9 Best Movies to Watch by Martin Scorsese

Staff & contributors

Martin Scorsese — plus screenwriter Paul Schrader, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and cinematographer Robert Richardson — reimagine nocturnal New York City as an eternally flaming circle of hell in this darkly funny fever dream. Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) is an insomniac paramedic who’s haunted by the ghosts of all the lives he couldn’t save and is on a nightmarish run of losing every patient he tries to help. There’s no respite for him anywhere; he’s so burnt out he begs to be fired, but the city is so desperate they won’t let him leave their tired ranks of medics, who are mostly jaded, sometimes sadistic, and yet still addicted to the euphoric high of saving a life.

As Frank is pushed ever closer to breaking point, the film takes on the hallucinatory qualities of his perspective, the cinematography growing feverish and the editing powered by a wild, manic energy. What stops the movie from feeling like a spiral into actual hell is the strange light that keeps Frank returning to work — the perpetual need for redemption and grace that prevents him from becoming cold to his job but makes his sanity fragile. In typical Scorsese-Schrader style, this is a raw, visceral, and very human search for grace in an unsparing urban hellscape.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Afemo Omilami, Aida Turturro, Aleks Shaklin, Andy Davoli, Antone Pagán, Arthur J. Nascarella, Bernie Friedman, Betty Miller, Brian Smyj, Bronson Dudley, Catrina Ganey, Charis Michelsen, Cliff Curtis, Craig muMs Grant, Cullen O. Johnson, David Zayas, Ed Jupp Jr., Floyd Resnick, Frank Ciornei, Fuschia!, Graciela Lecube, Jack O'Connell, James Hanlon, Jesse Malin, John Goodman, John Heffernan, Jon Abrahams, Joseph P. Reidy, Judy Reyes, Julyana Soelistyo, Larry Fessenden, Leonid Citer, Lia Yang, Marc Anthony, Mark Giordano, Martin Scorsese, Mary Beth Hurt, Mary Diveny, Marylouise Burke, Matthew Maher, Melissa Marsala, Michael Carbonaro, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Mulheren, Mtume Gant, Nestor Serrano, Nicolas Cage, Omar Scroggins, Patricia Arquette, Phyllis Somerville, Queen Latifah, Raymond Cassar, Richard Spore, Sonja Sohn, Sylva Kelegian, Terry Serpico, Theo Kogan, Tom Cappadona, Tom Riis Farrell, Tom Sizemore, Ving Rhames

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: R

Martin Scorsese had just spent a year prepping for The Last Temptation of Christ when Paramount Pictures unceremoniously pulled the plug on the movie just one month before production was due to start. After Hours was Scorsese’s way of exorcising all that disappointment and frustration, and you can feel it: this black comedy vibrates with manic intensity as it charts a night from hell in the life of Paul (Griffin Dunne), a somewhat scuzzy yuppie living in ‘80s New York City.

In keeping with its title — which suggests the movie is suspended in temporal limbo — After Hours feels like it takes place in some mythological hellscape, a demonic underworld in which everyone Paul meets has been sent forth with the express mission to make his life more miserable. Surreal coincidences pile up, deepening his paranoia and turning his simple goal of returning home into a labyrinthine quest for survival on the deserted, rain-soaked streets of SoHo. It’s the kind of celluloid nightmare that terrorizes and thrills you at the same time (a la the Safdie brothers’ best works, which draw inspiration from After Hours). Only a director of Scorsese’s caliber could turn profound professional disappointment into such a win as this.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Bronson Pinchot, Catherine O'Hara, Charles Scorsese, Cheech Marin, Clarence Felder, Dick Miller, Frank Aquilino, Griffin Dunne, Henry Judd Baker, John Heard, Larry Block, Linda Fiorentino, Margo Winkler, Martin Scorsese, Murray Moston, Paula Raflo, Robin Johnson, Rocco Sisto, Rockets Redglare, Rosanna Arquette, Stephen Lim, Teri Garr, Tommy Chong, Verna Bloom, Victor Argo, Victor Bumbalo, Victor Magnotta, Will Patton

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: R

Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon isn’t a whodunnit; in fact, it’s closer to a who-didn’t-do-it. We know from the very beginning who is responsible for committing the brutal serial murders of wealthy Osage Native Americans in 1920s Oklahoma that the film chronicles: pretty much every single one of their white neighbors, spearheaded by William Hale (a skin-crawling Robert De Niro). Scorsese, most often associated with mafia stories, stealthily suggests here that the most dangerous gang of all is the one into which all these perpetrators have been born. That’s an idea he investigates through the confused loyalties of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart, the Judas-like husband of Mollie (movie-stealer Lily Gladstone), an Osage woman who owns lucrative oil headrights that William wants to fatten his own pockets with. This searing epic — based on a harrowing chapter of real American history — is an unsparing and self-implicating look at complicity and greed in the eye, a monumental movie that cements its maker as one of the greatest to ever do it.

Genre: Crime, Drama, History

Actor: Adam Washington, Addie Roanhorse, Alexandria Toineeta, Alexis Ann, Alexis Waller, Barry Corbin, Beau Smith, Ben Hall, Bravery Nowlin, Brendan Fraser, Brent Langdon, Brian Shoop, Bronson Redeagle, Candice Costello, Cara Jade Myers, Carl Palmer, Chance Rush, Charisse Satepauhoodle, Charlie Musselwhite, Chase Parker, Christopher Cote, Clint Rohr, Dana Daylight, Danny Frost, David Born, David Fields, Delani Chambers, DJ Whited, Dolan Wilson, Ed Yellowfish, Elden Henson, Elisha Pratt, Elizabeth Waller, Eric Parkinson, Everett Waller, Gabriel Casdorph, Garrison Panzer, Gary Basaraba, Gene Jones, Gregory Fallis, Harrison Shackelford, J. C. MacKenzie, Jack White, Jackie Wyatt, Jacob Johnson, Jacob Lux, James Carroll, James Healy Jr., JaNae Collins, Jarad Looper, Jason Isbell, Jay Paulson, Jeffrey Stevenson, Jennifer Moses, Jennifer Rader, Jeremy Goodvoice, Jerry Logsdon, Jerry Wolf, Jesse Plemons, Jessica Harjo, Jezy Gray, Jillian Dion, Jo Harvey Allen, Joe Chrest, Joey Oglesby, John Gibbs, John Lithgow, Johnny Baier, Joseph Spinelli, Joshua Close, Julia Lookout, Justin France, Karen Garlitz, Katherine Willis, Kristin Keith, Kyle Dillingham, Larry Fessenden, Larry Jack Dotson, Larry Sellers, Lee Eddy, Leland Prater, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone, Louis Cancelmi, Lucas Ross, Lynette Satepauhoodle, Mahada Sanders, Mamie Cozad, Marc Phaneuf, Margaret Gray, Mark Landon Smith, Mark Lopeman, Marko Costanzo, Martin Scorsese, Mary Buss, Mason Bighorse, Mason Cunningham, Matt Tolentino, Melissa Tiger, Michael Abbott Jr., Mike Cook, Moe Headrick, Moira Redcorn, Nathalie Standingcloud, Nathaniel Arcand, Nicholas White, Nick W. Nicholson, Nokosee Fields, Norma Jean, Norris Bighorse, Pat Healy, Patrick Bubert, Paul Woodiel, Penny Potts, Pete Yorn, Peter Yarin, Randy Houser, Rayna Gellert, Reignen Yellowfish, River Rhoades, Robert De Niro, Ron McMahan, Sam Bardfeld, Samuel French, Samuel Gray, Sarah Spurger, Scott George, Scott Shepherd, Seth Buckminster, Shonagh Smith, Silas Satepauhoodle, Stephen Berkman, Steve Eastin, Steve Routman, Steve Witting, Sturgill Simpson, Tahlee Redcorn, Tanner Brantley, Tantoo Cardinal, Tatanka Means, Ted Welch, Terry Allen, Tom Ashmore, Tommy Schultz, Ty Mitchell, Vann Bighorse, Victor McCay, Vince Giordano, Vinny Raniolo, Wally Welch, Welker White, William Belleau, Xavier Toehay, Zachary Hokeah

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: R

Long before we became accustomed to oxymorons like “scripted reality” shows, there was a time when viewers could expect to trust what they saw on TV. One of the pivotal events shattering that illusion in the US was the 1950s quiz show scandal, in which producers of popular broadcasts like Twenty-One were revealed to be feeding contestants the answers in advance in order to manipulate audience ratings. 

Robert Redford’s Quiz Show is an engrossing chronicle of the investigation that blew the lid on Twenty-One's fixing, revealed when disgruntled champion Herb Stempel became a whistleblower. Stempel (played with nervous brilliance by John Turturro) was pressured to flunk a no-brainer question to make way for golden boy Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), a ratings-friendly photogenic academic from a prominent WASP-ish family. What’s so sharp about Quiz Show is that it doesn’t just recreate the scandal for drama’s sake: it needles in on the greed and privilege that drove the fraud, paying particular attention to Van Doren’s angle of the morality play, the influence of his class and ethnicity, and the secret hand the show’s studio and sponsor had in the whole affair. In an era when practically anything goes in the name of entertainment, this interrogation of TV’s corrupt origins feels ever-relevant.

Genre: Drama, History, Mystery

Actor: Allan Rich, Anthony Fusco, Barry Levinson, Barry Snider, Ben Shenkman, Bernie Sheredy, Bill Moor, Bruce Altman, Byron Jennings, Calista Flockhart, Carole Shelley, Christopher McDonald, Chuck Adamson, Cornelia Ryan, Dan Wakefield, Dave Wilson, David Paymer, David Stepkin, Debra Monk, Douglas McGrath, Eddie Korbich, Elizabeth Wilson, Ernie Sabella, Ethan Hawke, George Martin, Gina Rice, Grace Phillips, Gretchen Egolf, Griffin Dunne, Hank Azaria, Harriet Sansom Harris, Illeana Douglas, Jack Gilpin, Jeffrey Nordling, Jerry Grayson, Jerry Griffin, Joe Lisi, Johann Carlo, John Turturro, Joseph Attanasio, Joseph Blaire, Katherine Borowitz, Kelly Coffield Park, Le Clanché du Rand, Mario Cantone, Martin Scorsese, Mary Shultz, Matt Keeslar, Merwin Goldsmith, Michael Mantell, Mira Sorvino, Nicholas Kepros, Paul Guilfoyle, Paul Scofield, Ralph Fiennes, Reno, Richard Council, Richard Seff, Rob Morrow, Robert Caminiti, Scott Lucy, Shawn Batten, Stephen Pearlman, Timothy Britten Parker, Timothy Busfield, Vince O'Brien, Vincent J. Burns, William Fichtner

Director: Robert Redford

It's impossible not to be moved by this passionate love letter to the medium of film and its singular abilities to witness, commemorate, connect, educate, and, yes, entertain. The Living Record is more than that, though: it’s also an urgent clarion call for better support of the infrastructure and people who preserve and restore the celluloid reels that contain so much of our history.

In two hours, it packs in a lot — perhaps even too much, because there is so much fascinating material here that it’s almost overwhelming to take it in all at once. The doc draws on a sweeping line-up of contributors who collectively illuminate every facet of the need for preservation and restoration, from archivists to filmmakers like Jonas Mekas, Ken Loach, and Costa-Gavras. Its scope is just as commendably exhaustive, featuring nuanced discussions of the dangers politics poses to preservation efforts, as well as the particular need for archives in formerly colonized countries to prevent “cultural amnesia.” Despite all the challenges it highlights, its tone isn’t hopeless, as the film draws strength from the tireless efforts of archivists and cinematic saviors like Martin Scorsese. It’s impossible to watch this and not come away affirmed or converted into similarly passionate champions of preservation.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History

Actor: Ben Mankiewicz, Costa-Gavras, Fernando Trueba, Jonas Mekas, Ken Loach, Laure Adler, Margaret Bodde, Martin Scorsese, Patricio Guzman, Ridley Scott, Serge Bromberg, Vittorio Storaro, Wim Wenders

Director: Inés Toharia Terán

Watch this documentary and find yourself amazed at how much of Hollywood history was determined by one woman: legendary casting director Marion Dougherty. At a time when studios were casting actors based on “type,” Dougherty revolutionized the process with her preternatural ability to see the potential in budding actors like Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, and Glenn Close. Her work in introducing NYC’s theater actors to the silver screen launched countless careers and indelibly shaped iconic films like Midnight Cowboy and Lethal Weapon.

And yet, Dougherty’s work — and that of those who followed in her steps — is criminally underappreciated, as this doc both lays bare and seeks to redress. A largely female profession, casting was long devalued by a casually misogynistic industry, the persistent legacy of which is subtly highlighted in some interviews here. Among the talking heads sharing appreciation and anecdotes are many of the actors and casting directors whose careers Dougherty launched, as well as filmmakers (including Martin Scorsese) testifying to the pivotal role casting has played in their work. Playing the villain is Ray director Taylor Hackford, who believes casting directors add little to the filmmaking process — an argument that the doc wryly disproves with the sheer weight of refuting evidence it offers up.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Al Pacino, Amanda Mackey, Bette Midler, Buck Henry, Burt Young, Clint Eastwood, Cybill Shepherd, Danny Glover, David Rubin, Deborah Aquila, Diane Lane, Don Phillips, Dustin Hoffman, Ed Asner, Ed Lauter, Ellen Chenoweth, Ellen Lewis, Fred Roos, Glenn Close, Gretchen Rennell, Jeanine Basinger, Jeff Bridges, John Lithgow, John Papsidera, John Sayles, John Travolta, Jon Voight, Juliet Taylor, Linda Lowy, Lora Kennedy, Lynn Stalmaster, Marion Dougherty, Martin Scorsese, Mel Gibson, Mike Fenton, Nancy Klopper, Ned Beatty, Nessa Hyams, Norman Lear, Oliver Stone, Paul Haggis, Paul Mazursky, Paul Rudd, Peter Bogdanovich, Richard Donner, Richard Dreyfuss, Risa Bramon Garcia, Rita Hayworth, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, Ronna Kress, Ronny Cox, Taylor Hackford, Tony Bill, Wallis Nicita, Woody Allen

Director: Tom Donahue

Known for showcasing the grittier side of New York in his films, Martin Scorsese shifts to its upper echelons in The Age of Innocence. Based on the 1920 novel, the film follows society attorney Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he courts and marries the respectable May Welland (Winona Ryder), despite his desire for childhood friend Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Undeniably gorgeous and impressively shot, what ultimately makes the film stand out among Scorsese’s work is how well the three leads embody the complex characters of the novel on multiple levels. Day-Lewis skillfully turns a corrupt, arrogant lawyer into someone who admirably refuses to be anything but himself, while Pfeiffer hides a stubbornness and frustration within Olenska. But it’s Ryder who best portrays her character's complexity, Welland’s wide-eyed gaze concealing secret manipulations. All of them drive this story that not only mourns for lost love, but acts as a mourning for a lost Golden Age.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Alec McCowen, Alexis Smith, Brian Davies, Carolyn Farina, Catherine Scorsese, Charles Scorsese, Cindy Katz, Clement Fowler, Daniel Day-Lewis, Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, Geraldine Chaplin, Howard Erskine, Joanne Woodward, John McLoughlin, Jonathan Pryce, June Squibb, Kevin Ash, Linda Faye Farkas, Martin Scorsese, Mary Beth Hurt, Michael Gough, Michelle Pfeiffer, Miriam Margolyes, Norman Lloyd, Pasquale Cajano, Patricia Dunnock, Richard E. Grant, Robert Sean Leonard, Siân Phillips, Siân Phillips, Stuart Wilson, Thomas Barbour, Thomas Gibson, Tracey Ellis, W.B. Brydon, Winona Ryder

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: PG

In this neo-noir crime drama, John Cusack, Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening play a trio of con-artists in modern day (1990) California. Roy (Cusack) is a small-stakes hustler prone to swindling bartenders and drunken sailors for pocket money, while Lilly (Huston) plays his estranged mother who reappears in his life while working a series of horse track bluffs. Myra (Bening) notches in between the two of them as Cusack’s boisterous yet conniving girlfriend, and the instant mutual dislike between her and Lilly sets the film’s course of action in motion. It’s a fun, edgy thriller that will leave you guessing up until it's shocking finale. Elevated immeasurably by Elmer Bernstein’s old-fashioned, hard boiled music score, The Grifters is a real feather in the hat for both director Stephen Frears and producer Martin Scorsese.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening, Billy Ray Sharkey, Charles Napier, David Sinaiko, Eddie Jones, Frances Bay, Gailard Sartain, Gregory Sporleder, Henry Jones, Ivette Soler, J.T. Walsh, Jan Munroe, Jeff Perry, Jeremy Piven, Jimmy Noonan, John Cusack, Jon Gries, Juliet Landau, Lou Hancock, Martin Scorsese, Michael Laskin, Micole Mercurio, Noelle Harling, Pat Hingle, Paul Adelstein, Richard Holden, Robert Weems, Sandy Baron, Stephen Tobolowsky, Steve Buscemi, Sy Richardson, Teresa Gilmore, Xander Berkeley

Director: Stephen Frears

Rating: R