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Martin Scorsese's 10 Best Movie Climaxes

ScreenRant logo ScreenRant 8/17/2022 Ben Sherlock
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Before their latest collaboration, Killers of the Flower Moon, has even been released, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have lined up their next movie. The Wager is a harrowing tale of survival about the aftermath of a naval shipwreck. Scorsese will direct, DiCaprio will star, and both will produce.

Scorsese’s movies aren’t very action-driven, but that doesn’t mean their climactic sequences aren’t thrilling. From Goodfellas’ paranoid helicopter chase to Taxi Driver’s brothel shootout, many of Scorsese’s movies culminate in mind-blowing finales.

Mean Streets

Scorsese’s first of many crime movies, Mean Streets, is a series of vignettes about mafia life in Little Italy, connected by guilty mobster Charlie’s tumultuous relationship with his reckless younger friend Johnny Boy. At the end of the movie, Charlie and Johnny Boy decide to leave the neighborhood.

They escape Little Italy in a borrowed car and seem to be out of the woods – and then some gangland rivals pull up next to them and gun them down in cold blood. This bleak climactic sequence established the thesis that Scorsese has continued to expand on in a bunch of subsequent gangster movies in the decades since: crime doesn’t pay.

Gangs Of New York

Scorsese’s origin story of America, Gangs of New York, culminates in a huge battle sequence. The rivaling gangs go to war at the same time as the outbreak of the Civil War draft riots. Union Army troops are deployed to get the rioters under control.

The beauty of this mega-scale action-packed spectacle is that it’s told through the intimate lens of Amsterdam Vallon confronting Bill the Butcher over the death of his father.

Casino

Set to the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” Ace Rothstein’s gambling empire comes crumbling down in the climactic montage of Casino. The FBI closes the casino, the bosses are arrested, and the mobsters are run out of town.

In the film’s most gut-wrenching sequence, Nicky’s brother is beaten to a pulp in front of him in a cornfield and the two are buried alive in a shallow grave.

Cape Fear

Scorsese’s Hitchcockian remake of Cape Fear ends up on a houseboat in the titular river. Lawyer Sam Bowden and his family flee to the houseboat after being targeted by a newly paroled Max Cady, the sadistic killer that Sam put behind bars.

A thunderstorm creates the perfect mood for the finale as Cady confronts the family on the boat and they desperately fight back. When Sam finally defeats Cady, Robert De Niro chews on the disturbing death scene as he drowns in the river while speaking in tongues and singing a hymn.

The Wolf Of Wall Street

Scorsese is renowned for the needle-drops on his soundtracks. The director has often used a punk rock cover of a traditional classic to represent the hammer of justice coming down on his criminal antiheroes.

At the end of Goodfellas, Sid Vicious’ cover of “My Way” plays over Henry’s mundane suburban life as a federal witness. In The Wolf of Wall Street, the Lemonheads’ cover of “Mrs. Robinson” plays over the FBI’s raid on the offices of Stratton Oakmont.

The King Of Comedy

One of Scorsese’s most underrated films, The King of Comedy, is a spot-on satire of the fame machine. Rupert Pupkin wants to jump the queue and become a renowned comedian without putting in any of the hard work. In the third act, he resorts to kidnapping a beloved late-night host and hijacking his show.

At the movie’s climax, Rupert performs a standup set on the air, kills with the live studio audience, and gets to enjoy his 15 minutes before he’s taken off to jail.

The Departed

Based on the Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs, The Departed is Scorsese’s first movie with a real plot. The cat-and-mouse chase between an undercover detective and a corrupt cop with mob connections reaches an action-packed climax in the final act.

At the end of The Departed, everyone kills everyone. After a tense rooftop confrontation between Costigan and Sullivan, Trooper Brown pulls a gun on Costigan. In quick succession, Costigan and Brown are killed by Trooper Barrigan, Barrigan is killed by Sullivan, and Sullivan is killed by Dignam. The audience’s patience is rewarded with a slew of killings.

Goodfellas

Arguably Scorsese’s magnum opus, Goodfellas, jumps all over the map in its nonlinear telling of the life story of gangster-turned-informant Henry Hill. But the climactic sequence dedicates a huge chunk of the runtime to a single day as Henry runs around town, trying to sell black-market firearms and organize a family dinner simultaneously, all while worrying that he’s being followed by a police helicopter.

Scorsese uses a bunch of cinematic tricks to capture Henry’s frazzled, paranoid mindset, from constantly changing the song on the soundtrack to a frenzy of rapid-fire cuts.

Shutter Island

The climax in Scorsese’s adaptation of Shutter Island has one of the most effective rug-pull twists in the history of psychological thrillers. Teddy Daniels goes down to the lighthouse where he fears his missing partner has been taken and finally uncovers the truth.

Scorsese keeps the audience guessing throughout the whole movie, and as it turns out, the truth is much more horrifying than anything they could’ve imagined. Plot twists in expository monologue form don’t always work, but Shutter Island’s twisty monologue works wonders in the hands of the great Ben Kingsley.

Taxi Driver

Travis Bickle finally puts his vigilante crusade into action in the desaturated blood-soaked finale of Taxi Driver. He shoots Sport outside his brothel, then goes inside and starts picking off unsuspecting johns. What sets Taxi Driver apart from other gritty vigilante thrillers of the 1970s is its sobering realism.

The climactic shootout isn’t the kind of triumphant bloodshed carried out by the invincible Paul Kersey; Travis takes more gunshots than he lands, and Iris doesn’t praise him as her knight in shining armor – she’s terrified.

NEXT: Every Quentin Tarantino Movie Climax, Ranked

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