Martin Scorsese’s latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street, opens on Christmas and fans are trembling with anticipation to see if Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort will join the ranks of the most memorable Scorsese characters.
What are the traits of a classic Scorsese character? One has to be psychologically fragile and always at the crossroads in life. A top-notch character is fearless and ready to take on the world with ill-advised decision-making. After 40 years of directing, Martin Scorsese continues to surprise with authentic characters that linger in the mind long after the film is over.
10. Charlie (Harvey Keitel) in Mean Streets (1973)
Mean Streets is one of Scorsese’s earliest films, and Harvey Keitel plays Charlie – a young man seeking to rise through the ranks of organized crime, but also attempting to stay loyal to Catholicism. Charlie runs the streets with his misfit friend Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) as they learn the hard way on the mean streets of New York City. Charlie is loyal but will bust up your face if he has to.
9. Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Shutter Island (2010)
What happens inside the mind of a psychologically unstable man? Meet Teddy Daniels, a detective sent to Shutter Island to solve the mysteries of the psychiatric facility. Will the seclusion of the island break Teddy? Shutter Island is perhaps Scorsese’s most underappreciated film.
8. Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) in The Departed (2006)
The Departed acknowledges the King of the Boston underworld, Frank Costello, in the first scene. Jack Nicholson’s character was loosely based on the legendary Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger, and ol’ Jack brings plenty of swagger and comedy to the role. Is Frank going to buy you a beer or shoot you in the back of the head? Costello is crazy and he knows it.
7. Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) in The King of Comedy (1982)
Decades before reality television ruled the airwaves of America, there was a film called The King of Comedy. Rupert Pupkin desperately wants his fifteen minutes of fame, and invents a personal relationship with his favorite talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis). Pupkin lives at home with his mother, and dreams of being the next BFD. Robert De Niro, in the prime of his career, makes a rare comedic turn and kills it.
6. Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day-Lewis) in Gangs of New York (2002)
Money. Power. Respect. These three things were the key to life in the Five Points of New York City. Bill The Butcher is the leader of “The Natives” in Gangs of New York and they are in a war with immigrants over control of the land. The mustached lunatic rules with an iron fist, and unknowingly mentors the son (Leonardo DiCaprio) of a man he murdered years before. Bill The Butcher is a classic Scorsese psychopath that will slice you and dice you, and maybe even smoke a cigarette while doing it.
5. Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) in Mean Streets (1973)
Any legitimate fan of Robert De Niro has be familiar with Mean Streets. Johnny Boy has swag but he doesn’t have any money. He’ll buy you a drink and ask you to pay for it. Johnny Boy is undoubtedly a screwball but won’t cause any harm. Just make sure you’re not with him when the shit hits the fan.
4. Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in Goodfellas (1990)
Goodfellas tells the tale of Henry Hill, a real-life mobster who worked for the Lucchese Crime Family for twenty-five years. The film is narrated by Hill (Ray Liotta), and he takes the viewer into the daily life of a New York mobster. Who can forget Ray Liotta crackin’ his girl’s neighbor across the head or his insane Philadelphia coke plan? You gotta earn respect but sometimes shit happens.
3. Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) in Casino (1995)
Nicky Santoro is a true psychopath in Casino, and the character is based on the real-life mobster Anthony Spilotro. After fellow mobster Ace Rothstein (Robert De Niro) gets set up in Vegas, Nicky arrives and lets his presence be known. Casino ranks fifth all-time for usage of the word “fuck,” which comes mainly from the mouth of Nicky.
2. Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) in Raging Bull (1980)
Raging Bull is loosely based on the life former middleweight champ Jake LaMotta, and Robert De Niro brings the boxer to life with one of the best performances in film history. Although Scorsese knew nothing about the sport, De Niro wanted the film to be made after reading LaMotta’s book. Raging Bull is a devastating story of self-destruction and how to alienate the people you love.
1. Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in Taxi Driver (1976)
Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver is the ultimate Martin Scorsese character. The troubled, former Vietnam vet roams around New York City in his cab, and contemplates the filth that he sees on the streets. Everything makes sense to Bickle in his own mind, but he cannot find the meaning in his life that he is so desperately searching for. De Niro brings the perfect amount of disconnect to the role, and the film’s closing sequences not only introduce a physical transformation but are highly disturbing. Scorsese’s character is truly unforgettable.
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