Film & TV

5 Iconic Films That Influenced Director Martin Scorsese

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 28, 2019 • 3 min read

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Martin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking

Award-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese may have influenced a countless number of directors all over the world, but Martin was also influenced by many artists that came before him. For Scorsese, it’s important to be aware of the films that came before you and to reinterpret them, not with the goal of trying to learn anything from them specifically, but to see if they spark curiosity or interest. As a successful filmmaker, Martin Scorsese often looks to the masters who came before him in order to inform his process, as well as some of his most iconic creative choices.

Filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who has over 50 years experience directing some of cinema’s most notable films such as Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995), The Departed (2006), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), and The Irishman (2019), shares shares some of the films that have most influenced him.

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Martin Scorsese Teaches FilmmakingMartin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking

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Martin Scorsese’s Influences

Whether it’s the speed of the camera, the angle of the shot, the performance of the actors, or even just the colors that are used, Martin has drawn inspiration from the many different components of classic movies.

In some films, Martin’s homages to his old favorites have been apparent, like how the final scene in Goodfellas mirrors the one in Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903). If you look at his filmography, it’s clear some of Martin’s strongest inspirations were old gangster films. The Irishman, released in 2019, is Martin’s most recent foray back into the crime drama genre, and is already being lauded as one of his best.

Other movies and creators that had a profound effect on Martin Scorsese’s filmmaking include:

  1. Citizen Kane (1941): Orson Welles’s masterpiece taught Martin all about camera positions and editing. Welles was a risk taker, which inspired Martin to go after his own unique shots. Martin’s camera angles are often motivated by character, and by editing the speed of such moments, he’s able to build tension or present how a character is feeling.
  2. The Red Shoes (1948): Unique, dark, and beautifully made, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s musical classic was one of the earliest creative inspirations for a young Martin Scorsese. At its core, The Red Shoes is about a ballet dancer’s deep dedication to her craft, and the effect that obsession can ultimately have on a person. Martin utilized a similar sentiment for Raging Bull (1980).
  3. The Searchers (1956). In John Ford’s The Searchers, often referred to as one of the greatest American westerns of all time, John Wayne plays the dark, complicated lead, driven by his own twisted moral compass. This was a heavy influence on Martin, who also used unsettling and unlikeable traits for his own main character of Travis in Taxi Driver (1976).
  4. Jules and Jim (1962). The quick pacing and use of voice-over in this François Truffaut classic are most often cited as influences for Goodfellas. In Jules and Jim, the voice-over is used to express the joy and warmth between the two title characters and their freewheeling way of living. Martin learned that voice-over wasn’t just a way of conveying information; rather, it could be a way of enriching the story and character that were already there. Voice-over can be a cinematic element, not a literary one.
  5. Medea (1969). Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film, like many of his others, didn’t appear too encumbered by production design, and had a sense of freedom and authenticity. Martin often expresses the importance of keeping things simple, and it’s because he learned early on that sometimes less is more. Martin admired Pasolini’s ability to do so much with so little.

Want to Become a Better Filmmaker?

Whether you’re a budding director, screenwriter, or filmmaker, navigating the movie business requires plenty of practice and a healthy dose of patience. No one knows this better than legendary director Martin Scorsese, whose films have shaped movie history. In Martin Scorsese’s MasterClass on filmmaking, the Oscar winner deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, from storytelling to editing to working with actors.

Want to become a better filmmaker? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Jodie Foster, Werner Herzog, Spike Lee, and more.

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