In 2021, Quentin Tarantino defended his intention to make “just” 10 movies and retire, saying, “I know film history, and from here on in, directors do not get better.” That view of both artistry and film is squarely at odds with Martin Scorsese’s historic body of work. Scorsese had already made his 10th feature-length narrative film by 1986. He is now 80 years old, and his 27th, Killers of the Flower Moon, is a strong argument that directors are still capable of groundbreaking greatness late in life — and in Scorsese’s case, continued exhilarating experimentation and discovery.
I love Tarantino’s work, and I’ve known about this 10 film career thing for what feels like forever (although apparently he didn’t say this until 2009?). As the article says, his reasoning is that careers tend to putter out, and a director’s best work is never in the latter half of their career, and he’d rather go out on a high than to fade into irrelevancy. As a younger person this really resonated with me, and I thought it was a cool idea. I recently talked with someone on Mastodon who thought that directors should all retire after 10 films because no one has that many stories to tell. But today I see it more as an oversimplification and I think there is more nuance for us and for him.
For his part, he can of course do whatever he wants. He’s 60 right now and has directed 9 feature films. If he makes another one in 2 years, he’ll be 62, have been directing movies for a little over 30 years, and has had an incredibly successful career. If he wants to retire and do other things then that’s great, I don’t blame him, I’d love to do that too!
I do think that placing a number on how many films you want to make is a bit off, and I also don’t really believe that it’s inevitable that great directors fade away after 10 movies or after they hit retirement age. If all directors followed this 10 films idea, we wouldn’t have gotten:
- Steven Spielberg wouldn’t have made Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, Munich, Bridge of Spies, or his most personal film, The Fablemans
- Martin Scorcesse wouldn’t have made Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs of New York, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, or Killers of the Flower Moon
- Alfred Hitchcock wouldn’t have made The 39 Steps, Rear Window, Vertigo, or Psycho
- Stanley Kubrick wouldn’t have made The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, or Eyes Wide Shut
- The Coen brothers wouldn’t have made No Country for Old Men or Inside Llewen Davis
- Ridley Scott wouldn’t have made Gladiator or Black Hawk Down
- Christopher Nolan wouldn’t have made made Tenet or Oppenheimer
Again, Tarantino can do what he wants to do, and even if he throws in the towel after his next movie, he’ll still go down as one of the greatest writer/directors of the past century. I just don’t think this rule of things declining after 10 movies is something to live by. For god’s sake, in the list above, Scorcesse, Hitchcock, the Coen brothers, Kubrick, and arguably Spielberg wouldn’t have made their best movies if they stopped after 10! You can fade into irrelevancy over time, but as shown above, many of the greats take 10 films to hone their craft and finally hit their stride.