“There’s no such thing as simple. Simple is hard.” – Martin Scorsese
Legend. Master. The OG of modern-day cinema in its infinite glory. Director, writer and producer Martin Scorsese is undoubtedly one of the most influential and greatest filmmakers of all time. His visceral focus and acute devotion to moviemaking have inspired generations of artists not only in directing and screenwriting but also with aspiring actors, artisans and anyone in love with the medium.
The visionary director turns 80 years old Thursday, and to celebrate his birthday, Variety ranks the 25 narrative feature films of his career so far.
I was first hypnotized by Scorsese with his remake of the 1962 film “Cape Fear” (1991), which starred the Oscar-nominated Robert DeNiro and a young Juliette Lewis, whom I had known from the cult classic “My Stepmother is an Alien” (1988). The visceral nature of the way the film is framed, cutting back and forth between DeNiro’s loud and boisterous monologues, terrified me. That Oscar ceremony marked the first that I watched from beginning to end, which saw the likes of “The Silence of the Lambs” win the “Big Five” including best picture. More importantly, it showed the Academy’s appetite for suspense and tension, something Scorsese has excelled at.
From his endless list of accolades, both in the U.S. and internationally, he’s amassed an impressive roster including nine Oscar noms for best director, the most of any living, and second to William Wyler’s 12 overall. They include “Raging Bull” (1980), “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), “Goodfellas” (1990), “Gangs of New York” (2002), “The Aviator” (2004), “The Departed” (2006), “Hugo” (2011), “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013) and “The Irishman” (2019). His sole statuette is for the 2006 remake of “Infernal Affairs,” which also won best picture, adapted screenplay (William Monahan) and editing (Thelma Schoonmaker).
His entire filmography has grossed more than $2.1 billion worldwide. On the domestic side, his total films have him in the top 50 of the highest-grossing directors in history. Born in New York City to Italian parents, he’s known for his undying love for movies, and it’s been reciprocated ten times over. After attending Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, Scorsese initially set out to become a priest and attended a preparatory seminary but dropped out after the first year. He later enrolled in New York University, earning a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in education.
After making several short films in the 1960s, he made his directorial debut “Who’s That Knocking at My Door” (1967), originally titled “I Call First,” starring his fellow Tisch School actor Harvey Keitel and longtime editor Schoonmaker. From there, he was off to the races, working with countless actors, many of whom have been embraced by the Academy Awards. Some of those include winners Ellen Burstyn for “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (1974), Robert DeNiro for “Raging Bull,” Paul Newman for “The Color of Money” (1986), Joe Pesci for “Goodfellas” and Cate Blanchett for “The Aviator.”
Next up for Scorsese will be his adaptation of the David Grann book “Killers of the Flower Moon” which teams him up with his frequent muses and Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro, alongside Jesse Plemons, Lily Gladstone and Brendan Fraser. Distributed by Apple Original Films, it’s expected to release in 2023.
Read Variety’s ranking of his 25 narrative feature films below.
“Death comes in a flash, and that’s the truth of it, the person’s gone in less than 24 frames of film.”