Why Martin Scorsese's Best Films Aren't the Gangster Movies – MovieWeb

Martin Scorsese often gets accused of only making gangster movies. This is not only false, but some of his best films happen to be in other genres.
Martin Scorsese is one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time. He has garnered critical acclaim and released box office hits, has been nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards nine times and won once. He is a name that, even to general audiences who may not know or think about movies that much, inspires a great deal of confidence and connotations of great cinema. People know that when they sit down to watch a Scorsese picture it will be a quality film.
Yet despite having made movies for over seven decades, Scorsese is often pigeonholed and typecast as a filmmaker who only makes gangster movies. Anyone who wants to criticize the filmmaker likes to cite that is all the director makes, despite that being far from the truth.
While movies like Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, and The Departed are among some of his most famous and biggest box office hits, they are far from the only movies the director has made. In fact, some of his most fascinating and artistically brilliant work is outside the gangster genre. Martin Scorsese makes more than just gangster movies, and here are some of the interesting aspects of the rest of his filmography.
One need only look at the acclaimed director's filmography to see that the "he just makes gangster movies" comment is not true. As of 2019, Scorsese has directed 25 feature films, but only six feature the mob or gangsters in prominent roles (Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York, The Departed, and The Irishman). If one is being generous, Taxi Driver and Boxcar Bertha would make eight, but even then that barely makes up more than 1/4th of the director's filmography.
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Yes, it is notable that the director's gangster and mafia projects are some of his most high-profile films, being some of the biggest money-makers and the ones with the most Academy Award nominations, and it was The Departed that finally won him the Best Director Oscar. Yet the comment that it is all he makes is statistically not true, just as it is untrue Hollywood only makes superhero movies when one can see more horror films or biopics made per year than superhero movies. This is less about the actual numbers and more about how the films are talked about, as the gangster films seem to generate the most discussion, but that does not dictate the reality of the actual output.
Scorsese is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and throughout his long-storied career, the director has dipped his toe into a number of genres. Early in his career he directed the character-driven comedic drama Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and the massive musical New York, New York. In 1993, he directed The Age of Innocence, a historical romantic drama adapted from the novel of the same name that is so far removed from the likes of Goodfellas or Taxi Driver.
He has released two horror/thrillers with 1991's Cape Fear and 2010's Shutter Island. He followed up Shutter Island by going in an entirely different direction by directing the family film Hugo, and only a director like Scorsese could make a kid's movie all about silent era film and film preservation. He made two great comedies, with the underrated After Hours and The King of Comedy. To say that Scorsese only directs gangster movies is to dismiss an entire career of a filmmaker who has tapped into a variety of different genres.
Scorsese grew up in a Roman Catholic family, and before he was going to be a filmmaker, he studied to become a priest. While he eventually shifted careers and for years identified as a lapsed Catholic (by 2016 he said he identified as Catholic once again), many of Scorsese's films deal with Catholicism, both creating and coping with guilt. It's this balance of the sacred and the profane which has frequently defined his career. This is present in some of his gangster films like The Departed and The Irishman, but it is also present in Shutter Island and his debut feature film Who's That Knocking at My Door. The director is fascinated with exploring why bad people do bad things, and how they cope with it.
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Two of the director's biggest passion projects were religious-based films: 1988's The Last Temptation of Christ and 2016's Silence. The Last Temptation of Christ received a great deal of controversy and boycotts for its depiction of Jesus Christ and temptations by sex. Scorsese had wanted to do a film version of Jesus' life since he was a kid and in doing so go to explore it and his own Catholic upbringing. Silence followed two 17th-century Jesuit priests who travel to Edo-era Japan to find their missing mentor while having their faith tested. Scorsese had been developing the movie for over 25 years. In between these two films, he also directed Kundun in 1997 which was based on the life and writings of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama the spiritual leader of Tibet. While not connected to Catholicism like the other two works, Kundun explores similar themes of faith and spirituality, and forms a loose religious trilogy when combined alongside The Last Temptation of Christ and Silence.
Martin Scorsese has been directing movies for seven decades, with his next film Killers of the Flower Moon set to hit AppleTV+ in 2023. It is great audiences know and still love his iconic work like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. Even this far into his career, his name helped make films like The Departed, Shutter Island, and The Wolf of Wall Street box office hits. Yet the director has a whole slew of films that have gone underappreciated that are worth checking out, and while the director has helped preserve many classic movies and encouraged audiences to watch films from around the globe, it is worth also watching more movies from a legendary filmmaker.
After Hours, Age of Innocence, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, The Aviator, Hugo, Kundun, Silence, and Boxcar Bertha are all underrated Scorsese films compared to his mafia movies, and are more than worthy of checking out. Scorsese doesn't need gangsters to make a great film, and he shouldn't need to play into the typecast image of those films to grab audiences' attention. One need only seek out the director's work and one will find there is more to the acclaimed filmmaker than gangster films.
Richard Fink is a writer who graduated from Arizona State University in 2016 with a degree in Film and Media Production. He loves the finer things in life, like cold Diet Coke on a hot summer day. Richard is a fan of all things Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and Film History.


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