There are few directors working today that have truly earned the title of legendary. One such maestro of cinematic arts is Martin Scorsese. Scorsese’s fingerprint on the world of film can not be ignored. He has a wide variety of films ranging from crime dramas to modern animated classics. What is so great about Scorsese’s movies is that his catalog has something for everyone. Today, we look at ten of the absolute best Martin Scorsese movies.
1. The Aviator (2004)
The life of eccentric billionaire and director Howard Hughes was…interesting to say the least. This Scorsese movie brings that tale to the big screen and introduces the audience to the man behind the mayhem. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hughes, an aviation tycoon and director who has a favorable public image. In private, he suffers from his demons in a way only he can. This is where the film truly shines in both acting and direction. Hughes was far from perfect, and this film shows his many flaws just as much, if not more, than his genius. As with any biopic, a lot was fabricated for the sake of entertainment. The most bizarre things, however, are all facts.
2. Casino (1995)
It seems when Martin Scorsese adapts a book by true crime author Nicolas Pileggi, a masterpiece is sure to be the outcome. This is the case with Casino starring one of the best Martin Scorsese collaborators, Robert DeNiro. The movie, again based on a book by Pileggi, details two men who are sent to Las Vegas by the mob to run a casino. As is typical with Scorsese’s mob movies, Casino is thrilling and dramatic with a slight splash of humor. By this film’s release, Scorsese was a pro in the genre. Add DeNiro and Joe Pesci into the mix, and it is no surprise why this is one of the best Scorsese has to offer.
3. Raging Bull (1980)
When thinking about great boxing dramas, many filmgoers may think of the Sylvester Stallone-led Rocky series. Everyone else will undoubtedly think of the Scorsese movie Raging Bull. The movie is a true story based on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta. Like The Aviator, this film is not afraid to show the dark, unappealing side of its subject. Jake Lamotta was a flawed man, and Raging Bull does not shy away from putting them on full display. Robert DeNiro is, unsurprisingly, phenomenal in the role. Martin Scorsese knows how to use the legendary actor, and when they collaborate, the result is nothing short of magical. The movie is in black and white, adding to the gritty nature of the subject matter.
4. The Departed (2006)
It likely isn’t a coincidence that many of the best Martin Scorsese movies are crime dramas. This is where Scorsese shines, and The Departed is no exception. The film follows a young Boston cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he goes undercover in a gang led by Frank Castello (Jack Nicholson). Meanwhile, a member of the gang (Matt Damon) goes undercover in the police force and reports back to Frank. What follows is a thrilling game of cat and mouse as each party attempt to sniff out the moles. The movie is a masterclass in how to properly direct a thriller. The audience is firmly planted on the edge of their seat from the beginning, and that is where they stay until the end credits roll.
5. Taxi Driver (1976)
One of the darkest and most disturbing Martin Scorcese movies is the Robert DeNiro-led Taxi Driver. This incredible character study helped make Scorsese and DeNiro household names. The film follows a Vietnam vet named Travis Bickle, who moonlights as a taxi driver. He patrols the streets of NYC and dreams of cleaning them up with his brand of vigilante justice. The entire movie is like a ticking time bomb, as the audience anxiously waits for Travis to give in to his violent urges. The film also stars a young Jodie Foster as a prostitute who befriends Bickle. Todd Phillips took inspiration from this film for Joker, so that should give audiences an idea of the tone of this movie.
6. The Irishman (2019)
The mob genre has all but died out in recent years. It is fitting that the first prominent genre film in years not only allows Martin Scorcese to do what he does best but also brings in some of the best actors of the genre. Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino all appear in the Martin Scorsese movie The Irishman. The movie is a true return to form, focusing more on character interactions than non-stop violence. DeNiro stars as Frank Sheeran, a hitman for Jimmy Hoffa played by Pacino. The movie takes place over several decades as Sheeran recounts his time in the mob. The de-aging in the film is top of the line, and some scenes could easily pass as a lost film from the olden days.
7. The King Of Comedy (1982)
Another Scorsese movie that has parallels to Joker is The King of Comedy. The film follows an unstable comedy fan and his obsession with a talk show host. This was the basis for the relationship between Arthur and Murray in Joker, only now the roles are reversed. Robert DeNiro plays the obsessed fan, while Jerry Lewis plays the talk show host. DeNiro’s character Rupert Pumpkin dreams of having a guest spot on Lewis’ show. When he doesn’t budge, Pumpkin kidnaps him and will only set him free for a guest spot. Unlike Joker, The King of Comedy is much more humorous and lighthearted. This film is just as much a celebration of Jerry Lewis as it is a showcase of DeNiro’s comedic talents. This is one of the most underrated yet best Martin Scorsese films.
8. Shutter Island (2010)
When the topic of mind-bending thrillers is discussed, Shutter Island will likely be brought up. This Martin Scorsese movie is much different than some of the director’s more grounded works. The film follows Leonardo DiCaprio as a U.S. Marshall sent to a mental asylum on a secluded island. He is there to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients, but he soon releases nothing is what it seems. This thriller is one of the best Martin Scorsese thrillers of all time and is responsible for having one of the most shocking twist endings.
9. Goodfellas (1990)
As stated before, Scorsese knows what he is doing when it comes to movies about the mob. To many, the best example of this is Goodfellas. Based on the Nicolas Pileggi book Wiseguys, Goodfellas follows real-life gangster Henry Hill played by Ray Liotta. Hill starts small and quickly rises through the ranks until he testifies against his fellow mob members. This Martin Scorsese movie is expertly crafted in every conceivable way. It is dark, funny, violent, and above all else, entertaining. Scorsese regulars Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci are present and arguably give their best Martin Scorsese performances here. When it comes to gangster movies, few compare to Goodfellas.
10. Cape Fear (1991)
Cape Fear takes everything that makes a great Scorsese thriller and mixes it to create a chilling thrill ride. The film follows attorney Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) as he and his family are stalked by one of his ex-clients, Max Cady (Robert DeNiro). Bowden knows how dangerous Caddy is, so he neglected to submit evidence that would have seen him go free. Caddy serves his time and tracks Bowden down for revenge. This movie is unnerving and tension-filled. It is hard to predict Caddy’s next move, and he keeps Bowden and the audience on edge. There are plenty of movies that are next to flawless, but Cape Fear is, to many, the best Martin Scorsese movie.