As Robert De Niro turns 80, fans await his latest role 2
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As Robert De Niro turns 80, we look back at his most outstanding performances

The New Yorker is often hailed as the best US actor of our time
Jochen K├╝rten | Philipp Jedicke | Aug 22 2023

Is Robert De Niro the best American screen actor? Some movie critics, especially those who remember the 1970s and '80s, would unequivocally say "yes." They'd say the question is pointless. Who could possibly compare?

One thing is certain: the New York-born actor has made so many masterful appearances on the big screen, won so much praise and received so many awards that it would be impossible to leave his name off the list of America's best movie actors.

 

Immortal duo: Scorsese and De Niro

Above all, it's the eight films De Niro shot with director Martin Scorsese that have made him immortal — "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull," "Goodfellas" and "Casino," to name but a few.

From the get-go, De Niro showed his brilliance as a solid but slender character who could oscillate between sensitivity and violence. Entire scenes played out on his face.

De Niro (right) and director Martin Scorsese have developed a decadeslong friendship and creative partnership
De Niro (right) and director Martin Scorsese have developed a decadeslong friendship and creative partnership. Image: Thierry Carpico/ATP/picture alliance

De Niro is often praised by other actors for his charisma and skill. He can convey meaning just by moving an eyebrow, slightly raising the corner of his mouth or wrinkling his forehead.

This came in handy as his career first got off the ground, when De Niro was mainly cast in gangster and Mafia films, often in brutal and violent roles.

He used variants of these subtle acting skills in the second half of his career, where he tried his hand at several comedies.

 

From gangster flicks to rom-coms

But not everything De Niro touched has succeeded. After his great films with Scorsese, there were about a dozen films in which the actor seemed to rest on his laurels. Sometimes his facial expressions suddenly appeared a little too routine and prepared. Even so, De Niro was still convincing in more lighthearted roles.

A flair for comedy: De Niro starred in 'About My Father' in 2023
A flair for comedy: De Niro starred in 'About My Father' in 2023. Image: Dan Anderson/Lionsgate/AP Photo/picture alliance

The 2000 comedy "Meet the Parents" reaped millions at the box office, and in "Midnight Run" and "Analyze This," De Niro left audiences in stitches. Even in supporting roles, the character actor shone through — his performance in Quentin Taratino's "Jackie Brown" must be singled out in this regard.

 

New Yorker through and through

The American has been awarded two Oscars, one as best supporting actor in "The Godfather Part II," and one for his brilliant lead role as boxer Jake LaMotta in "Raging Bull."

Several other times he's earned nominations for many of Hollywood's top awards. Even so, Hollywood is not his favorite playground. A New Yorker through and through, De Niro grew up there, as did his favorite director, Scorsese, and De Niro has made many of his best films there.

It was in New York that De Niro, a media-shy actor who shuns interviews, established the Tribeca Festival in 2002 with producer Jane Rosenthal. Named after the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, it has become one of the most successful and important events for independent artists.

De Niro, who was jury president at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, is a popular guest at film festivals
De Niro, who was jury president at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, is a popular guest at film festivals. Image: Getty Images/AFP/V. Hache

Reunion with Scorsese: 'The Irishman'

In 2019, De Niro gave his fans around the world a big present: "The Irishman" was — with the exception of a short film — his first collaboration with Scorsese after many years. Perhaps predictably, it was a Mafia film.

Co-starring with Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel, De Niro plays a contract killer. The storyline unfolds mainly in flashbacks and is thus also a kind of retrospective of a magnificent career. It was a hit with both fans and critics. That same year, De Niro also turned in a convincing performance alongside Joaquin Phoenix in "Joker."

As De Niro turns 80 on Thursday, he shows no sign of retiring from acting. In October 2023, "Killers of the Flower Moon" will be released, his 11th collaboration with Scorsese, who marked his own 80th birthday in 2022.

This article was originally written in German and was first published in 2018. It was updated in August 2023.

Edited by: Louisa Schaefer