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Ranked: Martin Scorsese Films from Worst to Best
We reassess the entire filmography of America's greatest living director.
by Rick Paulas
Martin Scorsese is America's greatest film nerd. While mob stories have been his bread-and-butter, he's dabbled in nearly every genre around, filling his work with nods to film history while bringing his own unique bent to the proceedings. He ventures into a new era with Hugo, his first children's movie and the first time he's utilized 3-D technology. In honor of this, his twenty-second feature, it's time to rank the lot.
22. Boxcar Bertha (1972)
Following a move to L.A., Scorsese was having trouble finding work until this Roger Corman exploitation flick landed in his lap. The film isn't terrible from a technical standpoint, but instead suffers a greater sin: mediocrity. This is Scorsese's only true paycheck movie.
21. New York, New York (1977)
His genius evident from his early trifecta of Mean Streets, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, and Taxi Driver, Scorsese had a blank canvas to put together any project he wanted. He went with a musical. Starring Liza Minnelli. That's two-and-a-half-fucking-hours long.
20. Kundun (1997)
This biopic focusing on the upbringing of the Dalai Lama is all well and good — you certainly can't fault Scorsese for delving into the subject with passion — but there's no electricity on display. He may actually respect his subject matter too much.
19. Shutter Island (2010)
While the first half is one of the most taut hours in horror since the opening portion of 2003's High Tension, the "shocking twist" not only makes you recontextualize everything that came before (to the movie's detriment), but is, even worse, completely predictable.
18. Who's That Knocking On My Door? (1967)
A debut film ripped straight from the director's heart. Shot, re-shot, re-structured, and re-edited over years, all on a budget barely approaching Frank Vincent's mustache-wax fee in Goodfellas, Who's That features most of Scorsese's eventual thematic obsessions: Catholic guilt, Little Italy, the lure of blondes. Problem is, he does it better later. This is a rough draft for the rest of his career.
17. The Color of Money (1986)
No self-respecting film geek is going to turn down the opportunity to direct Paul Newman as he reprises the role of "Fast Eddie" Felson from the 1961 classic The Hustler. But while Scorsese delivers a handful of virtuoso sequences — his camerawork was made for the motions of the pool table — much of it feels like he's stuck rubbing another man's rhubarb.
16. The Age of Innocence (1993)
Getting sick of mobsters, Scorsese went as far in the other direction as possible with this tale of a doomed love affair in upper-crust, gowns-and-horses 1870s New York. The results are uneven, but evidence that Scorsese can show restraint when necessary.
15. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
You can't say this fourth collaboration between Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader isn't bold. In the three nights they follow New York City paramedic (Nicolas Cage, in the thick of his Serious Oscar-Nominated Leading Man period), they try to tackle religion, the inherent violence of man, and the meaning of life itself. While only a few of those hits manage to land, the resulting work is still compelling.
14. Gangs of New York (2002)
Few characters in cinematic history are more badass than Daniel Day-Lewis's Bill the Butcher. (He's perhaps only outshined by Daniel Day-Lewis's Daniel Plainview.) But the rest of the movie is a bit of a hodge-podge of plotlines, Leonardo DiCaprio trying to act tough, and Cameron Diaz playing dress up.
13. Cape Fear (1991)
There are so many issues with this movie. Robert De Niro's so over the top that Al Pacino would tell him to take a chill pill. The camera never stays still long enough to build any sustainable suspense. And the subsequent parody on The Simpsons makes fewer leaps of logic. But if this happens to stroll through your late-night-cable viewing session, just try to turn it off.
12. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)
Taking a break from the strong male leads that dominate the rest of his career, Scorsese focuses on telling the woman's side of the story this time out. In doing so, he gives Ellen Burstyn the greatest role of her career. All the normal Scorsese camera flourishes are shelved, allowing the humanity of the characters to take center-stage.