Is there a single director working today with a better track record than Martin Scorsese? Ever since breaking through with his gritty, scrappy crime drama “Mean Streets,” the Italian-American’s name has been synonymous with quality, and he’s kept that train going for several years. Some films were more acclaimed than others, but from the ’70s all the way to the 2020s, Scorsese has remained a consistent top-tier filmmaker, pumping out at least one or two stone-cold classics per decade.
What’s even more impressive is how adaptable and varied the man has proven himself to be. A refrain popular among internet contrarians is that Scorsese is just a dude who makes gangster movies, but one look at the films he’s made over the years shows that only scratches the surface of his capabilities and tastes. While his mafia films like “Goodfellas” and “The Irishman” are obvious greats, Scorsese is one of the biggest cinephiles on the planet, and his films show an appreciation for all sorts of cinematic traditions and influences. He made a Douglas Sirk-inspired kitchen drama with “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” He tackled the musical with “New York, New York.” Whether you’re looking for a period romance (“The Age of Innocence”), a rambling black comedy (“After Hours”), a gritty sports story (“Raging Bull”), or even a Biblical movie (“The Last Temptation of Christ”), there’s a good chance Scorsese has directed it.
More from IndieWire
His newest film is another original venture for Scorsese. “Killers of the Flower Moon” sees Scorsese in neo-Western mode, tackling the horrific case of the Osage Indian murders with his signature scope and piercing insight into the blackest depths of humanity. Starring an acclaimed Lily Gladstone alongside Scorsese’s frequent muses Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, the film received rapturous acclaim and ten Oscar nominations, including a Best Director nod for Scorsese.
In celebration of Scorsese’s tenth career nomination in the category, we’re recirculating our look at his impeccable filmography. This list includes every narrative feature that Scorsese has directed, from his 1969 debut “Who’s That Knocking at My Door” all the way to “Killers of the Flower Moon.” We opted to exclude Scorsese’s extensive documentary filmmaking library, which includes 16 features he’s either directed or co-directed. Films like “My Voyage to Italy” and “Public Speaking” are well worth seeing, but don’t look at this list to determine where they stand against the likes of “Taxi Driver” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Finally, we chose to include the segment “Life Lessons” that Scorsese directed for the 1989 film “New York Stories,” an anthology that also includes work from Scorsese’s contemporaries Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen.
That left us with 27 films, and the unenviable task of ranking them all. While there’s a few films in Scorsese’s career that people are unlikely to go to bat for as their absolute favorite (sorry, “Bringing Out the Dead” diehards), the director’s oeuvre is large and stacked with classics that are difficult to compare. How do you determine whether “Silence” is better than “Goodfellas?” Or if “The Age of Innocence” or “Mean Streets” is the superior film? That’s a hard task to accomplish, and inevitably there are some great films with passionate fanbases that will be upset with how they ended up ranked here. With a filmmaker like Scorsese, even the lower reaches of this list contain absolute classics. It’s not so much a measure of what are his worst and best films, but which of his films are just good and which are the all-time classics.
Still choices had to be made, and we settled on a ranking we can get behind. Read on for our list of Scorsese’s all-time best movies — and see where “Killers of the Flower Moon” stacks up in one of the greatest filmographies in all of American cinema.
With editorial contributions from Kate Erbland, David Ehrlich, Ryan Lattanzio, Christian Blauvelt, Samantha Bergeson, Jim Hemphill, Christian Zilko, and Mark Peikert.
[Editor’s note: This list was originally published in October. It has since been updated.]
Best of IndieWire