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Martin Scorsese’s Best 10 Movies Ranked

Martin Scorsese has painted cinematic canvases that are hard to forget, from the heart of New York's underworld to the Las Vegas Strip. 
Table of Contents

With a unique style and storytelling prowess, Scorsese’s movies have become an indispensable part of film history. Let’s embark on a thrilling ride through the best Scorsese movies as we rank them and uncover the magic behind each.

#10 Mean Streets

Image credit: IMDb
Release date1973
GenreCrime, Drama, Thriller
Key castRobert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, David Proval
Box office$59,000

Mean Streets plunges viewers into the seedy underbelly of Little Italy, New York, following Charlie, a small-time gangster trying to balance his loyalty to his friends, faith, and ambitions in the mob world. It’s a gritty portrayal of life on the streets, where codes of honor and personal relationships often clash.

Scorsese’s personal connection to the material is evident. Semi-autobiographical in nature, the film’s style is raw and unfiltered. With a pulsating rock soundtrack, dynamic camera work, and a sense of authenticity, Scorsese captures the essence of 1970s New York.

Often considered one of the best Martin Scorsese films, Mean Streets is seen as the director’s first major work, setting the tone for many future projects. Released in 1973, with a young Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel leading the cast, this crime film was made on a modest budget but has since achieved cult status, solidifying Scorsese’s reputation among famous film directors.

#9 The Irishman

Image credit: IMDb
Release date2019
GenreCrime, Drama 
Key castRobert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci
Budget$159 million
Box office$8 million

The Irishman is a reflective look at the life of Frank Sheeran, a hitman for the Bufalino crime family. The film spans several decades, touching on key moments in American history, including the rise and fall of union leader Jimmy Hoffa. It’s a tale of loyalty, betrayal, and the passage of time.

Employing cutting-edge de-aging technology, Scorsese brings together Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, allowing them to play their characters across various ages. The film’s pacing is deliberate and allows for reflective moments, a departure from the more frenetic rhythms of some of his earlier works.

The Irishman is a testament to Scorsese’s versatility as one of the greatest filmmakers. The 2019 film serves both as an exploration of mob life and an elegy for times and people passed. Produced on a hefty budget, mainly due to its visual effects, the film found its audience, especially on streaming platforms like Netflix, and garnered significant award-season attention.

#8 Gangs of New York

Image credit: IMDb
Release date2002
GenreCrime, Drama 
Key castLeonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Day-Lewis
Budget$100 million
Box office$193.7 million

Gangs of New York is a sprawling historical epic that dives into the tumultuous period of the 1860s in Lower Manhattan. Centered around Amsterdam Vallon’s quest for revenge against Bill The Butcher Cutting, the film vividly depicts a city torn apart by gang warfare, corruption, and anti-immigrant sentiments.

Martin Scorsese demonstrates his love for New York and its history with grand set designs, detailed costuming, and meticulous recreation of the city’s Five Points district. This is a more brutal and unfiltered Scorsese, presenting the violent foundations upon which modern New York was built.

Featuring a compelling performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill The Butcher, the film, released in 2002, showcases Scorsese’s ambitious storytelling capabilities. With a budget of $100 million, Gangs of New York managed to rake in $193.8 million globally. Its blend of historical events with fictional storytelling earned it numerous award nominations, including ten Oscars.

#7 Shutter Island

Image credit: IMDb
Release date2010
GenreMystery, Thriller
Key castLeonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
Budget$80 million
Box office$294.8 million

Shutter Island is a psychological thriller where U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, respectively, are sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Ashecliffe Hospital, a fortress-like mental institution. But as a hurricane cuts them off from the mainland, reality becomes blurred, with Daniels questioning everything, including his sanity.

Scorsese masterfully crafts a haunting atmosphere with a gothic overtone. The eerie score accentuates the twists and turns, and the visuals often oscillate between stark realism and nightmarish sequences, emphasizing the protagonist’s disintegrating mental state.

Venturing into the psychological thriller genre, Scorsese’s 2010 film showcases his ability to adapt and expand his directorial range. Paired with DiCaprio’s compelling performance, the film was a commercial success, earning $294.8 million at the box office against its $80 million budget.

#6 The Wolf of Wall Street

Image credit: IMDb
Release date2013
GenreBiography, Comedy, Drama 
Key castLeonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Jon Bernthal
Budget$100 million
Box office$406.8 million

Based on the memoir of the same name, The Wolf of Wall Street chronicles the meteoric rise and precipitous fall of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker known for his debauchery and fraudulent schemes in the late 20th century’s finance world.

Scorsese captures the excesses of Wall Street with fast-paced editing, frenetic sequences, and a hedonistic energy that pulses through every frame. This film is not just about finance but the unchecked pursuit of the American dream at any cost.

Launched in 2013 with Leonardo DiCaprio delivering a high-octane performance as Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street is a roller-coaster ride of greed, ambition, and eventual downfall. Produced on a $100 million budget, the film’s global box office return was a staggering $392 million.

#5 Casino

Image credit: IMDb
Release date1995
GenreCrime, Drama
Key castRobert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, James Woods
Budget$52 million
Box office$116.1 million

Casino brings to life the glittering yet often brutal world of Las Vegas during its mobster-run heyday. At the film’s heart is a triangle of ambition involving Robert De Niro’s casino operator, his wife, played by Sharon Stone, and his volatile mob enforcer friend, portrayed by Joe Pesci. 

Scorsese dazzles with vibrant visuals and intricate details, capturing both the glamour and the grime of the Las Vegas scene. His use of narration, a technique he’s fond of, provides layers of insight into the characters and the world they inhabit.

Released in 1995, Casino is often cited alongside Goodfellas as Scorsese’s deep dive into the organized crime world, spanning different eras and cities. On a $52 million budget, it garnered a solid $116.1 million at the box office.

#4 The Departed

Image credit: IMDb
Release date2006
GenreCrime, Drama, Thriller
Key castLeonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg
Budget$90 million
Box office$291 million

The Departed is a high-stakes game of undercover roles, set in Boston, where the Massachusetts State Police and the Irish mob are locked in a tense battle. As the police plant an undercover officer within the mob, the mob has its mole within the force. The film becomes a race against time as each side tries to uncover the other’s double agent before their own cover is blown.

Scorsese ramps up the tension with tight editing, meticulous pacing, and a brilliant ensemble cast. The use of cell phones and surveillance are constant motifs, capturing the modern era’s paranoia and the theme of watched versus watcher. 

Why it’s among the best: The Departed, released in 2006, boasts a formidable cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson. It’s one of the few remakes that many argue surpasses the original, in this case, the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. The Departed earned Scorsese his first Oscar for Best Director. With a budget of $90 million, the movie scored big at the box office, pulling in $291.5 million.

#3 Raging Bull

Image credit: IMDb
Release date1980
GenreDrama, Sport
Key castRobert De Niro, Cathay Moriarty, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent
Budget$18 million
Box office$23.4 million

Raging Bull is a biographical film based on the life of Jake LaMotta, a professional boxer whose success in the ring is juxtaposed with his self-destructive tendencies outside of it. The narrative delves deep into LaMotta’s personal relationships, especially with his wife and brother, showing a man who battles his inner demons as fiercely as his opponents in the ring.

Scorsese chose to film Raging Bull in black and white, making the movie timeless. The boxing scenes are visceral and raw, making the audience feel every punch, while the moments outside the ring are equally intense, showcasing LaMotta’s tumultuous life. Using slow motion in specific sequences, paired with the ambient sound design, creates an immersive experience.

Raging Bull is a cinematic experience that transcends the sports genre. Released in 1980, the film received eight Oscar nominations and secured Robert De Niro a Best Actor win for his transformative portrayal of LaMotta. With a budget of $18 million, its box office return of $23.4 million only tells part of its success story. Its legacy as one of the best Martin Scorsese films is undebatable.

#2 Taxi Driver

Image credit: IMDb
Release date1976
GenreCrime, Drama
Key castRobert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd
Budget$1.3 million
Box office$28.5 million

At its core, Taxi Driver explores urban isolation. Travis Bickle, masterfully played by Robert De Niro, is a Vietnam War vet struggling with insomnia and a growing distaste for what he sees as the moral decay of New York. His job as a nighttime taxi driver only deepens his descent into madness, culminating in a violent attempt to cleanse the city.

Scorsese’s New York is a character in itself – a gritty, neon-lit labyrinth reflecting Travis’s fractured psyche. The director’s use of overhead shots, rain-smeared windshields, and the haunting score by Bernard Herrmann adds layers to the narrative, making the city’s streets appear like a jungle and Travis its lurking predator.

Taxi Driver is a quintessential example of 70s American cinema. This 1976 drama is dark and introspective and speaks to the sociopolitical atmosphere of the era. Earning four Oscar nominations and an impressive box office return of $28.3 million against a $1.3 million budget solidified Scorsese’s position among the famous film directors.

#1 Goodfellas

Image credit: IMDb
Release date1990
GenreCrime, Drama
Key castRobert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci
Budget$25 million
Box office$47 million

Goodfellas is not just a mob movie; it’s a vivid representation of the allure and pitfalls of a life of crime. It’s a journey into the world of Henry Hill, a small-time gangster who dreams big. As he gets involved with the mafia, the audience is taken on a whirlwind of loyalty, betrayal, and the blurred lines between right and wrong. The story unfolds over decades, tracking the rise and eventual fall of Hill’s status within the mob and society.

Martin Scorsese has an innate ability to make the audience feel part of the story, and Goodfellas is no exception. His use of iconic long-tracking shots, especially the famous Copa scene, introduces us to the glamorous, intoxicating side of mob life. The movie’s pacing, aided by Scorsese’s impeccable choice of soundtrack, keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. 

Goodfellas perfectly combines storytelling, performance, and direction. Released in 1990, this crime drama stars Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci, whose portrayal of Tommy DeVito earned him an Oscar. With a budget of $25 million, it grossed $47 million at the box office and became an essential part of any best Scorsese movies conversation.

A look at Scorsese’s signature techniques

Martin Scorsese isn’t just known for the movies he makes but also for how he makes them. Some may ask: What sets his films apart? In the expansive world of cinema, every director has a signature, and Scorsese is no exception. Here’s a brief dive into some of the unique stylistic and narrative techniques that often earmark a Scorsese picture:

1. Narrative voiceovers: Be it Henry Hill’s perspective in Goodfellas or Jordan Belfort’s in The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese has a penchant for guiding the narrative with voiceovers. It’s not just a tool to move the story forward, but it also provides a deeper look into a character’s psyche.

2. Long, tracking shots: Think of the famous Copacabana shot in Goodfellas or the entrance scene in The Age of Innocence. These lengthy, uninterrupted shots are technically impressive and immerse viewers into the world of Scorsese crafts.

3. Music as a narrative device: Scorsese’s films often employ contemporary music tracks, not just as a backdrop but as a narrative tool. These choices enhance the atmosphere, evoke emotion, and sometimes even serve as a commentary on the events happening on screen.

4. Complex characters: Perhaps one of the most defining aspects of Scorsese’s films is his ability to craft multi-dimensional characters. His protagonists are often deeply flawed, making choices that take them down dark paths, but they are invariably human, making them relatable and compelling.

5. Recurring themes: Redemption, guilt, and identity are themes Scorsese revisits repeatedly. Whether it’s the internal struggles of a boxer in Raging Bull or the challenges a Wall Street magnate faces in The Wolf of Wall Street, these universal themes are explored with depth and nuance.

Incorporating these signature techniques, Scorsese adds layers of depth to his movies, making them entertaining and subjects of study for film enthusiasts and scholars alike. The recurring stylistic choices and thematic explorations further cement his position as one of the greatest filmmakers, continually pushing the boundaries of storytelling.

In conclusion, Martin Scorsese’s cinematic legacy is unmatched, spanning decades of pure genius. This list merely touches on his brilliance. Every Scorsese film is a journey, showcasing a master at work. Dive in, and let the best Scorsese movies transport you.

Ryan Toomey
Ryan Toomey
Ryan is Upbeat Geek’s editor and connoisseur of TV, movies, hip-hop, and comic books, crafting content that spans reviews, analyses, and engaging reads in these domains. With a background in digital marketing and UX design, Ryan’s passions extend to exploring new locales, enjoying music, and catching the latest films at the cinema. He’s dedicated to delivering insights and entertainment across the realms he writes about: TV, movies, and comic books.

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