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Every Martin Scorsese Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best

From ‘The King of Comedy’ to ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ — we break down the greatest living filmmaker’s career from bottom to top

Martin Scorsese movies


WHEN MARTIN SCORSESE’S true-crime epic Killers of the Flower Moon hits theaters on Oct. 20, it will be just short of 50 years to the day when Mean Streets, the director’s breakthrough movie, opened in his hometown of New York City and announced a major new talent. Back then, he was part of a wave of young, movie-mad kids who wanted to turn Hollywood inside out and reinvent genres for a new era. Five decades later, Scorsese is now widely considered the greatest American filmmaker working today, as well as the torchbearer for keeping the concept of cinema as an art form alive. Along with his stable of vital collaborators, he’s given us tales of garrulous gangsters, volatile loners, conflicted holy men, comedic kings, empowered single moms, downtown losers, Wall Street winners, and an all-too-human messiah. Most of these films are part of the informal canon of Movies You Must See Before You Die. Many are iconic. None of them are superhero movies, unless you count The Last Temptation of Christ. A handful of them are undeniable, ride-or-die masterpieces.

Ranking Martin Scorsese’s movies from worst to best requires scare quotes around the term “worst” — the man’s track record in terms of quality is surprisingly high, even if he’d be the first to tell you (likely at a speed that defies the human ear and the cognitive part of your brain to keep up) that his films have rarely been box-office successes. His allegedly lesser works are often more interesting, more thought-provoking, and more kinetic than a lot of his peers and acolytes’ greatest achievements. It’s just that, well, some Scorsese movies are better than others.

So, after countless arguments and narrowly avoiding some LaMotta-level punches, we’ve come up with our ranked list of Scorsese’s complete filmography, from the merely good to the greatest of them all. (Make that mostly complete — we’ve grouped some of the shorts and several docs together.) There will be disagreements, to which we reply: You arguin’ with us? I don’t see anyone else here, so you must be arguin’ with us.


‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ (2023)

“This blanket is a target on our backs.”Any adaptation of David Grann’s bestselling true-crime book about a series of murders within the Osage tribe in the oil-rich 1920s was bound to be a big deal. The fact that Scorsese would be the gent directing it, and the film would feature both Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro acting together for the first time in one of the director’s movies, was almost enough to get the movie’s opening day declared as a national holiday. And while most filmmakers would have turned this into a white-savior story, in which the newly-formed FBI swoop in to save the day, Scorsese takes the road less traveled and puts the focus on the love story between Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio) and his Osage wife, Mollie (Lily Gladstone). That notion makes all the difference, adding an intimate element to an epic American tragedy. This was the mixture of history, violence, romance, and Freudian father-son drama that the director was aiming for with Gangs of New York, only now he hits the bull’s-eye. Both a gothic take on the Western and a corrective to the damage that genre’s done to Native Americans, this frontier noir somehow makes you feel like the 80-year-old director is just beginning to hit his stride.


‘Mean Streets’ (1973)

“You don’t make up for your sins in the church. You do it in the streets.”From the second that Harvey Keitel’s head hits the pillow perfectly timed to the drumbeat from the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” you can tell that something special is about to go down onscreen. This tale of two guys from the old neighborhood is the film in which Martin Scorsese became Martin Scorsese, a filmmaker with a keen ear for rock and pop music cues, a peerless eye for framing his characters (if there’s religious imagery in the background, so much the better), and a sixth sense for knowing exactly where the line between the sacred and the streetwise was. He’d worked with Keitel before, who plays the filmmaker’s screen counterpart Charlie as a young man who takes his professional ambitions and his Catholic guilt very seriously. But this was the first time Scorsese would work with a guy he’d seen around Little Italy since they were both teens, Robert De Niro — and the dynamic sense of unpredictability he brings to Johnny Boy, the resident fuck-up, would be the be the first in a long line of unstable males he and the director would dream up. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and not just between De Niro and his director. Mean Streets is where Scorsese establishes a rapport with the medium itself, marshaling all of his talents, obsessions, and artistic preoccupations into what would become his voice as a filmmaker. This was his third feature, but it all really starts here.


‘The Age of Innocence’ (1993)

“This is a world balanced so precariously that its harmony could be shattered by a whisper.”Question: Who’s more brutal, more violent, and more unforgiving in the ways of crime and punishment than the Mob? Answer: 19th-century New York high society. There’s a strong argument to be made that Scorsese’s exquisite rendering of Edith Wharton’s novel is his most savage movie to date — the sheer number of backs silently stabbed per capita outdoes his crime movies two to one. Daniel Day-Lewis is Leland Archer, a lawyer marrying into one of the most prestigious families in Gotham via Winona Ryder’s young May Welland. There’s simply the matter of May’s cousin, a.k.a. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Countess Ellen Olenska, who had the misfortune of marrying a European cad and is now persona non grata. Leland is able to get her back in the good graces of the elite, but the two begin to develop feelings — and those who can deem you “acceptable” can just as easily cast you out while sporting the politest of smiles. What appears to be an anomaly among Scorsese’s tales of codes of conduct, tribal loyalties, and betrayal is actually just a period-dressed version of the same. It’s also one of his most thoroughly devastating works, in which not a drop of blood is shed but still leaves several of its characters dead in all but name.


‘The Last Waltz’ (1978)

“This film should be played LOUD.”It begins at the end, with the weary members of the Band shuffling onstage to hoarse cheers. They kick into their customized cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Baby Don’t You Do It,” then exit, stage left. And with that, Scorsese not only delivers the definitive document of the Band’s farewell 1976 show — he jump-starts what many consider to be the single greatest concert film ever. (Or at the very least, one perpetually tied for first place.) A groundbreaking long goodbye fueled by sound, fury, and a who’s who of rock-legend guest stars, The Last Waltz captures the agony and ecstasy of those five guys playing together one final time. The who, where, and why of the Band’s Thanksgiving swan song make this required viewing for fans of the era’s rock & roll culture, but it’s the how of it all that makes it soar. “The form of it was important to me,” Scorsese told Richard Schickel in the book-length interview Conversations With Scorsese. “The camera movement to music, the editing, capturing the live performances.” He kept the focus on the musicians rather than the audience, and pulled out the stops in terms of shooting this like a narrative feature rather than fly-on-the-wall verité; those rhythmic cuts as the Band members and the Staple family sing the chorus to “The Weight” (one of the few numbers re-created on a soundstage) makes that sequence a testament to sound and vision as much as the song itself. It remains one of the rare concert films in which both words in that genre description have equal bearing.


‘Italianamerican’ (1974)/’American Boy’ (1978)

“You’ll never get out of this house alive!”Like most filmmakers, Scorsese cut his teeth on shorts, ranging from the goofy (It’s Not Just You, Murray) to the darkly satirical (The Big Shave) — you can check several of them out on the Criterion Collection’s Scorsese Shorts compilation. But two of the briefer works he made in the Seventies, after he’d established himself as a young, hungry, New Hollywood player, offer telling glimpses into both Scorsese’s preoccupations and slightly addled mindset during the Me Decade. Italianamerican is little more than Scorsese prodding his parents, Charles and Catherine, into telling stories about their upbringing and their life in New York’s Little Italy. American Boy finds a skeletal Marty hanging out with his buddies in Los Angeles, listening to actor Steven Prince — he’s the gun seller in Taxi Driver — regale everyone with tales of managing Neil Diamond and his run-ins with the law. One feels like you’ve been eavesdropping on family anecdotes during a Sunday supper; the other feels like a nocturnal transmission from Planet Cocaine, a world stuck in a perpetual midnight. They were often programmed together in two-for-one revival screenings, and looking back, they now feel like key works in his back catalog, every bit as vital and rich as his feature-length movies. You get a sense of where Scorsese came from, how he was the product of a family filled with love and a love of storytelling. And you get a chilling glimpse into where he was potentially headed circa 1978, when the company of dangerous characters and burning the candle on a dozen different ends suggested he was skirting perilously close to the edge of oblivion.


‘Taxi Driver’ (1976)

“Someday a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets.”Somewhere in the multiverse, there’s a world where To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Robert Mulligan directs Jeff Bridges as Travis Bickle. (No, really — that almost happened!) Thankfully, we live in this world, in which Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro turned screenwriter Paul Schrader’s tale of “God’s lonely man” shepherding his cab through hell, a.k.a. Manhattan between the hours of 2 and 5 a.m., into one of the most iconic American films of the past 50 years. It cemented the bond between director and actor that had initially been forged in Mean Streets, proved Harvey Keitel could play a pimp, and presented the world with a disturbed, socially awkward antihero angry over his place in society long before the term “incel” was coined. Even casual film fanatics know the whole “You talkin’ to me?” sequence by heart; should they then go into a word-for-word recitation of Scorsese’s cameo as a homicidal husband, however, you are advised to run for the hills ASAP. The director said that he wanted to depict Bickle’s descent into madness as something like “a cross between Gothic horror and the New York Daily News,” and the film’s extraordinary scenes of urban violence still inspire arguments today. (See: Quentin Tarantino’s heated chapter on it in Cinema Speculation.) What’s most shocking about it is how shocking it still feels when you watch it — the unflinching way it forces us to reckon with this outcast is more genuinely unsettling than ever. Scorsese and Co. were remarkably prescient. Travis Bickle used to be a cautionary tale about masculinity, isolation, and rage. Now you can find a legion of similar types lurking on every social-media app.


‘The Irishman’ (2019)

“If they can whack a president, they can whack a president of the union.”Or: The Gangster as Tragic Zero. With the possible exception of Raoul Walsh, no other filmmaker has left a bigger mark on the mobster film than Scorsese, for better or for worse — and with this adaptation of Charles Brandt’s I Hear You Paint Houses, the director gives what’s essentially his valedictory statement on the genre. Robert De Niro is Frank Sheehan, the Mob muscle turned Teamster official who was Jimmy Hoffa’s ace in the hole and, according to his memoir, the labor leader’s killer; Joe Pesci is the capo calling the shots; Al Pacino is Hoffa, who loves the working man almost as much as he loves ice cream and power. Yes, it’s more gunshots and smooth criminals shooting their cuffs against the background of 20th-century gangster capitalism, but Scorsese is going after bigger game than just a greatest-hits reel (in more ways than one). This is a serious, somber movie that makes you question how we’ve viewed these wisecracking wiseguys and take-no-shit tough guys over the years, and what happens to them after the ring-a-ding fun stops and the party’s over. It is, in so many ways, the anti-Goodfellas — a long, sustained adrenaline rush that then asks you to spend serious time contemplating the aftermath of a life characterized by moral compromises and Mob rules. Even if it ends up not being Scorsese’s last time taking on these archetypes, it’s the final word on the mythology he helped turn into pop-culture manna. Late-act masterpieces don’t come moodier — or more impressive — than this.


‘Raging Bull’ (1980)

“I want you to hit me with everything you got. I want you to fuckin’ lay me out.”The backstory is now as legendary as the movie itself: Having worn himself down with too much work, too many after-hours activities, and too much living on the edge, Scorsese suffered a collapse that led to him being hospitalized. While he was recuperating, De Niro came to visit his friend in the hospital, and brought prizefighter Jake LaMotta’s autobiography with him. It was a project he’d pitched Scorsese on before, but the filmmaker had no interest in making a boxing movie. Gradually, however, he began to realize it was about a man who was driven to self-destruction but was trying to make peace with himself — something that, after his near-death experience, the director could relate to all too well. The rest is history. Raging Bull is not only one of the greatest boxing films ever made (Scorsese said he shot those electrifying fight scenes based on the cine-choreography of the Band’s numbers in The Last Waltz), one of the greatest films of the 1980s, and one of the greatest examples of De Niro’s Method-madness commitment to acting. It’s the rare film that makes you feel not just every punch thrown but every inch climbed toward spiritual redemption. For such a painful, physical movie — violence happens as much outside the ring as it does within it — there’s something near-transcendent about the way that LaMotta claws his way out of the darkness and back into the light. When he’s finally able to look himself in the mirror at the end, you know exactly what it’s taken to get to that moment of self-acceptance. It’s hard not to think Scorsese knew every step of that path by that point in his life as well. And it remains a towering achievement for everyone involved.


‘Goodfellas’ (1990)

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”Scorsese’s woozy, dizzy adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi’s slice-of-Mafia-life book Wiseguy is a social anthropology study, an epic look at the American Dream, a coked-up nightmare, a head-spinning display of virtuosic filmmaking, the blueprint for the modern organized-crime saga, and a peerless look at a world where you might be slapped on the back or shot in the face. “Mob guys love it, because it’s the real thing,” Pileggi told GQ. “They say, ‘It’s like a home movie.’” Every performance, from the holy trinity of Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci (“Funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you?”) to future Sopranos royalty Lorraine Bracco’s long-suffering queen to the round-the-way guys in the background, feels pitch-perfect. Scorsese’s references run the gamut from The Godfather to The Great Train Robbery; the soundtrack incorporates everything from Bobby Darin to Donovan, the Stones to Sid Vicious. (After that murder montage, filmmakers are essentially forbidden from using the “Layla” coda to score a scene ever again.) And thanks to the way the humor and the violence play off each other, it feels like the ultimate ha-ha, bang-bang chronicle of how crime does, in fact, pay — you just have one hell of a bill due on the back end. Scorsese may have dealt with the world of those who live outside the law that he saw growing up in Little Italy before, but this feels like his grand statement on the Mob mentality — you’re either a crook or a schnook. “I wanted to seduce everybody into the movie and the style,” he’d say years later. “And then just take them apart with it.”