Spielberg vs. Scorsese: Who is the better director?
With the Oscars around the corner and both Hugo and War Horse nominated for multiple awards (including Scorsese for Best Director), let’s tackle the often debated, but never concluded question.
I know some of you have strong feelings on this topic, but before you jump to a conclusion, ask yourself why. Not whose movies match your sensibilities, but instead, what makes these directors special and how will history view both in the years to come.
So who will it be? Spielberg who conjures visions of sitting in front of the fire with a warm blanket and some marshmallows, or Scorsese who on the other extreme creates visions of sitting around the garbage bin fire with only old whiskey to keep you warm? Let’s get into it.
The key areas I explore to analyze these movie making giants are:
1. Who has made the best and worst movies?
2. Who has left a greater legacy on directing for future directors?
3. Who has captured the hearts & minds of the American movie-goer?
Who has made the best movies and worst movies?
True enough – the best movies are purely subjective and are based on the individual. But using AFI’s top 100 films and Best Picture Nominations as somewhat…kind of…maybe neutral gauges, then let’s look at the following:
- Point 1: Scorsese and Spielberg have made roughly an equal number of ‘great’ movies (Speilberg has 9 Oscar Nominated Pictures while Scorsese has 7).
- Point 2: Spielberg has created more “brilliant” films with a lasting-legacy (5 movies in AFI’s top 100) vs. Scorsese (3 movies in the AFI’s top 100). Scorsese’s brilliant films are Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas. Spielberg’s brilliant films are Jaws, Raiders, Saving Private Ryan, E.T. and Schindler’s List. You can argue films should be added (The Departed) or taken away (E.T.) from this list, but you get the idea.
- Point 3: Scorsese at his movie making best (Raging Bull #4 on AFI’s top 100) is seen as superior to Spielberg at his movie making best (Schindler’s List #8 on AFI’s top 100). Again debatable depending on your movie going sensibilities, but #4 of AFI’s top 100 films EVER is pretty damn good (between Casablanca and Singin’ in the Rain).
- Point 4: While Scorsese has made some disappointing films (After Hours, Bringing Out the Dead), Spielberg has made cringe-worthy bombs (Crystal Skull, 1941). YES, debatable again…except for Crystal Skull. Don’t just blame this solely on Lucas though!
Who has left a greater legacy on directing for future directors?
- Point 1: Directors (via the Directors Guild Awards) has been equal in their love-fest of both directors. Scorsese: 8 movie directing nominations (1 win), 1 documentary nomination, 1 lifetime achievement award. Spielberg: 10 movie directing nominations (3 wins), 1 lifetime achievement award.
- Point 2: Scorsese and Spielberg admire and support each other. Spielberg on Scorsese: “there is my inspiration right there.” Scorsese on Spielberg: “For 40 years he’s been inventing and reinventing cinema with each new picture.“
- Point 3: Scorsese is seen as a greater technical director whose use of tracking shots, music and lighting have been widely copied by other directors. This point is fairly anecdotal and hard to support. Actually, if were to ask the top directors today (Tarantino, Nolan, Aronofsky, Fincher, Cameron, etc), which director has most influenced their work, most would say Kubrick.
Which Director has captured the hearts & minds of the public?
Looking at box office grosses is no comparison of course. Scorsese’s lifetime gross total is $884 million, while Spielberg’s lifetime gross total is $3.9 billion!
And beyond pure dollars, I would venture that if you were to ask a global audience of movie fans which films they have connected more with, the overwhelming majority would be pro-Spielberg.
Many of the cynics out there will argue this point doesn’t even matter. Or call out that Spielberg deliberately creates movies that go after a larger target audience (and negatively created the modern blockbuster studio philosophy), while Scorsese stays true to his artistic sensibilities.
There is truth in this, but at the end of the day the scope of each Director’s influence and legacy should be part of the evaluation criteria! And until I see a Goodfellas Wii game (which would be awesome) or a Jake LaMotta lunch box, Scorsese is going to lose this one every time.
Lutz’s Final Summary
Whose films are greater?
It is too subjective to say Spielberg or Scorsese’s films are superior. But I think Spielberg quite simply has more great films.
Who do fellow directors praise the most?
Scorsese is more revered and has pushed more boundaries from a pure directing standpoint.
Who has captured the hearts & minds of the American movie-goer?
Unquestionably Spielberg, but this has been deliberate by both directors.
From a technical directing and influence on directing standpoint, I give the Best Director Award to Scorsese, but as a Director AND Filmmaker, I give it to Spielberg.
Final Answer: Spielberg. His movies will have a great legacy in terms of the classic movies we remember and the type of films that will be made in the future.
Have you ever engaged in a spirited debate with your friends about your favorite movies?
Have you found that film critics overlook some of the best movies of our generation?
We created Movie Raiders because we love talking about movies.
And we want to provide a place where everyone can share their ideas, debate, enlighten and have fun in the process.
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