Ten Best Robert De Niro Movies

Robert De Niro rates as one of Hollywood's greatest actors. His top movies are Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Cape Fear, The Deer Hunter, The Godfather: Part II, The Untouchables and Goodfellas.

Robert De Niro has been on the Hollywood scene since the mid-1960s. Born Robert Mario De Niro Jr. in New York City on August 17, 1943, De Niro is duly recognized as one of the greatest actors of his era. De Niro made his motion picture debut in Trois chambres a Manhattan (1965), playing an uncredited patron at a diner. One of De Niro's latest film projects is Lombardi, where he will portray legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.

Here are ten movies that no Robert De Niro fan should ever miss. And yes, we're talkin' to you!

Taxi Driver (Columbia, 1976)

Robert De Niro plays Travis Bickle, a disturbed Vietnam War vet who drives a taxi in New York City. The insomniac Bickle works the late shift, ferrying his passengers around a city which he perceives to be engulfed by decadence and sleaze. De Niro's Bickle is a casebook study of a man out of touch with reality, as he tries to rescue a 12-year-old prostitute (Jodie Foster) and romance a campaign worker (Cybill Shepherd). De Niro's famous scene in which he poses in front of a mirror, auditioning his various guns, is the stuff of movie legend. "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?" De Niro queries of his imaginary antagonist, whipping out an automatic pistol in a lightning-quick move.

Academy Award nomination: Best Actor

Great De Niro line: "Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man..."

Director: Martin Scorsese

On DVD: Taxi Driver Two-Disc Collector's Edition (Sony, 2007)

Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976) - Columbia Pictures 

Raging Bull (United Artists, 1980)

Robert De Niro comes out swinging as Jake La Motta, the brawling Bronx-born fighter who became middlelweight boxing champion of the world in 1949. De Niro's La Motta a.k.a. "The Bronx Bull" or "The Raging Bull" is mesmerizing, battering opponents in the ring and self-destructing outside of it as he tries to destroy both friend and foe. De Niro religiously trained for the role, getting down to a lean, well-muscled 145 pounds. The actor later went on an eating binge, gaining some 60 pounds of flab in order to portray the older La Motta from his Las Vegas nightclub days. De Niro's interaction with screen wife Vicki La Motta (Cathy Moriarty) and brother Joey La Motta (Joe Pesci) is a classic, violence-strewn study in Dysfunctional Family Relations 101.

Academy Award nomination: Best Actor (won)

Great De Niro line (on his next opponent Tony Janiro): "I'm gonna open his hole like this. Please excuse my French. I'm gonna make him suffer. I'm gonna make his mother wish she never had him – make him into dog meat..."

Director: Martin Scorsese

On DVD: Raging Bull Special Edition (MGM, 2005)

Cape Fear (Universal, 1991)

Robert De Niro plays Max Cady, a sadistic ex-con who comes looking for biblical revenge against his former lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte). De Niro's Cady will stop at nothing in his vendetta, infiltrating the Bowden home where he murders the family maid (Zully Montero) and private eye Claude Kersek (Joe Don Baker). He later corners the Bowden family on their boat at Cape Fear, training his sights on Sam's wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) and teenage daughter Danielle (Juliette Lewis). De Niro trained feverishly for the role, pumping iron and reducing his overall body fat content to a mere 3%. De Niro, who also had his body garishly tattooed with vegetable dyes which faded after a few months, more than delivers the goods, especially in the scene where he turns the tables on his three attackers who were hired by Sam's private eye to perform a little "hospital job" on him.

Academy Award nomination: Best Actor

Great De Niro line: "Granddaddy used to handle snakes in church, Granny drank strychnine. I guess you could say I had a leg up, genetically speaking."

Director: Martin Scorsese

On DVD: Cape Fear (Universal, 2005)

Robert De Niro as Max Cady in Cape Fear (1991) - Universal Pictures 

The Deer Hunter (Universal, 1978)

Robert De Niro plays Michael Vronsky, a Pennsylvania steelworker who with his buddies Steven Pushkov (John Savage) and Nick Chevotarevich (Christopher Walken) ship out to Vietnam in the late 1960s. The long, raucous wedding reception scene and the subsequent deer hunting trip ably set the stage for the Vietnam War sequences, which are nothing short of harrowing. Taken prisoner by the Viet Cong, De Niro and his hometown buddies are forced to play Russian roulette while their captors ghoulishly bet on the outcome. De Niro is outstanding as the strong, silent Michael, who later returns from the war to romance the missing Nick's former girlfriend Linda (Meryl Streep).

Academy Award nomination: Best Actor

Great De Niro line: "You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it's all about. A deer's gotta be taken with one shot."

Director: Michael Cimino

On DVD: The Deer Hunter Universal Legacy Series (Universal, 2005)

The Godfather: Part II (Paramount, 1974)

In this sequel to the 1972 blockbuster Robert De Niro plays young Vito Corleone, the future Mafia boss who rises to power from the crowded tenements of New York City. De Niro's scenes are featured in haunting sepia-like flashbacks as he is seen as the ambitious Vito, speaking in Italian and nurturing his young family. De Niro's most powerful scene comes when he stalks the evil Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin), unscrewing a light bulb in a hallway and laying in wait with gun in hand as the overweight Fanucci slowly trudges up the stairs. 

Academy Award nomination: Best Supporting Actor (won) 

Great De Niro line: "I make him an offer he don' refuse. Don' worry."

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

On DVD: The Godfather Part II - The Coppola Restoration (Paramount, 2008)

Robert De Niro as young Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II (1974) - Paramount Pictures

The Untouchables (Paramount, 1987)

Robert De Niro plays Al Capone, the notorious crime czar who ruled Chicago during the Prohibition Era. Pursuing Big Al is Treasury agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his Untouchables (Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith, et al.), who with Chicago flatfoot Jim Malone (Sean Connery) hope to smash Capone's underworld empire. De Niro swings a mean bat – literally – in one bloody scene where he takes out another mobster with a Louisville Slugger. De Niro's Capone is one of the best screen portrayals ever of the legendary Chicago gangster.

Great De Niro line (speaking to the press): "People are gonna drink! You know that, I know that, we all know that, and all I do is act on that. And all this talk of bootlegging – what is bootlegging? On a boat, it's bootlegging. On Lake Shore Drive, it's hospitality. I'm a businessman!"

Director: Brian De Palma

On DVD: The Untouchables Special Collector's Edition (Paramount, 2004)

New York, New York (United Artists, 1977)

Robert De Niro plays Jimmy Doyle, an orchestra leader/saxophonist during the fabulous Big Band era of the 1940s. Like most of his screen characters, De Niro's Doyle is an explosive, temperamental guy, violently tossing around a music stand in a grueling rehearsal scene. De Niro gets the eccentricity ball rolling early in the film, religiously pursuing an uninterested Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli) at a swinging New York nightclub on V-J Day. De Niro, who learned to play the sax in order to add authenticity to his role, brings his usual brand of character immersion to this musical, which features a number of Big Band standards and of course Liza Minnelli's stirring rendition of "New York, New York."

Great De Niro line (to Liza Minnelli on V-J Day while dressed in a garish outfit) "Do I look like a gentleman to you in this shirt and these pants?"

Director: Martin Scorsese

On DVD: New York, New York 30th Anniversary Edition (MGM, 2005)

Robert De Niro as Jimmy Doyle with Liza Minnelli in New York, New York (1977) - United Artists

Goodfellas (Warner Bros., 1990)

Robert De Niro is back in organized crime from his Godfather: Part II days, this time playing Jimmy "The Gent" Conway, whose specialty is hijacking trucks. Along with fellow wiseguys Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), Conway and company pull a big Air France heist in 1967, later enjoying the fruits of their labor at New York nightclubs. De Niro prepared for his role as Conway by conversing with crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi, author of the 1986 non-fiction book Wiseguy, on which Goodfellas is based.

Great De Niro line: "I'm not mad, I'm proud of you. You took your first pinch like a man and you learn two great things in your life. Look at me, never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut."

Director: Martin Scorsese

On DVD: Goodfellas (Warner, 2007)

Robert De Niro as Jimmy "The Gent" Conway in Goodfellas (1990) - Warner Bros. 

Heat (Warner Bros., 1995)

Robert De Niro plays Neil McCauley, a career criminal whose gang carries out a daring armored car heist in Los Angeles. In pursuit is veteran robbery/homicide cop Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), who attempts to get into the head of his criminal adversary. De Niro is at his tough guy best, keeping his own gang in line while playing head games with his LAPD pursuers. Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore and Kevin Gage play gang members, with Jon Voight as a sinister crime boss.

Great De Niro line (to Al Pacino): " I do what I do best, I take scores. You do what you do best, try to stop guys like me."

Director: Michael Mann

On DVD: Heat (Warner, 2007)

Robert De Niro as Neil McCauley in Heat (1995) - Warner Bros. 

Bang the Drum Slowly (Paramount, 1973)

In one of his early films, Robert De Niro plays Georgian Bruce Pearson, a slow-witted catcher for the New York Mammoths who learns that he is terminally ill with Hodgkin's disease. Playing his best friend, star pitcher Henry "Author" Wiggen, is Michael Moriarty, who wants to make his teammate's final season a memorable one. Based on the novel by Mark Harris, Bang the Drum Slowly afforded De Niro one of his meatiest roles up to that time. As always, De Niro thoroughly researched his character, attending spring training baseball games in Florida and then heading to Georgia, where he tape recorded regional accents. Vincent Gardenia garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his memorable role as New York manager Dutch Schnell. De Niro won a prestigious New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Great De Niro line: "Everybody'd be nice to you if they knew you were dying."

Director: John D. Hancock

On DVD: Bang the Drum Slowly (Paramount, 2003)

Ten Other Robert De Niro Movie Favorites

  • Mean Streets (1973)
  • The King of Comedy (1982)
  • Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
  • Midnight Run (1988)
  • Awakenings (1990)
  • This Boy's Life (1993)
  • A Bronx Tale (1993)
  • Casino (1995)
  • Analyze This (1999)
  • The Good Shepherd (2006)

Top Image

  • Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull (1980) - United Artists

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved. 

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