Robert De Niro's Acting Mastery: The 15 Must-Watch Films


Robert De Niro is a cinematic treasure, widely regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time. With two Oscars and a multitude of nominations to his name, he has graced the silver screen with his exceptional talent, serious approach to acting, and an unmistakable ability to convey a wide range of emotions through subtle performances and nuanced body language. In this list, we pay tribute to the illustrious career of Robert De Niro by presenting his top 15 films.

'Goodfellas' is a crime masterpiece that showcases De Niro's captivating portrayal of a mobster. 'Once Upon a Time in America' takes you on a poignant journey through time, where De Niro delivers a haunting performance. 'Taxi Driver' provides a gritty and intense character study, while 'Heat' pairs him with Al Pacino in a thrilling crime drama. 'The Deer Hunter' explores the complexities of friendship and the human spirit.

These are just a few examples of the exceptional roles that De Niro has brought to life. Each film on this list represents a unique facet of his extraordinary talent and his enduring impact on the world of cinema. Join us as we revisit the work of this acting legend and explore the 15 iconic roles that have solidified his place in film history.

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1. The Godfather: Part II (1974)

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Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall
Genre: Crime, Drama

My Take:

"The Godfather: Part II" is a cinematic masterpiece that faced the daunting task of following up one of the greatest films ever made. With Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo at the helm, the movie exceeded expectations and sent shockwaves through the world of cinema; the film won six Oscars. This film remains a defining achievement in cinema, continuing to influence and inspire generations of filmmakers.

My father taught me many things here - he taught me in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

Cinematographer Gordon Willis deserves special mention for his remarkable work in capturing the turn-of-the-century period. His use of a seriographic tint in flashback scenes creates a soft, rich look in contrast to the sharp image of the contemporary story.

At its core, this film is a tale of loss, grief, and profound loneliness. It offers an unflinching examination of the darkest moral abyss, a narrative that delves into the complex psyches of its characters. The elliptical plotting and sweeping storytelling create an intoxicating experience for the audience.

The contrast between Robert De Niro's meditative portrayal of the young Vito Corleone and Al Pacino's depiction of the soul-weary Michael Corleone provides piercing focus to Coppola's exploration of corrupting power. Both actors deliver outstanding performances, with Pacino particularly shining in his role as Michael, who grapples with his ascent to crime family leadership. De Niro's excellent portrayal of the young Vito adds depth to the character's backstory.

It not only lives up to the legacy of its predecessor but expands upon it, delving deeper into the hearts and minds of its characters. Coppola's ability to create a sprawling narrative that remains engaging is a testament to his directorial prowess. He masterfully weaves the narrative's threads, taking us through the lives of these complex characters. It's not just a crime drama; it's a family saga, an immigrant's tale, and an exploration of the American Dream's darker side.

2. Goodfellas (1990)

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Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast:  Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama

My Take:

Goodfellas is a 1990 American crime film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, and Lorraine Bracco. The film is based on the true story of Henry Hill, a former mobster who became an FBI informant.

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.

The film follows the rise and fall of Henry Hill as he becomes involved in the mafia and rises through the ranks of organized crime. The film is known for its fast-paced storytelling, sharp dialogue, and violent and realistic portrayal of the mafia underworld.

One of the most exciting facts about Goodfellas is that many of the actors in the film had connections to the mafia in real life. Joe Pesci’s character, Tommy DeVito, was based on a real-life mobster named Tommy DeSimone, who was associated with the Lucchese crime family. The real-life Henry Hill also served as a film consultant and helped ensure its accuracy.

The performances in Goodfellas are outstanding, with Joe Pesci’s portrayal of the unhinged and violent Tommy DeVito being particularly memorable. Pesci’s performance earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and he remains one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history.

The film’s editing is also noteworthy, with its use of quick cuts and montages helping to give the movie its frenetic pace. The famous “Layla” sequence, which features a montage of violent acts set to the music of Derek and the Dominos, is one of the most memorable scenes in the film.

Despite its violent subject matter, Goodfellas is also a film about betrayal and the consequences of one’s actions. The film’s final act sees Henry Hill turn against his former associates and become an informant for the FBI, leading to the downfall of many of his former friends and colleagues.

Goodfellas is a masterpiece of American cinema and one of Martin Scorsese’s most iconic films. Its unforgettable characters, sharp dialogue, and realistic portrayal of the mafia underworld have made it a genre classic. The film’s performances, editing, and use of music all contribute to its lasting impact and make it a must-see for fans of crime films.

3. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

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Director: Sergio Leone
Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern
Genre: Crime, Drama

My Take:

"Once Upon a Time in America" is a monumental achievement in cinema, marked by its storied production history and its sprawling narrative. Sergio Leone, known for his masterful work in the Western genre, ventured into new territory with this gangster epic. The film's original footage ran between eight to ten hours, and Leone initially intended to release it as two three-hour movies. However, the producers opted for a significantly shorter version, clocking in at just two hours for the initial theatrical release. This decision led to initial commercial struggles and a lack of Oscar nominations. When the video cassette and DVD versions were released in the original three-hour and forty-nine-minute version, the film ultimately found commercial and critical success.

When you've been betrayed by a friend, you hit back. Do it.

The story unfolds across multiple timelines, spanning from 1920 to 1968, capturing the evolution of its characters as they navigate the treacherous world of organized crime in New York City during the 1920s and beyond. Sergio Leone, after a 13-year hiatus from filmmaking, delivered this as his final feature, showcasing his remarkable talent and cinematic vision.

"Once Upon a Time in America" stands as one of the most extended and compelling films ever made. It weaves a tapestry of fatally flawed heroes, immense passions, and the complex process of nation-building, all set against a backdrop of violence and greed. This gangster saga takes its characters on a lifelong journey from childhood to old age, with Leone's grand-scale filmmaking portraying an epic poem that delves deep into the dark underbelly of organized crime.

In conclusion, "Once Upon a Time in America" isn't just a gangster movie; it's a cinematic marvel. Its complex narrative structure, stunning performances, and exploration of themes like unrequited love and friendship make it a timeless classic. Leone's meticulous direction and Ennio Morricone's haunting score elevate this film to the realm of cinematic poetry. It's a sprawling and ambitious piece of work that demands attention and stands as a testament to the power of storytelling through the medium of film.

4. Taxi Driver (1976)

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Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd
Genre: Crime, Drama

My Take:

Taxi Driver is a classic neo-noir film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, a Vietnam War veteran who drives a taxi in New York City. He’s a loner who is disgusted by the sordid and corrupt world he sees around him. He becomes increasingly unhinged and decides to take matters into his own hands to “clean up” the city. Jodie Foster gives a powerful performance as a young prostitute named Iris, whom Travis becomes fixated on rescuing from her pimp.

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…

What sets Taxi Driver apart from other films is its portrayal of an anti-hero who is both violent, unstable, and sympathetic. The film is a character study of Travis, exploring his psyche and the societal factors contributing to his mental breakdown. The iconic scene where Travis talks to himself in the mirror, saying, “You talking to me?” has become one of the most famous movie quotes of all time.

The film is also a commentary on sexual repression and toxic masculinity. Travis is a man who is unable to connect with women in a meaningful way, and his frustration and anger manifest in violent outbursts. The scenes where he takes Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) on a date and takes her to a porn theatre are uncomfortable to watch but are crucial in understanding his character.

Scorsese’s direction and the cinematography by Michael Chapman are masterful, creating a gritty and unsettling atmosphere that perfectly captures the seedy underbelly of New York City. The use of Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score adds to the film’s sense of dread and unease.

Taxi Driver is a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with audiences today. Its exploration of loneliness, alienation, and violence is just as relevant now as it was in 1976. Scorsese and De Niro’s collaboration on this film is one of the greatest in cinema history, and their work has inspired countless filmmakers in the decades since its release.

5. Casino (1995)

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Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci
Genre: Crime, Drama

My Take:

Casino is a Martin Scorsese classic that tells the story of Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) and Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) as they rise to power in the Las Vegas casino industry. The movie is a crime epic that explores the world of the mafia, and it’s a thrilling ride from beginning to end. The film is set in the 1970s and 1980s, and it captures the essence of Las Vegas during that era, from the glitz and glamour to the gritty underbelly.

The performances in Casino are fantastic, especially from De Niro and Pesci, who have effortless chemistry on screen. Sharon Stone also delivers a standout performance as Ginger, Ace’s volatile wife. Scorsese’s direction is masterful, as he easily weaves multiple storylines and characters.

Casino is a great movie showcasing Scorsese’s director and storyteller talents. While it may be a bit long and not without flaws, it’s still a thrilling ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat. it has become a cult film over the years, and it’s not hard to see why. The movie is filled with memorable scenes and quotable lines, and it’s a must-watch for fans of the genre.

6. Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

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Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone
Genre: Crime, Drama, History

My Take:

In "Killers of the Flower Moon," Martin Scorsese, once again, proves his directorial prowess. This film marks his seventh collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio, and the chemistry between the two is palpable on the screen. Additionally, it's the eleventh collaboration between Scorsese and the legendary Robert De Niro, including a short film. With a whopping budget of $200 million, it's also the most expensive biographical film ever made, surpassing even Scorsese's own "The Irishman."

Can you find the wolves in this picture?

Set in the 1920s, this modern western is a testament to Scorsese's ability to immerse audiences in a bygone era. The Osage tribe's mysterious murders, attributed to their wealth from oil, provide the central mystery. As the story unfolds, it unearths a web of corruption within the city and those eager to claim the Osage fortune.

Despite its lengthy runtime of 3 hours and 26 minutes, the film never drags, thanks to Scorsese's gripping direction. This slow-paced drama keeps viewers engaged, unveiling layers of complexity and intrigue. It's a character-driven narrative that benefits from the exceptional cast.

DiCaprio delivers a remarkable performance with nuanced shades developed throughout the story. Robert De Niro, in his typical fashion, leaves an indelible mark on the film. Newcomer Lily Gladstone shines alongside these legendary actors, a testament to Scorsese's ability to bring out the best in his ensemble cast.

"Killers of the Flower Moon" is a masterpiece of cinema, an epic that not only entertains but educates. Scorsese's direction, combined with stellar performances and an engrossing plot, ensures that this film will be remembered for generations to come. The Osage murders, tainted by greed and corruption, are a dark chapter in American history, one that demands recognition. It's a reminder of the importance of acknowledging the past, even when it's marred by darkness.

7. Raging Bull (1980)

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Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci
Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport

My Take:

Raging Bull is a Martin Scorsese masterpiece that explores the dark and violent world of boxing and domestic violence. Robert De Niro’s performance as the troubled and temperamental Jake LaMotta is legendary, and the film’s cinematography and editing are both stunning.

The film is not just about boxing; it’s a character study that delves deep into LaMotta’s jealousy and rage, resulting in a heartbreaking and harrowing portrayal of a man who is his worst enemy. De Niro’s physical transformation for the role is impressive, but his emotional intensity truly sets his performance apart.

Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty also deliver exceptional performances as LaMotta’s brother and wife, respectively. The “hit me” scene between De Niro and Pesci is a standout moment that showcases their chemistry and commitment to their roles. The film’s editing process was unique, with Scorsese and his team editing the film in his New York City apartment every night after filming.

Raging Bull is a powerful and unforgettable film that explores the complexities of human nature and the destructive consequences of jealousy and rage. It’s a must-see for Scorsese, De Niro, and cinema fans. Raging Bull was nominated for eight Oscars and won two, including Best Actor for De Niro.

8. The Irishman (2019)

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Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci
Genre: Biography, Crime, Drama

My Take:

The Irishman is a gripping and powerful film that tells the story of Frank Sheeran, a hitman for the mob who becomes involved with the teamsters union and the disappearance of union leader Jimmy Hoffa. The film features a nonlinear timeline, jumping between different periods of Sheeran’s life, and is based on the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt. The film has been praised for its outstanding performances by Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, who all delivered some of the best performances of their careers.

Martin Scorsese directs with his signature style, creating a world that is both gritty and glamorous, violent and poignant. The film has been nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for both Pacino and Pesci.

At its core, The Irishman is a film about regret and the consequences of a life of violence. Sheeran is a complex and fascinating character, and De Niro’s performance captures his brutality and humanity. The film explores themes of loyalty, friendship, and betrayal and is a haunting portrayal of a world where violence is the norm.

The film’s nonlinear structure allows Scorsese to explore Sheeran’s life uniquely, showing how his actions in the past come back to haunt him in the present. The film’s use of de-ageing technology to show the characters at different ages has been applauded.

The Irishman is a masterful film showcasing Scorsese’s talents and his exceptional cast. The film’s epic runtime of three and a half hours is a testament to Scorsese’s ability to keep the audience engaged and invested in the story. It is a must-see for fans of Scorsese’s previous work and anyone who enjoys a great crime drama.

9. Heat (1995)

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Director: Michael Mann
Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

My Take:

"Heat" is a cinematic gem that stands out for its meticulous attention to detail. It was filmed entirely without a single soundstage, which contributes to the movie's authentic and gritty atmosphere. One of the most significant draws for the film was the first-time on-screen collaboration between two acting legends, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. While they had both appeared in "The Godfather Part II" (1974), they never shared a scene due to the movie's split chronology. This historic pairing created immense anticipation for "Heat."

Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat, if you feel the heat around the corner.

The film's commitment to realism goes beyond just its casting. In the iconic bank robbery shootout scene, director Michael Mann decided against dubbing in the gunshots. Instead, microphones were strategically placed around the set to capture the audio live. This bold choice added an unmatched level of impact and intensity to the sequence, setting it apart from other cinematic gunfights.

"Heat" is, without a doubt, one of the most intelligent and compelling crime thrillers to grace the screen. Michael Mann's direction is nothing short of masterful, offering a sleek and meticulously controlled narrative. The film invites you into the dark corners of its world, providing an immersive experience that's both thrilling and profound. The ensemble cast, featuring talents like De Niro and Pacino, delivers honest and probing performances. They elevate the film above the typical crime drama, making it an exceptional piece of cinema.

"Heat" is an epic crime drama that transcends the genre. Its commitment to authenticity, both in its production and performances, sets it apart. The film's resonating theme of the blurred lines between cops and criminals, coupled with its intense cat-and-mouse chase, creates a thrilling and introspective narrative. "Heat" is an achievement in storytelling, an enduring classic that showcases the heights of cinematic artistry.

10. The Deer Hunter (1978)

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Director: Michael Cimino
Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale
Genre: Drama, War

My Take:

"The Deer Hunter," directed by Michael Cimino, is a powerful and emotionally charged film that explores the impact of the Vietnam War on a group of friends from a small Pennsylvania town. The story begins with a joyous wedding reception, where the close-knit group of friends, including Michael (Robert De Niro), Steven (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken), celebrate the happiness of their friend's marriage. However, their lives are forever changed when they are drafted to serve in the Vietnam War.

The film expertly portrays the camaraderie and strong bonds between the friends as they face the horrors of war together. It delves into the psychological torture they endure and the toll it takes on their mental and emotional well-being. The contrasting scenes of happiness during the wedding and the heart-wrenching moments in Vietnam create a powerful dichotomy, emphasizing the stark contrast between their lives before and after the war.

Robert De Niro delivers a masterful performance as Michael, showcasing his versatility as an actor. He captures the internal struggles and emotional turmoil of a soldier grappling with the trauma of war. Christopher Walken's portrayal of Nick earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and his performance adds depth and poignancy to the film.

"The Deer Hunter" is not merely a war film; it is a profound exploration of friendship, loyalty, and the resilience of the human spirit. The film's realistic portrayal of the Vietnam War and its effects on the characters resonated with audiences and critics alike, earning it five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It raises important questions about the lasting impact of war on individuals and communities and the challenges of finding healing and renewal after experiencing such trauma.

11. Awakenings (1990)

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Director: Penny Marshall
Robert De Niro, Robin William, sJulie Kavner
Genre: Biography, Drama

My Take:

"Awakenings" is a compelling and emotional medical drama directed by Penny Marshall, based on real events. The story revolves around Dr. Malcolm Sayer, portrayed by Robin Williams, who discovers an experimental drug that has the potential to awaken patients suffering from catatonia, a mysterious and devastating neurological condition. Set in a psychiatric hospital in the Bronx, New York, the film is a poignant exploration of hope, resilience, and the human spirit.

The human spirit is more powerful than any drug, and that is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. These are the things that matter. This is what we'd forgotten, the simplest things.

The narrative unfolds as Dr. Sayer begins administering the experimental drug to patients who have been in a catatonic state for decades. The results are nothing short of miraculous, as the patients gradually regain their motor skills and awaken to a world that has passed them by. Leonard, portrayed by Robert De Niro, is one such patient who experiences this astonishing reawakening.

What makes "Awakenings" remarkable is its ability to delve into the human psyche. As these once-catatonic patients awaken, they must grapple with the reality of the world they now inhabit. The film beautifully captures their moments of joy, confusion, and fear as they navigate a life they barely remember.

The heart of the film lies in the relationship between Dr. Sayer and Leonard. Their connection goes beyond doctor and patient, evolving into a deep and profound friendship. The performances of Robin Williams and Robert De Niro are nothing short of exceptional, and their on-screen chemistry is palpable.

"Awakenings" is an emotional rollercoaster that balances moments of humor and heartbreak. It delves into themes of isolation, the longing for connection, and the human desire to live a "normal" life. Despite its occasional sentimentality, the film maintains its authenticity and captures the complexities of medical care and the resilience of the human spirit.

12. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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Director: David O. Russell
Bradley CooperJennifer LawrenceRobert De Niro
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

My Take:

"Silver Linings Playbook" is a cinematic gem that marries humor, romance, and the complexities of mental health with an extraordinary finesse. Directed by David O. Russell, it's a film that traverses an emotional rollercoaster, and the end result is nothing short of spectacular.

This is what I learned at the hospital. You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.

At the heart of the story is Pat Solitano, portrayed by Bradley Cooper, who is on a journey of recovery after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Pat's life is in shambles, and he's determined to rebuild it, despite the many hurdles on his path. Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany, a young widow who is equally struggling with her own emotional traumas and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

What ensues is a brilliantly choreographed dance of emotions and vulnerabilities as Pat and Tiffany embark on a complicated yet heartwarming journey of self-discovery. Their on-screen chemistry is nothing short of electric, and it's this dynamism that underpins the entire film. "Silver Linings Playbook" is not your typical romantic comedy. It dares to delve into the complexities of mental health, family dynamics, and the societal stigmas associated with these issues. It's a story about healing, not just as individuals but as a family unit.

The supporting cast, particularly Robert De Niro as Pat Sr., delivers powerful performances that add depth to the narrative. Pat's relationship with his father is particularly poignant, highlighting the challenges of dealing with mental health issues within a family setting. Russell's direction balances humor and drama with remarkable finesse. The film captures the essence of human resilience and the pursuit of happiness in the face of adversity. It's about finding those "silver linings" even in the most challenging of circumstances.

"Silver Linings Playbook" is a cinematic success that transcends genres. It's a romantic comedy, a family drama, and a poignant exploration of mental health. Its ability to tackle these complex themes with humor and heart is a testament to the film's enduring impact. It's a celebration of the human spirit's resilience and the belief that even in the most challenging situations, there are always silver linings waiting to be discovered.

13. The Intern (2015)

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Director: Nancy Meyers
Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo
Genre: Comedy, Drama

My Take:

"The Intern" is a delightful cinematic creation that unearths the beauty in life's later chapters, proving that even after retirement, one can find new beginnings and make unexpected friendships.

You're never wrong to do the right thing.

At the heart of the story is Ben Whittaker, portrayed by the legendary Robert De Niro. Ben, a widower and retired executive, becomes an intern at an online fashion retailer. Anne Hathaway plays Jules Ostin, the founder of the company, who initially has reservations about having a septuagenarian intern. What unfolds is a unique and heartwarming friendship that defies age and expectations.

Ben's character is a breath of fresh air. His charming and affable nature makes him an instant favorite, not only among his colleagues but also with the audience. His interactions with Jules create a heartwarming dynamic that serves as the backbone of the film.

Anne Hathaway delivers a compelling performance as Jules, portraying a successful entrepreneur juggling the challenges of work, family, and personal life. The film artfully explores the complexities of modern-day working mothers.

The film strikes a balance between humor and heartfelt moments. The camaraderie between Ben and his fellow interns, many of whom are young enough to be his grandchildren, offers humor and poignant insights.

"The Intern" is more than a simple workplace comedy. It's a story about the endurance of the human spirit, the potential for meaningful connections across generations, and the idea that life can surprise us with second acts. Robert De Niro's charm, Nancy Meyers' direction, and the film's contemporary relevance make it a heartwarming and enjoyable cinematic experience. It reminds us that friendships can be found in the unlikeliest of places and that, even in retirement, new adventures are waiting to be explored.


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