The 10 best Robert Deniro films

Published: November 13, 2013

This is a list of the best overall movies of Robert Deniro's career in terms of all-around quality of the film (not specifically of Deniro's acting). Although this list is subjective it contains most of the films that critics agree are his best.

  1. The Godfather Part II

    The third highest rated film on IMDB.com, there is still intense debate over whether it is better than its predecessor, which is itself considered by many to be the best film of all time. Deniro became the first person to win an acting Oscar for a role that someone else had already won an acting Oscar for (Marlon Brando). His performance is a strong part of a classic film.

  2. Heat

    This movie captured the first time that two of the most iconic actors of their generation (Al Pacino and Deniro) had appeared on screen together. Previously they both starred in the first movie on this list, but shared no screen time. Although this film may be most remembered for the iconic downtown bank robbery that spills out onto the streets of Los Angeles, what makes this film great is witnessing the parallels of Pacino's detective and Deniro's criminal characters as they both try to do what they are best at, on opposite sides of the law.

  3. Cape Fear

    This remake of the noir classic manages to retain some of the creepier elements of the original, including the musical theme and the sleaziness of the Cady character, while adding horror thanks to the more flexible R rating of the 90s. There is also an element of ambiguity not present in the original with the character of Sam Bowden, Cady's attorney turned prey. Some scenes are too bloody and violent for television but the real terror comes from the tension before the blood.

  4. Raging Bull

    Considered a masterpiece of filmmaking, Deniro's most notable contribution to this role was the weight gain and loss he undertook to play boxer Jake Lamotta in different stages of his life. This was the introduction to popular audiences of the Deniro/Joe Pesci tandem that would later be seen in Goodfellas and Casino. From watching their interactions in this, you find no reason to ever trust their characters' relationship in subsequent movies. To this day many people feel that Scorsese has not surpassed this film.

  5. Taxi Driver

    More of a character study than any other film on this list, there is no time where the film does not reflect its main character's psyche and Travis Bickle is only understandable to the viewer based on what Deniro shows us on screen. There is no time where the audience can predict what his next action will be because he is his own unique, broken mind. As a result we can only await the eventual crash and burn of his character but have no idea how it will occur until we witness Deniro actually meet his fate.

  6. Ronin

    Everything in this thriller comes secondary to David Mamet's script, and that includes Deniro's performance as the main character, an "independent contractor" in the criminal underworld hired to carry out a job with other assembled criminals from across Europe and the United States. Beyond the script this film is most admired for its two memorable car chase scenes, but inbetween the action and the plot-driven dialogue there is a lot owed to Deniro's credibility as a mysterious operative who is determined to pull off his mission despite a fuzzy cloud of international intrigue and several villains out to thwart him. 

  7. The Deer Hunter

    The story told in The Deer Hunter is one of desolation and as a result Deniro spends a lot of time silent and alone on screen. The film spans several years in the lives of a group of friends, namely two men played by Deniro and Christopher Walken. Three of the friends are to leave for Vietnam shortly, and eventually two come back, one of them paralyzed, while Walken's wherabouts are unknown. Deniro's character cannot adjust to civilian life knowing that he left Walken's character behind, and in the film's final act he sets out to find him. The film is mostly remembered for its intense Russian roulette scenes, but the bulk of the film is spent on Deniro, showing how this part of his life is the climax overshadows everything before and after.

  8. Brazil

    This film is more story-driven than any other on this list, and Deniro does not play a starring role. However the screenplay is so original that Brazil manages to break through a number of iconic films to establish its place on this list. Terry Gilliam is unafraid to take the audience on a journey that goes where most films aren't supposed to go, and perhaps that's why when you get to the ending you think to yourself that it's just not fair.

  9. Goodfellas

    Scorsese may have managed to pigeonhole both his and Deniro's career with this film, as it became such an icon of 'Mafia' lore that the long relationship between the actor and director was forgotten in the eyes of the public. The Godfather came before, and The Sopranos came after, but both of those franchises dealth with the mob as a metaphor for family, whereas Goodfellas took a different view. When you aren't actually truly family, then what keeps you loyal? The narrator Henry Hill at the end of the film explains that the relationships of the various mafiosos rest on the fact that they are all "good fellas" but as the film shows, there is nothing good they are willing to do for each other when worst comes to worst.

  10. The King of Comedy

    A character study of a bizarre wannabe comedian who hasn't had much success in life and has placed his chips on making it as a stand up comic, at all costs. In this case, making it means being invited to perform stand up on the most popular late night talk show, and when he has a chance to meet the host played by Jerry Lewis, he decides to make his dream happen via abduction if he has no other choice. The reason this film makes the list is because in retrospect, it isn't so much about Deniro's insane character, but about an insane segment of society obsessed with celebrity that grows larger with each generation. At the end it is unclear as to whether Deniro's character is hallucinating or not over his newfound fame. If the events of the film happened today, there would be no question, he really would be famous.

Robert Deniro has had a long, storied career, but among the gems there are 10 that stand above the others. And atop that list is The Godfather Part II, a film that not only shows the greatest of Deniro's acting, but is also one of the greatest films ever made.