Robert De Niro attends "Halftime" Premiere during the Tribeca Festival Opening Night on June 08, 2022 in New York City.

Robert Anthony De Niro became famous for his portrayals of gritty characters at the beginning of his career. Once the New York native hit the comedic spotlight in the 2000s with Meet The Parents playing the part of a cranky old man, De Niro managed to keep a healthy balance of comedy and drama in his filmography. His next film will be Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon; the two have made ten feature films together since 1973’s Mean Streets.

De Niro’s parents divorced when he was just two years old after his father, Robert De Niro Sr., announced he was gay. His mother, Virginia Admiral, raised De Niro in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Robert took an interest in acting at age 10, playing the role of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at the Dramatic Workshop. Marlon Brando attended the same drama school and later became an inspiration for De Niro. As a way to relieve his shyness, De Niro became fascinated by cinema. By age 16, he dropped out of high school to pursue a professional career in acting. He later said in his biography De Niro: A Life, “When I was around 18, I was looking at a TV show, and I said, ‘If these actors are making a living at it, and they’re not really that good, I can’t do any worse than them.'”

Early Work

De Niro had minor film roles in the late 60s before landing a major role in Brian De Palma’s Greetings (1968), a satirical film about men avoiding the Vietnam War draft. With seven movies and two more De Palma collaborations, De Niro starred in two theater performances. He then returned to the big screen with 1973’s Bang the Drum Slowly, which received critical acclaim and helped De Niro gain further recognition. In 1973, De Niro began collaborating with Martin Scorsese in the crime film Mean Streets, co-starring Harvey Keitel. The following year, De Niro landed a pivotal role in Francis Ford Coppola’s crime epic The Godfather Part II (1974), winning an Academy Award for his portrayal of the young Vito Corleone.

Take a look below at our top 5 picks of Robert De Niro’s best films. With over 135 acting credits and 67 awards, it is tough to pick out De Niro’s best of the best, but we did our best.

  • 5. Jackie Brown

    In Quentin Tarantino’s only female-led feature film, De Niro starred as Louis Gara, a newly-released convict and friend of Samuel L. Jackson’s Ordell Robbie. De Niro feels a sense of fake guilt when he hooks up with one of Ordell’s girlfriends, Melanie. But Melanie gets on Louis’s last nerve on a fateful trip to the mall, and he loses it in the parking lot when she pushes him over the edge. “Louis! LOU! IS!”

  • 4. Meet The Parents

    De Niro’s comedic chemistry with Ben Stiller in this film from 2000 gets better with every re-watch. Of course, De Niro plays the ever-so protective retired CIA operative who specialized in interrogating double agents. His line, “I have nipples, Greg. Can you milk me?” delivered in his stone-cold serious tone is iconic The Meet the Parents trilogy was a great comedic offering by the actor and made many fans see him in a different light.

  • 3. Taxi Driver

    De Niro collaborated with Martin Scorsese again for this 1976 psychological drama, Taxi Driver. Set in gritty and New York City following the Vietnam War, the film tells the story of Travis Bickle (De Niro), a lonely war vet who descends into insanity. In preparation for the role, De Niro spent time with US Army members to study their accent and mannerisms. He also lost 30 pounds, took firearm training, and studied the behavior of taxi drivers. For those who have never seen this classic, this is where De Niro’s iconic, improvised “You talkin’ to me?” quote comes from.

  • 2. Goodfellas

    De Niro’s performance as the calm gangster Jimmy Conway was a match made in heaven with frequent collaborator Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito. On the mob’s code of silence, De Niro’s Jimmy delivered this iconic line: “You learn two great things in your life. Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.”

  • 1. Cape Fear

    De Niro’s role as rapist and murderer Max Cady is his most terrifying role to date. This 1991 film gave us something different from De Niro’s previous works, including Taxi Driver. Knowing that his lawyer, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) purposely hid evidence, Max seeks vengeance against Sam, and terrorizes his family, even coming on to his teenage daughter. Different from anything he’d done in the past, it was truly a chilling performance.

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