Martin Scorsese, the greatest moviemaker, turns 80 today, and we’re celebrating with a look at 17 of his greatest scenes. Yesterday we asked our readers for their favorite scenes, and we also reached out to MovieMaker Best Friend-in-Chief Juan Carlos Montoya, who introduced me to Scorsese by coaxing me to a theater to see the 1990 masterpiece Goodfellas, a movie we technically shouldn’t have been allowed into, when we were 15.
This list could easily include 300 scenes, but we assume you have things to do. We also tried to mix up the greatest hits with the quiet, unpredictable moments that make Scorsese movies feel so alive. So without wasting any time, here are 17 great Scorsese scenes. Let us know which of your favorites we left out.
Oh, also: Obviously all of these clips are from Martin Scorsese movies, so if you don’t like seeing violence or harsh language or other grim stuff, you won’t like most of them.
This wordless scene at the climax of Boxcar Bertha. Juan recommends paying close attention to the camera movements in this exquisite display of purely cinematic violence.
‘Be My Baby’
Here is the opening from Mean Streets, with Harvey Keitel waking up. No one else is anywhere close to Scorsese at openings, as you’ll see at several points in this list.
‘We Don’t Pay Mooks’
Watch how naturally this scene in Mean Streets goes from casual banter to a beating.
‘No Rough Stuff’
Reader Dave Hollingsworth cites this scene from Taxi Driver. “They engage in a really awkward conversation, which represents the unpredictability of the entire film. It’s like ‘where is this going?’ And ‘how is it going to end?’ There are a lot of brilliant moments like that in Scorsese’s cinema.
‘You Talkin’ to Me?’
Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, talking to himself in probably the most-quoted Martin Scorsese scene.
‘You Never Got Me Down, Ray’
After beating up his brother, Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro atones by taking a beating from Sugar Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes). That long pause before the real beating? That’s sheer terror.
‘The Table’s Only Set for One’
Rupert Pumpkin — err, Pupkin (Robert De Niro) drops in on Jerry (Jerry Lewis). With apologies to decades of cringe comedy, nothing more awkward has ever been captured on film.
Not the one in Boxcar Bertha; the other one, from The Last Temptation of Christ. Juan suggests paying attention to the dizzying moment at 1:36 where the camera moves with the cross.
Probably the single most celebrated Martin Scorsese sequence, the Copacabana tracking shot from Goodfellas quickly seduces us — and the future Karen Hill — into the world of wiseguys. “Marty found a way to have Henry Hill not only impress his date, Karen, but to show the audience why the world of Goodfellas was so attractive and glamorous,” producer Irwin Winkler wrote in his 2019 book A Life in Movies. Here’s a story about how it came together, and almost fell apart.
‘This Guy’s Saying, Whaddaya Want From Me?’
As fast and stylish as Goodfellas is, it’s at its best when people sit around, eat pasta, break each other’s balls, and catch up with ma — played by Catherine Scorsese, Martin Scorsese’s mom. She tells a great joke, then displays a beautiful painting of two dogs. One is going east and the other is going west. So what?
Smoking and Laughing
Here’s Max Cady (Robert De Niro) really enjoying a cigar and a movie in Cape Fear.
‘Delightful Evening, Newland’
As Newland (Daniel Day-Lewis) comes to a grim realization in Age of Innocence, Martin Scorsese proves to the snobs who only like period costume dramas that he’s the best at those, too.
‘The Eye in the Sky Is Watching Us All’
One of many outstanding sequences in Casino, in which Sam “Ace” Rothstein explains how Vegas works. It’s one of the simplest scenes in a film elegantly packed with information and detail.
Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) shows the people of Beverly Hills why everybody calls him The Aviator. It’s one of Scorsese’ biggest scenes, but he shows he can do blockbuster destruction quite as well as any Marvel movie.
‘You Have to Take It’
Horrible person Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) welcomes you to Boston in The Departed, the movie that finally won Martin Scorsese the Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture that he also should have gotten for several other movies.
‘I Can Roll!’
After drugging himself to the point of near paralyzation, The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), tries to accomplish some simple tasks.
In the Still of the Night
In the opening of The Irishman, we meet mafia mythmaker Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) in a tracking shot that somberly echoes the one in Goodfellas.
Main image: Catherine Scorsese shows Robert De Niro a beautiful painting in Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese.