1. The Godfather Part 2 (1974)
De Niro plays a young Vito Corleone, in the second of Francis Ford Copolla’s masterpiece trilogy, as the movie cuts from back and forth from the rise of Michael Corleone to the rise of Vito Corleone from humble Italian immigrant to mafia don. His performance won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Interesting fact: De Niro had previously auditioned for the roles of Sonny Corleone, Michael Corleone, Carlo Rizzi and Paulie Gatto in The Godfather part one
2. Raging Bull (1980)
He was cast by Martin Scorsese to play the boxer Jake LaMotta in the film memoir of the boxer. It featured at then unknown, Joe Pesci as Joey, LaMotta’s brother and manager who attempts to help him fight his inner demons. The film came about when De Niro read the LaMotta’s autobiography, and instantly became fascinated by the character and convinced an ailing Scorsese to make the film, which incidentally revitalised his career.
Interesting fact: It is commonly known that De Niro put on approximately 70 pounds to play the role of LaMotta in the aftermath of his career.
3. Taxi Driver (1976)
Set in New York City, DeNiro plays Travis Bickle, a former Marine who becomes a Taxi Driver to combat his insomnia, and then what he encounters as he goes about his job and the type of person he evolves into. It describes Bickle’s loneliness in a City full of excitement, and the effect it has on him driving him to the most extreme fantasies and to the verge of assassinating a U.S. Senator to rescuing a child prostitute from her pimp.
Interesting fact:The film heavily influenced John Hinckley Jr, who attempted to assinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
4. The Deer Hunter (1978)
Co-written and directed by Michael Cimino, De Niro plays Michael, a Rusyn American Steel worker, who along with two friends who serve in the Vietnam War. The movie takes place in their home town of Clairton, south of Pittsburgh, and then following in Vietnam during the war. It focuses on the moral and mental consequences of war and the effects of patriotism upon traditional values in a tight-knit community.
Interesting fact: De Niro prepared himself for this movie by hanging out with steelworkers, in their homes and bars. He claims this is the most physically exhausting movie he has ever done and that the scene where Michael visits Steve in hospital, the most emotional scene he has ever been a part of.
Based on the non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, Goodfellas portrays the rise and fall of three gangsters over three decades, Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). De Niro was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor, with Pesci winning for Best Supporting Actor for the movie which was critically acclaimed and earned $46.8 million at the box office.
Interesting fact: Martin Scorsese let the actors improvise and ad-lib throughout the rehearsals and then he took the lines that the actors came up with to revise the script. An example is the ‘what’s so funny about me’ scene, which is based on an actual even that happened to Joe Pesci and was worked on and improvised in rehearsals before being inserted into the script.