Biography of Martin Scorsese

One of the most revered and successful filmmakers in American cinema, Martin Scorsese was born in New York City to an Italian family in 1942. Suffering from asthma at a young age, Scorsese wasn’t permitted to play sports or go outside for extended periods of time. Instead, his family took him to the movies nearly every day, where he developed his ardent passion for cinema.

Scorsese initially intended to become a priest, but his career interests eventually turned to filmmaking. He attended New York University and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and an MFA in Film. Scorsese frequently cites Italian neorealism and the French New Wave as his major inspirations; European cinema's influence on Scorsese is evident in some of his early short films like The Big Shave (1967) and What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963).

Scorsese made his full-length directorial debut with Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967), starring Harvey Keitel and edited by Thelma Schoonmaker—two fellow NYU students and future longtime Scorsese collaborators. His breakthrough hit, Mean Streets (1973), was met with widespread praise, with even the hard-to-please Pauline Kael complimenting the film as “a true original of our period, a triumph of personal filmmaking.” Centering on usual Scorsese themes like the search for redemption, troubling family dynamics, the mob, and pervasive violence, Mean Streets was a semi-autobiographical portrait of Little Italy in the early 1970s; the film also catapulted Scorsese’s fruitful, decades-spanning collaboration with Robert De Niro.

Over the course of the 1970s, Scorsese directed a series of visceral, daring films that defined a generation of American cinema. One of his most famous films, Taxi Driver (1976), won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The film centers on the unstable Travis Bickle (De Niro), who supposedly inspired John Hinckley to attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. Bleak historical associations with the film aside, Taxi Driver is still regarded as one of the finest American films ever made.

After a lukewarm reception for the big-budgeted New York, New York (1977), Scorsese underwent a self-destructive downward spiral, though he redeemed himself with Raging Bull (1980). Scorsese thought Raging Bull was going to be his last film, but he continued to have a productive career throughout the 1980s, from the underrated After Hours (1985) to The Color of Money (1986), Scorsese’s first box office hit, starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise.

In the 1990s, Scorsese made some of his most famous and acclaimed mafia films: Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995). In the early 2000s, he began another actor-director partnership with Leonardo DiCaprio; the two movie icons worked together for Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), Shutter Island (2010), and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013).

Scorsese has received eight Academy Award nominations for Best Director and won for The Departed. He has made countless revered music documentaries as well, from The Last Waltz (1978) to George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011). Scorsese continues to work today; his most recent film was Silence (2016) starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, and he is currently in post-production for The Irishman, which stars De Niro, Keitel, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Jesse Plemons, and Ray Romano.

Study Guides on Works by Martin Scorsese

Goodfellas is perhaps one of the best-known and most-loved mafia films of all time. Released in 1990 and directed by Martin Scorsese, the film is based on Nicholas Pileggi's book Wiseguy, about the real life of Henry Hill, and it takes many of its...

Raging Bull is a 1980 drama directed by one of the most respected American directors, Martin Scorsese. A complex and subtle film about the tragic and violent life of a prizefighter, it was based on boxer Jake LaMotta's autobiography. Actor Robert...

Audiences had modest expectations for Taxi Driver when it was first released in the winter of 1976. A low-budget film directed by a not-particularly-well-known Martin Scorsese and starring the young Robert De Niro, who had recently won an Oscar...