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Robert De Niro’s greatest ever roles

If you could select any movie character to be at your side in a tough situation, who would you choose? Jack Bauer? Too intense. John McClane? Too insane. But just about any character played by Robert De Niro blends rock-hard tough guy with a sense of quiet confidence that you’re in safe hands. 

 The veteran New Yorker turns 77 this year, and his acting career has spanned six decades. His most recent role, as World War II veteran turned hitman Frank Sheeran saw him reunited with Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Martin Scorsese in The Irishman. Naturally, it provokes a degree of retrospection. Here, we have looked through De Niro’s back catalog of more than 100 movie roles and distilled a handful of defining roles from his remarkable career. 


Vito Corleone

 Frances Ford Coppola’s epic trilogy is full of career-defining performances. But De Niro’s character is arguably the most complex and intricately drawn. Softly spoken, articulate, a loving father and yet capable of brutality that is all the more shocking because it is committed in such a casual way. As viewers, we are never entirely sure what is going on behind Vito’s calm eyes. But that just draws us in all the more. 


Sam Rothstein

De Niro, Scorsese and Pesci – it’s a combination that has come together time and again over the decades, but the 1995 film Casino is often overlooked compared with the thematically similar Goodfellas. Over recent years, as casino table games have become part of everyday life in the online age, so the casino movie genre has attracted renewed attention. De Niro’s character is every bit as flawed, dangerous and compelling as Jimmy Conway, but by the mid 90s, there was an added gravitas that only years could bring. And the casino setting is just the icing on the cake.


Travis Bickle

You talkin’ to me? It’s one of the most imitated lines in movie history, but let’s face it, none of us can deliver it like De Niro. His character in Taxi Driver was a departure from the usual hard man persona, and Bickle had more than his share of personal demons. But that added air of unpredictability only served to make him all the more menacing and memorable. 


Jack Byrnes

When Meet the Parents was announced, there were plenty who expected it to be compelling for all the wrong reasons, like a road accident from which you cannot look away. Robert De Niro in a comedy role? Alongside Ben Stiller? No, no and thrice no. What did we know? Not only does De Niro show a little-suspected instinct for comic timing, he also infuses his character with that dangerous edge we know so well. The result is a light comedy that has very dark streaks running through it. 


Jake LaMotta

Raging Bull was the fourth collaboration between De Niro and Martin Scorsese. They went on to work together six more times (so far) yet at the time, Scorsese intended this to be his swan song. Somehow, you can feel this sense of things coming to an end throughout the movie. De Niro has played plenty of characters teetering on the edge of destruction, but never has it been so visceral as in this 1980 classic. It rightfully earned De Niro an Oscar, and 40 years on, his partnership with Scorsese continues to thrive. 

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