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10 Best Martin Scorsese Movies That Were Snubbed for Best Picture, Ranked

Summary

  • Martin Scorsese has been making masterpieces since the 1970s, and his new movie “Killers of the Flower Moon” has been appreciated by fans.
  • Scorsese’s earlier films like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas were snubbed for Best Picture nominations, despite being deserving of the top prize.
  • “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “The King of Comedy” are controversial and darkly humorous films that explore complex themes with great performances.


Any discussion about the greatest filmmakers of all time would be incomplete without mentioning Martin Scorsese. Scorsese rivals every other director when it comes to the sheer quality and quantity of his filmography; he’s one of the rare filmmakers who has been making masterpieces since the 1970s. Scorsese has already contributed many classics to the world of cinema, and his new movie Killers of the Flower Moon, an Apple TV+ crime thriller starring Jesse Plemons, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro, has been just as overwhelmingly appreciated by his fans.

Scorsese has been richly awarded throughout his career, but it took quite some time before the Academy Awards recognized his talent. Scorsese finally won the Oscar for Best Director for his 2006 masterpiece The Departed, which also took home the awards for Best Picture, Best Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay for William Monahan. It was a prize that many critics felt he should have already won long ago.

Updated Dec. 26, 2023: This article has been updated with additional information by Anushree Banerjee to take a deeper dive into these classics.

Many award-season pundits believed that Scorsese was equally deserving of the top prize for his earlier films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, and The Aviator, and some of his most beloved classics weren’t even in competition for the major awards. Here are the ten greatest Martin Scorsese movies that were snubbed for Best Picture, ranked.


10 Cape Fear (1991)

Cape Fear poster

Cape Fear

Release Date
November 15, 1991

Rating
R

Runtime
128 min

Scorsese may have earned his first Best Director Oscar for The Departed, a loose remake of Infernal Affairs, but it wasn’t the first remake of his career. Scorsese’s 1991 re-imagining of the 1962 horror film Cape Fear was just as terrifying as its predecessor and earned Robert De Niro a worthy Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The film is notable for containing one of the final performances by the great Gregory Peck, who is regarded as one of the most important actors of all time.

A Perfect Homage to the Original

Peck himself was an integral part of the original, so it was interesting to see him revisiting the plot from a different perspective along with Robert Mitchum, and Martin Balsam. Although the original is frightening in its own right, Scorsese’s version details the complexity of humans more by sketching out De Niro’s terrifying, psychopathic Max Cady, and the ever-increasing dysfunction of the Bowden family. Showing that the distinction between good and evil could be confusing even among the “good” people and that every action, good or bad, can have unforeseen reactions. Stream on Starz or Apple TV+.

9 Silence (2016)

Silence

Silence

Release Date
December 22, 2016

Director
Martin Scorsese

Rating
R

Runtime
195

Silence was a long-anticipated passion project for Scorsese; while many of his films dealt with religious themes and Catholic guilt, Silence was his first historical religious drama since Kundun and The Last Temptation of Christ.

A Clash of Ethics That Unites People

Based on a riveting true story of two Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who search for their lost mentor (Liam Neeson) in Japan, Silence presents compelling ethical quandaries that make it accessible to viewers of all faiths. The movie remains impactful for people coming from all walks of life, as it sheds light on baser values, as well as struggles that unite everyone rather than the superficial differences that we tend to end up seeing as insurmountable in our daily lives. Stream on Paramount+.

8 The Color of Money (1986)

There are only a handful of sequels that have ever been nominated for Best Picture, but The Color of Money certainly deserved to be considered for the top prize. It wasn’t easy to create a continuation of a classic like The Hustler, but Scorsese succeeded in giving the iconic gambler “Fast Eddie” (Paul Newman) a new adventure that was just as exciting as his original scheme. The Color of Money finally earned Newman the Best Actor award that had long eluded him.

Steep Climb, Steeper the Decline

The movie not only excites the audience with its unpredictable twists, but it also shows the kind of steep road, a life as dangerous as the one led by the leads of the movie turns out to be. Especially as greed and ego compete against each other to win, losing patience, and therefore strategies, could just make people take the final fall once and for all at any moment. It also draws a sketch of the fascinating human need for companionship through the strange alliances the characters end up forming with the unlikeliest of people at the most surprising times, incidentally giving the movie a very heart-warming twist. Rent on Apple TV+.

7 Shutter Island (2010)

While the Oscars sadly don’t recognize horror films as often as they should, Shutter Island is more than just a collection of jump scares. Scorsese used the creepy atmosphere and shocking plot twist to tell a complex story about the stigma surrounding mental health and the deceptive practices within the medical community; it also provided DiCaprio with one of the darkest roles of his career.

Misplaced Vindictiveness and Malignant Medical Practices

Scorsese also shows through this movie how denial can sometimes bend our perception to the point that it leads to even more devastating consequences for everybody around us. He masterfully scrutinizes a side of human emotion, without judgment or pity, that the audience ends up being invested in from the get-go. Mostly, due to the lens of other universally felt emotions like confusion, outrage, and vindictiveness that DiCaprio’s character portrays, until twist after thrilling twist ends up shaping the narrative into something else altogether. Presenting such an elaborate study of the human mind through the foil of a detailed thriller movie is ingenious in itself, and as a result, keeps being appreciated by the millions of movie lovers all around the world. Stream on Paramount+.

6 The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Willem Dafoe The Last Temptation of Christ
Universal Pictures

The Last Temptation of Christ is one of Scorsese’s most controversial films of all time; considering how much backlash he’s received for his graphic content throughout his career, that is no small statement. The Last Temptation of Christ imagines the final days of Jesus of Nazareth (Willem Dafoe) as he’s tempted with sins, and Scorsese’s interpretation generated both praise and criticism from the religious community.

Warring Minds and The Ultimate Sacrifice of Christ

The charm of this underrated gem of a movie lies in acknowledging that being born in a human body, even if you are the son of God, will have its repercussions. Being tested the same as every other person on Earth, with the same warring emotions such as lust, greed, envy, and anger, and winning over them to make the ultimate sacrifice for the betterment of others is not easy.

Wondering what could have happened if they had chosen a different or easier path, knowing that their sacrifice might not amount to something if people do not change their ways is as understandable as it is relatable. It also subtly points out that as everybody is tested the same, it is also possible for others to be better human beings by winning over their personal conflicting emotions and working for the benefit of society. Inarguably, it stands to be one of the most unique achievements of Scorsese’s career. Rent on Apple TV+.

5 The Last Waltz (1978)

No documentaries have ever been nominated for Best Picture, but Scorsese certainly deserved to break that record with his extraordinary concert film The Last Waltz. The film captured the final performance of The Band and featured behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the group before they delivered their electrifying stage performance.

Historical Foresight

It felt like Scorsese knew history was being made at the concert, and thus, making the documentary itself was a testament to his vision and insight into the cultural consciousness of the masses. Due to this very foresight, The Last Waltz remains an important historical and cultural document today. Not only is The Last Waltz significant in music history, but it’s also an important moment in the history of documentary filmmaking. It’s a perfect time capsule, with Scorsese’s direction capturing the roaring energy of the moment. Stream on Paramount+.

4 Mean Streets

While it wasn’t his directorial debut, Mean Streets was the film that proved why Scorsese would change the industry. A riveting crime thriller featuring standout performances from a young Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro, Mean Streets showed Scorsese’s aptitude for creating complex criminal protagonists who wrestle with their inner demons.

Identity Vs Morality and the Cruel Hand of Fate

One of the best Scorsese movies of all time, it made people take note of both De Niro and Keitel’s range of acting by utilizing the expert narrative manipulation that is essential to his movies. In a strange way, instead of either condemning or glorifying the violent lives people from a crime-centric walk of life are known to live, the movie humanized them by showing their struggles. Charlie (Harvey Keitel) faced everything from love, loyalty, Catholic morality, and identity as he tried to rein in his near-psychotic friend Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) to save them all from an even bleaker fate. That is, until everything falls down in a domino effect pushed by the consequences of their own actions, because try as people might, nobody can ever run away from fate. Stream on Realeyz.

Related: The 10 Best Robert De Niro Performances That Were Snubbed by the Oscars, Ranked

3 Casino (1995)

Casino

Casino

Release Date
November 22, 1995

Rating
R

Runtime
178

Casino is yet another mafia-centric crime epic, but it’s more than just a remake of Goodfellas. Based on the nonfiction novel Love and Honor in Las Vegas by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi, the film starred De Niro as a Jewish American gambling expert who works alongside the mafia to become one of the most powerful casino tycoons in Las Vegas.

Rags to Riches to Ruins

At the forefront of the movie, Nicky Santoro, played by Joe Pesci, and De Niro’s “Ace”, in an ironic twist on the “good cop, bad cop” narrative, try to take over Sin City with strong hands and smoother words. The movie delves deep into both men’s psyche and the conflicts that arise from their fast life with love, drugs, and violence always nipping at their heels.

Seen through both of their perspectives, the movie, in turn, portrays them both as the victimizers and the victims of the circumstances that surround a life as glamorous and cruel as theirs. With a strong undercurrent of unchecked passion turning into kryptonite, Casino, despite its 178-minute running time, not only doesn’t drag for a single moment but is also hailed as one of the greatest gambling flicks ever. Stream on Peacock.

2 After Hours (1985)

Any critic of Scorsese who accuses him of only making gangster movies just needs to watch After Hours to see how wrong they are. Easily one of the funniest films of his career, After Hours follows a perpetually unlucky single man (Griffin Dunne) who is treated to one misfortune after another when he’s trapped in the middle of New York City during the worst night of his life. Dunne’s character is eventually blamed for numerous crimes and hunted down by various enemies; Scorsese keeps escalating the stakes to increasingly humorous results.

A Comedy of Misfortunes

One of the most lighthearted movies of Scorsese’s entire career, the film replicates situations usually found in noir and thriller movies through the lens of humor. While it tries to showcase the absolute absurdity of said situations through parody, it also pays homage to the genres with its clever crafting. Scorsese also illustrates through After Hours that there could be so many ways to look at the same situations with just a shift in perspective. Rent on Apple TV+.

Related:Why After Hours Is Another Martin Scorsese Masterpiece

1 The King of Comedy (1982)

The King of Comedy is one of the darkest yet also funniest films of Scorsese’s entire filmography. The film follows the comedy fan Rupert Pupkin (De Niro, once again) as he grows obsessed with his hero (Jerry Lewis), a late-night talk show host.

Deadly Obsession and Fan Culture

The King of Comedy analyzes fan culture and radicalization in ways that are still relevant today. Scrutinizing themes like desperation, obsession, and the inevitable spiral that stems from these. Observing the shape these feelings take when Rupert is denied gratification through Scorsese’s eyes is as intriguing as it is uncomfortable at times. Showing how things can turn from playful to dreadful very quickly with such ironic twists while maintaining an uneasy tension about what bizarre turn the movie will take next keeps the audience on their toes.

Even though the film received no recognition from the Oscars whatsoever, it served as a major inspiration for the film Joker. Joker received 11 Oscar nominations, winning both Best Score and Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix. Stream on Paramount+.

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