Legendary director Martin Scorsese is responsible for some the most popular and beloved classic films of all time. Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed,The Wolf of Wall Street,just to name a few.His collective cinematic vision has also delivered some of Hollywood's most celebrated characters — fictional or from real life.Here's our rankings of his 25 best.
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25. Paul Hackett ("After Hours")
Scorsese delivered many special film moments during the 1980s. After Hours, from 1985, might be one of the forgotten pictures for that decade. This dark-comedy thriller is about Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), who has a rather pedestrian job as a data-entry worker, but endures a series of adventures and misadventures after leaving work one day. Amid Scorsese's iconic characters or those infamous real-life individuals he's showcased, an everyman like Paul Hackett is genuine, flawed and closer to reality than most on this list.
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24. Vickie LaMotta ("Raging Bull")
The 1980 biopic of legendary but troubled boxer Jake LaMotta remains one of the greatest films of all time. One of the most powerfully emotional performances comes from Cathy Moriarty, as Jake's devoted but tormented wife. For as tough as Jake LaMotta was inside the ring, Vickie did her best to match his strength by keeping the family together, even when things got extremely difficult. Moriarty earned a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
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23. Teddy Daniels ("Shutter Island")
As we'll see here, Scorsese has had a strong working relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio. And while this might be one of DiCaprio's most overrated performances (co-star Mark Ruffalo, however, does shine in the film), the character itself is no less intriguing in this 1950s-based neo-noirpsychological thrillerfrom 2010. Former soldier-turned U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels investigates a missing patientat a psychiatric facility — only to realize the situation, or he himself, might not be what it all seems to be.
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22. Danielle Bowden ("Cape Fear")
The remake of the 1962 psychological thriller also thrusted Juliette Lewis into the Hollywood spotlight, and led to her only Academy Award nomination (Best Supporting Actress). She plays the angsty, but rather naive teenage daughter of Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), who becomes a target of a deranged ex-con seeking revenge on her father, the defense attorney he felt didn't do enough — even withheld vital evidence — to keep him from being convicted of demented crimes. Danielle is featured in arguably the most memorable (and cringe-worthy) moment in the film. Danielle's precociousness can be intoxicating, whether the viewer likes it or not.
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21. Howard Hughes ("The Aviator")
Miramax Films; Warner Bros.
More from Scorsese and DiCaprio. Both were nominated for an Academy Award for this biopic from 2004. In real life, Hughes was not easy to like, butDiCaprio manages to humanize the persona. He makes the eccentricand reclusive mogul seem genuinely sympathetic. While DiCaprio did not win the Academy Award for this role, he recorded his first of three Golden Globe wins for the performance that once again proved Scorsese's vision for fiction and non-fiction is equally superb.
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20. Charlie Cappa ("Mean Streets")
Scorsese's penchant for mob films was birthed with 1973's Mean Streets. Harvey Keitel, who would go on to be a regular in Scorsese's work, is solid as the film's protagonist. Though Charlie makes a relatively good living with mafia ties in New York's Little Italy, he also has a conscience. Especially when it comes to his Catholic faith or looking out for those important figures in his life. Keitel was outshined by his budding Hollywood elite co-star (we'll get to him later), but he still more than holds his own in this lead role.
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19. Florence Jean "Flo" Castleberry ("Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore")
One year after Mean Streets was released, Scorsese directed this poignant comedy-drama that inspired the popular CBS sitcom Alice. Perhaps the most popular character on the television series was quick-witted, acid-tongued waitress Flo (played to perfection by Polly Holliday). In the movie, Diane Ladd laid the groundwork for the Flo character to shine, she and earned a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination in the process.
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18. Ginger McKenna ("Casino")
Here's the 1995 role that proved Sharon Stone was more than an on-screen sex siren. Stone really digs into this role and shows off her acting chops as a former sex worker-turned chip hustlerwho marries the film's protagonist Sam "Ace" Rothstein. Ginger is powerful, in her own dysfunctional way. She has her moments of clarity, mostly as a mother, but even that becomes too tough for her to handle at times. She lives for the high life, but also hates what it's used her up.
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17. Sam "Ace" Rothstein ("Casino")
Speaking of "Ace" Rothstein, it's just one of many times when Scorsese and good friend and Hollywood legend Robert De Niro have worked together on the big screen. It's safe to say every time these two cinema giants hook up, greatness ensues. Casino is no different, and "Ace" is cunning, ruthless, plus charming and compassionate when needed as the casino manager taking his cues from the mob and dealing with an unhinged wife. As noted, De Niro's delivered some memorable performances in Scorsese's movies, and this is a good place to start.
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16. Staff Sergeant Sean Dignam ("The Departed")
Martin Scorsese's only Oscar victory for Best Director came via this 2006 classic, and there are plenty of memorable characters from the film. Mark Wahlberg's smart-talking, wise-cracking, in-your-face, hard-guyStaff Sgt. Dignam is impossible to forget. Whether through his vulgar language or over-the-top authoritative office antics, Dignam is a punk cop who we can't get enough of seeing. It's even better that he plays the hero in the end.
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15. Eddie 'Fast Eddie' Felson ("The Color of Money")
Paul Newman and Martin Scorsese. OK, and Tom Cruise. Talk about Hollywood royalty. Newman revisits his character from The Hustler (1961) and earned his only Best Actor Academy Award victory for this role of the infamous pool hustler for this 1986 favorite. However, "Fast Eddie" might have matured a bit. He's retired from the game and worked as a successful salesmen, but he never veered far from the felt. Of all the "mentor-protégé" movies Cruise starred in over the years, nobody played the former role better than Newman. Then again, "Fast Eddie" is a film icon of itself.
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14. Hugo Cabret ("Hugo")
The film chronicle of young teen Hugo Cabret (made famous from Brian Selznick's 2007 novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret).The early teen (brilliantly played by English actor Asa Butterfield), who, following the death of his widowed clockmaker father, lives in a Paris train station in the 1930s, is quite an interesting subject. He endures plenty of tragedy and is easy to root for, and an underrated character within Scorsese's vast film universe.
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13. William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting ("Gangs of New York")
Miramax Films; Touchstone Pictures
To say Gangs of New Yorkwas a labor of love for Scorsese is an understatement. He developed the project for more than two decades before it hit the screen in 2002. Critics had various opinions about the finished product, but Daniel Day-Lewis' take as Protestant leader "Bill the Butcher," based on the Bowery Boys' William Poole, is the undisputed highlight of the movie. He easily outshining Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead. The feud between these main characters played by the two mega stars is quite delicious, though.
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12. Henry Hill ("Goodfellas")
When it comes to Scorsese fan favorites, Goodfellas(1990) is among the frontrunners. This classic mobster biopic follows the rise and fall of wise guy Henry Hill, portrayed by the late Ray Liotta in one of his signature roles. Hill is smart, conniving, and shrewd when it comes to making money — dodging the law, working the ladies, and handling his friends. The perfect character for Scorsese to build a film around.
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11. Alice Hyatt ("Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore")
While Diane Ladd was brilliant as the hardened Flo, Ellen Burstyn took the cake when it came to the star of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. So much so, that Burstyn won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the widowed, single mother who aspires to be a singer but also needs to make a sensible living. Alice is a grinder. She's tough, but sensitive enough that little things get on her nerves. She's protective of her precocious son, but she's also not afraid to strike out on her own.
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10. Max Cady ("Cape Fear")
More from Robert De Niro, in another juicy role associated with Scorsese. Max Cady is one scary individual. Even more frightening with a chiseled, tattooed body and slicked back hair. While hell-bent with achieving revenge on the lawyer — and apparently his family, too — who he feels is responsible for sending him to prison when a conviction was questionable. When it comes to fright factor in a Scorsese movie, Cape Fear might top the list — with Max Cady and his hideous laugh leading the way.
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9. Rupert Pupkin ("The King of Comedy")
20th Century Fox
Some of Robert De Niro's best work has come when he dives into comedy. In this forgotten 1982 Scorsese dark comedy, De Niro's Rupert Pupkin is an aspiring stand-up comedian, who is totally obnoxious and completely unhinged from reality when it comes to achieving his big break. So much so, he takes to kidnapping his idol Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). The movie did not do well at the box office, but De Niro's performance was lauded and remains one of his most unheralded characters.
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8. William Costigan ("The Departed")
Even amid a legendary ensemble cast (Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Jack Nicholson), Leonardo DiCaprio's William Costigan is The Departed's one character whom the audience truly can harbor strong feelings while watching. It's another Scorsese film that brilliantly shows DiCaprio’s acting depth. We can see for ourselves, and should be able to feel,his emotional and physical painas an undercover cop trying to take down a notorious Irish mob boss.
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7. John "Johnny Boy" Civello ("Mean Streets")
This marked the first time Scorsese and Robert De Niro collaborated on a film. De Niro did not have the lead role in this underrated mob film from the early 1970s, but he proved to be the star as the free-wheeling, hot-tempered, no-real-future gambler in deep to plenty of loan sharks. Johnny likes to live the made life, even if he's far from it. Yet, the brilliance of De Niro, who would win his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1974's Godfather Part II, made him so much fun to watch.
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6. Frank Sheeran ("The Irishman")
Scorsese's final film prior to the coronavirus pandemic, he again tapped Robert De Niro in a lead role. It marked the ninth time the two collaborated on a film. To no surprise, De Niro is stellar as this real-life truck driver-turned-hitmanin the time of Jimmy Hoffa's union prominence. Sheeran's tale is equally compelling to that of Hoffa's, and perhaps more interesting when we take into consideration the power "The Irishman" wielded, and his conflict with morality later in life.
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5. Iris Steensma ("Taxi Driver")
From 1976, this was the theatrical moment that made Jodie Foster a star. Foster also had a notable role in Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore,from two years earlier,but this performance resulted in her first Oscar nomination. Foster is simply brilliant as the depressingly wise-beyond-her-years Iris. She has so much more to offer the world than we see on screen. Playing a role seriously out of her comfort zone, Iris opened the door to Foster's versatility that made her a living legend.
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4. Jake LaMotta ("Raging Bull")
Robert De Niro recorded his second Oscar victory, and first for Best Actor, via his memorable and authentically disturbing performance as the aforementioned Jake LaMotta. De Niro's effort is both riveting and tough to watch. The duality is why De Niro's performance has been lauded by film critics and historians as some of the best acting of all time. Not an easy figure to depict, De Niro enabled viewers to feel the pain of LaMotta's turbulent personal life. Perhaps more so than any other individual, personal sports biopic has done.
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3. Tommy DeVito ("Goodfellas")
In addition to Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Jodie Foster and Leonardo DiCaprio, Joe Pesci came to be a staple in Scorsese pictures. However, none of his roles in said films are more memorable than that of the comically annoying, former juvenile delinquent and wannabe made-man Tommy DeVito, an associate of Henry Hill. Tommy might have a case of small-man's syndrome and tends to be his own worst enemy, but he knows how to work a room and bust chops ("I'm funny how? I'm funny like a clown? Like I amuse you?"). At least, well enough that Pesci won his lone Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
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2. Jordan Belfort ("The Wolf of Wall Street")
Leonardo DiCaprio’s working relationship with Scorsese reached its zenith (for the moment) on this 2013black comedy based on stockbroker Jordan Belfort’s memoir. Leo's sensational portrayal of the corrupt, yet undisputed genius, boiler-room specialist earned him and the picture five Academy Award nominations. DiCaprio didn't win the Oscar for Best Actor, but he walked away with his second Golden Globe. Once an actor and director establish trust in each other, movies fans get memorable performances like this one.
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1. Travis Bickle ("Taxi Driver")
Robert De Niro earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination for this unforgettable performance as the disgruntled Vietnam War vet who drives a cab around at night. Travis Bickle is not clear-minded. In fact, his mental health is deteriorating, and his fuse is rather short. However, there is still some compassion and morality to the unhinged Bickle, especially when it comes to his interaction with the aforementioned Iris. Perhaps that's the real Travis Bickle, but trapped inside a man whose mental walls are closing in.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago.You can followJeffat@jeffm401.