In the history of cinema, there are few filmmakers whose careers have been as long, as storied and as productive as the man born on November 17 1942 in the New York borough of Queens – Martin Scorsese.

The influential director turns 80 today and is still working. He directed his first short film, nine minute comedy What’s A Nice Girl Like You Doing In A Place Like This?, aged 21 while studying at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. His latest, Killers Of The Flower Moon, is due to premiere at next year’s Cannes Film Festival and stars regular collaborators Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.

Helping Scorsese edit that first short was Thelma Schoonmaker, two years his elder and a graduate student at Colombia University then working part-time as a film editor. The director called on her again to help with his 1967 feature debut, Who’s That Knocking At My Door, and since 1980’s Raging Bull, for which she and De Niro both won Oscars, Schoonmaker has edited every Scorsese film.

The accolades which have come the director’s own way are plentiful too. He has had nine Best Director nominations at the Academy Awards, winning for The Departed in 2007, and is the recipient of four BAFTAs and three Golden Globes. He has won Emmys for, among other things, his work on hard-hitting historical crime drama Boardwalk Empire, and several of his many rock documentaries have also been garlanded. Through his three non-profit cultural organisations – The Film Foundation, The World Film Foundation and the African Film Heritage Project – he has helped bring neglected masterpieces of world cinema to a wider audience.

Scorsese is best known today for films exploring the Italian American experience, for the interface between migrant communities and organised crime (think Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs Of New York, The Departed and The Irishman) and, of course, for Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, the two iconic films which cemented Robert De Niro’s reputation as the foremost actor of his generation.

But as with every substantial body of work there are curios, pet projects, blind alleys and outriders. Scorsese’s is no different. So, as the director takes the applause due him on his eightieth birthday, here’s our pick of the works which, for one reason or another, may have flown under the radar.

New York, New York (1977)

Scorsese and music go hand in hand. Scorsese and musicals less so. In this likeable curio, the director pairs Robert De Niro with Liza Minnelli for a musical tribute to his home city inspired in part by his love for The Tales Of Hoffmann, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s adaptation of Jacques Offenbach’s opera.

The film opens in 1945, immediately after the end of the Second World War. Minnelli is singer Francine Evans, unwillingly thrown into a musical duo with De Niro’s gobby saxophone player, Jimmy Doyle.

The music is a combination of jazz standards and compositions by regular Minnelli collaborators John Kander and Fred Ebb, who wrote the music for Cabaret and Chicago. The theme tune would later be recorded by Frank Sinatra and is now one of his most recognisable songs. The film itself? A big budget flop, not helped by its two and a half hour running time.

Top trivia: although the film tanked at the box office, studio United Artists recouped their money thanks to their having inked a so-called “cross” deal with the producers of boxing film Rocky. It was expected to be a disaster, but wasn’t. So in the end, Stallone saved Scorsese.

The King Of Comedy (1982)

Robert De Niro stars as aspiring stand-up Rupert Pupkin in this cock-eyed takedown of America’s celebrity culture, from a screenplay by critic-turned-writer Paul Zimmerman. Desperate to make it on television and obsessed with comedian and chat show host Jerry Langford (comedy great Jerry Lewis), Pupkin kidnaps him with the help of Masha (Sandra Bernhard), a brittle and unstable fellow stalker.

Critics reviewing 2019 hit Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix and based on the Batman-hating DC Comics character, picked up on the obvious nods to it (hard not to: De Niro appears in the film). But despite that this early 1980s gem deserves to be better known and far more widely seen than it is. “People in America were confused by The King Of Comedy and saw Bob [De Niro] as some kind of mannequin,” Scorsese said in the late 1980s. “But I think it’s De Niro’s best performance ever.”

Top trivia: Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of punk icons The Clash make a fleeting cameo appearance in a street scene.

Kundun (1997)

Religion underpins much of Scorsese’s work but within that context he has made three explicitly religious films: The Last Temptation Of Christ in 1988, 2016’s Silence (see below) and this one, a biographical film about the life and teachings of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th (and current) Dalai Lama. It opens in 1939 and is set against the backdrop of Tibet’s forced incorporation into the nascent People’s Republic of China.

Despite four Oscar nominations, the film flopped at the box office, a £5 million return on the £23 million investment. The Chinese state was relieved, though. So, probably, was distributor Disney: the Mouse House had run into serious commercial trouble with the Chinese as a result of backing the film. But reasons to watch it today include the gorgeous visuals from Oscar winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, and Philip Glass’s ethereal, electronica-tinged score.

Top trivia: in a 1999 episode of The Sopranos, Michael Imperioli’s Christopher sees Scorsese arriving at a nightclub and shouts: “Marty! Kundun! I liked it!”


After Hours (1985)

Good luck tracking this one down. Scorsese won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival for this black comedy starring Griffin Dunne and Rosanna Arquette but it was ignored by the Academy come awards season and if there’s a hard-to-see cult film in Scorsese’s back catalogue it’s this.

Dunne plays office drab Paul Hackett who embarks on a night long odyssey of weirdness when he meets Marcy Franklin (Arguette) in a café. One strange encounter leads to another – think David Lynch meets Alfred Hitchcock. Technical advances in high-speed film and camera lenses allowed Scorsese to shoot fast and on the hoof.

“After Hours was like an independent film,” he has said. “It was shorter and cheaper. I just wanted to see if I still had the energy to shoot quickly. There’s a certain passion that you have to have to make Mean Streets or Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. I had to find that again.” Adding to the thrill is a cast which includes a young Linda Fiorentino and Richard Marin, aka Cheech of stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong.

Top trivia: the film’s ending was suggested by august British director Michael Powell who hated Scorsese’s original. On seeing a rough edit, both Steven Spielberg and Terry Gilliam agreed with Powell. And so a new ending was shot.

The Age Of Innocence (1993)

Although he had broached different time periods in previous films, Scorsese went full-on period drama for this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1920 novel by upper class New Yorker Edith Wharton, chronicler of the so-called Gilded Age.

So, three years after Goodfellas and two years before Casino he found himself immersed in New York high society of the 1870s. Daniel Day-Lewis (who else?) plays well-heeled attorney Newland Archer alongside Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder, fresh from starring in Francis Ford Coppola’s vampire flick Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Adding polish and class are Geraldine Chaplin, Richard E Grant, Miriam Margolyes, Sian Phillips and Jonathan Pryce.

Another collaboration with Berlin-born cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who cut his teeth working with German enfant terrible Rainer Werner Fassbinder, it’s a consummate, elegant – and, for Scorsese, entirely uncharacteristic – piece of filmmaking. The Oscar for Best Costume design was the least it deserved.

Top trivia: Scorsese, his parents, and Day-Lewis’s sister Tamasin all make cameo appearances.

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

It’s a shame Scorsese didn’t make more films with Kris Kristofferson because he’s great alongside The Exorcist’s Ellen Burstyn in this gritty comedy drama, the director’s fourth feature.

Switching between settings in New Mexico and Arizona it follows newly widowed Alice (Burstyn) as she leaves home to follow her dream of becoming a singer in California, dragging preteen son Tommy along behind her. She winds up in Phoenix, then winds up in trouble, then legs it to Tucson where she takes a job in a diner.

Enter a cast of colourful characters, among them Diane Ladd’s Flo and Valeria Curtin’s Vera – fellow waitresses both – as well as rough-and-ready rancher David (Kristofferson). Scorsese being Scorsese, there’s also room in the cast for Harvey Keitel.

The film is unusual in the director’s canon for having a strong female lead, and he complemented this by having as many women in the crew as possible. “But we never intended it to be a feminist tract,” he has said. “It was a film about self-responsibility and how people make the same mistakes again and again.” For her role as Alice, Burstyn won an Oscar, while screenwriter Robert Getchell wangled a spin-off sitcom called Alice.

Top trivia: Diane Ladd’s young daughter has an uncredited cameo as a girl eating ice cream in the diner. Her name? Laura Dern.

Silence (2016)

Based on a 1966 novel by Japanese Catholic Shūsaku Endō, and the third filmed version of it, Silence pitches Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver into 17th century Japan as two Jesuit priests on a quest to find a third member of their order who has renounced his faith – a grizzled loner who has married, taken a Japanese name and now has a son. Enter Liam Neeson.

The critics loved it, some going so far as to say it was the best film of Scorsese’s long career. The box office numbers tell a slightly different story: Silence failed to recoup even close to its £40 million budget, the Hollywood Reporter blaming “a lack of interest in the subject matter.”

But, as with The Age Of Innocence, Scorsese brings a historical period to life and here draws on an array of standout Japanese acting talent too. Included among them are Tadanobu Asano, who starred in Beat Takeshi’s 2003 samurai action film Zatoichi; actor-director Shinya Tsukamoto, who made the cult cyberpunk Tetsuo trilogy; and Issey Ogata, star of Cannes award winner Yi Yi, by acclaimed Taiwanese director Edward Yang.

Top trivia: Scorsese had been trying to film Silence since 1990. When it was finally made over 25 years later it had its premiere in Rome followed the next day by a personal screening in the Vatican for the Pope.


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