The 20 essential Robert De Niro performances
The Legendary Actor
Any discussion of the greatest actors of our lifetime must include Robert De Niro. The seven-time Oscar nominee has done it all over his six-decade career, turning in countless iconic performances. With The Irishman (streaming Nov. 27 on Netflix) looking to put him back at the forefront of the awards conversation, EW has rounded up the legendary actor's best roles.
Mean Streets (1973)
The first collaboration between the actor and Martin Scorsese finds De Niro playing John "Johnny Boy" Civelloan, an Italian-American navigating the world of crime. More than four decades later, it's still proving to be a winning formula.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
In Francis Ford Coppola's epic sequel, De Niro is tasked with the impossible: Following in the footsteps of Marlon Brando and playing young Vito Corleone. He more than rose to the challenge, earning his first Oscar and being a key reason why Part II somehow topped the beloved original.
Taxi Driver (1976)
De Niro reunites with Scorsese for a dark turn as paranoid veteran Travis Bickle. The most drastic transformation of De Niro's career scored him his first Best Actor nomination at the Oscars.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
As Michael Vronsky, De Niro lands his third Oscar nomination in five years with director Michael Cimino's Best Picture winning tale of three friends whose lives are forever changed by their time in the Vietnam War.
Raging Bull (1980)
For his fourth film with Scorsese, De Niro got in the ring as boxer Jake LaMotta. The result was his second (and last, for now) Oscar win and one of the greatest films of all-time.
The King of Comedy (1983)
Scorsese's film and De Niro's performance as delusional stand-up Robert Pupkin were major inspirations for Todd Phillips' billion-dollar hit Joker, which pays further homage by casting De Niro as a late-night host.
The Untouchables (1987)
Countless actors have played notorious gangster Al Capone, but none have done so as memorably as De Niro.
Midnight Run (1988)
After building a career on serious roles and dark turns, De Niro finally gets to have some fun as bounty hunter Jack Walsh in this buddy action comedy.
De Niro and Scorsese took a brief break from their collaborations after five films in 10 years, but they come back stronger than ever with this gangster masterpiece. While Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci get the bigger and flashier roles, De Niro shines as the intimidating Jimmy Conway.
Opposite Robin Williams, De Niro plays a man woken after decades in a cataonic state. Speaking of decades, the role landed De Niro his first Oscar nomination in 10 years.
Cape Fear (1991)
One year after Goodfellas, Scorsese and De Niro quickly reunite for this pyschological thriller, which stars the actor as Max Cady, a convicted rapist seeking vengeance against his former lawyer (Nick Nolte). De Niro would earn his sixth Oscar nomination.
A Bronx Tale (1993)
For his directing debut, De Niro adapted Chazz Palminteri's autobiographical one-man show, a coming-of-age story in which a young New Yorker is torn between organized crime and his bus driver father (played by De Niro). Accustomed to being on the criminal side of things, the role of Lorenzo Anello proved to be a nice change of pace for De Niro.
De Niro starring as casino mogul Sam "Ace" Rothstein in Scorsese's crime epic would serve as the end of an era, considering the actor and director wouldn't again work together until 24 years later with The Irishman.
While there are a lot of things to love about writer-director Michael Mann's heist film, it will forever be remembered for pairing De Niro and Al Pacino together for the first time. The renowned actors had never yet shared the screen before (Godfather 2 featured De Niro only in flashbacks), but that changed 90 minutes into Heat when thief Neil McCauley (De Niro) and detective Vincent Hanna (Pacino) sit down at a diner for one of cinema's most anticipated scenes of all-time.
Jackie Brown (1997)
De Niro continues to work with some of history's greatest filmmakers, this time for his only collaboration with Quentin Tarantino. De Niro's Louis Gara doesn't do much talking (he leaves that to Samuel L. Jackson's Ordell), but, when he finally snaps, it's chilling.
Analyze This (1999)
Playing mob boss Paul Vitti wasn't exactly new territory for De Niro, but playing it for straight laughs was, until he starred as the therapy-seeking criminal in Harold Ramis' hit film. Now, let's just move on and forget Analyze That.
Meet the Parents (2000)
De Niro's comedy run continues with his turn as the prospective father-in-law from hell, Jack Byrnes. De Niro and Ben Stiller's dynamic propelled Meet the Parents to critical and commercial success, as well as two sequels, which, while financial hits, never replicated the first film's creative high.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
De Niro went 21 years between Oscar nomiantions, but he gets back on the board with his performance as the superstitious Pat Solitano Sr., who is worried about the state of his son (Bradley Cooper).
The Intern (2015)
Yes, you read that right! De Niro and Anne Hathaway make for a delightful pair in Nancy Meyers' story of the bond between a retired widower-turned-intern and his company's young, struggling CEO.
The Irishman (2019)
Scorsese and De Niro (playing hitman Frank Sheeran) finally reunite for the film they have seemingly been building towards for decades. The Irishman's extensive use of technology to de-age De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci has garnered much of the discussion, but the performances of the trio and direction of Scorsese show the true purpose of the film: "a poignant meditation on mortality."