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Top 10 Martin Scorsese Character Performances

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script Written by Q.V. Hough. Raging Bulls, taxi drivers and foul-mouthed gangsters. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Martin Scorsese Character performances. For this list, we’re focusing on the actor performances that brought to life some of the most memorable and popular Martin Scorsese characters from his feature length big screen releases, even though the director has a variety of shorts and special productions. Special thanks to our users Legen Waitforit Dary and Andrew A. Dennison for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Top 10 Martin Scorsese Character Performances

Raging Bulls, taxi drivers and foul-mouthed gangsters. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Martin Scorsese Character performances.

For this list, we’re focusing on the actor performances that brought to life some of the most memorable and popular Martin Scorsese characters from his feature length big screen releases, even though the director has a variety of shorts and special productions.

#10: Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)

Cocaine is a hell of a drug. This gonzo, 3-hour biopic of stockbroker Jordan Belfort allowed Leo to get down and let loose. Just like classic French New Wave films, DiCaprio opened “The Wolf of Wall Street” by speaking directly to the audience before diving into booze, broads and every upper or downer that you can think of. This performance was a wild ride through debauchery and DiCaprio proved that he’s one of the most versatile actors of his generation. Even his reaction after not winning the Academy Award was classic.

#9: Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin
“The King of Comedy” (1983)

His name was Rupert Pupkin and he was the lovable lunatic of prime time television. Robert De Niro’s portrayal of a fictional aspiring comedian predated America’s reality TV obsession by about 20 years and his quirky antics served as a departure from the usual tough guy roles that made him a star. With a peculiar yet upfront way of socializing and an obsession with a late-night talk show host, De Niro produced a truly original performance and wore his neatly trimmed mustache like a boss…ok, a slightly psychotic boss.

#8: Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn
“The Aviator” (2004)

A modern icon stepped into the shoes of a classic icon in this Howard Hughes biopic. At the request of Martin Scorsese, Cate Blanchett watched the first 15 films of Katharine Hepburn’s career to nail each and every characteristic of the affluent and iconic actress. In fact, Blanchett was so good that she became the first actress to win an Academy Award for playing an Academy Award-winning actress. Say that 5 times. Next up: Cate Blanchett stars in Martin Scorsese’s “Cate Blanchett.” Make it happen, Marty.

#7: Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes
“The Aviator” (2004)

Speaking of “The Aviator,” Mr. DiCaprio produced quite the performance as billionaire madman Howard Hughes and received yet another Oscar nomination – and loss – for his exquisite method acting. In preparation for the role, DiCaprio spent time with people living with obsessive-compulsive disorder, which allowed him to better understand the genius of Howard Hughes along with his enigmatic personality. By transforming into the eccentric business mogul, DiCaprio re-introduced Hughes’ accomplishments to a new generation and raised awareness for mental health.

#6: Ray Liotta as Henry Hill
“GoodFellas” (1990)

After appearing in everybody’s favorite baseball movie “Field of Dreams,” Ray Liotta was cast by Martin Scorsese to play real-life mob rat Henry Hill. “Goodfellas” chronicled the gangster’s rise through the Lucchese crime family and Liotta brilliantly carried the film with his character’s happy-go-lucky personality and often-paranoid demeanor. The world had never quite seen a mob story like “Goodfellas,” and Ray Liotta was the perfect guide as his preparation was evident and his improvisations made us cry from laughter.

#5: Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting
“Gangs of New York” (2002)

While most performers are thrilled to work with this English actor, no one should expect to know him as a person – at least not during production. Daniel Day-Lewis was ranked as [SPOILER ALERT] WatchMojo’s #1 method actor of all-time, and he spoke as Bill “The Butcher” Cutting during the entire shoot of “Gangs of New York” – on AND off set. His mustache made Ron Burgundy’s look like a joke and his mastery of a mid-19th century Five Points dialect made “Gangs of New York” a joy to watch. He was hilariously evil and killed it.

#4: Leonardo DiCaprio as William ‘Billy’ Costigan, Jr.
“The Departed” (2006)

Before 2006, most casual moviegoers viewed Leo DiCaprio as a pretty boy Hollywood star, but his turn as this undercover cop elevated him to a new dimension. As Billy Costigan, DiCaprio offered an inside look at the underworld of organized crime in Boston and made audiences sweat just like his nervous character does. Billy’s descent into darkness made all the difference in a film that kept us guessing until the shocking finale. Rather than having DiCaprio compete with the supporting cast for an Oscar nomination, Warner Brothers promoted his other 2006 performance in “Blood Diamond,” but it is his “The Departed” performance that lives on as a true gem of Scorsese films.

#3: Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito
“GoodFellas” (1990)

So you think Joe Pesci was funny in this Martin Scorsese gangster flick? Funny how? How the (bleep) was he so funny? In one of the more frightening improvisational scenes of “Goodfellas,” Joe Pesci shocked audiences AND his own co-stars with the brash demeanor of his character Tommy DeVito. In fact, Pesci dropped so many F-bombs that “Goodfellas” set a new record. It was hard to like Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas,” but it wasn’t hard to watch him light up the screen.

#2: Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle
“Taxi Driver” (1976)

It was the role that spoke to us all – for better or for worse. Nobody knew what to expect from Robert De Niro as cabbie Travis Bickle other than that he would BRANG it. He prepared by working as an actual New York City taxi driver for a month, and even though he won an Oscar for “The Godfather: Part II” the previous year, not a soul recognized him during the process. By harnessing the bottled anxiety of Travis Bickle, De Niro produced a socially detached character that made viewers nervous – even during the more comedic moments. In the end, his physical and psychological transformation gave us one of the most controversial endings in the history of cinema.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- Jodie Foster as Iris ‘Easy’ Steensma
“Taxi Driver” (1976)
- Sharon Stone as Ginger McKenna
“Casino” (1995)
- Willem Dafoe as Jesus
“The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988)
- Harvey Keitel as Charlie
“Mean Streets” (1973)
- Ellen Burstyn as Alice Hyatt
“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (1974)

#1: Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta
“Raging Bull” (1980)

Arguably one of the greatest performances of all time, De Niro took method acting to a new level when he gained 60 pounds to play fat Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull.” He trained with the former middleweight champion himself at a Brooklyn gym, and although Martin Scorsese had little personal interest in boxing, he was impassioned by his actor’s enthusiasm for the project, which ultimately became a character study of a devastatingly insecure man. Bobby D took home the Academy Award for “Raging Bull” and capped off a decade of performances that we’ll never forget.

Do you agree with our list? Who is your favorite Martin Scorsese Character Performance? For more mind-blowing Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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