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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.


‘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.”