With numerous memorable roles, several classic film lines, and countless awards in recognition of his craft, Robert De Niro is a legend in his field. His debut movie role in Greetings kicked off his career and he has continued acting ever since. De Niro has collaborated with famous directors and has starred in several of the best Martin Scorsese movies.
De Niro's award-winning, award-nominated and most outstanding roles highlight his ability to embrace a diverse range of characters. Whether he plays a frightening villain, a sympathetic anti-hero, or a comedic adversary, he becomes the rock from which a movie stands. However, even within his more obscure film roles reveals the actor's dedication to his Method acting technique, which allows him to fully become his part. Each one of his films are worth watching; however, here are the best Robert De Niro films you don't want to miss.
Whether you've seen the Taxi Driver or not, you probably remember De Niro's famous line, "You talkin' to me?" However, it's what led to that famous scene that makes this such a strong powerful role for the actor. Depicting Bickle's obsessive and volatile personality, De Niro plays the part of a man going off the deep end.
One of ten films done with De Niro and film director Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver is about a man who becomes an unhinged vigilante after becoming disgusted with the crime and corruption in the city. The film primarily focuses on Bickle and his intent to carry out his plan to rid the city of its "scum." However, the other characters, including the controversial role played by then-12-year-old Jodie Foster and Bickle's love interest Besty played by Cybill Shepherd help punctuate De Niro's troubling, but career-defining character.
The Godfather Part II
Although nothing can quite beat the first film, Godfather Part II is an Oscar award-winning film that continues the life of the Corleone crime family. Robert De Niro plays a young Vito Corleone, successfully playing a role so famously performed by Marlon Brando in the prior film.
In the movie, you watch as young Vito Corleone escapes the mafia as a boy only to focus on growing his family's future in the crime syndicate as an adult. Contrasting this storyline is Al Pacino's character, Michael Corleone, who has inherited the family business. Both men play Oscar-nominated roles, with De Niro going home with the Oscar award for his role in the film. However, the movie wouldn't be as iconic as it is without both of their strong characters, especially De Niro's subtle, but powerful performance as the crime family's leader.
Watch on Pluto (free with ads)
When you mention the film Cape Fear, it's unlikely you think of the 1962 version. Instead, you probably think of the 1991 remake, thanks in large part to Robert De Niro's unforgettable acting. Partnering again with Scorsese, De Niro plays the film's villain, Max Cady, a convicted rapist who was recently released from prison.
Dead set on taking revenge against his former defense attorney, De Niro's character Max Cady is a terrifying presence in the lives of the Bowden family. However, despite his fear-inducing presence, he manages to come across as chillingly charming initially towards Sam Bowden's daughter, Danielle, as played by Juliette Lewis. However, any note of charm is simply a manipulative gateway for Cady's murderous intent. It's a movie that will stay with you long after it's over.
Stanley & Iris
For those used to Robert De Niro's edgy roles, you'll be pleasantly surprised by his part in Stanley & Iris. De Niro plays Stanley Cox, an illiterate but hard-working cook, who asks a widow, Iris King, played by Jane Fonda, to teach him to read.
De Niro is endearing in his portrayal of Stanley, endearingly showcasing the character's eagerness and vulnerability while he struggles to learn to read. Fonda is a perfect actress chosen to play alongside De Niro, who courts her as they become close between lessons. Both add a tremendous depth to characters who are falling in love in their middle-aged years. While you may not initially think of De Niro when you think of romantic films, the actor is undeniably talented in his depiction of Stanley Cox. It may not be a film he's most known for, it's one of his best.
Watch on Prime Video
While not one of his more memorable roles, Robert De Niro's Oscar-nominated performance in Awakenings showcases his versatility as an actor. Starring alongside Robin Williams who plays Dr. Malcolm Sayer, De Niro ditches his typical tough guy role to play the catatonic patient, Leonard Lowe.
Based on a true story, Dr. Sayer discovers there is more to his patients than what the other doctors see. Believing them to still be aware despite their catatonic state, Williams's character tries out an experimental drug on De Niro's Leonard Lowe. Both of these legendary actors play off each other's dedication to their characters to tell a heart-wrenching story about an unforgettable summer in the lives of patients once thought to be a lost cause. De Niro's dramatic performance and ability to display all the emotional and physical challenges of his character make this one of his best movies.
The King of Comedy
Joining together again, Scorsese casts Robert De Niro in the lead role of The King of Comedy. In this dark comedy, Robert De Niro plays Rupert Pupkin, a man with Hollywood dreams who wants to be a comedian no one will ever forget.
De Niro blends humor with an instability you'd find in his role in Taxi Driver. His desperation to make it big is highlighted leads him to kidnapping his idol, Jerry Langford, played by Jerry Lewis. While De Niro's depiction of a man on the edge has a familiar touch, nothing about his character is at all overplayed or overdone. His desperation is embarrassingly up-close-and-person to anyone who has desired to make it big in some way. Along with Sandra Bernhard's unhinged performance, this is a De Niro movie not to be overlooked.
Watch on Plex (free with ads)
Meet the Parents
As a sharp contrast to the dramatic roles he is most well-known for, Robert De Niro takes on the comedic part of an overprotective father in Meet the Parents. However, De Niro uses what we are most familiar with about his previous roles and turns it into comedy gold.
When De Niro's character Jack Byrnes meets his daughter's fiance, Greg Focker, as played by Ben Stiller, he takes an immediate dislike to him. Determined to find out what his future son-in-law may be hiding, Byrne uses his experience as a former CIA agent to uncover his secrets. Stiller's depiction of a man in love attempting to make things right with his future father-in-law is hilariously contrasted by De Niro's slightly paranoid and extremely suspicious father. Much like his other roles, De Niro is the key element that has made this film the enduring comedy it has become today.
Watch on Hulu