Whether he is referred to in a professional setting as Mr. De Niro or called “Bob” or “Bobby” by his friends and colleagues, Robert De Niro undeniably brings quite a presence when he walks into a room. He also has quite the presence when he appears on-screen. Hollywood seems to agree, as he more recently got his ninth Academy Award nomination for Killers of the Flower Moon. De Niro is in a class all his own, but it’s not every year that you can make a film that assists with enhancing your legacy, or can you?
De Niro has a long list of films that may have gone overlooked by his fans or cinephiles who look at his work in such high regard. The occasional comedy or action film that looked like just another paycheck for De Niro may need another reexamining from time to time. Maybe some of the films on this list of his more underrated works don’t hold the political weight of something like Killers of the Flower Moon, but they definitely are films where he didn’t just phone it in.
10 Everybody’s Fine (2009)
In Everybody’s Fine, De Niro plays a widower named Frank Goode, who learns that family traditions can break easily after a major death. His grown children, who traditionally come and visit for the holidays, can’t make it out to be with him. So, against doctors’ orders due to health issues, Frank goes out to travel and see them instead. On his travels to see his grown kids, he reconnects in ways he may not have expected.
Is Everybody Really Fine, Though?
Judging by the trailer above, one may think that this is a touching comedy with superficial themes that have no real substance in them to stay with anyone who’s ever seen it. If you want to look at it that way, then go ahead, but the truth is that Everybody’s Fine is indeed an overlooked, heartwarming film about how parents view their children and vice versa.
Movies about life’s little dilemmas are often overlooked because they have a cheesiness to them and are made in a shallow way. Yet, De Niro, as a widower trying to connect with his kids, has a lot of merit and depth to it. Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale, and Drew Barrymore are very well cast. Some may not know this, but Everybody’s Fine is a remake of the 1990 Italian film, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore named Stanno Tutti Bene.
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9 Stardust (2007)
Directed by Matthew Vaughn before he really got to be Matthew Vaughn, Stardust is a fantasy film adapted from Neil Gaiman about a young man in a rural town that sits next to a magical place. A young man promises to retrieve a fallen star for the woman he loves. By doing that, he ventures into a magical land.
If you want to see Robert De Niro in a pink dress, then look no further than Stardust. Captain Shakespeare is his character, the head of a flying pirate ship, and it feels like a role usually outside the typical De Niro norm. His career was in a different phase than it had been in the past. Scorsese was busy with Leonardo DiCaprio; the tough guy roles were a little campy.
Stardust feels like it should be a box office bomb and one of the worst films of all time. But time has been kind to it, as many treat it like many cult fantasy films that people go back to. De Niro is one of the many names in this ensemble cast that are a real treat to watch.
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8 Cop Land (1997)
Cop Land is a crime drama about a suburban New Jersey sheriff (Sylvester Stallone) who falls into an investigation about the framing of a racially charged murder that is covered up by corrupt New York City police detectives. He is aided in his investigation by an internal affairs officer, Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro).
Cop Land was a film that felt like it had some Oscar bait for Stallone that never materialized in it. Still, it’s a gritty, smart crime drama where all the characters, good and bad, feel like they embody the lifestyle of New York City police detectives. De Niro looks like an internal affairs investigator who acts like he has been around the block dealing with dirty cops before. He’s the bridge between Stallone and his ability to bring down corruption.
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7 Flawless (1999)
Flawless stars Robert De Niro plays Walt Koontz, a former security guard who suffers from a stroke. When he returns home, he must seek out a vocal coach to help him regain his speech. He gets paired with Rusty, a flamboyantly gay man who is in the process of transitioning into a woman. Walt is extremely homophobic, and the two don’t start on the right foot.
Two Acting Greats and Joel Schumacher
Flawless is a bit polarizing by today’s standards, yet it’s underseen in a sense. Some would argue that this takes a superficial level at gay culture and a topic, and yet it stars two of our finest actors, Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman. De Niro does play things on the safe side in the role, but his arc of a man coming to terms with different people’s lifestyles is an interesting take; it’s really Hoffman’s performance that carries the film. Some would argue that the direction of this film is what hurts it. Joel Schumacher, is known for his subtle nods in his films in regards to his sexuality. Flawless, puts it on full display.
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6 Angel Heart (1987)
Angel Heart is a noir that turns dark as the film begins to unravel itself. It stars Mickey Rourke as a private detective who is hired by a mysterious man by the name of Louis Cypher (Robert De Niro) to hunt down a famous jazz singer who has gone missing. His investigation takes him from New York City to New Orleans, where he learns that the subject of his investigation dabbles in black arts and voodoo.
The Devil Personified
De Niro only has a little bit of screen time in Angel Heart, and yet he’s all over the promotional art for the movie. As Angel Heart goes on, we learn that Rourke’s character Harry Angel was hired by Cypher for a certain reason, and it shocks you once it is revealed. De Niro has had a few misfires in the horror genre over the years, but Angel Heart has a twist that you most likely will actually wish you saw coming, because it becomes so obvious once the credits roll. The kicker is that, while you’re watching it, you never spot it coming.
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5 This Boys Life (1993)
Set in the 1950s, This Boys Life, is about a boy named Toby (Leonardo DiCaprio) who moves with his mother to Washington State. There, Toby’s mom, Caroline (Ellen Barkin), meets Dwight (Robert De Niro). The two fall in love, and all is right in the world. As time passes, Dwight’s disciplinary actions towards Toby begin to create a rift in the household.
De Niro and DiCaprio
30 years after this movie came out, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro would pair up for Killers of the Flower Moon; here they are opposite one another as stepdad and stepson. Tobias Wolff’s memoir was adapted incredibly well, as it moves like a fictional drama but has beats that hit hard. It’s a tale of the harsh realities of boyhood and how children are molded by the environment they are in.
De Niro takes his tough guy persona you find comedic in films like Goodfellas, and wow’s you with his abusive nature in this, and yet from his character’s perspective, Dwight thinks he’s toughening up his stepson. The most memorable quote from Wolff’s memoir that sums this story up perfectly is, “When we are green, still half created, we believe that our dreams are rights, and the world is disposed to act in our best interests.”
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4 Ronin (1998)
- Release Date
- September 25, 1998
- John Frankenheimer
Ronin has De Niro playing Sam, an ex-intelligence officer who leads a team tasked with obtaining a mysterious briefcase. As the mission begins to kick into high gear, Sam begins to see some other members of his team as untrustworthy, thus leading to a lot of fun car chases throughout the streets of Paris.
Ronin has one of the most iconic car chase scenes in any movie in the last 25 years. With POV-tracking shots throughout it that rival The French Connection, Ronin is a great contribution to the great car chases in movies. As for De Niro’s performance, it is overlooked for the sole reason that he had yet to do a European-feeling crime thriller before Ronin and has yet to do one since, and he’s perfect in this world. Seeing De Niro play a government agent in a fast-paced action film could have become a failed sore spot in his career, but people really love Ronin.
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3 Sleepers (1996)
With an A-list cast that includes Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, Jason Patric, Minnie Driver, and Dustin Hoffman, Sleepers is a brilliant drama that tells the story of a prank that goes incredibly wrong for a group of kids who are then sent off to a detention center. When they grow up, a chance at revenge for the issue that put them away arises.
De Niro’s Aura Shines
Based on the novel of the same name that was based on a true story, Sleepers was adapted by Barry Levinson, and De Niro shines under his direction in a different kind of role. In this phase of his career, De Niro, when starring in a crime drama, wanted to avoid “wise guy” roles and go with a change of pace. His character, Father Bobby, is one of the moral compasses of the movie, which is the opposite of the organized crime lifestyle of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. De Niro’s presence and aura shine widely as one of the most compelling performances in the whole film.
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2 Awakenings (1990)
Awakenings takes place in a Bronx hospital in the 1960s, Dr. Malcolm Sayer finds an antidote for many patients who have become catatonic for many years. His main test subject, Leonard Lowe, advances far beyond his expectations, as he becomes a fairly healed person who can go about his life now. All of this is based on a true story.
Best Actor Nomination
Of the many times Robert De Niro has been nominated for an Academy Award, Awakenings feels like an overlooked performance. De Niro’s believable performance of a catatonic patient who is revived due to Dr. Sayer’s stimuli is eye-opening. He is believable in a catatonic state, believable while he transitions into a man who can function in everyday life, believable as a man who awakes from his physical struggles, and unfortunately very believable with what happens to him by the film’s end. De Niro and Williams are perfect together, using one another as springboards to better one another in all their scenes together.
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1 A Bronx Tale (1993)
In this story of adolescence and coming of age during a turbulent time, A Bronx Tale is about a young man who gets taken under the wing of the neighborhood mob boss. This lifestyle of gangland violence conflicts with the lessons his father, a blue-collar working man who drives a bus, instilled in him from a very young age.
Directed by Robert De Niro
De Niro, who plays Lorenzo Anello, Calogero’s father, directed this film, and it was written by Chazz Palminteri, who plays the mob boss of the neighborhood, Sonny. The power struggles over morals that a father tries to instill in his son are very heightened and emotional. De Niro’s great dramatic range is on full display here, but it’s also a well-made movie that shows De Niro was very versatile in knowing what makes a great film. It’s a great New York movie, something De Niro is accustomed to doing, and arguably his most underrated performance to date.
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