“The clouds lifted” for cinema’s future recently. At least that was how Martin Scorsese felt after he saw “TÁR,” on which he lavished praise at the New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner in early January 2023.
That kind of praise means a lot. Scorsese is not just one of the greatest filmmakers of all time: he’s one of its greatest cinephiles. In recent years, he’s become known for the movies — or, as he might say of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “theme parks” — he doesn’t enjoy. But the Oscar-winning director’s favorite films are as wide-ranging in genre, year of release, and national origin as you might imagine, from Ti West’s “Pearl” to the horror flicks of Val Lewton and the works of Senegalese master Djibril Diop Mambety. He’s such an avid-moving watching buff that, in a recent interview with Time Magazine, he admitted he’s against 10 best movie lists due to finding them limiting.
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“I try to make lists, over the years, of films that I personally feel are my favorites, whatever that means,” Scorsese told Time. “Then you find out that the word favorite has different levels. Films that impressed you the most, as opposed to those you just want to keep watching, as opposed to those you keep watching and learning from. They’re varied.”
Scorsese has also been an unflagging champion of film preservation and discovery, helping to restore many films through his Film Foundation and World Cinema Project. He’s also talked at length about his personal favorites in his documentaries “A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies” (which it must be noted, has supplied a great deal of the films below), “My Voyage to Italy,” and “Letter to Elia.” You can screen many of these titles for free on the Film Foundation’s website.
Scorsese’s knowledge of film history suffuses his filmmaking as well. Many have noted how Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito shooting into the camera at the end of “Goodfellas” is a nod to the final shot of “The Great Train Robbery.” Meanwhile the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring “Shutter Island” throws back to film noir, and even something like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” with its heady mixture of depravity and moralism, seems inflected by his love of Cecil B. DeMille. There’s even “Hugo”: a historical fiction adaptation anchored in the transcendent, turn-of-the-century silent short “A Trip to the Moon” from Georges Méliès.
What’s up next from Scorsese? Based on David Grann’s 2017 non-fiction book of the same name, “Killers of the Flower Moon” explores a string of murders in 1920s Oklahoma, involving the Osage Nation and an oil tycoon played by DiCaprio. Having first worked together on “Gangs of New York,” Scorsese is reuniting with the actor for the first time since their 2015 short “The Audition.” “Killers of the Flower Moon” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this May to rapturous acclaim, and will open in U.S. theaters this October.
Below is an incomplete collection of 70 of Scorsese’s favorite movies, listed in no particular order. It was compiled from years of interviews with the director, as well as clear cinematic references from Scorsese’s filmography and his ballot for the 2022 Sight & Sound poll.
With editorial contributions from Christian Blauvelt and Zack Sharf.
[Editor’s note: The following was originally published in July 2020 and has been updated multiple times since.]
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