Martin Scorsese movies: The three best (and worst) movies by Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese is arguably the best director in history. I’d argue, at the very least, that he’s the best director of the “new Hollywood” era (post-1969). Scorsese has his own director trademarks. Martin Scorsese movies break the rules, often utilizing techniques in film in other hands would seem contrived and amateur. Scorsese’s use of freeze frames, voice-over, and the occasional montage, break convention with directors of his stature, but he uses them anyway. Scorsese doesn’t typically write his own scripts either, but it doesn’t matter. His vision comes from being an uber-cinephile and translating his knowledge into a modern art form.

His films have endured as some of the most important of the 20th century, and he is still making films to this day at the age of 79. In fact, his next project, Killers of the Flower Moon will debut this year. This film focuses on members of the Osage tribe in the United States who are murdered under mysterious circumstances in the 1920s sparking a major F.B.I. investigation involving J. Edgar Hoover. Scorsese has used historical figures before, and that trend will continue as his next two movies after Killers of the Flower Moon (Roosevelt and an Untitled Jerry Garcia biopic) will continue the trend.

With the anticipation for Killers of the Flower Moon mounting, and considering we’ve never ranked Scorsese’s films at Hidden Remote, I thought I’d bring you my list of his three best and worst movies.

The three best Martin Scorsese movies

Goodfellas (1990)

All right. Goodfellas is like the greatest movie ever. In fact, I have it ranked as my second overall movie of all-time. The cast has such amazing chemistry, that it feels like the most lived-in movie you’ll see. Scorsese recalls his past, growing up in an Italian-American neighborhood in New York City to tell this story.

Based on Wiseguy the 1985 book by Nicholas Pileggi, Goodfellas tells the true story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), a half-Irish, half-Sicilian Brooklyn gangster who is adopted into a crime family at an early age. He eventually climbs the ranks, guided by Jimmy Conway (Robert de Niro).

Goodfellas is perfectly cast, perfectly paced, and perfectly written. It also contains incredible scenes, including the best tracking shot I’ve ever seen on-screen and one of the scariest non-violent scenes in movie history. You come to understand that in the mafia world, your fortune could flip on a dime. One guy could be your best friend in one minute, and the next minute wish you dead. That kind of tension permeates throughout the movie and will keep it’s audience on constant alert.

Scorsese also paces the film to have a frenetic energy for the first 3/4 of the runtime and then slows the movie down to an almost standstill for the final portion. This is to give the audience the sensation of using and coming down off of cocaine. Scorsese wants to put you right in the mind of the characters and does it masterfully. Goodfellas is a masterclass in so many ways, but not only do I think it’s Scorsese’s best, I think it’s the best movie of the 1990’s.

Where to stream: HBO Max.

Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver really put Martin Scorsese on the map. Three years earlier, audiences witnessed Mean Streets, which became the most commercially successful independent movie ever made, but Taxi Driver made Scorsese a household name.

Robert de Niro plays ‘Travis Bickle,’ a troubled military veteran unable to cope with civilian life in a crime-ridden New York City. He takes a job as a taxi driver, but as the story is told through his first-person lens, we understand and even sometimes sympathize with Bickle’s contempt. That’s the trick Scorsese plays on the audience. He ensures the audience will feel pity for Bickle’s loneliness, when in reality Bickle is a violent and likely mentally ill individual, unfit for societal life.

Taxi Driver is also the greatest first-person character study in film, which has prompted discussion and controversy for decades. The movie has even received blame for the attempted assassination attempt on the life of President Reagan. But as Scorsese and others have pointed out, blaming the art form completely evacuates responsibility of the perpetrator. The movie is seen as ‘dangerous’ and would’ve garnered even more scorn had screenwriter Paul Schrader kept the original ending, where Bickle murders only African-Americans. Taxi Driver is one of the darkest movies you’ll ever watch, but an authentic look at how mental illness and hyper-masculinity can cause great societal harm. One of my few 10/10 scores, Taxi Driver is the best movie of the 1970’s, a decade I consider the best in cinema, if that gives you any idea of how I feel about the movie.

Where to stream: Netflix.

Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese showcases even more brilliance with 1980’s Raging Bull. He specifically ensured the movie would be shot and shown in black & white in a time where that practice was antiquated and of the past. But, Scorsese felt to really capture the proper time period, black & white was the only choice. It gives the movie a stark beauty, that is rarely seen in his early works.

The story follows Jake LaMotta (Robert de Niro), a prizefighting boxer seeking to delineate his fights for sport from his personal life. Toeing that line for LaMotta becomes impossible for him as he sees his family vanish before his eyes and alone late in life.

Unlike Taxi DriverRaging Bull sees a fall from prominence that Travis Bickle never even endured. Scorsese again uses a protagonist who is morally grey, with the idea that they must atone for their sins. LaMotta is portrayed as a horrible father and husband, and spends the latter half of his life isolated. Portraying LaMotta certainly ranks highly for me in terms of de Niro performances. He captured the essence of what it most feel like to have everything and then lose it in an instant. Again if you’re sensing a theme here, you would be correct. This to me, is the best movie of the 1980’s, marking three consecutive decades of Scorsese brilliance.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime Video.

The three worst Martin Scorsese movies

Boxcar Bertha (1972)

Only his second feature, it should come as no surprise that Boxcar Bertha isn’t exactly Scorsese’s best work. It was an impersonal film for him as Scorsese tried to branch out into a different style and tone. As a fledgling film maker, Scorsese was testing his chops. Boxcar Bertha was received somewhat poorly critically, and even director John Cassavetes encouraged Scorsese to steer clear of making other people’s movies.

Boxcar Bertha follows a depression-era union leader and young woman on a crime spree before exacting revenge on railroad tycoons. While sounding action-packed, the film has the least amount of Scorsese touch. Almost any director could have made this film and I wouldn’t have been able to guess who made it. Again, Scorsese was still finding his footing as a film maker and Boxcar Bertha falls flat.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime Video.

New York, New York (1977)

Just a year after the release of Taxi Driver, Scorsese once again reunites with Robert de Niro for New York, New York. This bold attempt seeks to capture the magic of old Hollywood and is shot is a similar straightforward way.

Liza Minnelli stars as Francine Evans, a young lounge singer who meets de Niro’s character Jimmy Doyle on VJ Day 1945. The two embark on a tumultuous relationship while trying to balance their music careers.

This film has its moments, but ultimately isn’t paced evenly. It’s prototypical biopic format is uninteresting and draws too many parallels to any of the A Star is Born iterations. I relate it to a film like Chi-Raq. Both have incredible musical talents in Minnelli and Jennifer Hudson, but their performances feel wasted with the uneven storytelling. I will say this, it does feel like a Scorsese movie. The camera angles and positioning are all Marty and it’s easy to see the beginnings of the director’s trademarks that we all know and love today.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

By no means do I think The Last Temptation of Christ is a bad movie. It’s just that I think Scorsese has 22 stronger movies in his filmography. My gripes more have to do with the story format. It does have the biopic structure, although containing interesting twists.

The story follows Jesus Christ (Willem Dafoe) carrying the burden of being the savior of mankind. I thought the best part movie was a rewriting of history. A guardian angel comes down to remind Jesus why he is the savior, comforting a conflicted character. This film greatly angered religious groups at the time and Scorsese received much backlash and protest. Although, a devout catholic, Scorsese treats Christ as a character rather than a historical figure it seems.

I don’t think its necessarily the job of the film maker to treat their character as historical dogma. Aaron Sorkin talked about this when writing the ‘character’ of Steve Jobs. There should be a delineation between documentaries and movies. For this reason, I don’t fault Scorsese for his historical alterations.

Martin Scorsese is perhaps the greatest director of his generation. Some might argue Steven Spielberg, others Francis Ford Coppola, but I’d argue Scorsese has the most complete top to bottom filmography and the highest highs of the group. His films have become iconic and there really is no better champion for film than him. He’s a proponent of film restoration and preservation as evidence by his film Hugo (2011).

He produces on films, where he sees potential in the film maker. He’s helped Wes Anderson, Joanna Hogg, and the Safdie Brothers flourish and it seems like he will continue to do so until the day he dies. You’d be hard-pressed to find a modern film maker who hasn’t either stolen or found inspiration in Scorsese’s work and his films will live on long after he’s gone.

What are your favorite Martin Scorsese movies?

Complete Martin Scorsese movies rankings.