For someone like Martin Scorsese, who is often regarded as one of the most important and significant filmmakers in all of cinema history, he has spent an entire lifetime making movies that are sure to stand the test of time. He turns 78 today, and is still going strong, Scorsese continues to work passionately on new projects—his latest feature being the sociopolitical-horror film The Irishman which was released last year.
A staunch cinema-lover apart from being one of the trailblazers of the New-Hollywood movement, Scorsese recounts several films and filmmakers being his inspiration growing up. John Cassavetes—the pioneer of American independent cinema—whose films are characterised by chatty and improvisational dialogues, heavily influenced Scorsese’s scripts and production and advised him to “make films about what you know”. Owing to his Italian roots, he also named ‘Italian Neorealism’ and, subsequently, the works of Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica amongst various other as substantial in his growth as a filmmaker.
Scorsese, who eventually won the Academy Award for Best Director for his 2006 film The Departed after several previous nominations, has since gone on to make numerous other features in a vast oeuvre—with stylistic contrasts that range from the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ to the 19th century Daniel Day-Lewis starring romantic-drama The Age of Innocence.
Celebrating his 78th birthday, we rank the greatest Martin Scorsese films available on Netflix for viewing.
Martin Scorsese’s best movies on Netflix:
7. No Direction Home (2005)
Scorsese’s documentary on Bob Dylan traces the life of the musical great, and his impact on 20th-century American popular music and culture. The three-hour-plus documentary tells the story of the development of this American artist during the ’50s and ’60s, most specifically his career from 1960 to 1961, and you “see Dylan as he was formed in the crucible of that moment.”
“With all the footage the ultimate challenge was the story, how to find it,” said Scorsese, receiving a 2005 Peabody Award given for excellence in broadcasting for the film. “It was Bob Dylan — for many of us, our artist, our voice. And what can you say that hasn’t already been said in his music? We also tried to make a film about music in which you really hear music, Dylan’s music of course, but also, more importantly, I think the people who influenced him.
“He may not be aware of the beauty, the inspiration,” the director says of Dylan. “The words, the music, the performance, the thinking, the provocation — all of this has an impact on people. The ones who are able to hear it.”
6. The Irishman (2019)
Marty’s 2019 crime-epic starring his old boys, The Irishman follows Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a truck driver who becomes a hitman involved with mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and his crime family, including his time working for the powerful Teamster Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). With a production budget of $150–250 million and a runtime of 209 minutes, it is the longest and most expensive film of Scorsese’s career.
The film received universal critical acclaim, with particular praise directed towards Scorsese’s direction and the performances of De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci. The Irishman received numerous accolades at the 92nd Academy Awards, where it received ten nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Pacino and Pesci, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
“Having gotten to make the film. The picture was very difficult to get made the past 10 years and for many different reasons. It took a while,” the director commented. “It’s very special that we got it made. And I feel at this point in my life, it’s something that I feel the value of — if not for me, for Bob, Al, and Joe — a lot of people involved in it. And the fact people have reacted so strongly is really [pauses] I don’t know if I have the words to express the thanks. What’s special about it is that everything in our hearts was put into it at this stage of our lives.”
5. Hugo (2011)
Hugo was Scorsese’s first 3D project and it marked a creative departure for the man behind The Departed, Taxi Driver, and Goodfellas. Based on Brian Selznick’s 2007 book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, it tells the story of a boy who lives alone in the Gare Montparnasse railway station in Paris in the 1930s, only to become embroiled in a mystery surrounding his late father’s automaton and the pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès.
Scorsese says Hugo is all about dreams, and as overworked as that idea may be in the movie business, it’s particularly appropriate when it comes to a film based on a children’s book. “For children, there’s always a sense of magic,” he says. “There’s always a sense of something beyond the natural when you see the images move that way.”
There was still a learning curve to using the new technology, but despite all that, Scorsese describes Hugo as one of the most rewarding experiences he’s ever had to make a film. “But you know, Taxi Driver in 3D would have been interesting,” he says. Just imagine a 3D version of Robert De Niro asking a mirror, “You talkin’ to me?”
“He’d be talkin’ to ya,” Scorsese says. “That would be amazing.”
4. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (2019)
Composed of both fictional and non-fictional material, covering Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue concert tour, it was Martin Scorsese’s second film on Bob Dylan, following 2005’s No Direction Home. The bulk of Rolling Thunder Revue is compiled of outtakes from Dylan’s 1978 film Renaldo and Clara, which was filmed in conjunction with the tour.
The Rolling Thunder Revue is still unlike any tour ever conducted by a major rock star. It began when Dylan, months after the release of his 1975 masterpiece Blood on the Tracks, wanted to stage the antithesis of the big money stadium tour he’d conducted with the Band the previous year. Feeling restless and a bit nostalgic, he invited longtime friends and associates like Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Allen Ginsberg and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott on a tour of theatres on the East Coast and into Canada. Ticket prices were kept low and shows weren’t announced until a couple of days before they happened.
“The idea was to put a tour up, a combination of different acts on the same stage for a variety of musical styles,” Dylan says in the new documentary. “I wouldn’t say it was a traditional revue, but it was a traditional form of a revue …” He then pauses and looks disgusted with his own choice of words. “That’s all clumsy bullshit!” he declares.
3. Cape Fear (1991)
Scorsese’s chilling revenge thriller tells the story of a convicted rapist who, mostly by using his newfound knowledge of the law and its numerous loopholes, seeks vengeance against a former public defender, whom he blames for his 14-year imprisonment because of the purposefully faulty defence tactics used during his trial.
It marked the seventh collaboration between Scorsese and De Niro. The film was a commercial success and garnered positive reviews, receiving Oscar and Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress.
Reunited with Robert De Niro, the legendary filmmaker succeeded in accomplishing what he set out to do. Cape Fear is haunting, disturbing, and psychologically nuanced. Thanks to the wonderfully dedicated effort of De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis, Cape Fear is one of the best thrillers of the last decade of the 20th century.
2. Mean Streets (1973)
Mean Streets was Scorsese’s first feature film of his own design. Director John Cassavetes told him after he completed Boxcar Bertha: “You’ve just spent a year of your life making a piece of shit.” This inspired Scorsese to make a film about his own experiences – Mean Streets – which was based on events Scorsese saw almost regularly while growing up in New York City’s Little Italy.
Scorsese recalls: “It took me years to realize Mean Streets was more about my father and him than myself and my old friends because my father was constantly making sure he wasn’t going to get killed or beat up. He seemed to be constantly trying to find him. Then, making sure his wife went up to see him in jail. Then a couple of other people whom I saw that he was close to behaved like that [and turned it around] and then still tried to regain their dignity in the streets, and found they could not.
“There are elements of it that are…it was so truthful in a sense and honest that it’s difficult for me to watch. It was also made for a time when nothing else like it existed. In other words, all that existed was the work. It wasn’t an issue of politics, like now. All that existed was the work. Any issues which might be offensive or difficult to deal with, they weren’t addressed. It didn’t matter. We just had to deal with the truth of what the story was and the characters and today it’s a little hard to imagine a film like that being made now. I don’t think it could be made now.”
1. Taxi Driver (1976)
One of the greatest films of all-time, Taxi Driver is set in a decaying and morally bankrupt New York City following the Vietnam War, and tells the story of Travis Bickle, a lonely taxi driver who descends into insanity as he plots to assassinate both the presidential candidate for whom the woman he is infatuated with works, and the pimp of an underage prostitute he befriends.
“Travis Bickle, the character that Paul Schrader wrote, is the avenging angel. He comes in and he wants to clean up the streets. He wants to clean everybody out,” Scorsese once commented. “He really means well. The problem is the old story of what constitutes madness. We have this fantasy sometimes, in the city, where you look at it and you say, ‘God, how could this exist? Look at the poor people in the streets. What’s going on? What’s happened in the past fifteen years to America? I wish I could do this; I wish I could do that.’ You even get a sense of violence walking in the streets.”
A critical and commercial success upon release and nominated for four Academy Awards, including for Best Picture, Best Actor (for De Niro) and Best Supporting Actress (for Foster), Taxi Driver won the Palme d’Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival.