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Top Ten Greatest Martin Scorsese Films

Updated on March 5, 2014

The Great Marty Scorsese

Martin Scorsese first made his feature directorial debut in 1972 with the Roger Corman produced B-movie Boxcar Bertha. Over the course of the next 40 years from that point, Scorsese would establish himself as one of the greatest movie directors of all time. Throughout the 1970's and 80's, Scorsese would make a name for himself directing movies that broke many film conventions of the 20th Century. His films often included harsh language and stark violence along with unusual and fast-paced editing. He was also one of the first directors to include a large use of rock music in his films in lieu of traditional scores.

By the 1990's he was considered a legend and continued to wow audiences with brilliant movies. In the 2000's he saw a strong renewal of creativity and released a string of powerful films that made him one the best directors of the early 21st Century. He is also known for his complex one-take tracking shots such as Henry and Karen's walk through the restaurant in Goodfellas and the opening scene of the 2011 film Hugo. Now let's take a look at some of the best movies of Scorsese's career.

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10. The Aviator (2004)

In this large scale, brilliantly shot biopic based on the life of aviation pioneer/movie producer Howard Hughes, Scorsese shows off his flare for accuracy and realism. The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio, who would become Scorsese's go-to actor in the 2000's, as the unstable yet charismatic Hughes while Cate Blanchett delivers a flawless, Oscar-winning performance as actress Katharine Hepburn whom Hughes briefly dated. The film includes a unique approach to cinematography in which green appears as blue in the early portion of the film in an attempt to mimic the look of early color films from before 1935. This attention to detail can be attributed to Scorsese's boundless knowledge of film history. The movie won several Oscars for it's design elements and both DiCaprio and Blanchett received much praise for their performances. The movie stands as a great addition to Scorsese's body of work.

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09. The Age of Innocence (1993)

This period picture based on the novel of the same name puts upper-class 1870's New York society on display in a highly compelling fashion. The film was an unusual choice for Scorsese and is a prime example of his versatility as a filmmaker. It stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a man who falls for his fiance's cousin, a Countess played by Michelle Pfeiffer. The film has a stellar cast, superb production design, and the flawless direction we've come to expect from Scorsese. Although not one of his most popular films, the movie remains to be one of the finest delivered by Scorsese.

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08. Gangs of New York (2002)

In this bloody historical epic, Scorsese takes a look at a similar time period and location as the one depicted in Age of Innocence but an entirely different social class. The movie spotlights the gritty gangs that controlled the poorer areas of New York City at a time of extreme unrest during the American Civil War. Daniel Day-Lewis plays the slick-talking, ruthless gang leader Bill "The Butcher" Cutting while Scorsese teams up with DiCaprio for the first time as he plays a young man seeking revenge for the death of his father. The movie has a robust and stunning scale along with the sharp editing and powerful performances that Scorsese's crime films are known for.

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07. Hugo (2011)

In this wonderfully imaginative children's film, a young boy (Asa Butterfield) goes on an adventure with a new friend (Chloe Grace Mortez) to discover the secrets of a bitter toymaker (Ben Kingsley). This was another sharp departure from Scorsese's previous work and his first movie to be shot in 3D. The movie features a highly intricate one-take shot to show the location of the train station the young boy lives above; it is one of the many brilliant shots that make up the masterful cinematography which helped this movie win five Oscars for it's technical achievements. Although not a big success in America, the movie was far more popular internationally and was hailed by critics as one of Scorsese's most visually stunning pictures.

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06. Mean Streets (1973)

This was Scorsese's first major work to capture the attention of Hollywood and it fully established him as one of the groundbreaking new directors of the 1970's. The movie was the first of many collaborations between Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro who plays the reckless and unpredictable Johnny Boy. The film also stars Harvey Keitel as Johnny's friend Charlie whose allegiance to Johnny is ruining his burgeoning career with the mafia. The movie features many Scorsese trademarks which include a focus on New York Italian culture, Catholic guilt, and gritty street life along with the use of rock music and unique fast-paced editing. The movie launched both Scorsese's and De Niro's career and would go on to be highly influential on other films of the 70's.

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05. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Although this film just recently came out, it's already being seen as a future classic and one of the most exhilarating films Scorsese has ever released. The dark comedy, which is based on real-life events, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, a drug-addicted stockbroker who uses worthless stocks and inside trading to become an extremely wealthy individual. The film also stars Jonah Hill as an equally crooked stockbroker and Jordan's loyal sidekick who has a wildly colorful personality and even less morals than Jordan. The film has angered some with it's display of excessive and unwarranted wealth but Scorsese and the film's cast maintain that the picture serves as a cautionary tale of the dangers of unchecked wealth without morals. Regardless of the subjective opinions, no one can deny that this movie is an extremely wild ride worth taking.

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04. The Departed (2006)

The first film to finally win Scorsese the Oscar for Best Director, The Departed is a complex and violent tale of deception, self deception, and infiltration. The movie, based off the Hong Kong film Internal Affairs, stars Matt Damon as a cop who is secretly a mole in the Massachusetts State Police department for ruthless mobster Frank Costello, played by the great Jack Nicholson. Leonardo DiCaprio stars in the film as a cop working undercover in Costello's outfit and the film also includes stellar performances from Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Vera Farmiga. The intricate picture features some of the most impressive editing in a Scorsese film as well as incredible dialogue and subtle yet poignant cinematography. The movie also won the Oscar for Best Picture, the first and so far only Scorsese film to do so.

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03. Goodfellas (1990)

One of the most iconic gangster films of all time, Goodfellas is the thrilling and true story of half Italian/half Irish mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) who at a young age becomes loyal to several men in the New York Italian mafia. His best friends include career thief Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and the psychotic hothead Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). The movie is a wild and violent ride that has been called by many to be the most accurate depiction of life in the mafia. The movie also doubles as a romance film that tells the chaotic love story of Henry and his marriage with Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco). The movie became one of the most famous films of the 90's and renewed Scorsese's career after a decade of hits and misses. The film is now put on nearly the same level as The Godfather as one the best mafia movies ever made.

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02. Taxi Driver (1976)

Dark, disturbing, and psychologically riveting, Taxi Driver is one of the most hauntingly brilliant pictures in American history and clearly one of Scorsese's greatest works. The movie stars Robert De Niro as a veteran who takes a job driving taxis because he can't sleep at night. As he becomes witness to the urban decay and moral depravity of 1970's New York City, he begins to slowly go insane. He soon plots to assassinate a Presidential candidate to impress a woman who jilted him and later tries to free a 12 year old prostitute (Jodie Foster) from her horrid lifestyle. The movie is an emotionally powerful and visually stunning work of art that came to define 1970's American cinema. The work solidified Scorsese as a supreme director and brought new levels of depth to De Niro's career. It currently stands as one the greatest movies of all time.

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01. Raging Bull (1980)

A true masterpiece of cinema, Raging Bull stands as both one of the greatest Sports Dramas ever made as well as Scorsese's Magnum Opus. Shot on stark, black-and-white film, the movie tells the tragic story of boxer Jake LaMotta, played by Robert De Niro, who allows his uncontrollable temper and eating issues to ruin both his chances at being a prize fighter and his family life. The film also stars Joe Pesci as Jake's brother and Cathy Moriarty as Jake's second wife. The brutal violence, excessive profanity, and powerful performances gave this film a sense of realism that was unparalleled to most movies at the time of it's release. De Niro won his only Oscar for Best Actor for the film and the movie is currently considered the 4th greatest film of all time by the American Film Institute. It is clearly Scorsese's most powerful and awe-inspiring picture and a true testament to his genius.

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    • Ryan Oberoi profile image

      Ryan 3 years ago from Still on this beautiful planet

      Watched a few of them. nice collection

    • profile image

      Akram ul haq 3 years ago from Pakistan

      i too watched 6 out of these 10 ... i'll be watching remaining 4 as well ....

    • Hezekiah profile image

      Hezekiah 3 years ago from Japan

      Gangs of New York was one of my favs

    • jmartin1344 profile image

      jmartin1344 3 years ago from Royal Oak, Michigan

      Fantastic list Cory. Great hub!

      I can't disagree with your order too much at all - Raging Bull is certainly the best for me. Once you get into that top 4 though you could probably spin it a lot of ways. Can't go wrong with Scorsese!

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Great list of Scorcese's greatest films. He is truly a genius. Ironically "The Departed", which he won the Oscar for, I considered not nearly as good as his other films. Excellent Hub, Cory.

    • Aneegma profile image

      Merida Craze 3 years ago

      My favourite is Good Fellas. Totally love the Marty/Leo combination. Great list.

    • BernietheMovieGuy profile image

      Bernie Ment 3 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      Nice list, but Gangs of New York deserves to be higher up on the list in my opinion. Frankly, I thought that Wolf of Wall Street was pure pornographic trash in every sense of the word, but the rest of your list is spot on. Nice hub. Voted up.

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 3 years ago from Tennesee

      Great list! I believe Raging Bull was the very first Scorcese film I ever saw. I watched it with my Dad -a real film buff- but I was rather young and some of the film's contents made it a little embarrassing for me, lol.

      I enjoyed The Departed very much; it is probably my favorite on your list. Nice to see Hugo here, too.

      Voted up and thanks for sharing!

    • Shinkicker profile image

      Shinkicker 3 years ago from Scotland

      Great Hub summing up the best of an amazing director. I don't think he's made a bad movie. I also like 'The King of Comedy' in my opinion the only movie where De Niro actually showed comic skills. Now! That takes a great director :-)

      Voted up

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Martin Scorsese....the name alone is powerful. I have not seen every single movie on your list, but those I have seen were of course, fabulous. It's interesting to me, the number of his films which star Robert DeNiro. It's fairly clear these 2 greats belong to a mutual fan club.

      Very interesting and well-researched/written hub. UP+++

    • NewYorker11 profile image

      NewYorker11 3 years ago from New York

      A good article / summary. I have some catching up to do with watching all 10.

    • BernietheMovieGuy profile image

      Bernie Ment 3 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      Wolf of Wall Street = Unfricking watchable

    • kotobukijake profile image

      kotobukijake 3 years ago

      Nice hub, and interesting choices. I should note, however, that Boxcar Bertha was Scorsese's second feature (Who's That Knockin' at My Door came out five years earlier). As to the actual content of the list... I do think The Wolf of Wall Street was one wildly entertaining ride, and very well-done, but if it makes my top 10 it does so BARELY--Hugo and The Aviator should definitely rank higher. Indeed, Hugo is one of my favorites--props for including it, all the same. I have not yet seen The Age of Innocence, but all your other choices are indeed fine films. In fact, the only non-documentary features of Scorsese's I'd personally consider that are not on the list are Shutter Island, The Color of Money and The Last Temptation of Christ, all of which are flawed enough to be debatable even by my standards; it should be noted however, that The Last Waltz was an awesome documentary, and no list celebrating Scorsese's importance as a filmmaker is complete without at least a tip of the hat to the fact that he is a prolific and skilled documentary filmmaker. Overall, a good list, for a great director (and yes, his gift with music is incredible, and he is one of the reasons I tout the need for a Best Use of Music in Film Oscar).

    • indianreel profile image

      HK 2 years ago from London

      As a fan of Scorsese's style, I totally agree with this list. Also, his short film "The Big Shave" is an interesting piece of work.

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