With the legendary actor turning 77 years old today I thought it a perfect time to list off some of my favorite films featuring Robert De Niro. With a career ranging all the way back to the early 60s there is certainly no shortage of films to pick from when choosing favorites. so let’s get right to it and check out some of the acting legends better roles.
As always there is no special ranked order, it’s mostly just in order by release date and any movies that are part of a franchise will all be included in one entry as to not inflate the list with sequels and whatnot.
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The Godfather Part II
Released in 1974 and directed by Francis Ford Coppola The Godfather Part II is certainly not De Niro’s earliest role as he had nearly a dozen appearances in films before this one, but it is the earliest role I remember him from and the one I feel kickstarted his long and illustrious career in film. De Niro starred alongside other greats such as Al Pacino, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton and the film would go on to be commercially and critically successful and was the first sequel ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Directed by Martin Scorsese and released in 1976 Taxi Driver would give Robert De Niro his first chance to carry a movie focused mostly on his character and boy did he pull it off. Starring alongside Jodi Foster, Harvey Keitel and Albert Brooks he would prove to everyone he had what it takes to be a leading man in Hollywood. The film is loved by critics and fans alike and was nominated for 4 Academy Awards as well as being selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in The United States.
The Deer Hunter
Released in 1978 and directed by Michael Cimino The Deer Hunter would star Robert De Niro as one of three steel workers whose lives were forever changed by the Vietnam War and would showcase his amazing acting skills. Also starring Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep and John Savage the film was critically acclaimed and loved by audiences for the stellar performances by all. the film won 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture and grossed $49 million at the box office.
Released in 1980 and directed by Martin Scorsese Raging Bull was based on the memoir by boxer Jake Lamotta and would star De Niro as Lamotta himself. The film also starred Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty, who were both unknown actors before this point. although the film wasn’t all that successful at the box office it did garner a handful of Academy Award nominations and De Niro would win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role.
Once Upon A Time In America
Released in 1984 and based on the novel The Hoods by Harry Grey Once Upon a Time In America would depict a group of Jewish boys who grow into prominence as Jewish gangsters in New York’s world of organized crime. De Niro would star alongside James Woods and Joe Pesci and although the film didn’t receive any nominations or anything at release it has since grown a fan base and is considered by many to be one of the best films in the gangster genre.
Released in 1987 and directed by Brian De Palma The Untouchables would star Robert De Niro as the infamous gangster Al Capone and would depict the rise and fall of Capone’s empire as well as Federal agent Eliot Ness and his efforts to catch Capone. Also starring Kevin Costner, Andy Garcia and Sean Connery the film grossed $106 million and as nominated for multiple Academy Awards and Connery would win an Academy Award for his role as well.
Released in 1990 and once again directed by Martin Scorsese Goodfellas is an adaptation of the novel Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi and would star Robert De Niro as you guessed it…a gangster again but hey why fix what isn’t broken, the man plays a great gangster. Also starring Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco the film was a huge success and was nominated for 6 Academy Awards as well as snagging Joe Pesci and award for his role. It is widely considered to be one of the best films ever made and the peak of Scorsese’s career.
Released in 1991 and directed by Martin Scorsese Cape Fear was a remake of the 1962 film of the same name which in turn was based on The Executioners a 1957 novel by John D. Macdonald. De Niro takes on the role of Max Cady a convicted rapist and twisted criminal mind as he terrorizes the attorney’s family who he blames for his incarceration. This is hands down my favorite role that Robert De Niro has ever played and I adore this movie. The film also starred Nick Nolte, Juliette Lewis and Jessica Lange and was the 7th collaboration between De Niro and Scorsese.
This Boy’s Life
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones and released in 1993 This Boy’s Life starred Robert De Niro as an abusive stepfather alongside a young Leonardo DiCaprio as his fragile stepson. also starring Ellen Barkin the film was received pretty decently by critics but was by no means a huge hit but I still personally feel that this is one of Robert De Niro’s best films.
A Bronx Tale
Released in 1993 not only did A Bronx Tale star Robert De Niro but he also directed it. The film is an adaptation of Chaz Palminteri’s Play of the same name and explores the life of a young Italian american boy who gets mixed up with the Mafia. Also starring Chaz Palminteri the film wasn’t much of a commercial success but most critics loved it and it proved that Robert De Niro could direct as well as he could act.
Released in 1995 and directed by Martin Scorsese Casino would star De Niro as a Jewish American gambling expert and handicapper who gets mixed up with the Chicago Mafia and the trials and tribulations he experiences because of his connections with them. The film also stars Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone and Don Rickles and was hugely successful at the box office grossing $116 million worldwide as well as garnering multiple Academy Award nominations and winning Sharon Stone a Golden Globe for her role.
Released in 1995 and directed by Michael Mann Heat stars Robert De Niro as a professional criminal specializing in high stakes robberies and pits him up against Al Pacino as a crazy twisted detective who is trying to catch him. The film also stars Tom Sizemore, Val Kilmer and Ashley Judd and is a great cat n mouse kind of film with lots of twists and turns. It was a critical and commercial success and is certainly one of Robert De Niro’s best films in my opinion.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino and released in 1997 Jackie Brown is an adaptation of the novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard and is the only Adaptation Tarantino has ever done. Also starring Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Forster the film is a crazy ride along with some not so professional criminals and the many ways they stab each other in the back. It’s credited with revitalizing the careers of both Pam Grier and Robert Forster.
Released in 1998 and directed by John Frankenheimer Ronin stars Robert De Niro as one of a group of former special operatives hired to steal a mysterious briefcase. The film also stars Sean Bean, Jean Reno and Stellan Skarsgard and was mostly met with positive reviews although it didn’t do well at the box office. It has lots of twists and turns and betrayals and in my opinion is a really fun heist movie to sit down and check out if you haven’t yet.
Released in 1999 and directed by Harold Ramis Analyze This is what I feel was Robert De Niro’s first true comedy and was the beginning of the end as far as his roles as gritty and cold blooded criminals. The film also stars Billy Crystal and Lisa Kudrow and focuses on a Mafia Boss who goes to a therapist, it’s a fun movie that isn’t meant to be taken too seriously and I felt was a nice departure from De Niro’s usual roles back then. The film grossed $176 million and spawned a sequel Analyze That which was released in 2002.
Meet The Parents
Released in 2000 and directed by Jay Roach Meet The Parents is a comedy starring Robert De Niro as an ex CIA operative who is meeting his daughter’s fiance for the first time. The film also stars Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson and certainly has it’s great comedic moments, including one all about milking the teets of cats…The film was ahuge success grossing $330 million worldwide and getting two sequels Meet The Fockers and Little Fockers as well as a short lived series In-Laws on NBC in 2002.
Released in 2001 and directed by Frank Oz The Score starred Robert De Niro in a role everyone was used to seeing him in, as a master criminal and man not to be trifled with. The film also stars Ed Norton, Marlon Brando and Angela Bassett and is, in my opinion, a pretty damn good heist movie grossing $113 million worldwide and winning Angela Bassett a NAACP Image Award for her role.
Released in 2008 and directed by John Avnet Righteous Kill was the third movie in which Robert De Niro and Al Pacino starred together. also starring 50 Cent, John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg the film focuses on vigilantism and cops good and bad and the mysterious case they are investigating. It didn’t do well critically or commercially but I personally enjoyed this movie a lot and would recommend it for sure.
Released in 2019 to critical acclaim and huge commercial success Joker would see Robert De Niro play one of the antagonists that drive Jaoquin Phoenix’s character Arthur Fleck to become the Joker. The film was the first R-rated movie to gross over $1 billion and won Phoenix an award for best actor. It is widely considered to be the best take on the DC Comics character.
Released in 2019 and directed by Martin Scorsese The Irishman has Robert De Niro get back to his gangster roots and is just as good as you’d expect a Scorsese gangster film to be. Also starring Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel the film follows a hitman working for organized crime and Jimmy Hoffa among others and it’s a joy to see De Niro in this kind of role again.
This is by no means a definitive list and I’m sure I left out a couple decent movies…These are just my personal favorites featuring the one and only Robert De Niro.
What’s your favorite De Niro movie?
Is there a film you would have added to the list?
Let us know in the comments 🙂