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Best Robert De Niro Movies

Updated on September 21, 2014

Considered one of the greatest actors in film history, Robert De Niro has been acting since the mid 1960s, nearly 50 years, and began with a little known film called Encounter in 1965. But his first critical acclaim came 8 years later in 1973 with Bang the Drum Slowly, a little known film about the relationship between a pitcher and his catcher, who is battling terminal cancer.

He followed that film up, in the same year, with the popular gangster film, Mean Streets. This was also his first collaboration with Director Martin Scorsese. The two have paired on a total of 8 films which have accumulated 21 Oscar nominations. Even more important than Oscar nominations, most of these films are considered groundbreaking films in their respective genres and will endure for decades to come. The collaborations include Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, Goodfellas and Casino.

Throughout his career, De Niro has been known for anti-hero characters, flawed heroes that are often emotionally unstable, such as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. He is a method actor that immerses himself into each role during filming. For instance, for Raging Bull he gained more than 60 pounds to become Jake LaMotta. And in Cape Fear he even added several real tattoos using ink from vegetable dyes, so they vanish after several months.

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Awards and Recognition for Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro's dedication to his craft has been awarded with many well deserved awards. He has been nominated for 7 Academy Awards and won 2 Oscars - the first as a supporting actor as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather 2, and the second as lead actor in Raging Bull. His other nominations came in Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Awakenings, Cape Fear and Silver Linings Playbook this past year.

In total, De Niro has won over 40 awards from different film organizations including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 2003. Robert De Niro has starred in over 80 films during his career and shows no sign of slowing down as he is appearing in 5 films set for release in 2013.

More recently, Robert De Niro started playing off his tough guy image in comedies, including Analyze This, Meet the Parents and Wag the Dog. In an attempt to assist the recovery of New York after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the actor founded, along with Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff, the Tribeca Film Festival. The first edition was held in 2001 and since then, the festival has excelled in promoting film in NYC.

And Now for the Top Ten Robert De Niro Movies

10. Midnight Run (1988)

Many people forget that De Niro has also done quite a few comedy films during his acting career and Midnight Run is the absolute best of his comedies. Brilliantly written, Midnight Run is the story of a bounty hunter, Jack Welsh (De Niro), who is trying to get a Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin), the accountant of a Chicago mob boss, back to Los Angeles to collect a bounty.

Mardukas is slated to testify against his mob boss, but has gotten cold feet and fled. Welsh has found him but is on the East Coast and must find a way to get him across country within the required timeframe. Of course Mardukas doesn't want to go and other bounty hunters are chasing them to steal the bounty.

It is an absolutely hilarious film in which De Niro is the straight man to Grodin's sharp witted cunning. They are absolutely beautiful together and it's a real shame we did not get more films with this outstanding pairing.

If you liked Midnight Run, you have to see the original In-Laws

9. Jackie Brown (1997)

Quentin Tarantino’s third feature film is an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s 1992 best-seller Rum Punch about a flight stewardess caught in the middle of the police and an arms dealer. Pam Grier, the iconic femme fatale of ‘70s black action movies, is Jackie Brown, a Cabo Air attendant who makes ends meet by smuggling illicit cash into the United States for Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), a notorious gunrunner and his partner Louis (Robert De Niro). With the help of a smitten bail-bondsman (Robert Forster), Jackie tries to double-cross both the gun merchant and the cops.

Back after a long sabbatical from major film roles, Pam Grier, in an Oscar-worthy performance, enthralls with her strong screen presence and stunning efficacy as the intrepid Jackie. Forster also gives an excellent comeback performance as Max Cherry, the bondsman who does little to hide his feelings for the film’s heroine. Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro both handed in brilliant performances as supporting characters. This is Tarantino’s first venture into adaptations, who is popularly known for his original works such as True Romance and Pulp Fiction. While not considered as his best work, Jackie Brown is still a concrete proof of Tarantino’s solid filmmaking and skillful writing.

8. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

This is director Sergio Leone’s comeback movie after a decade-long hiatus and what a magnificent comeback it is. Once Upon a Time in America is an epic crime film that is hailed by many as the definitive gangster movie. The story, co-written by Leone, spans 50 years and centers on a group of Jewish boys who meet in Manhattan’s Lower East Side during the 1920s. Featuring an all star cast, headlined by Robert De Niro, James Wood, Tuesday Weld and Elizabeth McGovern, Once is Leone’s cinematic swan song; he died in 1989 following a heart attack.

David “Noodles” Aaronson (Robert De Niro), along with four of his friends, started his life of crime even before he was allowed to vote. The movie takes place in three different time periods which show Noodles being released from prison after a 12-year sentence, coming back to join what is now a gangster empire of his close friend, Max (James Woods), and being an old man painfully remembering the past.

This role is considered to be one of De Niro’s finest moments in cinema and Leone’s most celebrated work. The film is visually astonishing, peppered with lush details and brilliant performances. Once is a cinematic masterpiece and one of the best movies ever made. It is the perfect exit piece for the genius that is Sergio Leone. A must-see whether you are a film enthusiast or not.

If you enjoyed Once Upon a Time in America, you would also enjoy The Departed

7. Casino (1995)

De Niro, Scorsese and Pileggi once again teamed up to claim their spot on the vanguard of the mobster film genre hall of fame. Much like their previous film, GoodFellas, Casino is co-written by Scorsese and Pillegi basing it yet again, on the latter’s novel (entitled Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas). Only a few minutes shy of a three-hour running period, Casino tells the intertwining stories of two friends who found their way into the heart of the world’s gambling Mecca.

Robert De Niro, in his eighth collaboration with Scorsese, plays Sam “Ace” Rothstein, hand-chosen by the mob to manage the largest casino in Las Vegas because of his reputation as a professional gambler who never lost. Trouble came when he made two idealistic yet unwise decisions, he falls in love with a girl (Sharon Stone) who does not love him and he allows his volatile and unruly childhood friend, Nick Santoro (Joe Pesci), to be associated with the casino he’s running. The film takes us behind the glitz and glamour of Vegas and into its genuine, innermost workings that is fueled by greed, power and fortune.

De Niro, as usual, delivers a captivating performance as Ace, a character that is well within the range of roles he has played before. Stone is surprisingly good and solid but a large credit should go to the director knowing Scorsese’s penchant for throwing in mediocre actresses into his films and garnering striking performances out of them. Pesci is once again hilariously good as the money-loving thug and Casino is dazzlingly vivid and impressively performed.

6. The Deer Hunter (1978)

The Deer Hunter is a gripping Vietnam War epic starring Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, John Savage and Meryl Streep. As usual, DeNiro is gripping in his role, but it is Christopher Walken that steals the show in this film as a very troubled American who becomes deeply involved in Russian Roulette gambling in Vietnam.

After spending time in a Vietcong prisoner camp, each of the three friends from Pittsburgh handles the situation very differently. The film really explores the mental stress of war and how humans learn to cope with those stresses.

It is a harrowing tale that is hard to watch at times but definitely a must see for any DeNiro or Walken fan.

If you were enthralled by The Deer Hunter, you should also see Apocalypse Now

Cape Fear De Niro
Cape Fear De Niro

5. Cape Fear (1991)

De Niro Brings a Terrifying Character to Life

This 1991 Martin Scorsese film is a remake of the 1962 film noir classic of the same name. Cape Fear revolves around Max Cady (Robert De Niro), an intense ex-convict who upon release from a 14-year sentence, seeks revenge on his former defense attorney, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte). Cady believes Bowden did not do his best to keep him out of jail. While J. Lee Thompson's 1962 original has Bowden on a moral pedestal, Scorsese's version portrays him as a womanizer and morally flawed lawyer.

In true Scorsese fashion, the movie's protagonist is an anti-hero and it was impressive to make a mainstream thriller without sacrificing his own thematic trademarks. The film builds to a wicked pace and it's brimming with suspenseful moments that will surely have you on the edge of your seat. De Niro's calculated performance is compelling, especially since it is one of his rare villain roles. But it was Juliette Lewis, who played Bowden's innocent teenage daughter that delivered the most impressive performance from the cast garnering her an Oscar nomination. Cape Fear is a very good thriller and an inspired remake.

Robert De Niro Raging Bull
Robert De Niro Raging Bull

4. Raging Bull (1980)

De Niro is Transformed into the Volatile Jake La Motta

Helmed by Martin Scorsese and believed by many critics to be the best movie of the 1980s, Raging Bull is a boxing biopic of the troubled life of Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro). La Motta was the 1949 middleweight champion of the world but his volatile personality and intense jealousy isolated him from friends and family. Screenwriters Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader created a brilliant and soulful film adaptation of La Motta’s autobiography which offers an in-depth look into the boxer’s life as a struggling fighter from the Bronx.

De Niro gained over 60 pounds to immerse himself into the violent Italian-American boxer and turned in an amazing performance which earned him the Best Actor Oscar. He showed how La Motta was as brutal out of the ring as he was in it. De Niro’s ability to dive into the character is always a delight to watch and this film is a concrete vehicle for his acting chops.

Scorsese and De Niro’s rapport is evident as the latter splendidly gave life to the filmmaker’s visions. You would not know that Scorsese has very little to no interest of boxing by the realistic and brutal boxing scenes. Newcomers Joe Pesci (as Jake’s estranged brother) and Cathy Moriarty (as his wife) also gave convincing portrayals of their characters. Raging Bull was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won two including Best Actor and Best Film Editing.

Godfather Part 2
Godfather Part 2

3. The Godfather, Part II (1974)

The Best Sequel Movie Ever Made

This brilliant sequel to the original The Godfather continues the saga of two generations of successive powers within the Corleone family. Francis Ford Coppola tells two stories in Part II: the roots and rise of the young Don Vito, played with uncanny ability by Robert De Niro, and the ascension of Michael (Al Pacino) as the new Don.

Reassembling many of the talents who helped make The Godfather, Coppola has produced what most critics believe is the best sequel film ever made. Pacino and Robert Duvall, as Tom Hagen, are outstanding in the present day portions of the film, while De Niro and Bruno Kirby, as young Clemenza, shine in the flashback of Vito's rise to power.

While not quite as good as the original, this film is often included as one of the Top 25 best films of all time.

Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver
Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver

2. Taxi Driver (1976)

The Film that Notified the World that De Niro Would be a Legend

One of 8 collaborations between Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver is a post-Vietnam psychological drama set in New York City. Travis Bickle (De Niro) is an ex-Marine trying to find his place in the "real world" while coping with intense nightmares and nagging insomnia.

Travis, as written by the then novice Paul Schrader, is a lonely man desperately trying to make some sort of human connection but constantly failing at it. From bringing a blonde date (Cybill Shepherd) to see an adult film to befriending a teenage prostitute (Jodie Foster) and saving her when she may or may not want to be saved, Schrader's Travis is a twisted representation of an antihero's struggle with depression and unwanted solitude.

Taxi Driver takes you on a grisly ride into the antihero's own personal hell. It touches on the issues of urban decay, ex-soldier reintegration and the darker sides of the soul. This film is a testament to Robert De Niro's remarkable versatility as an actor as he delivers a brilliant embodiment of the troubled hero. Scorsese's directorial genius, De Niro's explosive acting and Schrader's superb writing are the trifecta that makes this a riveting and powerful film that will leave you both astonished and disturbed.

If you enjoyed Taxi Driver, then you should also see Fight Club

Goodfellas Robert De Niro
Goodfellas Robert De Niro

1. Goodfellas (1990)

One of the Top 5 Gangster Movies of All Time

Based on Nicholas Pileggi's best-selling book, Wise Guy, Goodfellas is a cinematic triumph about a real life mobster turned FBI informer, Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). The film opens with the iconic line, "as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a gangster." As a young kid, Hill befriends two older kids from mob families, Tommy De Vito (Joe Pesci, in a role that won him an award for Best Supporting Actor) and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro).

The film follows Henry as he ascends from an errand boy to a full-pledged member of the mob and his eventual descent into a drug-induced paranoia. GoodFellas provides an intimate look at inner workings of gangster life. One of many collaborations with Martin Scorsese, De Niro is outstanding as HIll's quiet but dangerous mentor, Jimmy. This is also one of several films that De Niro pairs with the outstanding Pesci, who provides a thrilling performance as the psychotic Tommy.

Often dubbed, the best mob not titled "Godfather", this Scorsese masterpiece fires on all cylinders and showcases the director's supreme ingenuity. With crisp dialogues, dynamically creative shots and clever musical juxtapositions, it's no wonder why Scorsese is known as one of the best directors in Hollywood.

If you loved Goodfellas, you should also check out Eastern Promises

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