Ranking Every Martin Scorsese Film To Determine Which Is Best Once And For All

As one of the most iconic director's in film history, Martin Scorsese has quite an impressive catalog.

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From Raging Bull to Taxi Driver to Goodfellas, some of his movies will go down as the greatest of all time. But...not all of them. So from the absolute best to the bottom of the barrel, these are Martin Scorsese's movies, ranked.

33.Boxcar Bertha (1972)

Barbara Hershey looks straight at the camera

When we talk about the "worst" of Scorsese, it's still a pretty decent movie. Boxcar Bertha isn't an awful film, featuring a great performance by Barbara Hershey. But Scorsese, a young director at the time, had to contend with a lot of outside influence from people like Roger Corman (who produced it). So in the end, Boxcar Bertha feels more like a warmup for Scorsese than a full-fledged picture of his own.

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32.American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince (1978)

Steven Prince talks to people in a living room

Similar to Italianamerican, which we'll see later in this list, American Boy deals a lot with what it means to be an immigrant. People may recognize Steven Prince as the gun salesman from another Scorsese movie, Taxi Driver. Prince is certainly a charismatic figure, but Scorsese mostly records him telling stories rather than diving deep like he goes on to do with Public Speaking.

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31.New York, New York (1977)

Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro in a scene

I know, how could a movie starring Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro be so low on this list? The two leads are definitely the best part of this movie (the music is also fantastic), but New York, New York is more of a nostalgic journey into the past than a movie with an airtight plot.

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30.Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967)

Harvey Keitel talks to Zina Bethune

Michael Sragow of The New Yorker marks Who's That Knocking at My Door as the first exploration of Italian-Americans that Scorsese would go on to refine with Mean Streets and later Goodfellas. So like a lot of his early work, Who's That Knocking at My Door works well enough, but it's outperformed by Scorsese's later movies.

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29.Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

Nicolas Cage wears a paramedic's uniform

Bringing Out the Dead marked the last collaboration between Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader (so far). Schrader wrote Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ, but Bringing Out the Dead doesn't reach the same highs those other movies do. The stakes never feel too high, and the tone is not as consistent as something like The Wolf of Wall Street. That being said, the stellar cast makes it well worth a watch.

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28.The 50 Year Argument (2014)

A woman sits in a chair with sunglasses on

This HBO documentary is all about the New York Review of Books (NYRB), which is one of those things you don't really think about until someone makes a documentary about it. For example, how has the NYRB managed to retain its identity amid print media's steady disappearance? Still, a common criticism of The 50 Year Argument is that it feels a tad too much like an advertisement for NYRB rather than a thorough exploration.

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27.Kundun (1997)

A young boy smiles and waves

Kundun is based on the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. People praised this movie for being respectful of Tibetan spirituality, being shot beautifully (legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins was behind the camera), and being scored wonderfully (Philip Glass composed the score). What Kundun lacks, though, is drama. Not too much happens, but it is beautiful to take in.

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26.Italianamerican (1974)

Martin Scorsese's parents sit on a couch

Many people have compared Italianamerican to opening up a scrapbook. In a family photo album, you see plenty of candid shots as family members casually do chores, go on trips, or simply have a good time with each other. Scorsese films his parents in this documentary, and he captures the same familiarity, love, and casualness you'd expect to find in a scrapbook. For Scorsese's family, in particular, there is also much talk of being Italian in America and tracing their ancestry back to Sicily.

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25.The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Willem Dafoe as Jesus of Nazareth

This film was plenty controversial when it came out, as some were worried Jesus would be reduced to some dramatic Hollywood caricature. But Scorsese and Paul Schrader (the writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) took the characters they were portraying seriously and painted Jesus as a man just as much as he was Christ. Though at nearly three hours, the movie doesn't quite justify its own length.

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24.Silence (2016)

Andrew Garfield steps onto a beach surrounded by other men

"Silence" is the perfect title for this long, drawn out drama about priests and religion. It's a powerful story about faith versus doubt (and more reigned in than The Last Temptation of Christ), but it remains a slow burn throughout and doesn't pack the punch you'd expect from Martin Scorsese.

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23.Rolling Thunder Revue (2019)

Bob Dylan plays at a piano

This documentary is less of a "Scorsese picture" and more of a collaboration between the director and Bob Dylan. Rolling Thunder Revue follows Dylan on a 57-date tour across the US and Canada in 1975, but it's not the straightforward and fully transparent documentary style we're all used to. Rolling Thunder Revue incorporates footage from a Bob Dylan film (Renaldo and Clara) about the same tour, so some of the people interviewed are actually actors playing characters. But if you can get past the fact that this documentary isn't all, well, facts, then it's at least an immersive experience full of passion.

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22.The Color of Money (1986)

Paul Newman and Tom Cruise shoot pool

This film isn't directly a sequel (but is pretty much a sequel) to the 1961 movie, The Hustler. Paul Newman plays the exact same character, a pool hustler who isn't at the top of his game anymore. Being a not-quite-sequel-but-pretty-much-a-sequel, The Color of Money deals a lot with storytelling conventions and what audiences expect from their movies. And like plenty of great movies, it's got an ending that some will love and others will hate.

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21.Public Speaking (2010)

Fran Lebowitz speaks at a podium

"People are not allowed to interrupt because it's not a conversation." Fran Lebowitz is a writer and public speaker who is at the center of this documentary. Because she does not like to be interrupted, this film is pretty one-note: Fran Lebowitz talks for an hour and some change. That said, she's a captivating and insightful subject who is, as she puts it, "always right because [she's] never fair."

This documentary also has a spiritual sequel called Pretend It's A City on Netflix.

HBO / youtube.com

20.Shutter Island (2010)

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If there's one feeling that you can feel in every frame of Shutter Island, it's tension. Sometimes there's horror, or sadness, or revulsion, but you can never really shake the feeling that something worse is surely around the corner. I'm curious if this movie would change positions on this list if I watched it a second time, knowing how it ends. As it stands, I feel that Shutter Island is well put together, if not doing too much.

19.The Age of Innocence (1993)

Michelle Pfeiffer talks to Daniel Day-Lewis in a scene

Based on Edith Wharton's 1920 book of the same name, The Age of Innocence is about a man who is engaged to a woman but instead falls in love with her married cousin. As you'd expect from a period piece, it's beautiful in its sets (production design by Dante Ferretti), wardrobe (costume design by Gabriella Pescucci), and hair styling (the hair designer was Alan D'Angerio). It's a pretty movie that never fully gets going, but still largely succeeds.

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18.Hugo (2011)

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Hugo is a movie that feels so well-polished and pristine that, to me, it starts to tip the scales into feeling a bit bland. Perhaps Hugo would rank higher on this list if Scorsese ditched the childhood narrative of the movie and went full-fledged biopic. But even though Hugo may not be for me, I can admit that it is a beautiful love letter to one of the founding figures in filmmaking, Georges Méliès.

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

Ellen Burstyn wears a waitress's uniform and carries a tray

A movie that got its lead, Ellen Burstyn, an Oscar for Best Actress, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is a quiet movie about contentment and looking back on childhood dreams as an adult. Some things about the plot happen a little too conveniently, but overall it's made up of tightly constructed scenes and top-tier acting.

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16.Cape Fear (1991)

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Just because Scorsese is capable of making deep, thought-provoking character studies don't mean every movie has to be layered with subtext and worthy of a film school lecture. Cape Fear is often criticized as being more style than substance, with Scorsese pulling out all of his flair on a pretty thin script. But he brings the flourishes and De Niro pulls off the insane Max Cady for a fun thriller.

15.The King of Comedy (1982)

Robert De Niro tells jokes to a mural of laughing people

The King of Comedy is a departure for Scorsese, as it doesn't have the same kinetic feel as many of his other movies (in terms of camera movement, tone, and plot). The movie keeps building towards a climax that feels like it never comes, and yet I would disagree with someone who called this a bad movie. But still, The King of Comedy is full of an energy that you can't quite call funny (the characters seem more full of rage than laughs) or even charismatic. Weirdly enough, the thing that makes the most sense about The King of Comedy is that it inspired Todd Phillips' The Joker.

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14.Gangs of New York (2002)

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As we get into Scorsese's best movies, we have to deal with an issue that a lot of artists face: when their newer work is compared to the greatest hits. As Roger Ebert puts it, "Scorsese is probably our greatest active American director, and he has given us so many masterpieces that this film, which from another director would be a triumph, arrives as a more measured accomplishment." Gangs of New York has a lot of fantastic elements, but it doesn't have the same momentum that some of his masterpieces do.

13.The Irishman (2019)

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It's hard to watch The Irishman as a film on its own, and not a look back at Scorsese's prior films. As these mobsters get older and reflect, so is Scorsese looking back on the gangster flicks of his past. But as both a reflection of his catalog and a film on its own, The Irishman is Scorsese doing what he does best. Balancing a political plot with personal relationships, suspense with heartbreak, it's firing on all cylinders.

12.George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)

George Harrison smiles

If you've got a spare three and a half hours, you could go with The Irishman or another Scorsese epic: the extensive biography of George Harrison. Now that we're living in a world where Peter Jackson has essentially created an eight-hour Beatle documentary (Get Back), it may seem absurd that I'd say this breezy three-and-a-half-hour documentary is too long. But I do think there's some room to tighten up this doc, if only because the sections in which Scorsese is fully focused on Harrison are so riveting.

HBO / youtube.com

11.A Letter to Elia (2010)

Martin Scorsese talks to the camera in an office

This documentary is dedicated to filmmaker Elia Kazan, who directed A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, and East of Eden, among other classics. He's especially beloved for his work with actors, getting incredible performances from people like Marlon Brando and James Dean.

He's also known for testifying before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and contributing names to the Hollywood blacklist. But Scorsese made A Letter to Elia to focus on the filmmaker himself, and the enduring contributions he made to the medium.

Fox / youtube.com

10.After Hours (1985)

A woman smokes while laying on her side

One of Scorsese's often-overlooked movies, After Hours has the same problem as Gangs of New York: we expect the best of the best from Scorsese. But while I feel that Gangs of New York could be better because I know how good Scorsese can be, I think that After Hours is a wonderful movie that is judged harshly because people expect "more" from Scorsese. It's the same problem of judging the film outside of its own merits, I know, but if you haven't watched After Hours you really should.

Similar to Cape Fear, it won't shake you to your core or make you view the world in a different way. But it also isn't trying to do those things. The movie is telling its small, black comedy story in the best way it can be told.

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9.The Aviator (2004)

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Howard Hughes passed in 1976, but The Aviator only takes us up to 1947. It's already a pretty long movie, so it was smart of Scorsese to not try to overwhelm us with the man's whole life. But it does result in my only real issue with the movie: it doesn't feel resolved by the end.

The best parts of this film are when we truly get a sense of Hughes' near-animalistic lust for life, speed, and thrills, but we expect that to come to some sort of fruition, whether good or bad. But life doesn't work like the movies. As a pure retelling of the tycoon's life, The Aviator is as larger-than-life as Howard Hughes.

8.Casino (1995)

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Casino is based on the true story of a man who ran casinos for the mob. Feeling partly like a documentary, Casino spends a lot of time explaining the movie's world to you, similar to Goodfellas. But like a game in Vegas, the rules have to be established so that we know when things are about to take a turn for the worst.

Casino is the type of movie Scorsese loves making, and for good reason. The suspense, dread, and certainty that it's got to come crashing down at some point keep you hooked until the very end.

7.The Departed (2006)

closeup of Leo DiCaprio

Similar to Casino, The Departed deals with the modern mob. It was inspired by the 2002 movie, Infernal Affairs, and features a star-studded cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Vera Farmiga. In Hugo, I talked about how too much precision can lead to a movie feeling more sterile than engrossing, but The Departed is the perfect blend of technical precision and spontaneity that pulls me into the world and keeps me there.

©Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

6.Mean Streets (1973)

Harvey Keitel covers his eyes and smiles

Movies like Casino or Goodfellas can make us think that the mob is full of glitz, glam, and that our most expensive dreams coming true. That's why The Wolf of Wall Street feels like such a mob movie. But Mean Streets isn't concerned with the mob's appeal.

This is a gritty, grimy, and aggressive depiction of the streets and the guilt people can feel over their crimes. It was a debut of sorts for Scorsese, considering Boxcar Bertha (which came out one year prior) was so influenced by its producer. It also introduced Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel to wider audiences.

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5.My Voyage to Italy (1999)

Anita Ekberg steps off a plane in La Dolce Vita

With Italianamerican and Public Speaking, we've seen how Scorsese doesn't like to make a documentary that simply explains concepts to us like he's reading them off a teleprompter. Scorsese's love letter to Italian cinema, My Voyage to Italy is a heartfelt and vulnerable exploration of not just what these movies mean for the medium, but also to Scorsese as a person.

Scorsese has often said he was obsessed with movies as a kid, and you see in My Voyage to Italy how he interprets and contextualizes his own experiences through cinema. If Italianamerican is a family scrapbook, My Voyage to Italy is like sitting down with Scorsese over a beer and having an extremely one-sided conversation.

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4.The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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For Gangs of New York (#15), I argued that that film didn't quite have the momentum of some of Scorsese's better movies. This is one of the films I had in mind. Some will call it recency bias that this one is so high on the list, but The Wolf of Wall Street is a three-hour movie that, like its main character, rarely slows down to catch its breath.

The biggest knock on this movie is that it's just "Goodfellas meets Wall Street," and that's valid. There are no consequences for all the greed, and anytime there's a brush with real emotion (such as Cristin Milioti's character being cheated on), it's quickly swept away. Because that's what it takes to be The Wolf, and the movie is a masterclass in showing and not telling us what it's about.

3.Taxi Driver (1976)

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To me, it's impossible to think of Taxi Driver without picturing that opening title sequence. The cab lurching forward from the smoke, close-ups of Travis Bickle's bleary eyes bathed in neon light, taking in the rain-spattered streets of New York. We never get a clear image of New York in those opening shots because Scorsese isn't showing us the city — Travis Bickle is the real focus.

And as we follow Travis throughout the movie and things never get better, we keep wanting to look away but are never given the chance. But it's such a successful movie because it so thoroughly explores the character of Travis Bickle and his struggle with the harsh realities of life. When he says "I'm only one here" in the famous "You talkin' to me?" speech, you can feel he might believe it in more ways than one.

2.Raging Bull (1980)

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Another one of Scorsese's "tortured masculinity" flicks, Raging Bull and its main character are tough to defend in 2022. Robert De Niro's Jake La Motta is not likable and you do not want to root for him. He's a misogynist, solely driven by winning, extremely jealous, and prone to violent outbursts.

Just like Taxi Driver, this is a grim movie that, at times, you want to look away from. And while it's the city defeats Travis Bickle, Jake La Motta damns himself to a cycle of rage and outbursts that will never end. It may be an ugly study, but it's one that is as well-acted, well-told, and well-shot as any of Scorsese's greatest films.

1.Goodfellas (1990)

Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, and Robert De Niro

These top three picks (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas) won't surprise anyone, but the fact that they are continually chosen as Scorsese's best films proves how well they've stood the test of time.

If the biggest knocks on Taxi Driver and Raging Bull (besides all the political incorrectness they are laced with) are that they have main characters who are hard to watch, Goodfellas does not suffer from this same problem.

Ray Liotta's Henry Hill does a lot of despicable things, but he is far more sympathetic and charming than Jake La Motta or Travis Bickle. Maybe this is partly due to the fact that we're introduced to the character of Henry Hill as a young boy, desperate to fit in with the gangsters. But even before that, the very first scene of the movie shows us that Hill has trepidations about killing a man in cold blood.

But what about when he goes down the rabbit hole, addicted to drugs, cheating on and hitting his wife, putting everything in danger? Goodfellas has a saving grace that Taxi Driver and Raging Bull do not have: Lorraine Bracco's character Karen. She is a complex character who struggles with her own attraction to Hill's criminal tendencies, though still challenges him when he strays too far.

Goodfellas is similar to a lot of other Scorsese movies (and vice versa), but none are as well-balanced and cohesive as this.

©Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection
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