hire typical biblical faces, nor did he trap them to historical or theatrical language. No. He got his guys for the roles. He put words in their mouths that he could envision coming from the people around him. The Last Temptation of Christ places iconic characters on a plain of relatability. That’s the job of cinema. Jesus Christ was a man. Scorsese only wanted you to think of him on those terms and remove him away from those cemented expressions we see staring out from paintings and crucifixes. (Brad Gullickson)


8. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Wolf Of Wall Street Article

Jordan Belfort is a monster, but dang, Leonardo DiCaprio sure does portray him as one helluva captivating beast. The Wolf of Wall Street is not a party movie even if many seem to take it as such. The Wolf of Wall Street is the den of sin that erupted around the golden calf, and we’re meant to be Moses looking aghast from atop Mount Sinai. There’s only one problem: Americans thrive on our desire to be a part of the raucous inequity, and the highs of Belfort’s nightmare lifestyle are so high that it’s easy for us to ignore the seemingly bottomless lows. Those lows, by the way, hit, but there’s another high to climb. So, what’s the punishment for a creature such as this one? None. Capitalism, yo. Burn, baby, burn. (Brad Gullickson)


7. The King of Comedy (1982)

King Of Comedy Article

The cringe-worthy tale of desperate comedian wannabe Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) and partner-in-crime Masha (Sandra Bernhard as an obsessive that bridges the generational gap between Beatles mania and stan culture) is one of Scorsese’s most bizarre and disturbing works. The film bewildered audiences upon release in 1982, most thinking they had a good grasp on the scope of Scorsese and De Niro’s collaborations before it dropped. They didn’t expect to meet a carking, maniacal, debased man tractor-beamed into his own false reality, so hinged on success in a field he can’t excel in that he’d be willing to kidnap his comic icon (played by Jerry Lewis) and hold him hostage. And Pupkin does it all with the flashy, confident grin of a talk show host, adding layers of sociopathy that will simultaneously crawl under your skin and keep you glued to the screen. Scorsese said he “felt it was De Niro’s best performance ever,” but thought the two had reached their limits at the time, adding that it might’ve been the reason the two didn’t work together for seven years after it was finished. (Luke Hicks)


6. The Departed (2005)

The Departed Article

The criminal underworld is a common focus of Scorsese’s films, but he rarely explores the other side of the coin with the authorities seeking to bring the bad men to justice. The Departed, a remake of 2002’s equally excellent Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, is a big, captivating, and grimly fun tale of morality, moles, and the muddled waters of loyalty. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon are fantastic as competing entities — one is an undercover cop infiltrating a local mob organization, and the other is a mobster mole who’s weaseled his way into becoming a cop — and the cast’s brilliance only grows from there with memorable turns by Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone, and many more. Scorsese’s choice to end the film on an actual rat is a cheeky one, but while it leaves some viewers cold I’d argue it fits the humor and impudent nature of all that comes before. While it’s not a comedy, the film has fun with its characters and their trickery making for an entertaining watch that, while it may lack the heaviness of many of the filmmaker’s work, still hits hard when necessary. Many of Scorsese’s best films are somber and serious affairs, usually befitting their subject matter, but The Departed shows a director more than capable of delivering genre fare with energy, personality, and real oomph. It remains one of his best because of it. (Rob Hunter)


5. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Alice Doesn'tarticle

Anyone who thinks Scorsese doesn’t have an interest in or a care for female characters needs to wise up and watch his first masterpiece. Led by an impeccable performance from Ellen Burstyn, the film follows Alice, a recently widowed single mom with ambitions of becoming a singer if she can just make it back to her hometown in California. As the journeys west from New Mexico, Alice experiences a series of setbacks that cause her to question what she’s willing to compromise and what it would take for her to settle. It’s a beautifully empathetic film that is finely tuned to the complicated and often emotionally conflicting experiences of motherhood, romantic relationships, and, put simply, being a woman in the world. (Anna Swanson)


4. The Irishman (2019)

The Irishman Article

The Irishman is the type of movie that only a master could make after decades of experience and personal reflection. This is Scorsese’s elegiac farewell to the gangster epics that made him a household name, but beneath the surface is a profoundly human story about growing old, pain and loss. The story is based on the real-life crime case involving Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and their mob connections. But the film is a summation of Scorsese’s career and all of the themes and ideas that he’s been fascinated with, only, in this case, it’s told from the perspective of a filmmaker who’s contemplating his own mortality. For a movie about ruthless criminals, The Irishman is actually very moving. De Niro, Pacino, and Joe Pesci deliver some of the best performances of their careers, and the film is a powerful reminder that these veteran actors haven’t lost their spark. (Kieran Fisher)


3. Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver Article

Taxi Driver is a film so shockingly brilliant and assaultively powerful that it’s hard to believe it exists at all. It’s often heralded as one of the greatest films of all time, and with good reason. As the film tracks Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) through his nighttime exploits driving a cab through New York, encountering everyone from presidential-hopefuls to pimps, Taxi Driver utilizes every tool available to create a singularly unnerving and revelatory experience. From Bernard Hermann’s impeccable score to Paul Schrader’s airtight script, Taxi Driver is a testament to artistic collaboration, but it’s also crystal clear in every frame that Scorsese’s work is the glue that holds everything together. Working in tandem with De Niro’s deservedly legendary performance, Scorsese’s spellbinding compositions and gripping tracking shots are never simple flourishes, they’re the choices of a master who knows how to draw us into Travis’s perverse world of moral and social decay. Taxi Driver is as bold and uncompromising as they come, a film as deeply of its moment as it is timeless, and a groundbreaking masterpiece that only Scorsese could have pulled off. (Anna Swanson)


2. Goodfellas (1990)

Goodfellas Article

This retelling of the rise and fall of real-life wiseguy Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is the best organized crime movie ever made. Goodfellas is a whirlwind of emotions, the type of gangster flick that makes the life of crime look simultaneously glamorous and horrifying. The film forces us to spend two and a half breezy hours with objectively evil people who oscillate between being lovable and detestable. But that’s the point: Goodfellas highlights how the dark side can be alluring, but at the end of the day, it will chew you up and spit you out. All of Scorsese’s crime pictures are morality tales, but never has cinema about immoral characters been as entertaining as it is here. (Kieran Fisher)


1. After Hours (1985)

After Hours Article

Some grumbling towards our number one pick is to be expected, both because people like to complain and because this is far from Scorsese’s most beloved and acclaimed epics. At 97 minutes it’s his third shortest narrative feature after only Who’s That Knocking at My Door and Boxcar Bertha, and unlike the bulk of his films, it’s not telling a grand tale of crime, power, and ambition. There are no mythical figures here either, real (Raging Bull) or imaginary (The Last Temptation of Christ), but enough of what it isn’t — let’s focus on what it is.

After Hours is a goddamn masterpiece. A terrifically funny black comedy with a killer cast (including Griffin Dunne, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara, Rosanna Arquette, Teri Garr, Linda Fiorentino, Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Will Patton, and Dick Miller), it’s a snapshot of an everyman having the worst night of his life. Most of us will never be a mobster, a millionaire, or a murderer, but we’ve most likely experienced the everyday injustices of life’s mischievous and malevolent sense of humor, and it’s in that corner of cinema where After Hours applies inordinate pressure on a simple man who only wants to go home. Immense pressure can create diamonds, though, and that’s what we get here. It’s as sharp a film as Scorsese has ever made and still cuts with a Kafka-branded razor as it pits one poor schmuck against an indifferent but ornery universe. After Hours may not be Scorsese’s only masterpiece, but it’s the one we believe lands on top. (Rob Hunter)

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