Robert De Niro, or, as his mother named him, Robert Anthony De Niro Jr. was born August 17, 1943 in Manhattan, New York City. De Niro dropped out of school at 16 to study acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory, and later at Lee Strasberg‘s famous Actors Studio. Both his parents were artists so acting and performing was in his blood from an early age. His first experience was some way, way off-broadway plays, but the movies came calling with his first credited appearance in the early Brian De Palma film “Greetings” in 1968.
FAME IS COMING;
De Niro followed up Greetings quickly with another De Palma movie, the 1969 “The Wedding Party”, but he had to wait another 4 years for the role that was his breakout performance in Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), in which he played a half-wit baseball catcher with a terminal disease. This was followed by Mean Streets in the same year and marked his first collaboration with Martin Scorsese. The following year saw the release of The Godfather Part II, which cemented his place in the acting echelon as one of the finest around, with a Best Supporting Actor win at the 1974 47th Academy Awards for his role as a young Vito Corleone . De Niro didn’t rest on his laurels though, with his next movie in 1976 “Taxi Driver”, another collaboration with Martin Scorsese and resulting in a nomination for Best Actor at the 49th Academy Awards (he lost out to Peter Finch in Network). Two years later, he received another Best Actor nomination for his role in The Deer Hunter, narrowly losing out to Jon Voight, but landed his first best actor win in 1980 for his iconic role as Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese‘s Raging Bull.
The 1980’s saw De Niro star in an amazing 12 films and some great quality roles, including another Martin Scorsese collaboration with “The King of Comedy” in 1982, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Terry Gilliam’s Brazil in 1985, The Mission (1986), Angel Heart (1987) and The Untouchables (1987) as Al Capone. His role in the action comedy “Midnight Run” in 1988 as Jack Walsh, the bounty hunter trying to get a slippery white collar criminal (Charles Grodin) cross-country back to LA, is one of our favourites from De Niro’s 80’s CV and still well worth a watch.
The 1990’s was defined by another two Oscar nominations, the first for Best Supporting Actor for “Awakenings” in 1990 and the next was for his chilling portrayal as Max Cady in Cape Fear, but he missed out on the Best Actor award because of Anthony Hopkins win for his role as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.
His best role of the 90’s, and possibly the last 3 decades, was as James Conway in Martin Scorsese‘s Goodfellas in 1990, but De Niro lost out at the Oscars, due to Joe Pesci being nominated and then winning the Best Supporting Role award for his Goodfellas turn as Tommy Devito. De Niro’s other high points from the nineties was yet another Martin Scorsese film Casino in 1995 and his re-teaming with Al Pacino in Michael Mann’s Heat in 1995, which was completely overlooked by the Academy, with no nominations at all, let alone wins!
The 2000’s to Now;
The 2000’s saw De Niro switching between comedy and dramatic roles, with varying levels of success. He still maintained a phenomenal output of movies, ratcheting up over 45 credits over the last 20 years!!. His reuniting with Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese‘s The Irishman in 2019 was met with overwhelming praise from critics and fans and showed that age isn’t slowing De Niro down. Let’s hope he has at least one more team up with his muse, Martin Scorsese, before the curtain comes down.
So here are Robert De Niro’s top 20 Highest rated films, according to an average score from IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and Letterboxd…
20 – Stardust (2007)
To win the heart of his beloved (Sienna Miller), a young man named Tristan (Charlie Cox) ventures into the realm of fairies to retrieve a fallen star. What Tristan finds, however, is not a chunk of space rock, but a woman (Claire Danes) named Yvaine. Yvaine is in great danger, for the king’s sons need her powers to secure the throne, and an evil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) wants to use her to achieve eternal youth and beauty.
19 – Joker (2019)
Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker.
18 – Jackie Brown (1997)
When flight attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is busted smuggling money for her arms dealer boss, Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and detective Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen) want her help to bring down Robbie. Facing jail time for her silence or death for her cooperation, Brown decides instead to double-cross both parties and make off with the smuggled money. Meanwhile, she enlists the help of bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster), a man who loves her.
17 – The Untouchables (1987)
After building an empire with bootleg alcohol, legendary crime boss Al Capone (Robert De Niro) rules Chicago with an iron fist. Though Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) attempts to take Capone down, even his best efforts fail due to widespread corruption within the Windy City’s police force. Recruiting an elite group of lawmen who won’t be swayed by bribes or fear, including Irish-American cop Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), Ness renews his determination to bring Capone to justice.
16 – Awakenings (1990)
The story of a doctor’s extraordinary work in the Sixties with a group of catatonic patients he finds languishing in a Bronx hospital. Speculating that their rigidity may be akin to an extreme form of Parkinsonism, he seeks permission from his skeptical superiors to treat them with L-dopa, a drug that was used to treat Parkinson’s disease at the time.
15 – The King of Comedy (1982)
Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is a failure in life but a celebrity in his own mind, hosting an imaginary talk show in his mother’s basement. When he meets actual talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), he’s convinced it will provide his big break, but Langford isn’t interested in the would-be comedian. Undaunted, Pupkin effectively stalks Langford — and when that doesn’t work, he kidnaps him, offering his release in exchange for a guest spot on Langford’s show.
14 – Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
After losing his job and wife, and spending time in a mental institution, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) winds up living with his parents (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver). He wants to rebuild his life and reunite with his wife, but his parents would be happy if he just shared their obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles. Things get complicated when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who offers to help him reconnect with his wife, if he will do something very important for her in exchange.
13 – Midnight Run (1988)
When Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) hires tight-lipped bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) to locate a mob accountant named “The Duke” (Charles Grodin) and bring him to L.A., Eddie tells Jack that the job will be simple, or a “midnight run.” But when Jack finds The Duke, the FBI and the mob are anxious to get their hands on him. In a cross-country chase, Jack must evade the authorities, hide from the mob and prevent The Duke’s erratic personality from driving him mad.
12 – Casino (1995)
In early-1970s Las Vegas, low-level mobster Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) gets tapped by his bosses to head the Tangiers Casino. At first, he’s a great success in the job, but over the years, problems with his loose-cannon enforcer Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), his ex-hustler wife Ginger (Sharon Stone), her con-artist ex Lester Diamond (James Woods) and a handful of corrupt politicians put Sam in ever-increasing danger. Martin Scorsese directs this adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi’s book.
11 – Mean Streets (1973)
A slice of street life in Little Italy among lower echelon Mafiosos, unbalanced punks, and petty criminals. Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro as a small-time hood gets in over his head with a vicious loan shark. In an attempt to free himself from the dangers of his debt, he gets help from a friend who is also involved in criminal activities.
10 – Heat (1995)
Master criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is trying to control the rogue actions of one of his men, while also planning one last big heist before retiring. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Hanna (Al Pacino) attempts to track down McCauley as he deals with the chaos in his own life, including the infidelity of his wife (Diane Venora) and the mental health of his stepdaughter (Natalie Portman). McCauley and Hanna discover a mutual respect, even as they try to thwart each other’s plans.
9 – The Deer Hunter (1978)
In 1968, Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage), lifelong friends from a working-class Pennsylvania steel town, prepare to ship out overseas following Steven’s elaborate wedding and one final group hunting trip. In Vietnam, their dreams of military honor are quickly shattered by the inhumanities of war; even those who survive are haunted by the experience, as is Nick’s hometown sweetheart, Linda (Meryl Streep).
8 – A Bronx Tale (1993)
As he grows into a teenager on the streets of the Bronx in the socially turbulent 1960s, Calogero (Lillo Brancato) gets taken under the wing of neighborhood mobster Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). Sonny initiates the boy into the ways of gangland life, in direct conflict with his straight-arrow bus driver father (Robert De Niro). But when Calogero falls for his African-American classmate, Jane (Taral Hicks), the repercussions threaten the entire neighborhood.
The story of a middleweight boxer (Robert De Niro) as he rises through ranks to earn his first shot at the middleweight crown. He falls in love with a gorgeous girl from the Bronx. The inability to express his feelings enters into the ring and eventually takes over his life. He eventually is sent into a downward spiral that costs him everything.
6 – The Irishman (2019)
In the 1950s, truck driver Frank Sheeran gets involved with Russell Bufalino and his Pennsylvania crime family. As Sheeran climbs the ranks to become a top hit man, he also goes to work for Jimmy Hoffa — a powerful Teamster tied to organized crime.
5 – Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
In 1968, the elderly David “Noodles” Aaronson (Robert De Niro) returns to New York, where he had a career in the criminal underground in the ’20s and ’30s. Most of his old friends, like longtime partner Max (James Woods), are long gone, yet he feels his past is unresolved. Told in flashbacks, the film follows Noodles from a tough kid in a Jewish slum in New York’s Lower East Side, through his rise to bootlegger and then Mafia boss — a journey marked by violence, betrayal and remorse.
4 – Brazil (1985)
Low-level bureaucrat Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) escapes the monotony of his day-to-day life through a recurring daydream of himself as a virtuous hero saving a beautiful damsel. Investigating a case that led to the wrongful arrest and eventual death of an innocent man instead of wanted terrorist Harry Tuttle (Robert De Niro), he meets the woman from his daydream (Kim Greist), and in trying to help her gets caught in a web of mistaken identities, mindless bureaucracy and lies.
3 – Taxi Driver (1976)
Suffering from insomnia, disturbed loner Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes a job as a New York City cabbie, haunting the streets nightly, growing increasingly detached from reality as he dreams of cleaning up the filthy city. When Travis meets pretty campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), he becomes obsessed with the idea of saving the world, first plotting to assassinate a presidential candidate, then directing his attentions toward rescuing 12-year-old prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster).
2 – Goodfellas (1990)
The lowly, blue-collar side of New York’s Italian mafia is explored in this crime biopic of wiseguy Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). As he makes his way from strapping young petty criminal, to big-time thief, to middle-aged cocaine addict and dealer, the film explores in detail the rules and traditions of organized crime. Watching the rise and fall of Hill and his two counterparts, the slick jack-of-all-trades criminal Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and the brutish, intimidating Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), this true story realistically explores the core, blue-collar part of the mob.
1 – The Godfather Part II (1974)
The compelling sequel to “The Godfather,” contrasting the life of Corleone father and son. Traces the problems of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in 1958 and that of a young immigrant Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) in 1917’s Hell’s Kitchen. Michael survives many misfortunes and Vito is introduced to a life of crime.