Lyndy Yim

Written by Lyndy Yim

Modified & Updated: 19 May 2024

Jessica Corbett

Reviewed by Jessica Corbett


Mean Streets, directed by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, is a gritty and influential movie that has left a lasting impact on the world of cinema. Released in 1973, this crime drama follows the lives of small-time Italian-American hoodlums in New York City’s Little Italy. With its raw portrayal of the underworld and its powerful performances, Mean Streets is regarded as a pivotal film in Scorsese’s career and in the development of the crime genre. In this article, we will explore 43 fascinating facts about Mean Streets that will give you a deeper appreciation for this iconic film. From its troubled production to its influence on future filmmakers, get ready to delve into the behind-the-scenes secrets and trivia of Mean Streets.

Key Takeaways:

  • Mean Streets” is a pivotal film in Martin Scorsese’s career, showcasing his signature style and themes while launching the legendary partnership with Robert De Niro.
  • The movie explores universal themes of loyalty, ambition, and self-discovery, making it a timeless classic that continues to captivate audiences.
Table of Contents

The Beginning of Scorsese’s Brilliance

Mean Streets, released in 1973, marked a significant milestone in the career of acclaimed director Martin Scorsese.

The Dynamic Duo

Mean Streets brought together the legendary partnership of Martin Scorsese as the director and Robert De Niro as the lead actor, setting the stage for their future collaborations.

A Semi-Autobiographical Tale

Mean Streets is loosely based on Martin Scorsese’s own experiences growing up in New York’s Little Italy.

The Streets of Little Italy

Mean Streets is primarily set in the vibrant and gritty neighborhood of Little Italy in Manhattan, capturing its raw energy and distinct atmosphere.

A Familiar Theme

Mean Streets explores the themes of loyalty, honor, and the struggle for redemption, elements that have become synonymous with Scorsese’s body of work.

The Breakthrough Performance

Mean Streets marked Robert De Niro’s breakout role, solidifying his reputation as one of the most talented actors of his generation.

A Gritty and Realistic Portrayal

Mean Streets is known for its realistic depiction of street life, capturing the essence of the rough and tumble world of mobsters and their associates.

The Joy of Improvisation

Scorsese encouraged improvisation during the filming of Mean Streets, resulting in natural and spontaneous performances from the cast.

A Stellar Soundtrack

The soundtrack of Mean Streets features an eclectic mix of music, including classic rock ‘n’ roll hits, creating a nostalgic and atmospheric backdrop for the story.

A Tribute to Cinephilia

Mean Streets pays homage to classic Hollywood films, with Scorsese infusing references and visual cues from movies that influenced him.

A Memorable Opening Sequence

The film opens with a memorable tracking shot, following the main characters through the bustling streets of Little Italy, immediately immersing the audience in the world of Mean Streets.

A Stellar Supporting Cast

In addition to Robert De Niro, Mean Streets features stellar performances from Harvey Keitel, David Proval, and Amy Robinson, adding depth and richness to the ensemble cast.

The Controversial Church Scene

One of the most memorable scenes in Mean Streets takes place in a church, challenging the traditional notions of morality and exploring the characters’ internal conflicts.

A Critical Success

Mean Streets received critical acclaim upon its release, solidifying Scorsese’s reputation as a master filmmaker and establishing him as one of the leading figures of the New Hollywood era.

A Cult Classic

Over the years, Mean Streets has attained cult status, revered by cinephiles and serving as a source of inspiration for aspiring filmmakers.

The Beginnings of Scorsese’s Signature Style

Mean Streets showcases several stylistic choices that would become trademark elements of Scorsese’s films, such as dynamic camerawork, intense close-ups, and the use of popular music as a narrative tool.

An Exploration of Catholic Guilt

Mean Streets delves into the theme of Catholic guilt, a recurring motif in Scorsese’s films, as the main characters grapple with the consequences of their actions against their religious beliefs.

A Low-Budget Gem

Mean Streets was made on a modest budget of approximately $500,000, yet it achieved immense critical and commercial success, becoming a cult classic in the process.

The Origins of Scorsese’s Gangster Films

Mean Streets laid the foundation for Scorsese’s future explorations of the gangster genre, serving as a precursor to films like Goodfellas and The Departed.

An Exploration of Male Bonding

In Mean Streets, Scorsese delves into the complex dynamics of male friendships, showcasing the intertwined loyalty and conflicts that arise among his characters.

A Tale of Ambition and Desperation

Mean Streets explores the aspirations and desperate measures taken by the characters to climb the social ladder in their criminal underworld.

A Lesson in Cinematic Craftsmanship

Mean Streets showcases Scorsese’s meticulous attention to detail, from the carefully constructed visuals to the nuanced performances of the cast.

Scorsese’s Love Letter to New York

Mean Streets serves as a love letter to Scorsese’s hometown of New York City, portraying its vibrant streets and distinct neighborhoods with authenticity and reverence.

The Birth of Scorsese’s Collaboration with Harvey Keitel

Mean Streets marked the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between Scorsese and actor Harvey Keitel, who would go on to work together in several more films.

A Balancing Act between Light and Darkness

Mean Streets expertly balances moments of humor and lightheartedness with intense and gritty depictions of violence, showcasing Scorsese’s skill in navigating contrasting tones.

A Study in Character Development

Mean Streets provides a deep exploration of its characters’ motivations, flaws, and internal conflicts, offering rich and complex portrayals.

A Pioneer of Independent Filmmaking

Mean Streets is considered one of the pioneering independent films of its time, showcasing Scorsese’s commitment to telling stories outside of the mainstream studio system.

A Realistic Portrayal of Italian-American Culture

Mean Streets offers an authentic representation of Italian-American culture, tackling themes of identity, family, and tradition within the context of organized crime.

A Film That Transcends Genre

Mean Streets defies easy categorization, blending elements of crime drama, character study, and coming-of-age tale to create a unique and multi-layered cinematic experience.

The Power of Loyalty and Betrayal

Mean Streets delves into the intricacies of loyalty and betrayal within the confines of a close-knit community, further emphasizing the moral dilemmas faced by its characters.

A Career-Defining Performance by Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the volatile and charismatic Johnny Boy in Mean Streets is considered one of his most iconic and powerful performances to date.

The Influence of Mean Streets on Future Filmmakers

Mean Streets has had a lasting impact on the world of cinema, inspiring future filmmakers with its innovative storytelling techniques and gritty realism.

A Masterclass in Editing

Mean Streets showcases the masterful editing skills of Thelma Schoonmaker, a longtime collaborator of Scorsese, who expertly crafts the narrative flow and rhythm of the film.

A Symbolic Use of Lighting

Mean Streets employs creative and evocative lighting techniques to enhance the mood and atmosphere of its scenes, highlighting the characters’ emotional states.

A Character-Driven Narrative

Mean Streets prioritizes character development over a conventional plot, allowing the audience to delve deep into the psychological and emotional complexities of its protagonists.

A Passion Project for Martin Scorsese

Mean Streets was a deeply personal project for Scorsese, who poured his own experiences, memories, and love for filmmaking into every frame.

A Lesson in Authentic Dialogue

Mean Streets is known for its authentic and gritty dialogue, reflecting the unique language and cadence of the characters and the neighborhood in which they reside.

A Cinematic Journey of Self-Discovery

Mean Streets takes its audience on a compelling journey of self-discovery, as its characters navigate their relationships, ambitions, and ultimately, their own moral compass.

The Universal Themes of Mean Streets

Despite being rooted in a specific time and place, Mean Streets explores universal themes of identity, purpose, and the search for meaning in one’s life.

An Impactful Beginning

Mean Streets serves as a powerful starting point for Scorsese’s prolific career, setting the stage for his future achievements and establishing him as a visionary filmmaker.

An Essential Entry in American Cinema

Mean Streets holds a significant place in the pantheon of American cinema, standing as a testament to Scorsese’s incredible talent and his ability to captivate audiences with his storytelling.

A Timeless Classic

Mean Streets continues to resonate with audiences today, solidifying its status as a timeless classic that showcases the artistry and brilliance of Martin Scorsese.

A Gateway to Scorsese’s Filmography

Mean Streets serves as a gateway to explore the rest of Scorsese’s filmography, revealing the themes, motifs, and stylistic choices that would define his body of work.


Mean Streets is a cinematic masterpiece that continues to captivate audiences with its compelling storytelling, brilliant performances, and gritty depiction of life in New York City’s underworld. Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, the film explores themes of loyalty, redemption, and the consequences of one’s actions. With its immersive atmosphere and intense character dynamics, Mean Streets remains a timeless classic in the realm of crime dramas. Whether you’re a fan of Scorsese’s work, a lover of 1970s cinema, or simply appreciate a well-crafted film, Mean Streets is a must-watch that will leave a lasting impression.


1. Who directed Mean Streets?

Martin Scorsese directed Mean Streets.

2. When was Mean Streets released?

Mean Streets was released in 1973.

3. Who are the main actors in Mean Streets?

The main actors in Mean Streets are Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel.

4. What is the plot of Mean Streets?

Mean Streets follows Charlie, a small-time mobster in New York City, as he navigates the dangerous world of organized crime while struggling with his own personal demons.

5. Is Mean Streets based on a true story?

No, Mean Streets is not based on a true story, but it draws inspiration from director Martin Scorsese’s own experiences growing up in the mean streets of New York.

6. Can you watch Mean Streets online?

Mean Streets is available for streaming on various platforms, such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu, or can be rented or purchased on digital platforms like iTunes and Google Play.

7. Was Mean Streets critically acclaimed?

Yes, Mean Streets received critical acclaim for its raw and authentic portrayal of New York’s underworld and its significant impact on the crime drama genre.

8. Has Mean Streets won any awards?

While Mean Streets did not receive any major awards, it solidified Martin Scorsese’s reputation as a talented director and paved the way for his future successes.

9. What makes Mean Streets a classic film?

Mean Streets is considered a classic film for its groundbreaking use of visual storytelling, its realistic characters, and its exploration of profound themes that resonate with audiences even decades later.

10. Are there any similar movies to Mean Streets?

If you enjoyed Mean Streets, you might also like other crime dramas directed by Martin Scorsese, such as Goodfellas, Casino, or The Departed.

If you're fascinated by the gritty world of Mean Streets, why not explore more captivating facts about its talented cast and other iconic crime films? Dive into the remarkable career of Harvey Keitel, one of Scorsese's go-to actors. Discover the incredible journey of Robert De Niro, from his early roles to his legendary status in cinema. For fans of the genre, don't miss our article on L.A. Confidential, a gripping crime film that showcases the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. Immerse yourself in these compelling stories and uncover the secrets behind your favorite actors and films.

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