One thing you’ll notice about this list of the five best Robert De Niro movies is that none of them came out in the last two decades. That’s not to say he hasn’t been in any good movies during that time. We were big fans of “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” in particular. His best acting, though, has been at the directorial hands of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.
- "Taxi Driver." Taxi Driver is De Niro’s greatest accomplishment, Scorsese’s greatest accomplishment, screenwriter Paul Schrader’s greatest accomplishment, and one of cinema’s greatest accomplishments. This story of a mentally disturbed, New York cabbie is also largely the story of New York City, and so it took a talent as large as De Niro’s to make it work. Could it have been made without De Niro? Perhaps. But thank goodness it wasn’t.
- "The Godfather: Part II." Number two on the list of the best Robert De Niro movies is the only movie on the list that wasn’t directed by Martin Scorsese. That’s no accident; De Niro was very much Scorsese’s muse. He has turned in many excellent performances in non-Scorsese films, though, and chief among those was the second film in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” trilogy. He also dodged a bullet by not being associated with the disappointing final movie in the trilogy.
- "Goodfellas." Perhaps the best-known and best-loved gangster movie outside the “Godfather” trilogy is Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” There were a number of memorable performances in this film, including the often-parodied character of Tommy DeVito played manically by Joe Pesci. Pesci may have gotten the best lines, but De Niro was also outstanding as DeVito’s more reserved counterpart Jimmy “The Gent” Conway His performance was memorable enough to make this one of the best Robert De Niro movies.
- "The King of Comedy." Although he was positively sane in comparison to Pesci’s character in “Goodfellas,” De Niro has always been at his finest when playing deeply unstable characters himself. “The King of Comedy,” despite its name, was as dark a character study as the other Scorsese films De Niro starred in. Straying from the oft-used gangster genre, “The King of Comedy” followed the exploits of celebrity stalker and aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin as he tries to parlay an encounter with talk show host Jerry Langford (played by real-life comedian Jerry Lewis) into a show business breakthrough. Whether or not he succeeded depends on how you interpret the ending. Did he finally get the fame he desired or was it all the delusion of a warped mind? Either way, it was a great movie.
- "Raging Bull." De Niro often played brooding characters for whom mental instability lurked beneath the surface, ready to explode at any moment. In “Raging Bull,” De Niro played a man who was a constant explosion of intensity and rage. Based on the true story of boxer Jake LaMotta, “Raging Bull” reunited the dream team of De Niro, Scorsese, and Schrader. It is a sports movie without all the feel-good sentimentality usually found in sports movies, and it is one of the best Robert De Niro movies ever made.