Martin Scorsese

Active - 1963 - Present  |   Born - Nov 17, 1942 in Queens, New York, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Historical Film

Share on

Biography by AllMovie

The most renowned filmmaker of his era, Martin Scorsese virtually defined the state of modern American cinema during the 1970s and '80s. A consummate storyteller and visual stylist who lived and breathed movies, he won fame translating his passion and energy into a brand of filmmaking that crackled with kinetic excitement. Working well outside of the mainstream, Scorsese nevertheless emerged in the 1970s as a towering figure throughout the industry, achieving the kind of fame and universal recognition typically reserved for more commercially successful talents. A tireless supporter of film preservation, Scorsese has worked to bridge the gap between cinema's history and future like no other director. Channeling the lessons of his inspirations -- primarily classic Hollywood, the French New Wave, and the New York underground movement of the early '60s -- into an extraordinarily personal and singular vision, he has remained perennially positioned at the vanguard of the medium, always pushing the envelope of the film experience with an intensity and courage unmatched by any of his contemporaries.

Scorsese was born on November 17, 1942, in Flushing, NY. The second child of Charles and Catherine Scorsese -- both of whom frequently made cameo appearances in their son's films -- he suffered from severe asthma, and as a result was blocked from participating in sports and other common childhood activities. Consequently, Scorsese sought refuge in area movie houses, quickly becoming obsessed with the cinema, in particular the work of Michael Powell. Raised in a devoutly Catholic environment, he initially studied to become a priest. Ultimately, however, Scorsese opted out of the clergy to enroll in film school at New York University, helming his first student effort, What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?, a nine-minute short subject, in 1963. He mounted his second student picture, the 15-minute It's Not Just You, Murray!, in 1964, the year of his graduation. His next effort was 1967's brief The Big Shave; finally, in 1969 he completed his feature-length debut, Who's That Knocking at My Door?, a drama starring actor Harvey Keitel, who went on to appear in many of the director's most successful films. The feature also marked the beginning of Scorsese's long collaboration with editor Thelma Schoonmaker, a pivotal component in the evolution of his distinct visual sensibility.

After a tenure teaching film at N.Y.U. (where among his students were aspiring directors Oliver Stone and Jonathan Kaplan), Scorsese released Street Scenes, a documentary account of the May 1970 student demonstrations opposing the American military invasion of Cambodia. He soon left New York for Hollywood, working as an editor on films ranging from Woodstock to Medicine Ball Caravan to Elvis on Tour and earning himself the nickname "The Butcher." For Roger Corman's American International Pictures, Scorsese also directed his first film to receive any kind of widespread distribution, 1972's low-budget Boxcar Bertha, starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine. With the same technical crew, he soon returned to New York to begin working on his first acknowledged masterpiece, the 1973 drama Mean Streets. A deeply autobiographical tale exploring the interpersonal and spiritual conflicts facing the same group of characters first glimpsed in Who's That Knocking at My Door?, Mean Streets established many of the thematic stylistic hallmarks of the Scorsese oeuvre: his use of outsider antiheroes, unusual camera and editing techniques, dueling obsessions with religion and gangster life, and the evocative use of popular music. It was this film that launched him to the forefront of a new generation of American cinematic talent. The film also established Scorsese's relationship with actor Robert De Niro, who quickly emerged as the central onscreen figure throughout the majority of his work. For his follow-up, Scorsese traveled to Arizona to begin shooting 1974's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, a response to criticism that he couldn't direct a "women's film." The end result brought star Ellen Burstyn a Best Actress Oscar at that year's Academy Awards ceremony, as well as a Best Supporting Actress nomination for co-star Diane Ladd. Next up was 1974's Italianamerican, a film Scorsese often claimed as his personal favorite among his own work. A documentary look at the experience of Italian immigrants as well as life in New York's Little Italy, it starred the director's parents, and even included Catherine Scorsese's secret tomato sauce recipe.

Upon his return to New York, Scorsese began work on the legendary Taxi Driver in the summer of 1974. Based on a screenplay by Paul Schrader, the film explored the nature of violence in modern American society, and starred De Niro as Travis Bickle, a cabbie thoroughly alienated from humanity who begins harboring delusions of assassinating a Presidential candidate and saving a young prostitute (Jodie Foster) from the grip of the streets. Lavishly acclaimed upon its initial release, Taxi Driver won the Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. Five years later, it became the subject of intense scrutiny when it was revealed that the movie was the inspiration behind the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, who had become obsessed with the film as well as Foster herself. Scorsese's next feature was New York, New York, an extravagant 1977 musical starring De Niro and Liza Minnelli. The first of his major films to receive less-than-glowing critical acclaim, it was widely considered a failure by the Hollywood establishment. Despite doubts about his artistry, Scorsese forged on and continued work on his documentary of the farewell performance of the Band, shot on Thanksgiving Day of 1976. Complete with guest appearances from luminaries ranging from Muddy Waters to Bob Dylan to Van Morrison, the concert film The Last Waltz bowed in 1978, and won raves on the festival circuit as well as from pop music fans. American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince, a look at the raconteur who appeared as the gun salesman in Taxi Driver, followed later that same year.

In April 1979, after years of preparation, Scorsese began work on Raging Bull, a film based on the autobiography of boxer Jake LaMotta. Filmed in black-and-white, the feature was his most ambitious work to date, and is widely regarded as the greatest movie of the 1980s. De Niro won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of LaMotta, while newcomer Cathy Moriarty won a Best Actress nomination for her work as LaMotta's second wife. (Additionally, Thelma Schoonmaker won an Academy Award for editing.) De Niro again reunited with Scorsese for the follow-up, 1983's The King of Comedy, a bitter satire exploring the nature of celebrity and fame. Since the age of ten, Scorsese had dreamed of mounting a filmed account of the life of Jesus; finally, in 1983 it appeared that his adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel The Last Temptation of Christ was about to come to fruition. Ultimately, just four weeks before shooting was scheduled to begin, funding for the project fell through. Scorsese was forced to enter a kind of work-for-hire survival period, accepting an offer to direct the 1985 downtown New York comedy After Hours. In the spring of 1986, he began filming The Color of Money, the long-awaited sequel to Robert Rossen's 1961 classic The Hustler. Star Paul Newman, reprising his role as pool shark "Fast" Eddie Felson, won his first Academy Award for his work, while co-star Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio scored a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

The Color of Money was Scorsese's first true box-office hit; thanks to its success, he was finally able to film The Last Temptation of Christ. Starring Willem Dafoe in the title role, the feature appeared in 1988 to considerable controversy over what many considered to be a blasphemous portrayal of the life and crucifixion of Christ. Ironically, the protests helped win the film a greater foothold at the box office, while making its director a household name. After contributing (along with Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen) to the 1989 triptych New York Stories, Scorsese teamed with De Niro for the first time since The King of Comedy and began working on his next masterpiece, 1990's Goodfellas. Based on author Nicholas Pileggi's true crime account Wiseguy, the film dissected the New York criminal underworld in absorbing detail, helping actor Joe Pesci earn an Oscar for his supporting role as a crazed mob hitman.

As part of the deal with Universal Pictures which allowed him to make Last Temptation, Scorsese had also agreed to direct a more "commercial" film. The result was 1991's Cape Fear, an update of the classic Hollywood thriller. The follow-up, 1993's The Age of Innocence, was a dramatic change of pace; based on the novel by Edith Wharton, the film looked at the New York social mores of the 1870s, and starred Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer. In 1995, Scorsese resurfaced with two new films. The first, Casino, documented the rise and decline of mob rule in the Las Vegas of the 1970s, while A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies examined the evolution of the Hollywood filmmaking process. In 1997, he completed Kundun, a meditation on the formative years of the exiled Dalai Lama. That same year he received the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement honor. In 1998, he participated in the American Film Institute's AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies, once again doing his part to help bridge the films of the past with those of the future.

Scorsese returned to the director's chair in 1999 with Bringing Out the Dead. A medical drama starring Nicolas Cage as an emotionally exhausted paramedic, it marked the director's return to New York's contemporary gritty milieu. Scorsese began the new century making his first film for Miramax. Gangs of New York, a drama about New York gangs set during the Civil War, had been on the auteur's mind for over a quarter century by the time it finally was released in December of 2002. The film garnered multiple Oscar nominations including Best Picture and another Best Director nod for Scorsese, but the film went home without any hardware. Gangs of New York was co-scripted by Kenneth Lonergan, leading to Scorsese acting as an executive producer on his directorial debut, You Can Count on Me. Scorsese followed up his historical epic with yet another period piece. The Aviator was a biopic of multi-millionaire Howard Hughes that focused on his younger days as a Hollywood mogul and playboy. Both Gangs and The Aviator found Scorsese casting Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role after his most famous collaborator, Robert De Niro, recommended the Titanic star to the director. 2004 saw the release of Shark Tale, an animated film for which Scorsese voiced one of the characters.

In 2005 Scorsese garnered outstanding reviews as the director of the Peabody Award-winning No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, a nearly four-hour documentary about Bob Dylan that charted his life and artistic development up through his historic U.K. concerts where the crowd revolted against his using electric instruments. The next year, Scorsese teamed with DiCaprio for a third time in The Departed, an adaptation of Infernal Affairs. The film, about an undercover cop, featured an impressive cast that included Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon. It opened to strong reviews, and went on to become one of the biggest box-office hits of Scorsese's career, earning the beloved director many industry and critics awards including the Golden Globe for Best Director and finally his long deserved Oscar for Best Director.

In 2008 Scorsese returned to the rock doc genre, filming a Rolling Stones show in New York City and releasing the result, Shine a Light, the first of his films to play on IMAX screens. In 2010 Scorsese released his adaptation of Dennis Lahane's paranoid thriller Shutter Island, his fourth partnering with Leonardo DiCaprio.

He continued helming documentaries about famous pop-culture figures including the witty Fran Liebowitz profile Public Speaking, the deeply personal homage to Elia Kazan A Letter to Elia, and 2011's George Harrison: Living in the Material World.

For Hugo, his 2011 adaptation of Brian Selznick's award-winning children's book, Scorsese took on the technical challenge of working in 3D for the first time in his career, and the resulting film got more Oscar nominations than any other movie that year. The work garnered Scorsese a Best Director win from the Golden Globes, as well as Oscar, Directors Guild, and BAFTA nominations for that same award.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography


  • Entered a seminary after grade school intending to become a priest.
  • After attending NYU, he taught film there; his students included Oliver Stone and Spike Lee.
  • One of his first credits was as co-supervising editor on the classic 1970 rockumentary Woodstock.
  • Directed the music video for Michael Jackson's "Bad."
  • Was listed in Time's 2007 list of 100 Most Influential People in the World.