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 somewhatkind 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.

28 Responses to Oscar Winners Spielberg vs. Scorsese: Who is the better director?

  1. John says:

    For me the greatest “film maker” that there ever has been and probably ever will be is Spielberg. When you expand his credits to include producer he has made over 60 pictures and grossed over $6.1B. The man’s capacity for creating film is unmatched, as you say. I love Scorsese’s work – and it’s hard to argue with his directing resume. But in many respects Spielberg is in his own class. I think it’s easy to say that Spielberg does not have command of the “art-form” of directing in the same way Scorsese does but look at “Schindler’s List,” look at “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and look at “Jaws” and tell me that this is a man that doesn’t have all of the technical and artistic talent of Scorsese.

    An argument you didn’t explore but may favor Scorsese is how good is the director at inspiring great performances from others? This is certainly a key role of the director. I took a look at the how many actor / actress nominations and wins that each of these two has been a part of (as a Director). My break down is below.


    Academy Award Nominated Lead and Supporting Actors:
    Taxi Driver: 2 nominations – Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster
    Raging Bull: 1 win- De Niro and 2 nominations – Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty
    The Color of Money: 1 win – Paul Newman
    Goodfellas: 1 win – Pesci and 1 nomination – Lorraine Bracco
    Cape Fear: 2 nominations – De Niro and Juliette Lewis
    Age of Innocence: 1 nomination, Winona Ryder (um, ok?)
    Casino: 1 nomination – Sharon Stone
    Gangs of New York: 1 nomination – Daniel Day Lewis
    The Aviator: 1 win – Cate Blanchett and 1 nomination – Alan Alda
    The Departed: 1 nomination – Marky Mark

    So that gets him 12 nominations and 4 Wins – very impressive


    Academy Award Nominated Lead and Supporting Actors:
    Jaws: ZERO – but someone has yet to explain to me how Robert Shaw doesn’t even get nominated??!!
    Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind: 1 nomination – Melinda Dillon
    The Color Purple: 3 nominations – Whoopi, Oprah and Margaret Avery (Shug)
    Schindler’s List: 2 nominations – Neeson and Fiennes
    Amistad: 1 nomination – Anthony Hopkins
    Saving Private Ryan: 1 nomination – Hanks
    Catch me if you Can: 1 nomination – Walken

    So that gets him 9 nominations and zero wins, still pretty good but clearly not as strong as Scorcese. I think this is a function of two things actually: casting choices and directing. Ultimately Scorcese owes a lot of the award credits above to De Niro a Pesci who delivered 5 of his 12 nominations and 2 of his 4 wins.

    I guess my first comment volley on this post is one of agreement for your conclusion Lutz in favor of Spielberg, but ultimately I think you overlooked an important aspect of Spielberg – at the end of the day there is NO ONE like him. NO ONE comes close to his scope, breadth of contribution to film. Even if you went into the brass tacks of what makes a great director, I still think Spielberg goes punch for punch with Scorsese. Martin Scorcese brings a bit more as an artist but I think it’s a small difference at best.

    I love talking about these two guys though, they are the best of the best. Great post.

  2. Lutz says:

    Great comment about performances. This is an important topic clearly overlooked.

    And, right again – Robert Shaw DEFINITELY should have been nominated for Jaws! The Indianapolis speech is one of the best movie monologues ever. By the way, on a tangent – read this great interview with Spielberg on Jaws and this classic scene.


    Anyway, for sure Scorsese is in a class all his own when it comes to getting the best performances from actors and actresses. Your also missing Diane Ladd and Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio, so his numbers are even higher.

    Sure Spielberg actors/actresses have some nominations, but with the exception of Schindler’s list, I don’t think any performance really stands out the way Scorsese’s do. DeNiro in Raging Bull, Pesci in Goodfellas, Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs, Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear, Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver – These are monumental performances that ONLY Scorsese could have created. I mean, this performance drove John Hinckley Jr. to shoot President Reagan!

    This aspect of great directing should defintely be part of the full-judging criteria.

  3. Kenzo says:

    Ok. So since my brain was most malleable during the “Spielberg/Lucas Era”, my knee jerk reaction is to say Stevie…but I like this discussion. This is a tough debate. It’s like the age old argument of Beatles or Rolling Stones? Okay, my bad, it’s obviously Beatles so lame example.

    Scorsese’s films rely massively on the actor.
    Spielberg’s films rely massively on the story/spectacle.

    Did Scorsese make Robert DeNiro? Or did DeNiro make Scorsese? Did Toshiro Mifune make Kurosawa? Or the other way around?

    Let’s just say that Scorsese is awesome at casting and directing a character rich scene.

    Spielberg’s films can get away with non-insanely awesome actors because his most memorable films rely on story/concept/spectacle. Oh, a little John Williams doesn’t hurt either.

    Here’s the bottom line Kenzo assessment:

    I love Scorsese films because of I remember DeNiro scenes, lines of dialogue, and characters. Especially the bad guys.

    I love Spielberg films because I remember a feeling, an image, and a score.

    Who’s the better director? Stanley Kubrick. HAHA

    • John says:

      Great summary Ed. I too was shaped more by Spielberg. Hell, Lutz and I called this blog “Movieraiders.”

      I believe Deniro is at his best when he is paired with “Marty.”. But who made who is a very interesting question? It seems like Martin Scorcese has been able to get great performances from a variety of actors. And Deniro with many directors (Coppola, Cimino, Mann, De Palma, etc…). So even if one made the other – they both succeeded without each other. I am not as well versed enough in Japanese cinema to say how Mifune did without Akira, but they were great together!

      Sergio, who will weigh in – raised that Kubrick v. Scorcese is a better question. Stanley isn’t nominated this year, so Lutz went with these two, who are. Still I think it’s interesting.

      In a way Spielberg is more like Jim Cameron than he is like Martin Scorcese, to your point about Spectacle. However Scorcese’s use of violence often bordered the “spectacular.”. The scene where Pesci meets his end in “Casino” rivaled the Normandy scene from “Saving Private Ryan” from a certain point of view.

      I do think Neeson and Fiennes were incredible in “Schindler’s List” I would also say that Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw were amazing in “Jaws”- though I can’t argue that “Jaws” wasn’t more about spectacle than it was about acting.

      Great points

  4. lutz says:

    Okay Kenzo & John: So each Director has their particular area which makes them special.


    If we are forced to make a decision, then for me Spielberg is Mel Gibson to Scorsese’s Master Blaster. Yes – I just wrote that.

    I ultimately look at legacy. Sure legacy can be divided by specific films or performances. But I basically see the entire 1980s as Spielberg, and the power of his films will last further into the future for more people around the world.

    • Kenzo says:

      Okay, obviously the MSG intake in Shanghai has made Lutz a little combative. As long as he doesn’t start karaoke-ing Tina Turner’s, We Don’t Need Another Hero, I think we’re safe.

      So, let me do it this way and make a conclusion:

      If I had the choice of ONE film directed by either Spielberg or Scorsese on a desert island until death it would be…drumroll please: A.I. Artificial Intelligence (yes Kubrick influenced)

      In fact, it is the only Spielberg film I can remember where I thought he kinda got lost and tripped out a little bit…which was cool. We’re so used to the Spielberg package and complete control, slick mastery of a storyline but A.I. was different for him. I respect him for it. He kept his promise to Kubrick and finished the damn thing come hell or high water. All of his other films would get pretty old pretty quick. And my favorite Scorsese film would obviously have Robert DeNiro in it…and I wouldn’t want to be stuck on an island with Bobby DeNiro.

  5. Eric says:

    Great thoughts on both directors, but a director’s worth really has to be judged posthumously. With that in mind, let’s consider what the future is likely to hold for Scorsese and Spielberg, by looking at the recent past.

    Since 2000, Spielberg has released , and is scheduled to release:
    Robopocalypse (pre-production)
    2012 Lincoln (post-production)
    2011 War Horse
    2011 The Adventures of Tintin
    2008 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
    2005 Munich
    2005 War of the Worlds
    2004 The Terminal
    2002 Catch Me If You Can
    2002 Minority Report
    2001 A.I. Artificial Intelligence

    Scorsese’s list is as follows:
    Sinatra (announced)
    2013 Silence (pre-production)
    2011 Hugo
    2010 Shutter Island
    2006 The Departed
    2004 The Aviator
    2002 Gangs of New York

    If I had to rank the 14 movies I have seen from these lists, Scorsese takes the top three, while Spielberg takes the bottom two.

    Marty is 69 years old, and Steve 65. Assuming they will be directing into Eastwood territory, they will likely produce thirty more films. If the last decade is any guide as to where these directors are going, then it’s hard not to go with Scorsese.

    • John says:

      Eric this is an excellent point about the “trajectory” of these guys. I do think that Spielberg has lacked inspiration in recent years, whereas Scorsese seems to be re-discovering himself yet again. “Hugo” is like nothing he has ever done before, and it may turn out to be one of the most critically acclaimed movies he has ever made(by the Academy of Motion Pictures at least). Meanwhile – “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” should never have been made, I actually think Michael Bay has made several movies better than Crystal Skull and it is PAINFUL for me to say that, PAINFUL. “War of the Worlds” was not good, “The Terminal” was not good. You are right on with that point.

      I have been thinking of another point (along with the actors / actresses point). Collaborators. Spielberg’s true partner is Kathleen Kennedy, she has worked with him on almost all of his projects. She herself is the second highest grossing producer of all time, basically as an adjunct to Spielberg as she has only recently started to take on her own production projects. For Scorsese its Thelma Schoonmaker, his long time editing partner who has herself won 3 Oscars and been nominated 4 times (in some ways she has gotten more recognition than Marty himself!). This says a lot about these guys. Spielberg collaborates with a master project manager, and Scorsese collaborates with a master editor.

      It doesn’t necessarily help with the argument for either one, but underscores further that these really are two different kind of people. Lutz insists that 2 men enter and 1 man leave, so I remain in the Spielberg camp. But is the implication that he is the best director of all time? I don’t know – I do think, as I said, that Steven Spielberg is the greatest FILMMAKER of all time. I don’t think the scope and breadth of his work will ever be matched.

  6. Chris says:

    I would say Scorsese is the best director – in the truest sense of the word. I think his style and dedication to the craft of directing is very much a blessing and a curse to his movies. His movies are often filled with more “conscience” choices, his shot selection and scene design often are calculated to trigger a feeling or response. Additionally he, like most directors, has tendencies. However some of Scorsese’s tendencies limit his appeal to a wider audience. I’ve listed a few below

    – Frequently sets his films in New York City

    – Unflinchingly graphic and realistic violence

    – His films frequently have protagonists who have the –
    “Madonna-whore” complex (believing all women should be
    one or the other) and are disturbed when real-life
    women don’t fit either stereotype.

    – For more Click Here

    It is these tendencies that cost Scorsese the popular vote, and although I appreciate his dedication to the craft, I too side with Spielberg as being the best director, overall.

    As a director or filmmaker, I believe one must be able to not only utilize the techniques of the craft to convey a story but also be able to allow the audience to lose themselves in that story.

    Steven Spielberg is the best director amongst the two. While his style is not often sited as his strength, his technique is sound and even emulated (see Super 8, directed by JJ Abrams, feels just like ET). I believe it is Spielberg’s ability to tell a story that allows for his wide appeal and box office power. And while I like the idea of using awards to evaluate both directors, I think for me, the ability to make movies that stay with the audience over time is the true sign of a director. Taking nothing away from Scorsese, Spielberg’s films are apart of every movie goer, they hit an accord with his audiences and capture the imagination like few in the industry can. While both men have made memorable films that will be studied for years to come, I believe for the average movie goer Spielberg takes the cake!

  7. lutz says:

    Agree that Eric makes a good point about the trajectory of these directors.

    Aside from Munich, Spielberg has remained very much in Popcorn Mode for the last ten years, with nothing outstanding to show for it.

    Scorsese on the other hand seems to be on a roll this last decade with more recognition for the pictures he has made. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Scorsese has more gems left in the future.

    I suspect Spielberg has to keep finding a way to top himself while ensuring his films still reach a wide audience. This is a tough task and perhaps Spielberg’s best films are now behind us.

  8. lutz says:

    As for Chris’ comment, there are 2 main things I took away:

    1. “The ability to make movies that stay with the audience over time is the true sign of a director.” YES – This is my main argument and the exact reason why I am still in the Spielberg camp.

    2. “I believe for the average movie goer Spielberg takes the cake.” What the? Did Chris just insult me by calling me an ‘average’ movie goer???

    I guess this is actually true. I have the hypothesis that hard-core cinephiles might look at Directing in a more pure sense and therefore side with Scorsese. While I, on the other hand, am looking at it from a total filmmaker standpoint and the legacy of the films.

    • kenzo says:

      OK, so I change my answer. Scorsese is clearly the better Director. Listened to a JJ Abrams interview where he said that Spielberg has an innate ability to know the best way to tell a story…which I can agree with. But when it comes to the actual “craft” of directing, Scorsese has (and uses) so many more weapons than Spielberg to convey a scene. We’re talking lighting, camera moves, score, edit, etc… Just look at Hugo. It’s his first time to embrace 3D and massive CGI but he used both of those elements expertly (with the help of VFX Supervisor). Mise en scene. I have some story problems with Hugo but the craftmanship of the scenes are fierce. And John is right, it’s probably an easier fit to compare Scorsese to the likes of Kubrick or Tarantino, not only because of the violence factor but because of the ability to completely suck you into a scene.

    • John says:

      Lutz – embrace your movie mediocrity. I am NEVER going to apologize for liking “Bloodsport” or “Navy SEALS”

      The more I think about it the more I realize that I am more of a Spielberg kinda guy. And I am not ashamed to say it. If loving Spielberg pictures are wrong, I don’t wanna be right. I would like him to bring a substantial film soon. I think he is too popcorn. He needs to distance himself from Michale Bay. I hope that “Robopocalypse” can do that.

  9. Chris says:

    HAHA, I guess in a away I did call you average Lutz.

    But I’d have to say the discussion real brings to light what the determining factors of evaluating a director can be. For this particular discussion, if given the choice to be able to only see one movie between the two catalogues, I believe that I would chose one from Spielberg.

    Like a Coke or Pepsi test, which one would you choose?

  10. John Keaney says:

    Hey guys. I think there’s no question Scorsese is the better director, but my criteria may be different. I am one of the older, jaded people who think that Spielberg’s influence on the history of film has been a negative one. That’s not to say he hasn’t directed great films – obviously he has – but after the success of “Jaws” (which I loved and love, by the way) the industry changed, in my opinion for the worse. After Jaws, achieving a “blockbuster” became the driving force of the industry, and the little 70’s renaissance of Scorsese, Coppola, Altman et al was basically over – i.e. the idea that directors could have the leeway to create works of art – as opposed to feeding the the blockbuster machinery. Spielberg is the embodiment of this change in Hollywood’s culture.

    That’s not to say that all blockbusters are bad, but it has led ultimately to the situation you have in Hollywood now, where movies are made for either $500,000 or $120M, with no middle ground, and no room for movies other than the superior blockbusters to become “classics”.

    But back to Spielberg vs. Scorsese. Aesthetically speaking, I find Spielberg to be a great craftsman but not a great artist. There is no greater visual stylist – the man can and has done everything – but (and I must admit I have not seen a lot of the more recent Spielberg movies)there’s always a certain distance emotionally, and he tends to want to make people feel good rather than to challenge them emotionally. (Of course I’m seriously generalizing here, there are exceptions to all of this in the man’s canon, which is huge.)

    Scorsese, on the other hand, is another brilliant visual stylist, but (especially in his earlier films) also took risks and addressed rawer subject matter that appeals on a more artistic level. His newer films are closer to Spielberg’s in the sense that, like Spielberg, he seems to want the adoration of the public more these days, where previously he went with his artistic instincts more than his commercial ones.

    Of course this argument has nothing – like oscar stats – to back it up, it’s purely subjective.

    I could blather on forever but I think I should stop there. Now everyone gets to tell me how wrong I am and you could be right!

    • John says:

      John, great comments. You are right about how Spielberg has impacted Hollywood. It is now a blockbuster driven industry in search of the next big franchise. He embodies that.

      When I think of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” it was an incredible production, especially for its time. It is the perfect example of what kind of director he is. As Kenzo put it, the “spectacle,” or as I would say the “show.” He is a master of the “big screen.”. Scorcese uses lighting, camera position, coloring, MUSIC, and performances to compose a film- and that is what most people characterize as the “art” of film. Spielberg uses huge scale practical production, visual effects, sound design, stunts and star power. To me those too are part of the “art” of making something great for the “big screen.”. He thinks big.

      I think Scorcese is a genius, and I do agree he is more of a pure artist. I think Spielberg’s earlier work was of a higher standard, after he won the Oscar for Schindler’s he became more of a pure blockbuster chaser. Martin Scrocese wouldn’t have even finished reading the script for Crystal Skull, let alone shooting that revolting terd of a movie. Speilberg has made 4 Indiana Jones movies and 1 is a classic, 1 is good (crusade) 1 is not good (temple) and 1 is among the worst movies ever made. Scorcese has made 1 sequel “The Color of Money” (though you can argue he has made a lot of gangster movies). He is not motivated by the almighty dollar, or creating a franchise- he is about making great movies.

      I still rest on Speilberg’s incredible body of work (albeit there are some bad movies that pull him down) and his incredible skill as a film maker that give him the edge for me over Scrocese.

  11. Sergio says:

    Hi. I thought about this quite a bit and submit the following for your consideration…

    Who has made the best or worst movies?

    “Earn This”
    Call me a purist guys, but an assessment of “Director importance, legacy and impact” can’t be determined by AFI rank, Oscar nomination or box office gross – these metrics are created by marketers to generate public interest.Three points for your consideration:

    • Neither Robert Altman nor Stanley Kubrick nor Alfred Hitchcock won an Oscar for directing – does this diminish their legacy?

    • Michael Bay’s lifetime gross total is $1,848,173,234. Does this make him a better director than Scorsese?

    • No movies made in the last ten years have cracked the AFI list – this is the decade when Christopher Nolan and David Fincher have been most prolific

    What makes a director special? It’s their world view, how this view has been communicated to the audience, and how it stands in contrast to what has come before and what has been created thereafter. Stats only take you so far…

    I love Spielberg’s movies. Personal favorites: Empire of the Sun and Saving Private Ryan. If these movies are on tv, time stops and I watch. I will even sit thru the commercials. Spielberg has a great sense of humor. He’s clever, innovative and a risk taker.

    Perfect for ages 8–80.

    I will not hold Hook against him or Minority Report (neither he nor Tom Cruise should ever interpret another Philip K Dick novel) or even Always – three times is not a charm Mr. Dreyfuss.
    He can tell a story, any story…his way.

    And that’s why he makes the worst movies in comparison to Scorsese:
    • Spielberg has made blatant derivatives of movies that came before them

    • Spielberg manipulates his plots with devices, a.k.a “dues ex machina”. His trademark plot structure makes his movies enjoyable, but predictable

    • Spielberg has made technically brilliant movies, but he allows his creations to become corrupted by marketing plays. Pass the Reese’s Pieces, Gertie

    I know all of this, yet will suffer thru another tampon commercial just to watch Tom Sizemore try to hold off the Germans from seizing Ramelle.

    Who has left a greater legacy on directing for future directors?

    “Tell me I’m a good man”

    Spielberg is a wonderful storyteller. I can share a Spielberg film with my son, niece or nephew without regret because he understands child-like wonder and imagination.
    However, his untruthful world view puts a chokehold on his legacy and reduces him to the Norman Rockwell of film.

    In Spielberg’s world, good men, humble and heroic men, wear white hats –they don’t wear black and they never wear gray.

    His POV is informed by the “Golden Age” serials he frequently cites as a shaping influence. I believe his true legacy is successfully repackaging the spirit of these serials for modern consumption. Spielberg (and Lucas) has sold the hero myth in nearly every film, from DUEL to WAR HORSE. Spielberg lets you experience a predictable amusement park ride called “heroism”.

    “The Spielberg man” is a righteous, classic leading man archetype with a goal, a man and a mission. He will get that relic to a museum. He will save Private Ryan. He will get off that dinosaur-infested island. He will climb Devil’s Tower – all to the crescendo of a sweeping John Houston score and without moral confusion or ambivalence. The audience is on his side. Spielberg is on his side. Our hero achieves his goal and Spielberg achieves his goal – hearts and minds captured.

    There’s nothing wrong with this formula, it puts people in movie theatre seats and makes them feel good.

    But it’s an artificial formula and like aspartame, bad for you.

    I think the best movies challenge the audience with the truth of living. Truth is the Scorsese legacy. He picks up where Peckinpah left off.

    Martin Scorsese knows the truth of human nature: men are angels and animals. Life is not formulaic. In Scorsese’s world, Frank Abagnale Jr. isn’t just gleefully cheating the Feds, he’s sleeping in his own urine and fecal matter on a stone floor once caught (true shite).

    Truth is the Scorsese legacy found in Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz, Casino and Goodfellas. Scorsese’s men and women are driven by sin. Scorsese feels no need to redeem men the way Spielberg does – he just accepts the brutality of the ring, the violence of Italian blood ties, the corruption of police officers, the drug-fueled rock star.

    That why Schindler’s List is so strong – it’s the most Scorsese-like. It’s the closest Spielberg has come to owning the complexity of humanity.

    Last Temptation was created by a man in search of the truth – it’s no wonder that Scorsese considered entering the seminary.

    Who has captured the hearts & minds of the American movie-goer?

    Spielberg. And it will always be Spielberg, because Scorsese, despite his contributions, speaks in the quiet voice of a director in love with cinema. And that’s enough for him. Spielberg wants to secure the licensing rights to a Universal Studio Theme Park amusement ride and that’s ok I guess.

    • John says:

      Best arguments so far Sergio, well said.  I would like to take you up on the three criticisms of Spielberg, which I beleive are well articulated.

      *Predictable plot devices.  It’s true, many of his pictures are formulaic, but let’s look at “Schindler’s list.” – this is a movie where I think he threw all of his “business-franchise” concerns out the window and made a piece of art.  To my knowledge he hasn’t inked a deal with Universal studios to get the “Oskar Schindler factory experience.”  I think of Ben Kingsley (HUGO) saying “this list is life.” There are very few moments in film that are more poignant than that scene.  The way that movie was shot in black and white with all of those high camera angles and tight shots, he had such a clear articulation of how he wanted to use the camera to tell this story.  My point is this, when he tries, Spielberg is equally the artist that Scorcese is.  Your point, that his product is predictable is hard to argue.  It usually is predictable.

      *Blatant derivatives – sadly this is movie making.  Scrocese himself admits that much of what he puts into his pictures comes from someone else.  Perhaps he is “less blatant” than Spielberg to your point.  “JAWS” may be derived from many other films before it- but is it not one of the truly great films ever made? It is iconic, and timeless.

      *Technically well made movies corrupted by marketing.  I really can’t debate this point, and what’s more- it is one of the most contrasting points between these two.  Martin Scorcese doesn’t make a movie like “Last Temptation…” to score at the box office.  Spielberg doesn’t make a movie unless he thinks it will score at the box office…this difference defines what makes these two guys different.

      Dude you NAILED us with the Michael Bay point, that was awesome.  Well played sir, as you know sanitation engineers (like us) are always fascinated by the dollar impact of things.

      I respect what you said about Scorcese, being in the tradition of Peckinpah, which is a great parallel and segue to a point I would make about Scorcese’s predictability.  Many of his early films employed brutal violence as a device, this reached its crescendo in “Casino” when Nicky Santoro is forced to watch his own brother beaten to death before he himself is beaten to death by his own friends.  Is this the world?  I would argue that Spielberg’s idyllic vision is no less rooted in “humanity” than Scorcese’s “visceral” vision was at times.  But something changed, The Aviator and Hugo really departed (pun intended) from this predictable device and it shows us a new aspect to Marty.

      If the standard is the director’s “world view, how this view has been communicated to the audience, and how it stands in contrast to what has come before and what has been created thereafter”. Then I submit this for you to consider.  Jaws, Raiders, Saving Ryan, Schindler’s stands up to this criteria in the same way Taxi Driver, Raging, Goodfellas, Casino, Mean Streets.  These guys are peers and have both left their mark on film.  

      I remain a Spielberg guy, but you reshaped this discussion and elevated the debate.  I am just too easily enthralled by the sirens song of John Williams and the Boston Pops.

  12. […] and I wrote a post about Scorcese and Speilberg, in that post one conclusion that we agreed on was that Steven Speilberg has been on a bad […]

  13. […] Spielberg – the king of Hollywood has returned; 12 nominations for Lincoln.  The lingering question for people will be, what is Lincoln if you […]

  14. fhantom87 says:

    It’s amazing how you seem to praise Scorsese so greatly, and then decide to settle on Spielberg. Scorsese is clearly more talented, and has made much more great movies. He is almost universally acclaimed by film-makers and directors. One thing that people always say is that Scorsese’s films are not as accessible to the general public. But why should that count against him? Look at Stanley Kubrick. His movies were not very commercially successful, yet people look back at them and consider him to be one of the greatest directors of all time.

    When you go to see a Scorsese movie, you know it’s going to be brilliant. Even a disappointing movie like Shutter island is still not entirely bad. Spielberg’s movies are more of a toss-up. You wouldn’t see Scorsese do something as loathsome as “The Lost World” or “Crystal Skull.”

    Spielberg’s movies may be more “fun,” but as far as the director that will be remembered in coming generations, Scorsese is clearly the winner.

    • John says:

      You make some great points. Scorcese’s work is more consistently good, as you say. And as much as I loved Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Saving Private Ryan are movies that I love just a little more, as entertainment. The art of directing, exposing all of the details of film making- Scorcese is a cut above Spielberg. I agree with you on that. But when you look at the art of entertainment in the medium, I think Spielberg is a cut above and a true innovator (for good or for bad). I have to disagree Spielberg is “less talented.” But I agree that his decision making and standards are not as high.

      Personally I think Kubrick is the greatest ever…better than both of these guys, that is why we left him out of the discussion. I believe both Spielberg and Scorcese have said the same about Kubrick.

      Appreciate the comment – thank you! Hope to continue seeing your input!

  15. Umanga says:

    entertainment varies people to people : somple people simply love art type reailsm while others love stylized versions:depends upon chioce

    It is true that scorcese has mainy directed crime movies but:
    hugo-is the only children’s movie he has directed while speilsberg has many ranging from average to great-still hugo is one of the best maturedly presented children’s movie of all time-5 oscars out of 8 nominations
    kings of comedy-coppola’s favourite movie and one of the most underestimated greatest black comedy movies of all time(other comedies include alice doesn’t live here anymore-first major hollywood debut of scorese won 2 oscars – superior debut for any director’wolf of wall street)
    raging bull-only sports movie directed by scorcese -regarded greatest sports movie
    taxi driver- regarded greatest psychological vigillante movie
    goodfellas-regarded one of the greatest ever
    departed-regarded as one of the best thriller movies of 2000’s decade
    these are all greatest movie of his clearly hugo matches the scope of et(and is even superior artistically)+scorcese has made great movies in every genre he has touched

    awards-true speilsberg has 3 oscars but i think direction is not a single dimensional task it is taking the best out of his team-out of 80 oscar nominations his movies have won 20 in bafta-23 wins out of 83 nominations.Oscars is mostly limited to american movies scorcese has won palme d<or:he has too won grammy for music video direction: multiple emmy awards for television :Scorcese's art is much more gretaer than just blockbuster effects dependent movies

    graetness-u just said about how modern directrs are more influenced by scorece and i can clearly feel it in south asia;every independent director seems to talk about scorece trademarks highly influencing their movies than speilsberg
    Besides, initially in afi 1998 raging bull was #24 now it is in top 10:goodfellas was 2 places down don't get surprised if his movies(more in no and position)replace speilsberg movie;most of the movies of speilsberg seem easily replacble in afi 100 besides schinders list and slowly the consisteny of speilsberg is deeming in front of scorcese;movies such as psycho and vertigo and 2001 space odesy were reviewd mixed but with time they are getting more pioneer reviews similar is going to be case with scorece

    all the facts above prove scorcese not just limited to moviemaking but a true artist far more superior and art is eternal but entertainment varies: the scope gets bigger and bigger with greater effects and all but art is basic it is always prmitive and directing is an art (not only limited to movies,music viedos or tv shows)

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