Martin Scorsese is one of the most influential filmmakers working today. Very few other directors have as many movies that rank among the greatest of all time as Scorsese does. While his movies are famous for their violence and profanity, they actually deal with some very lofty themes, such as Catholic guilt, the Italian-American identity, and the ethics of crime.
He’s one of the poster boys for the New Hollywood film movement that began in the ‘60s and ran until the early ‘80s – ending with Raging Bull, according to Peter Biskind. Here are 10 Movies To Watch If You’re A Fan Of Martin Scorsese.
10 Boogie Nights
Thanks to Paul Thomas Anderson’s very unique directorial style, Boogie Nights isn’t just “Goodfellas in the porn industry.” But at the same time, it kind of is. It’s the story of the rise and fall of a naive adult film star named Dirk Diggler, who is played by Mark Wahlberg and could be easily described as “the Henry Hill of adult films,” but the narrative is framed with a very wide scope.
Surrounding Wahlberg is a huge ensemble cast of brilliant actors, including Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Burt Reynolds, and William H. Macy. Boogie Nights has a killer pop music soundtrack, a riveting sense of humor, an impeccable visual style, and an iconic long take – just like Scorsese’s finest work.
9 American Hustle
The influence of Martin Scorsese’s crime epics can be seen all over David O. Russell’s darkly comic retelling of the FBI’s Abscam operation. It has a sprawling tale of crime and deception, a pitch-black sense of humor, and a star-studded ensemble cast, including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence. There’s even an uncredited cameo appearance by Robert De Niro buried under makeup and prosthetics.
While American Hustle isn’t as groundbreaking or as fresh as any of Scorsese’s movies, it’s a decent substitute to fill in between rewatchings of them. It grossed over $240 million and was nominated for ten Academy Awards, so it definitely did something right.
8 Catch Me If You Can
When Steven Spielberg turned his late friend Stanley Kubrick’s script A.I.: Artificial Intelligence into a movie, we got to see what a Kubrickian movie directed by Steven Spielberg would look like. With Catch Me If You Can, we get an idea of what a Martin Scorsese script directed by Steven Spielberg might look like.
It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as infamous con man Frank Abagnale and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent pursuing him. The film is a throwback to the old-timey Hollywood capers, complete with vibrant editing and a brilliant sense of humor. It’s almost two and a half hours long, but it doesn’t feel like it.
7 A Bronx Tale
Actors who try their hand at directing tend to go off of the teachings of the directors they’ve worked with. An actor who has worked with great directors and paid attention to them will generally make a pretty good director themselves. This easily explains why Robert De Niro’s directorial debut, timeless coming-of-age crime drama A Bronx Tale, is such a fantastic piece of cinema. He clearly took some cues from his closest collaborator, Martin Scorsese.
De Niro plays a bus driver whose son is being seduced into the mafia by a local mobster played by Chazz Palminteri. Palminteri wrote the screenplay (and the play it was adapted from) based on his own childhood experiences, so the plot and character development are very intimate and very personal. It’s like the first half of Goodfellas stretched out to feature length and given a more wholesome quality.
6 You Were Never Really Here
The mistake made by most of the vigilante movies inspired by Scorsese’s masterpiece Taxi Driver is that they focus on the vigilantism as opposed to the vigilante himself. Taxi Driver wasn’t a movie about guns or revenge or murder. It was a movie about Travis Bickle – a character study of a very disturbed character.
The first movie to really nail it since then is Lynne Ramsay’s 2017 thriller You Were Never Really Here, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as a war vet who spends his days tracking down missing girls. It’s a visceral, intense, almost excruciating movie – a cinematic triumph and a must-see.
5 Killing Them Softly
Martin Scorsese’s movies are never action-packed, because action-packed movies fail to process the weight of their action. If a gunfight breaks out every five minutes, then no one will have a chance to reel from the death of a friend or recover from the pain of a bullet wound or deal with the fallout of a crime scene.
Scorsese realizes that all of this precursor and aftermath is actually the interesting stuff. And so does Andrew Dominik, whose slick, ultraviolent neo-noir thriller Killing Them Softly captures the consequences of its characters’ actions perfectly. Some guys rob a mafia poker game, so the mafia sends a pair of hitmen, played by Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini, to take care of it. It’s a simple premise, but that just gave Dominik a lucrative opportunity to dig deep.
4 There Will Be Blood
This is the second Paul Thomas Anderson movie included on the list, and there’s a good reason for that. Anderson, like Scorsese, is a phenomenal filmmaker who inexplicably manages to knock it out of the park every time he gets behind a camera. A strong connecting theme in all of Scorsese’s movies is the exploration of the myth of the American Dream, as well as the darker side of it.
Scorsese once said, “When I was growing up, I don’t remember being told that America was created so that everyone could get rich. I remember being told it was about opportunity and the pursuit of happiness. Not happiness itself, but the pursuit.” That theme is rampant in There Will Be Blood, which is perhaps Anderson’s finest film.
3 Wall Street
What sets Martin Scorsese apart from most other filmmakers is that he’ll tell a rags-to-riches story, but he won’t stop there. In the final act, he’ll send them back to rags. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. He does this by exploiting their greatest weakness.
In Goodfellas, Henry Hill’s weakness is his drug addiction. In Raging Bull, Jake LaMotta’s weakness is his jealousy. In all of these movies, the character’s weakness ultimately leads to their downfall. Oliver Stone’s Wall Street follows this storytelling model with a cautionary tale about greed following Charlie Sheen’s hotshot young stockbroker Bud Fox under the tutelage of Michael Douglas’ seasoned financial guru Gordon Gekko.
2 The Deer Hunter
Unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Martin Scorsese didn’t make a Vietnam movie. The closest he got was Taxi Driver, which focused on the psychological impact of the war on its veterans, as opposed to the conflict itself. If he had made a movie about the actual conflict, then it probably still would’ve focused heavily on the psychological effects.
Michael Cinimo’s The Deer Hunter is a good bet on what a Scorsese-helmed Vietnam movie might have looked like. It stars Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken as a pair of soldiers. We see the lead-up to their deployment and the aftermath of their combat. A surprisingly short amount of the runtime is dedicated to battle scenes. It’s a masterpiece.
1 Donnie Brasco
Martin Scorsese is the first name in gangster movies. He has a way of humanizing criminal characters without trivializing their crimes that very few other directors are able to pull off. But with Donnie Brasco, Mike Newell nailed it. It’s the true story of an FBI agent who went deep undercover with a mafia family in New York in the ‘70s.
Johnny Depp plays the agent, who walks a fine line between fed and gangster as his realities begin to blur, while Al Pacino plays the old hitman whose trust he gains. Donnie Brasco is one of the few movies included on lists of the greatest gangster films ever made that wasn’t directed by Martin Scorsese.