Robert De Niro’s Best 90s Movies, Ranked

robert de niro cemented his on-screen legacy early in his career. Quickly, De Niro found the right director to be a muse. Featured in Brian De Palma’s early works, winning gold with Francis Ford Coppola as he played the iconic Don Vito Corleone during his rise to power in The Godfather Part II, and then, of course, his partnership with Martin Scorsese. The partnership between Scorsese and De Niro eliminated two classics in Taxi driver and angry bull. That kind of career, in 1981, would have been good enough to end his legend, having already won two Oscars before the age of 40.


De Niro wouldn’t stop there, however. His run in the 90s is unprecedented for a star of his age and that well in his career. During that decade, De Niro was nominated for two Oscars, starred in seven films that grossed over $100 million at the worldwide box office, and appeared in 24 films in total. That is, the man went to work. There’s a reason he’s considered one of the big screen’s greatest actors and the 1990s proves it. Here are De Niro’s best movies of the 90s, ranked.

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11 Analyze it

De Niro is not only one of the great dramatic actors to ever work, but his great ability to find subversion in his violent tempers for dark comedy has made his career long. Like with midnight race, De Niro can downplay all the rage of his previous criminal and cop roles and turn it into a gag or self-parody. Co-starred with comic icon Billy Crystal for Analyze it, De Niro went through Sopranos schtick therapy and turned his mafia attitude into a wounded man for comedic effect. Hitting the typical beats but sticking the knife for a laugh instead, the therapy angle proved a box office hit — $176.9 million — spawning a less-funny sequel.

ten cop lands

Even in a supporting role with a cast of heavyweight actors (Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Sylvester Stallone), De Niro can carve out memorable scene after memorable scene. Battling the corrupt forces of dirty cops taking over a small New Jersey town, director James Mangold quickly transforms this modern crime and makes cop lands a Western. As De Niro screams his way into the deaf ears of Stallone’s life, the two hit it off, breaking bad cops and forging a partnership of mutual respect.

Related: Best James Mangold Movies, Ranked

9 the fan

Channeling the inner psycho of one of cinema’s greats, De Niro, Tony Scott’s the fan turns insane sports fanaticism into its coveted brand of action spectacle. Following a disgruntled salesman Gil (De Niro) who terrifies everyone he meets. However, his obsession with new San Francisco Giants center back Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes) is what drives the film‘s almost laughable premise. What makes the film stand out is the hilarious display of De Niro’s madness. But also because of Scott’s commitment to the material, he turns baseball games into great art, showcasing the beauty of the game and the absurd nature of fandom. The scenes with De Niro and Snipes are excellent, as Scott lets the actors cook, building up the tension to its grim endpoint.

8 Walk the dog

At Barry Levinson’s Walk the dog, two movie giants team up in a political satire that shows the relative ease with which media gilders can manufacture consent to war. De Niro and Dustin Hoffman play two egomaniacs who laugh through the manipulation of public perception of war and presidential scandal. The two create a fake war, distracting from the wrongdoing and sexual misconduct of the men in charge of the country. Both the film and the story hilariously show how easily our public outlook is swayed.

seven Ronin

John Frankenheimer’s car chase detective film written by the mighty pen of David Mamet, Ronin is a mechanized adrenaline rush that turns the streets of Europe into guerrilla warfare. Following a group of robbers led by De Niro and Jean Reno, who take the job from an Irish outfit, double crosses and betrayal ensue. Besides Mamet’s obvious -isms, he imbues the dialogue with his classic writing, and Frankenheimer’s decision to skip all digital VFX when going analog makes the film whiplash. The car chases, the explosions, De Niro firing a bazooka through the sunroof of an old BMW – the film is a sight to behold. All with De Niro’s cool charisma leading the way as he bites through the dialogue to finish the job and save his neck.

6 alarm clocks

Coupled with the endearing warmth of Robin Williams as a doctor seeking to breathe new life into his catatonic patients, De Niro takes his method of action to new depths as the first to receive the treatment. Diving in and learning to do simple things like throw a tennis ball, De Niro’s patient character shows Williams the simple pleasures and joys of life as the two form a bond deeper than patient-to-doctor. alarm clocks saw De Niro nominated for Best Actor, but his co-star, Williams, was snubbed.

5 Casino

The spiritual sequel to Freedmen, Casino is essentially a commentary on capitalism running amok in Sin City, but shot with the eye of a man who can style violence and decadence better than most. Once again Scorsese casts De Niro with Joe Pesci, but surrounds them with an incredible cast including Sharon Stone and the great Don Rickles in a surprising twist. Casino is a constant spiral of a movie, a whirlwind of backstabbing that threatens the way the crowd operates. The film skips power grabs and brutal negotiations involving a handful vice, and Scorsese goes wild to create another incredible story of mob violence, based on real events in 1970s Las Vegas.

4 A Bronx Tale

De Niro’s debut film is a coming-of-age story set in the Italian neighborhoods of the Bronx, where gangsters rule and working-class people must protect their families from the influence of criminals. De Niro directs himself as a local bus driver, shrugging off the influence of the violent and charismatic Sonny (a sensational Chazz Palminteri). Sonny begins to bring C (Lillo Brancato) into his world. The “Worker” because the real badass must show the youngsters that the quick way to riches is not a rewarding way of life. De Niro nails the Bronx setting. A Bronx Tale became a seminal Italian-American text.

3 Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown was, in part, a revitalization of former blaxploitation star Pam Grier and the slow-burning plot and quick-witted dialogue machine that Elmore Leonard novels wield. Quentin Tarantino’s sequel to pulp Fiction was an exercise in subtlety. Without possessing the fantastical orgy of violence like most of his films, Taratino completed his film with an excellent ensemble. De Niro joins forces with drug dealer Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson) as they get caught up in Jackie’s scheme for her freedom and theft. Although De Niro isn’t the lead, his calm demeanor with classic rage bubbling beneath it makes his one time collaboration with Tarantino all the more memorable.

2 Heat

Heat is an epic crime saga of men on opposite sides of the law, but adorning the other with their dedication to their craft. The De Niro and Al Pacino pairing was a masterstroke by maestro Michael Mann that culminated in a legendary dinner scene which was then followed by shootings to end all movie bank robberies, one-punch fierce that would cement the film’s legacy. Heat is a definitive heist movie and a definitive movie of the 90s. De Niro was on fire in 1995 releasing this and Casino in the same year.

Related: Michael Mann Is ‘Bored’ With Modern Action Movies, Explains Why Heat 2 Belongs On The Big Screen

1 Freedmen

The key to De Niro’s performance as Jimmy Conway in Freedmen is its introduction. Immediately seen as a figure of narrator Henry Hill’s envy, De Niro’s cool is explosive, boastful and murderous. Jimmy Conway is respected as an Irishman in a gang where only pure-blooded Italians make it to the top. Freedmen is one of great mafia movies ever madeand De Niro fits right into the smoldering allure of the mafia lifestyle.


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