There’s a reason that Martin Scorsese generates headlines every time he makes an observation about the state of cinema: He’s one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers of all time, and his work has helped shape the course of filmmaking for nearly six decades. With longtime collaborators including stars Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese has created enduring classics in multiple genres, from crime thrillers to period dramas.
Both De Niro and DiCaprio are on board for Scorsese’s upcoming historical crime epic Killers of the Flower Moon, and they’re both well-represented in this list of seven best Scorsese movies to stream right now. Scorsese has made so many brilliant films that it’s tough to pick just seven, but these are all essential viewing, whether you’re new to Scorsese’s work or just want to remind yourself of his genius.
Widely considered Scorsese’s masterpiece, GoodFellas is also one of the defining movies of the gangster genre, with numerous imitators of varying quality in the 30-plus years since it was released. Even if you’ve heard the movie’s iconic lines quoted over and over, the sprawling saga of mobster turned informant Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is still mesmerizing, making the story of Henry’s rise and fall across several decades into a commentary on the shifting American dream.
In addition to Liotta, the outstanding ensemble cast also includes De Niro, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, and Oscar-winner Joe Pesci. Scorsese expertly balances the overlapping stories of these dangerous and often desperate men, tied together by Liotta’s wry yet defiant narration. Scorsese’s bravura filmmaking showcases just how hollow the life of even the most successful gangster turns out to be.
A companion piece to GoodFellas, Casino is also based on a true-crime book by Nicholas Pileggi, and it also stars De Niro and Pesci as unrepentant mobsters. They play two members of the organized crime syndicate that ran Las Vegas for decades, building the town into the mecca for vice that earned it the nickname Sin City. Although Casino is dark and violent, it’s also a detailed history lesson on how Las Vegas became the legalized gambling capital of the United States.
While conducting their criminal enterprise, these men established the foundation of how Las Vegas still operates today, and Scorsese shows them as innovators as well as crooks. De Niro and Pesci play variations on their familiar characters, leaving the Oscar-nominated Sharon Stone to give the movie’s breakout performance as the unstable wife of De Niro’s casino boss.
Scorsese’s second collaboration with DiCaprio represents their finest work together, an expansive biopic about eccentric mogul Howard Hughes. DiCaprio gives the best performance of his career as Hughes, who evolves from a cocky aviation tycoon and Hollywood player into a paranoid recluse over the course of 20 years. DiCaprio captures the human frailty of this larger-than-life figure, who maintained a powerful grip on his businesses even as his mental health deteriorated.
Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for her portrayal of actress Katharine Hepburn, one of Hughes’ many Hollywood dalliances, and The Aviator mixes Hollywood glamour with seedy backroom business deals. Scorsese once again uses the true story of a shady figure from America’s past to make a statement about the corruption and greed that helped build the country.
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The King of Comedy
Although it’s still not as well-known as many of their other collaborations, Scorsese himself has said that he believes this dark comedy features De Niro’s best performance in a Scorsese film. De Niro plays aspiring stand-up comedian Rupert Pupkin, who has a disturbed fixation on talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Rupert is delusional, but he’s also representative of the public’s unhealthy relationship with celebrities, and his drive for fame at any cost has only become more relevant over time.
As Rupert and fellow obsessed fan Masha (Sandra Bernhard) go to increasingly unhinged lengths to get closer to Jerry, Scorsese expertly balances the movie between satire and psychological thriller. Rupert is one of De Niro’s most memorable characters, and it’s easy to see why Scorsese regards The King of Comedy as a highlight of their work together.
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The Color of Money
It’s tempting to dismiss this belated sequel to classic pool hall drama The Hustler as a work-for-hire gig that doesn’t measure up to Scorsese’s passion projects. But even when working on someone else’s material, Scorsese brings every bit of his talent to the task, and that elevates what could have been a standard 1980s studio film. Instead, it’s an intelligent, layered drama about generational legacy in competitive sports, with excellent chemistry between stars Paul Newman and Tom Cruise.
Newman reprises his Hustler character Fast Eddie Felson, now serving as a mentor to young up-and-comer Vincent Lauria (Cruise). The story doesn’t follow the expected beats of the underdog sports movie, although it’s still often rousing and triumphant. Scorsese infuses the billiards scenes with lively, unpredictable energy, which extends to the rest of the movie.
It’s a testament to the skills of both Scorsese and De Niro that they can make such an engrossing biopic about a truly reprehensible person. Boxer Jake LaMotta is a violent, abusive jerk who alienates nearly everyone in his life, and Scorsese never attempts to downplay that, even in the face of Jake’s achievements in the ring. But Raging Bull also never makes Jake into an outright villain, instead focusing on how his own personal circumstances led him down such a destructive path.
Raging Bull is a fascinating character study with stellar supporting performances from Cathy Moriarty as Jake’s second wife and Joe Pesci as Jake’s brother and manager. It’s also a dazzling depiction of Jake’s boxing matches, with innovative visuals and uses of classical music. Scorsese subverts the elements of the sports biopic to tell a complex, tragic story.
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DiCaprio is just one famous face in this star-packed crime drama about star-crossed undercover operatives. DiCaprio and Matt Damon play South Boston natives on opposite sides of the law, one a cop sent to infiltrate the local mob, the other a mobster placed as a spy within the state police. Scorsese remakes the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs while connecting it to his longtime interest in real-life American criminals, modeling some of the characters on actual figures from the Boston underworld.
Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg and Vera Farmiga play various other players on either side of the cop/criminal divide, which becomes increasingly blurry as the film progresses. Torn between two worlds, the main characters ultimately end up without any side to truly call their own.