Robert De Niro has been appearing in films since the 1960’s, and many of these are considered classics. While, it’s a difficult task to pick out the best films from an actor who has appeared in so many terrific ones, it’s also an enjoyable one. From oldest to most recent, here are the finest (arguably) Robert De Niro movies!
The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Although critics at the time this film came out thought that the story line featuring Robert De Niro, who played godfather Vito Corleone in his youth, slowed down the main plot featuring Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, over the years this film has come to be recognized as one of the best films in American cinema history. It also firmly established the powerful on-screen chemistry of De Niro and Pacino.
Taxi Driver (1976)
In Taxi Driver, De Niro plays a character who goes from slightly eccentric to full-blown violent. As with other characters, he gains sympathy even as he repulses, and his dark deeds become understandable. It’s hard to imagine many actors other than De Niro who would be able to play an individual who becomes an assassin for no good reason and still be able to portray him sympathetically.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Released at a time when America was just beginning to try and process its national experience in Vietnam. The viewer sees De Niro’s character in his normal and happy youth, and then they see what happens to him as a result of serving in Vietnam. The before and after is a metaphor for the entire nation, and audiences felt like they were watching a real person who they knew in De Niro’s character.
Raging Bull (1980)
Filmed in black and white, this film is haunting. De Niro plays an aging boxer who becomes a comedian after he has been beaten to the pulp in the ring too many times. While his character is not likable, he earns the viewer’s respect for his perseverance.
The King of Comedy (1982)
This film explores the relationship between fans and celebrities, and it looks at the warped perceptions ordinary people often have of the famous. De Niro plays a part where he drifts to the wrong side of the line between being a fan and being a stalker, and he does it in his own inimitable way.
The Untouchables (1987)
Robert De Niro plays Al Capone in this film, and he even gained weight for the picture so that he could look even more intimidating. Even as his character is pursued by good cops played by Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, it’s De Niro’s performance, especially in the infamous baseball-bat scene, that stays with the viewer.
This film is one of several where the combination of Martin Scorcese’s direction and De Niro’s acting, combined with a mafia-related script, yields an awesome film. The fast-pace and violence of this film captivates the viewer, and it’s impossible to look away from the first scene to the last. Although Ray Liotta’s character is the protagonist in this picture, De Niro’s performance is at its heart.
Cape Fear (1991)
In this film, De Niro plays a deranged ex-convict bent on getting revenge on the lawman who put him in jail. De Niro takes creepiness to another level in his portrayal of a bad guy who is persistent, cunning and obsessed. He’ll even go after his enemy’s teenage daughter.
With Al Pacino’s cop to De Niro’s robber, this film has two very strong leads. Even as De Niro plots bank robberies, you gain sympathy for him as you see him struggling with the challenges of running his crew and trying to have a relationship. This film also has one of the best gunfight scenes in film history.
As in Goodfellas, this film has De Niro and Joe Pesci playing gangsters who work together. In Goodfellas, however, the relationship is more volatile, and casino-manager De Niro is sometimes repelled by the disregard Pesci’s character shows for the boundaries. Set in 1970’s Las Vegas, this film sparkles.