Often regarded as one of the worlds greatest actors, Robert De Niro is also one of the most prolific. According to IMDB, De Niro has acting credits in 120 different productions! Within those 120 performances are some of cinema’s finest. In this list, we’re going to rank the top Robert De Niro movies, and the impact they’ve had on film.
Robert De Niro Political Films
20. Wag the Dog (1997)
It’s really unfortunate how prescient the themes of Wag the Dog are. In Wag the Dog, the U.S. Government creates an artificial war with Albania to detract attention from a sex scandal involving the President. The film was made in the midst of sexual misconduct allegations against then President Bill Clinton.
Since the release of the film, both sexual misconduct and intrepid war declarations have plagued US Presidents. What was very much intended as a Satire has sadly become all too literal.
Wag the Dog
Robert De Niro Baseball Movie
19. Bang The Drum Slowly (1973)
Bang The Drum Slowly is one of the finest sports movies ever made. Robert De Niro turns in an incredible performance as an average baseball player who’s diagnosed with terminal cancer.
His best friend, the star pitcher, restructures his contract so that their futures are intertwined. Bang is a deeply emotional film; one that’s about friendship and motivation in the face of defeat. The picture also has a great score from composer Stephen Lawrence.
Bang The Drum Slowly
Best Robert De Niro Movies List
18. Awakenings (1990)
This brutal film from writer Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, American Gangster) is a nightmarish true story. In the picture, De Niro plays the role of a man suffering from Encephalitis lethargica, an autoimmune disease that causes extreme impairment. In the worst cases, those affected may even go into comas.
Aside from De Niro’s excellent performance and the accolades it achieved, the most enduring aspect of the film is in the exposure to rare diseases; how an ordinary person can one day become a shell of their former self.
Robert De Niro 80’s Movies
17. Brazil (1985)
Brazil is no doubt one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen. The other-worldly vision of Brazil comes from Writer and Director Terry Gillam (Monty Python and 12 Monkeys.) Robert De Niro plays the role of a vigilante electrician who revolts against the bureaucratic elite.
Jonathan Pryce plays a Kafka-esque paper-pusher that seems enraptured in an absurdist world. Sound confusing? That’s just the set-up. Brazil is absurdist, satirical, comedic, and tragic all at once. The metaphor of Brazil is the binding key to the film; much in the vein of ‘Rosebud’ in Citizen Kane.
Top Robert De Niro Performances List
16. Heat (1995)
Heat is perhaps best known as the first film to have Al Pacino and Robert De Niro acting together. Both actors shared a tangential path throughout their careers; that is they rose to fame and similar heights at the same time. In the early 70’s they both starred in The Godfather: Part II, but they never acted together as De Niro performed in flashbacks only.
Heat is a good enough movie, directed by Michael Mann, and based on a true Chicago criminal named McCauley. But the scenes with De Niro and Pacino are certainly electric enough to include here.
Top Robert De Niro Performances
15. Mean Streets (1973)
Mean Streets is the movie that put both Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro on the map. Both had worked before in substantial productions, Scorsese with Keitel on Who’s That Knocking at My Door?, and De Niro with De Palma in Greetings and Hi, Mom! But it wasn’t until Mean Streets that their careers began to take off.
Mean Streets is the first of many collaborations between De Niro and Scorsese; almost all of their works together will be on this list.
Latest Robert De Niro Movies
14. Joker (2019)
Although De Niro plays a minor role in Joker, it’s worth including for a few reasons. First, the film is just really good. Second and more importantly, Joker is clearly inspired by some of De Niro’s greatest works. The comparisons to Taxi Driver are well documented, but it’s a different collaboration between De Niro and Scorsese that has even more direct connection. The King of Comedy and Joker are incredibly similar. It’s hard to think De Niro’s involvement in these projects didn’t influence Joker for the better.
Top Horror Robert De Niro Film
13. Angel Heart (1987)
Angel Heart is simply an awesome movie. It combines the best aspects of film noir, monster horror, and psychological thriller, and sets them against a vibrant New Orleans backdrop. Mickey Rourke turns in maybe the best performance of his career as an amnesiac private eye, with De Niro supporting as the mysterious antagonist.
Not many films have it in them to “go for it” like Angel Heart does; as in the end you’ll probably find yourself asking, what did I just watch? Angel Heart is a film that demands repeat viewings and water cooler talk with fellow film buffs.
DID YOU KNOW?In the film Angel Heart, Robert De Niro plays the role of Louis Cypher. As the word ‘cypher’ implies, De Niro’s true character identity can be found in the cryptology of the name.
Recent Robert De Niro Performances
12. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Writer and Director David O. Russell does a phenomenal job of showing mental illness in his great film Silver Linings Playbook. The protagonist Pat played by Bradley Cooper, is obviously mentally ill. But it’s his father Pat Sr., played by De Niro, who actually gives meaning to Cooper’s character. In this scene, Pat Sr. pleads to his son and asks that the two watch a football game together.
But Pat Sr.’s secondary motivation is for his Son to be there as he believes he’s a good luck charm in helping the team win. Here, Pat Sr. juggles his own OCD with his sons depression and anger issues. Both characters want the same thing; to be connected with one another. But their illnesses keep them from doing so.
Silver Linings Playbook
- “Let me tell you, I know you don't want to listen to your father, I didn't listen to mine, and I am telling you you gotta pay attention this time. When life reaches out at a moment like this it’s a sin if you don't reach back, I’m telling you it’s a sin if you don’t reach back! It’ll haunt you the rest of your days like a curse. You're facing a big challenge in your life right now at this very moment, right here.”
- Tomatometer: 92%
- Watch Now →
Robert De Niro the Director
11. A Bronx Tale (1993)
Craziest Robert De Niro Performance
10. Cape Fear (1991)
I’m of the staunch belief that film is an outlet of endless possibilities; and that it’s the duty of filmmakers to push boundaries and explore the depths of the medium. That being said, Cape Fear is a film that pushes those boundaries to the outer limits.
Robert De Niro is straight up out of his mind playing the role of ex-convict Max Cady. He terrorizes the screen with his performance, like a Tasmanian devil composed of deformed masculinity and evil. There’s a tremendous amount of nuance to De Niro’s performance in Cape Fear, but at no point is it pleasant to dissect.
Robert De Niro New Movie
9. The Irishman (2019)
The most recent of De Niro’s films seems likely to go down as one of his greatest. Not only does The Irishman unite stars Al Pacino and Robert De Niro with Director Martin Scorsese, but the film also includes longtime collaborators Harvey Keitel and Joe Pesci.
The Irishman feels very much like the book-end to the themes of all the gangster movies De Niro and Scorsese have worked on together. Hopefully, the pair have many more stories to tell together in the future.
Best Robert De Niro Dramas
8. The King of Comedy (1983)
Robert De Niro is captivating in the role of Rupert Pupkin, a schizophrenic comedian aspiring for fame in the big apple. Pupkin is obsessed with another comedian played by Jerry Lewis; so obsessed that he’d do just about anything to get his attention.
There’s clear inspiration in The King of Comedy from the 1975 picture Network. Both films are Satires that aim to expose society’s explicit obsession with celebrity.
The major difference between the two films is that Network is a tragedy by its ending, whereas The King of Comedy is a Shakespearean comedy, a matter of character vindication. Both films aim to expose the same problem, but do so in different ways.
The King of Comedy
Robert De Niro Gangster Movies List
7. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
Sergio Leone’s mammoth epic of four gangsters across thirty years is anchored by De Niro’s excellent performance. Once Upon a Time in America is a film that’s only recently joined the heights of the great gangster movies of all time. Upon release, it was heavily censored and cut down for time. But the full version is now finally available.
Once Upon a Time in America
Robert De Niro Boxing Film
6. Raging Bull (1980)
Robert De Niro War Films
5. The Deer Hunter (1978)
De Niro’s character Michael says throughout the film that a deer has to be killed with one shot. The metaphor in that statement is that there’s no morality in the suffering of others. When this lesson is lost on a person, they’ve lost their morality.
In The Deer Hunter, war turns men into animals. Entire societal systems, governments, and institutions come under attack. Humanity is stripped of its good intentions. And all we’re left with is the solemn hymn of God Bless America while all the false hopes remain buried under foreign soil.
This film from Michael Cimino does an excellent job of showing the effects of The Vietnam War on all facets of American life.
The Deer Hunter
Robert De Niro Best Comedy Movie
4. Meet the Parents (2000)
In my honest opinion, Meet the Parents is the most hilarious movie ever made. There’s simply no facet of the film that isn’t amazing. The acting from the whole cast is perfect. De Niro holds the film together like superglue in the role of Jack Byrnes, a self-declared florist with an ambiguous past.
The script is excellent, from story structure and plot, to punchline dialogue. For example, this bit of dialogue is one of the films best:
Greg: So what got you into carpentering?
Kevin: Carpentry? I guess I’d have to say Jesus. He was a carpenter and I just figured if you’re gonna follow in someone’s footsteps, who better than Christ?
Jack: Greg’s Jewish.
Kevin: Are you?
Kevin: Well, so was J.C.
Meet the Parents
Top 10 Robert De Niro Movies List
3. Goodfellas (1990)
Goodfellas is probably the most iconic of the collaborations between Scorsese and De Niro. In the film, De Niro plays the supporting role of gangster Jimmy Conway. He’s somewhat of a mentor, but more of a bad influence on protagonist Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta.
This is a picture that’s incredibly fun to watch, with deep commentary on the gangster life as well. In many ways, Goodfellas is the natural successor to Mean Streets; from low-level crime to the peak of the drug trade. But the end result for both films is tragedy for all involved.
Robert De Niro Gangster Movies
2. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Robert De Niro won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Godfather: Part II. In the year prior, Marlon Brando won the Oscar for Best Lead Actor in The Godfather. This marked the first time that two actors ever won Academy Awards for playing the same character; in this case, the role of Vito Corleone.
De Niro is phenomenal playing a younger Vito Corleone. His scenes are all flashbacks, back to when Vito was a young man in New York City, then back to Italy. The Godfather: Part II is one of the greatest movies ever made, in large part due to De Niro’s performance.
The Godfather: Part II
The Greatest Robert De Niro Movie
1. Taxi Driver (2019)
I think the reason Taxi Driver is so hard to talk about is because there’s so much truth in it. The film has notoriously been associated as “inspiration” for violent crime.
As time has gone on, Taxi Driver seems to become more and more taboo to praise. Robert De Niro plays the starring role of Travis Bickle, a former US Marine, who struggles with insomnia. To combat the sleepless nights, Travis takes a job as a taxi driver in New York City. But in this job, he develops a general misanthropy to the world.
The streets are filled with crime; rape, murder, and exploitation to name a few. And Travis sees this happen before his eyes. He’s an unwilling participant to what he perceives as the moral decay of society. Because of this, he only grows more and more resentful.
In the end, Taxi Driver is so upsetting because it shows us the pit of loneliness. How a person can be corrupted in the same ways they condemn, simply because they don’t feel loved.
The script was written by the great Paul Schrader, music composed by the legendary Bernard Hermann, and Directed by none other than Martin Scorsese. The result is the best movie of Robert De Niro’s incredible career.
These are the top 20 movies of Robert De Niro’s career. De Niro is an incredibly talented actor. One who has turned in great performances in comedic, tragic, and dramatic roles.Are you an actor? One who’s looking for a more streamlined way to create, manage and share script sides? Check out our free script sides!
15 Best Jack Nicholson Movies
Although Jack Nicholson has far fewer credits than De Niro, he has still acted in some of the great films of the last half-century. From starring roles in The Shining and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to supporting roles like The Departed, Nicholson has done it all. In this list we rank the best Jack Nicholson movies and look at what makes each so great.