Top Five Robert De Niro Performances

With a career spanning 50 years and over 90 films, Robert De Niro has undoubtedly certified himself as one of the greatest actors of all time. Not only has the legendary thespian, aged 72, starred in some of the best films ever made, he’s also created some of the most iconic characters to ever grace a cinema screen.

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His latest film The Intern(which you can read my review for here) sees De Niro play Ben Whittaker, a widower who takes an internship at an online fashion site ran by Jules Ostin played by Anne Hathaway.

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De Niro and Hathaway in The Intern

To celebrate the release of The Intern here’s a countdown of my five favourite De Niro performances:

5. Neil McCauley – Heat (1995)

Robert De Niro in Heat

20 years ago, De Niro delivered a clinical performance in one of the greatest action thrillers of all time – Heat. His character, Neil McCauley, is a bank robber whose skills at breaking and entering are as razor-sharp as his carefully crafted goatee.

De Niro’s ultra-smooth criminal meets his match in LAPD Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (played by Al Pacino) who goes on a personal crusade to take down McCauley and his crew. De Niro’s slick turn is perfectly complemented by Pacino’s explosive performance and when the two Hollywood heavyweights come together onscreen, they produce some of the most unforgettably electric scenes in cinematic history.

4. Johnny Boy – Mean Streets (1973)

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De Niro’s first of 9 collaborations with legendary director Martin Scorsese saw him play Jonny Boy, a cool and charismatic con-man/compulsive liar. To be bluntly honest Jonny Boy is a complete dick, but De Niro injects enough flamboyant personality into the character that he’s somewhat of a likeable dick.

While fellow veteran Harvey Keitel is great as the film’s lead Charlie, De Niro steals the show as his best friend Jonny Boy whose recklessness and impulsiveness put Charlie and their group of friends in a world of bother with some menacing mobsters. A classic performance in a classic 70’s film.

3. Vito Corleone – The Godfather Part II (1974)

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Although he impressed a year earlier in Mean Streets, De Niro’s performance in The Godfather Part II was the one that made him a household name. After missing out on the role as Sonny Corleone in the first instalment of the epic Mafia trilogy, his impressive audition led director Francis Ford Coppola to cast him as a younger Vito Corleone in the sequel.

De Niro had extremely tough boots to fill as he was playing a younger version of a character which Marlon Brando made famous. But his take on Vito Corleone years before he became the Don was so spectacular that he won an Oscar for Best Supporting actor – his first of two Academy awards.

2. Travis Bickle – Taxi Driver (1976)

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“You talkin’ to me?” This line of dialogue became instantly iconic as the improvised monologue it stems from propelled De Niro, his character and the film into cinema legend. His character Travis Bickle is a Vietnam veteran turned (you guessed it) taxi driver, who after witnessing the harsh realities of street life of New York street life, decides to do something about it.

De Niro’s unhinged vigilante Bickle is an extremely complex character who’s driven by simmering rage, loneliness and paranoia. His portrayal of Bickle left an everlasting impression on popular culture and makes Taxi Driver a must-see for all film lovers.

1.Jake LaMotta – Raging Bull (1980)

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While De Niro’s lengthy career is littered with mighty performances, there’s no role more majestic than his turn as boxer Jake LaMotta. After spending a year meticulously training for the boxing scenes and putting on 55 lbs in four months, De Niro’s intense physical commitment to the role was matched by his dramatic dedication as he performed in Method.

LaMotta was a self-destructive character who let his anger, fear and sadness get the better of him and is played with acute expertise by De Niro. His wrecking ball of a performance (#no Miley Cyrus) earned him his second Academy award for Best Actor.

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6 thoughts on “Top Five Robert De Niro Performances

  1. It really is amazing seeing on paper – or screen – just how many truly outstanding films De Niro has been a part of. I haven’t seen Taxi Driver, but I cannot think of a performance that can bump one of your other picks. I agree with all 4.

    Liked by 1 person

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