THE TOP 10: Films Of Robert De Niro

The Top 10 Robert De Niro films

Robert De Niro has been something of a standard-bearer for most of young Hollywood.  In his long and storied career, he has risen to the ranks of his esteemed predecessors in the industry.  De Niro is like a composite of different acting legends – the quiet cool of Marlon Brando, the effortless intimidation of Robert Mitchum, and the wildcard explosiveness of James Cagney.

Today we’re going to take a look back at 10 of Mr. De Niro’s most celebrated films.  The choice was not easy, but I think we’ve done the veteran Oscar-winner justice.  So let’s get started.

10.  THIS BOY’S LIFE (1993)

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The true story of writer Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life sees De Niro as Dwight Thompson, the abusive stepfather of Wolff (played by a very young Leonardo DiCaprio) who is a mechanic living in the town of Concrete, Washington.  The film gives De Niro a showcase to play around with accents and character, and his scenes opposite DiCaprio are fantastic.  Boasting a cast the includes Eliza Dushku, Ellen Barkin and a young Tobey Maguire, This Boy’s Life is a definite must-see coming-of-age tale that still holds up well today.

9. MEET THE PARENTS (2000)

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This riotously funny comedy that pits De Niro against Ben Stiller has become one of the most quotable films of the last 20 years.  Not known for starring in lighthearted films, De Niro delivered big time as former CIA agent Jack Byrnes, who spends a weekend investigating his daughter’s new fiance (Stiller) with disastrous results.  The film would spawn two sequels that don’t come close to matching the original movie’s charm, but it’s still a standout performance for De Niro who made the film exponentially more entertaining.

8.  THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)

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The Untouchables tells the story of Eliot Ness and his crusade to bring down vicious Chicago mob boss Al Capone, played brilliantly by Robert De Niro.  Though De Niro doesn’t occupy too much time in this film, the scenes in which he does appear really pop – specifically the infamous “baseball bat” scene.  Alongside an all star cast lead by a magificent Sean Connery (in a role which won him an Oscar), The Untouchables is a classic in the gangster genre.

7.  JACKIE BROWN (1997)

Jackie Brown (1997)

It seems like a match made in heaven: Robert De Niro and Quentin Tarantino.  The outspoken director followed up the iconic Pulp Fiction with Jackie Brown, a crime film that acts as a love letter to 70′s blaxploitation films co-starring Pam Grier, Bridget Fonda, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton and Robert Forster.  As ex-con Louis Gara, De Niro is fantastic.  His subservient allegiance to Jackson’s Ordell Robbie is at times hilarious, and a wonderful entry into De Niro’s eclectic rogue’s gallery of characters.

6.  THE DEER HUNTER (1978)

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This intense war drama from 1978 was an earlier performance for Robert De Niro, where he played Michael – a Pennsylvania factory worker who ships off to Vietnam with his two friends Steven and Nick.  After being help prisoner in a Vietcong camp (and subjected to a horrifying game of Russian roulette), the film follows the emotional repercussions that war has on ordinary people.  Aided by strong performances from Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken and John Savage, The Deer Hunter has endured as a classic film – and especially relevant in this day and age.

5.  HEAT (1995)

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With 1994′s Heat, director Michael Mann brought together two of the world’s greatest actors – Robert De Niro and Al Pacino – to go head to head in this riveting crime saga.  De Niro plays Neil McCauley, a brilliant thief who catches the eye of brilliant detective Vincent Hanna (Pacino).  Mann weaves their stories together and turns an intense action thriller into a mesmerizing character study, supported by an all-star cast that includes many familiar faces.  The tone is pitch perfect and De Niro is at the top of his game.  If you haven’t seen this film, then go out and fix that right now.

4.  GOODFELLAS (1990)

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Although I don’t believe in a “perfect movie”, I would say that Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas at the very least, comes pretty damn close.  De Niro stars as Jimmy Conway, one third of a trio of gangsters played by Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci in a vicious, Oscar-winning role, who come up together in the New York mafia of the 60′s and 70′s.  De Niro is fantastic and commands the role with damn-near iconic poise.  It still holds up as one of the best gangster films ever made, and also another great collaboration between Scorsese and De Niro.

3.  THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)

Robert De Niro in The Godfather Part II

When Francis Ford Coppola hired the virtually unknown Robert De Niro to play a young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, he must have seen a glimmer of the type of brilliant actor De Niro truly was.  Taking on the seemingly impossible task of playing a young Marlon Brando, De Niro adapted all of the mannerisms and quiet intensity of the iconic character and gave one of the most affecting performances of his storied career.  It would go on to earn De Niro his first Academy Award and also solidified him as a force in the motion picture industry.

2.  TAXI DRIVER (1976)

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Taxi Driver is a film that is supposed to make you uneasy.  The film tells the story of detached New York cabbie Travis Bickle, who finds his world after the war is filthy and disgusting.  To quell this disappointment, he organizes his own campaign of violent action and develops a fascination with a young prostitute named Iris whom he believes needs to be saved.  De Niro essentially becomes unhinged and creates one of the most chilling representations of mental illness ever captured on film.  Travis Bickle’s descent into madness is captured effectively by Martin Scorsese who seemingly allows De Niro to paint his own picture of the character.  The end of the film is violent and brutal chaos, and it’s one of De Niro’s most astonishing creations.  A must-see for any fan of cinema.

1.  RAGING BULL (1980)

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Ask any film afficionado and they will likely tell you that Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull is one of the best films of the last half century.  Robert De Niro stars in this true-life story of boxer Jake LaMotta, who rose quickly to the top of the ranks in the boxing world only to see it all crumble in front of him.  This film energized a generation of young actors to adopt the ethic that De Niro put into his work, most famously his style of method-acting.  For realism, De Niro gained 60 pounds to play the older LaMotta for the latter half of the film.  He dropped the weight as soon as production ended.  Scorsese wisely chose to shoot the film is black and white, which gives it a stark, old-world feel that immediately separates this film from other sports dramas.  It earned De Niro his second Academy Award and remains to this day, a crowning achievement in American filmmaking.

by Damen Norton on November 5th, 2013

Damen is a cinephile who has had the experience of interviewing Nicolas Cage... and living to tell about it.

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