Almost sixty years into his career, Martin Scorsese has still got it. Killers of the Flower Moon was one of 2023’s most accomplished films and is now a serious contender for Oscar gold this March (Probably only Oppenheimer can compete). More than that, the film showed Scorsese pushing himself into new narrative territory and flexing his technical muscles. He’s definitely not one to rest on his laurels. He could have just stuck to gangster movies and that would have been enough; but instead, he got adventurous, exploring biopics, period pieces, dark comedies, and more.
The term ‘GOAT’ gets thrown around often when talking about talented directors, but with Scorsese, it might not be hyperbole. He’s hands-down one of the most influential storytellers in movie history. Without him, the world of cinema would be a very different place. That said, while his movies are acclaimed almost without exception, they don’t always translate to big box office returns. This is to be expected. After all, Scorsese is an artist who clearly pursues the stories that resonate with him, rather than those that might become blockbusters. Nevertheless, he has had a number of commercial hits, although only ten of his films have grossed over $50m. They prove that sophisticated, rich cinema can also be entertaining. These are Marty’s biggest box office successes, ranked.
10 ‘The Color Of Money’ (1986)
Worldwide Gross: $52 million
“In here? Doom.” This sports drama serves as a sequel to the 1961 film The Hustler, with Paul Newman reprising his role as the legendary pool player Eddie Felson. The story follows Eddie as he takes a talented but green young player named Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) under his wing. Eddie recognizes Vincent’s natural talent and sees an opportunity to make some serious money. As they embark on a road trip, Eddie imparts his wisdom to Vincent, teaching him the ropes of the hustling game.
While The Color of Money may not rise to the heights of The Hustler, there’s no denying the star power of the leads. Cruise and Newman have amazing chemistry, and the latter went on to win his sole Oscar for this performance. Scorsese also demonstrates yet again his talent for musical selection, serving up fantastic scenes set to songs like “It’s in the Way That You Use It” by Eric Clapton and Phil Collins’s “One More Night”.
9 ‘Casino’ (1995)
Worldwide Gross: $116 million
“For guys like me, Las Vegas washes away your sins. It’s like a morality car wash.” Robert De Niro leads this sweeping crime drama as Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a low-level mobster and meticulous sports handicapper who is enlisted to run the Tangiers Casino. He quickly doubles revenue but finds himself dealing with his volatile protector and childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) and the con artist Ginger Mckenna (Sharon Stone).
Casino is a true epic, clocking in at three hours and covering an immense amount of ground. We see the arc of these characters’ lives over more than ten years. However, Casino is not a portrait of these figures but rather of their whole time and place. In particular, it’s an immersive recreation of 1970s Las Vegas, both the glitz and the sleaze, right down to the finest details. In a lesser director’s hands, this might just be a standard mobster tale, but instead, Scorsese crafts it into a character-driven exploration of power, greed, and betrayal.
In Las Vegas, two best friends — a casino executive and a mafia enforcer — compete for a gambling empire and a fast-living, fast-loving socialite.
8 ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’ (2023)
Worldwide Gross: $156 million
Scorsese’s latest opus is one of his most ambitious and sprawling. Based on the nonfiction book by David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon centers on a string of murders on Osage land after oil is discovered there. Cattle baron William King Hale (Robert De Niro) is a power broker in the region, scheming to profit from the newly discovered resources. Leonardo DiCaprio plays his nephew, World War I veteran Ernest Burkhart, who works for Hale and eventually marries Mollie Kaye (Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman.
Killers of the Flower Moon bears some similarities to the crime sagas Scorsese is famous for, but delves deeper into history, using these figures to comment on the soul of the country. It could have collapsed under the weight of its own ambition, but the leads do a lot of heavy lifting. The acting here is terrific across the board, and the film will always be iconic simply for uniting Scorsese with his two closest collaborators, De Niro and DiCaprio, for the first time. However, the movie’s undisputed breakout star is Gladstone, who is now the front-runner for the Best Actress Oscar.
When oil is discovered in 1920s Oklahoma under Osage Nation land, the Osage people are murdered one by one – until the FBI steps in to unravel the mystery.
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”
7 ‘Hugo’ (2011)
Worldwide Gross: $185 million
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan living in the walls of a Paris train station, spending his days maintaining the clocks. One day, he discovers a broken automaton left behind by his father and begins attempting to repair it. Soon after, he crosses paths with a bitter toy shop owner named Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) and becomes entangled in a story of forgotten dreams, lost films, and the magic of filmmaking.
Simply put, Hugo is Marty’s love letter to the movies. Here, he pays tribute to the early days of cinema and the pioneers who shaped its artistry. Technically, Hugo is also notable for the way Scorsese uses 3D. Often the technology is little more than a gimmick, but here it serves to bring us closer to the characters and make the film’s visual world look all the more intricate. Speaking of the way 3D is used in the movie, Scorsese said, “It’s literally a Rubik’s Cube every time you go out to design a shot.”
6 ‘Cape Fear’ (1991)
Worldwide Gross: $182 million
Nick Nolte stars in this psychological thriller as Sam Bowden, a lawyer whose past actions come back to haunt him when Max Cady (De Niro), a convicted rapist, is released from prison. Seeking vengeance for Bowden’s perceived betrayal during his trial, Cady sets out on a relentless pursuit that escalates into a psychological and physical battle. Crucially, Bowden must confront his own demons if he is to survive Cady’s depredations. The leads are joined by a killer supporting cast, including Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, and Robert Mitchum.
While the film may not rank among Scorsese’s most thematically rich or psychologically complex works, Cape Fear stands out with its dark atmosphere and taut plotting. Scorsese channels Alfred Hitchcock, for example, borrowing some of the director’s unusual camera angles, editing techniques, and evocative lighting. He even recruited Hitchcock’s title designer Saul Bass to create the opening title sequence and reused a reworked score by Hitchcock’s musical collaborator Bernard Herrmann.
5 ‘Gangs Of New York’ (2002)
Worldwide Gross: $193 million
With Gangs of New York, Scorsese once again explores his fascination with criminal underworlds, but this time turns the clock back to 1863. The narrative unfolds in New York’s Five Points neighborhood, a melting pot of crime, corruption, and ethnic tensions. Leonardo DiCaprio is Amsterdam, a young Irish immigrant on a mission to take revenge against Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his most charmingly menacing performances), the nativist gang leader who murdered his father.
The film focuses on the clash between rival gangs and the political machinations that shaped New York’s destiny. It makes for a gritty and richly detailed snapshot of a city in the throes of transformation, echoing the struggles of a nation on the brink of change. Scorsese peoples this vivid canvas with a host of colorful characters, like corrupt politician William “Boss” Tweed (Jim Broadbent) and shopkeeper Happy Jack Mulraney (John C. Reilly). The only real black mark of the movie is Cameron Diaz‘s awful Irish accent.
In 1862, Amsterdam Vallon returns to the Five Points area of New York City seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher, his father’s killer.
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4 ‘The Aviator’ (2004)
Worldwide Gross: $213 million
The Aviator charts the dramatic life of tycoon Howard Hughes (DiCaprio), exploring his groundbreaking contributions to aviation, his passionate love affairs, and his battles with mental health. It represented a major step forward for DiCaprio as a leading actor, taking on perhaps his most challenging role up to that part. In particular, he dedicated hundreds of hours to learning about OCD, from which Hughes suffered, to ensure his performance was more realistic.
Scorsese mines Hughes’s extraordinary life for rich drama, using him as a springboard to comment on ambition, genius, and personal demons. In a sense, Hughes has two narratives here: one marked by wealth, power, and success; and another defined by isolation and helplessness. Alongside DiCaprio is a star-studded lineup of supporting players. The best of them all is Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, the star of classic Hollywood and one of Hughes’s love interests, a performance for which she won the Academy Award.
A biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes’ career from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s.
3 ‘The Departed’ (2006)
Worldwide Gross: $291 million
“I gave you the wrong address. But you went to the right one.” The Departed, a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, follows the parallel lives of two men on opposite sides of the law. DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a young police officer assigned to infiltrate the mob, while Matt Damon is Colin Sullivan, a mole within the police force leaking information to the criminals. Both men discover the presence of an informant in their respective organizations, laying the foundation for a monumental conflagration.
The film is a masterclass in tension and double-crossing, as well as a moving study of the Irish mafia in Boston. Scorsese’s movies often have a religious undercurrent, and here he explores themes of identity, deception, and Catholic guilt. As a result, The Departed might be his best fusion of thoughtful subject-matter and a gripping plot. Not for nothing, it won Scorsese his first, and to date only, Oscar.
An undercover cop and a mole in the police attempt to identify each other while infiltrating an Irish gang in South Boston.
- William Monahan , Alan Mak , Felix Chong
2 ‘Shutter Island’ (2010)
Worldwide Gross: $294 million
U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio), a World War II veteran, is tasked with investigating the mysterious disappearance of a prisoner from the Ashecliffe Hospital, a psychiatric institution for the criminally insane on Shutter Island. As he and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) begin searching for information, he uncovers dark secrets and begins to question his own sanity.
This may not be Scorsese’s most complex or innovative project, but it’s sleek, potent, and carefully crafted, with seemingly not a single element going to waste. As with Cape Fear, there are touches of Hitchcock here, like when Teddy ascends a gloomy lighthouse, echoing the climax of Vertigo. Shutter Island is probably most well-known for its third-act twist and heartrending, ambiguous ending, but it also deserves praise for its immersive, gothic atmosphere and DiCaprio’s intense performance. Teddy’s descent into madness could easily have come across as forced or overdone, but instead, he makes it brutally believable.
Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule, two US marshals, are sent to an asylum on a remote island in order to investigate the disappearance of a patient, where Teddy uncovers a shocking truth about the place.
1 ‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’ (2013)
Worldwide Gross: $406 million
With The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese dives headfirst into the excess and corruption of Wall Street in the 1980s and ’90s. DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, an ambitious and unscrupulous stockbroker who engages in rampant fraud and securities manipulation to amass immense wealth. Alongside his partner, Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Belfort leads a hedonistic life of sex, drugs, and extravagant parties.
This is Wall Street but updated for an even more cynical age, in which there is no comeuppance for the bad guy and justice isn’t fully served. Not to mention, the film is as opulent and grandiose as its protagonist, serving up one hilarious or sickening set piece after another: Matthew McConaughey‘s humming, the infamous Quaaludes trip, Jonah Hill’s prosthetic you-know-what. Scorsese somehow pulls off the balancing act, turning this stream of chaos into a scathing critique of predatory finance. That it’s all raucously entertaining is an added bonus.
Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stock-broker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.