Legendary actor Robert De Niro’s film catalog is like a master class in cinema’s best bad guys in history. Sure, some of his lighter fare has definitely fallen flat, but if anyone can play the guy you love to hate expertly, he is your guy. De Niro’s best bad guys run the gamut from your run-of-the-mill sociopaths to mafia kingpins, a tortured veteran, a casino boss and so many more. His Francis Ford Coppola canon alone is eight films deep (10 if you include the two movies they acted in together but Coppola did not direct).
The ultimate method actor, De Niro is known to lose himself in his roles. For Vito Corleone, he lived in Sicily for several months and learned the local dialects. For his iconic role in Taxi Driver, he got a cabbie’s license and drove a taxi 15 hours a day for a month while studying mental illnesses. Rumor has it he insisted on a live round in his gun during the infamous Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter and even wore the same style of silk underwear as Al Capone, made by Capone’s original tailors, in The Untouchables.
After such a long and storied career, what are his best bad guys? Check out this slideshow to see our votes.
Max Cady, ‘Cape Fear’
De Niro’s portrayal of vengeful sociopath Max Cady in Cape Fear still sends chills down our spines.
Jimmy Conway, ‘Goodfellas’
We see Jimmy participate in the murders of at least seven characters in this mob flick based on a true story.
Travis Bickle, ‘Taxi Driver’
Hero or villain? It’s a thin line when you become a self-proclaimed vigilante like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.
Young Vito Corleone, ‘The Godfather: Part II’
De Niro’s turn as Vito Corleone in his youth won him an Academy Award.
Jake ‘The Bronx Bull’ LaMotta, ‘Raging Bull’
De Niro trained for months to learn the boxing moves necessary for this role.
Michael Mann, ‘Heat’
“Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you’re not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat…” was De Niro’s mantra as thief Michael Mann.
Al Capone, ‘The Untouchables’
De Niro’s portrayal of real-life mobster Al Capone is over-the-top, just like the actual man.
Michael Vronsky, ‘The Deer Hunter’
De Niro’s role as a Vietnam vet tortured by his experiences in combat showed how different men react under pressure.
Johnny Boy, ‘Mean Streets’
De Niro’s unpredictable Johnny Boy DGAF about consequences.
Dwight Hansen, ‘This Boy’s Life’
De Niro is sadistic and deranged, emotionally and physically abusing Leonardo DiCaprio in this 1993 film.
Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, ‘Casino’
The Machiavellian casino boss deals cooly with both competition and his enemies.
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