During the 1960s, Hollywood films were struggling to bring audiences to the theaters as they had to compete against the convenience of television much like the current situation with streaming services. From this struggle emerged several famous directors who would usher in the age of blockbuster and genre-defying films, with Martin Scorsese among them.
With early hits in the '70s and '80s such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, Scorsese’s career as a director has been consistently good. This is especially apparent in the scores his films get on Rotten Tomatoes, with the best ones highlighted here.
10 The Color of Money (89%)
Whenever sequels to classic movies come out, most people are initially skeptical of them due to the wariness of how they’ll compare to the original. Though most reactions tend to be unanimous, there is occasional dissonance between the critics over certain films such as The Color of Money.
A sequel to The Hustler, which was a classic '60s movie about pool hustlers starring Paul Newman, The Color of Money has Newman reprising his role from the prior film. Now older and retired, he becomes the mentor figure to a younger pool hustler (played by Tom Cruise). While not all critics were on board with this film, it retains a positive score on Rotten Tomatoes.
9 The Departed (91%)
For years, Hollywood has partaken in the practice of creating American versions of foreign films leading to considerable debate over which version is better. In some cases, an American version proves to be just as good as the original film yet is still unique in of itself.
One of these exceptional films was Scorsese’s The Departed, which was an American remake of the Hong Kong crime thriller Internal Affairs. Focused on an undercover cop and a mole infiltrating a criminal gang and the police respectively, the film distinguishes itself from its Hong Kong counterpart by having characters loosely based on real people instead of being completely fictional. It also has a great cast of actors with Leonardo DiCaprio among them.
8 Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (92%)
Aside from crime and historical drama films, Scorsese has also made many documentary films that have received critical acclaim. One of his most baffling documentaries to date is arguably Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, which came out this year on Netflix.
Though this isn’t Scorsese’s first Bob Dylan-centered documentary, as he directed No Direction Home in 2005, what makes this film different is that it uses a combination of real footage and fictional interviews. Yet, unlike Mockumentaries, it’s never clear right from the start what parts are and aren’t real. Still, that hasn’t stopped Rotten Tomatoes from giving it a high rating.
7 Hugo (93%)
While The Aviator partially covered the Golden Age of Hollywood, which took place between the 1920s and 60s, Hugo is basically an homage to the early age of cinema. Released around the time 3D became popular again, it tells the touching story of an orphan boy living inside a train station who attempts to understand an automaton left by his deceased father and its connection to a bitter toymaker.
Compared to Scorsese’s other films, this one’s more sentimental and often doesn’t come up when people talk about Scorsese. Though it didn’t do well financially upon release, it won five Academy Awards and earned Scorsese a third Golden Globe for the Best Director category in 2012.
6 Goodfellas (96%)
Among the various projects Scorsese has directed, what many consider to be the quintessential film of his career is Goodfellas. Following in the wake of crime dramas such as The Godfather, it tells a story about the rise and fall of an Italian mobster.
However, the mobster-in-question is Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta) who was a real person as opposed to the Corleones who were fictional. Apart from the realistic elements, the combination of solid performances from Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci made Goodfellas memorable. Then in addition to a distinct style of editing, it’s become a classic in recent years.
5 Tie: Raging Bull (96%)
When it comes to boxing movies, the popular ones tend to include Rocky and Raging Bull. Unlike Rocky, though, Raging Bull’s main fighter Jake LaMotta was a real person. Played by De Niro, his performance arguably made the film work as it explores LaMotta’s troubled professional and personal life during the 1940s and 50s.
At the time of its release in 1980, it received polarizing reviews. Though as the years have passed, Raging Bull earned recognition as a classic among Scorsese’s list of films. It even won two Academy Awards in the Best Actor and Best Editing categories during the 53rd Academy Awards.
4 Mean Streets (97%)
Because of his Italian-American background, Scorsese’s films often focus on themes such as Roman Catholic guilt and what it means to be Italian-American in relation to modern crime. One such film that examines both themes very thoroughly is Mean Streets from 1973.
Set in New York City, which many of Scorsese’s films take place in, the movie tells the story of Charlie Cappa and his wavering loyalty to not just his loan shark uncle but also his self-destructive gambler friend “Johnny Boy” Civello. While Mean Streets was received well at the time, it continues to be revered today due to its dark themes and memorable performances by De Niro and Harvey Keitel.
3 The Last Waltz (98%)
Unlike Rolling Thunder Revue, The Last Waltz is one of Scorsese’s more straightforward documentary films. Though it was released in 1978, the film was made in 1976 as it documented the concert of the same name performed by The Band.
Meant to be a farewell concert of sorts, it included several guest artists, including Bob Dylan, who had previously collaborated with The Band early in their career. Though the film is largely praised as being one of the best documentaries ever made, it was criticized by one of The Band’s vocalists Levon Helm who felt like The Last Waltz focused too heavily on Robbie Robertson (one of the movie’s producers and the lead guitarist of The Band).
Scorsese also has a number of other great and highly-rated documentaries under his belt, including A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, My Voyage to Italy, and Public Speaking.
2 Tie: Taxi Driver (98%)
Though Psycho may have been daring in its use of nudity and violence, Taxi Driver took those things to their next logical level. Considered to arguably be Scorsese’s best film, it stars De Niro as a mentally unstable veteran who drives taxis and begins plotting several murders.
When it was released, the film was considered controversial for its intense violence and focus on child prostitution in the form of Iris (played by Jodie Foster in one of her earliest film roles). In spite of these elements, Taxi Driver’s legacy remains positive among critics and is referenced in pop-culture to this day.
1 The Irishman (100%)
Due to Scorsese’s reputation as a director, there’s naturally a lot of hype around any new films he’s got lined up. Take The Irishman, for example, which premiered at the New York Film Festival this past September.
Despite not having a theatrical release yet, it’s already gotten the highest possible score on Rotten Tomatoes and early positive reviews from critics. While this may be subject to change when it hits theaters, The Irishman looks promising as it’s about a real hitman named Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran recounting his work for the Bufalino mafia family starring De Niro Pesci and Al Pacino of Godfather fame.