1. “Raging Bull” (1980)

IMDB Rating: 8.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 92%

Storyline: “Raging Bull” is a black and white film about the life of boxer Jake LaMotta. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film accounts for the colourful and violent life of the boxer outside the ring. It explores his relationships with his wife and brother and his self destructive streak leading to his fall.

Major Performance: The role is regarded among De Niro’s best performances ever. Not only did he convincingly portray the tough and violent character of LaMotta, he actually underwent severe physical transformations for the role. He trained with the actual LaMotta for months to get into shape and then later put on 60 pounds to play an older and out-of-shape version of the character in the later part of the film. His devotion to the role was uncanny and clearly visible in his performance.

De Niro’s remarkable transformation for the role is a testament to his dedication. He successfully imbued the character with a complex range of emotions, depicting LaMotta as both tragic and appalling. He managed to depict a character that’s as disturbing as he is empathetic. De Niro’s towering performance won him the Academy Award for Best Actor.

2. “The Godfather: Part II” (1974)

IMDB Rating: 9.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 97%

Storyline: “The Godfather: Part II” is the continuing saga of the Corleone family. It serves as both prequel and sequel to “The Godfather”, presenting parallel dramas of a young Vito Corleone (played by De Niro) fleeing Sicily to America in the early 1900s, and his son Michael as current head of the family in the 1950s.

Major Performance: De Niro’s portrayal of a young Vito Corleone was a performance that made him a world-renowned actor. He delivered the lines in Sicilian, focusing on Vito’s uncompromising strength and his severe, silent stare and capturing the essence of his character that Marlon Brando set in the first film.

Only two years into his career, De Niro played the character with such authenticity that it gave him his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In playing Vito Corleone, De Niro was able to show the humanity in a character who would become an intimidating force, showing the audience the depth and complexity of Vito before his rise to power.

3. “Taxi Driver” (1976)

IMDB Rating: 8.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%

Storyline: “Taxi Driver” follows a mentally disturbed Vietnam war veteran, Travis Bickle (played by De Niro), who works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City. Frustrated and disturbed by the decadence and sleaze he perceives in society, Bickle descends further into his psychosis and plots to assassinate both a presidential candidate and the pimp of an underage prostitute he befriends.

Major Performance: In this film, De Niro made famous the line, “You talkin’ to me?” in a scene that shows how deeply immersed he was in the role of Travis Bickle. His performance in the film is lauded as one of the most memorable in cinematic history.

De Niro’s method acting techniques shined in this film, as he spent time working as a taxi driver to better understand his character’s life. His portrayal of Bickle’s chilling descent into insanity still gives audiences shivers. The film earned him another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

4. “Goodfellas” (1990)

IMDB Rating: 8.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%

Storyline: “Goodfellas” is a film about Henry Hill, a half-Irish, half-Sicilian Brooklyn kid who is adopted by neighbourhood gangsters at an early age and climbs the ranks of a Mafia family under the guidance of Jimmy Conway (played by De Niro).

Major Performance: De Niro channels charisma, menace, and humour into the role of Jimmy Conway, a gangster who doesn’t think twice about killing, making him one of the memorable cinematic gangsters of all time.

The ease with which De Niro switches from being humorous to outright dangerous is applaudable. He gave Jimmy a sense of terrifying unpredictability that makes his performance, and thereby the movie, remarkable.

5. “The Deer Hunter” (1978)

IMDB Rating: 8.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 93%

Storyline: “The Deer Hunter” tells the story of a trio of Russian-American steelworkers whose lives are irrevocably changed after fighting in the Vietnam War. The same working-class men who came from the factories of the Rust Belt are sent halfway across the world to fight a war they don’t understand, a war that leaves indelible scars on their psyche.

Major Performance: De Niro shows his versatility in this film as Michael, a blue-collar worker-turned-soldier who has to deal with the aftermath of the war. His intense performance not only carried the dramatic weight of the film but also humanised the character, displaying a profound sense of struggle and traumatic in the aftermath of the war.

De Niro convincingly takes the viewers through an intense journey of courage, loyalty, and the meaningless brutality of war. His performance in “The Deer Hunter” is raw and powerful, one that is hailed as one of his most memorable roles.

6. “Casino” (1995)

IMDB Rating: 8.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 80%

Storyline: “Casino” follows the rise and fall of Sam “Ace” Rothstein (played by De Niro), a top gambling handicapper who is chosen by the mob to oversee the day-to-day operations at the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas.

Major Performance: De Niro’s nuanced performance stands out among a cast of talented actors in Casino. He breathes life into Ace, a smooth, well-dressed and articulate character who’s running the casino on behalf of mobsters. His shrewd portrayal brings depth to the mob-connected casino operator.

Despite the film’s violent content, De Niro keeps his character calm and composed. He plays Ace with an extraordinary blend of cool and explosiveness that has since become a trademark of his performances.

7. “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984)

IMDB Rating: 8.4/10

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86%

Storyline: The film is a saga of five decades of the lives of David “Noodles” Aaronson (played by De Niro) and his Jewish friends, chronicling their childhoods on New York’s Lower East Side in the 1920s, their gangster lifestyle during the 1930s, and their reunions in the 1960s.

Major Performance: De Niro gives a very nuanced performance in this film as Noodles, capable of casual cruelty and violence, yet also harboring a deep, unexpressed love for a woman he can’t have. He adds layers of complexity to his character, showing his transformation from a street-smart kid to a wary, regretful old man reminiscing about his past.

This is one of De Niro’s less flamboyant performances but it’s impressive in its discreetness. The subtlety of his expressions and the depth of his character work in “Once Upon a Time in America” are testaments to his remarkable acting prowess.

8. “Heat” (1995)

IMDB Rating: 8.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86%

Storyline: “Heat” follows the lives of two men on opposite sides of the law – a professional thief named Neil McCauley (played by De Niro) and Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (played by Al Pacino), who’s determined to catch him.

Major Performance: De Niro brings cool professionalism and sage wisdom to the role of Neil McCauley, a disciplined and meticulous career criminal. He portrays a man who sticks to his principles, living by a strict personal code.

De Niro’s restrained performance provided the film with gravity and emotional depth. His intense showdown scene with Pacino is hailed as one of the greatest in cinematic history, with the actors bringing out the best in each other.

9. “Cape Fear” (1991)

IMDB Rating: 7.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 75%

Storyline: “Cape Fear” is about Max Cady (played by De Niro), a psychopath who is just out of prison and is seeking revenge against his attorney, who intentionally botched key evidence that would’ve acquitted him years earlier and kept him out of jail.

Major Performance: As Max Cady, De Niro offers one of the most terrifying portrayals of a psychopath in film history. His intimidating physicality, combined with his eerie calmness, creates an unforgettable character that is both magnetic and unsettling to watch.

De Niro’s dedication shines through in this film, as he reportedly paid a dentist $5,000 to modify his teeth to look more menacing for the role. His chilling portrayal of a revenge-seeking criminal revitalised the thriller genre and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

10. “A Bronx Tale” (1993)

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%

Storyline: “A Bronx Tale” is a coming-of-age story about a young boy growing up in a working-class Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. The boy is torn between his hard-working, honest father (played by De Niro) and a violent yet charismatic mob boss who befriends him.

Major Performance: De Niro, who also made his directorial debut with this film, delivers a sincere performance as the father striving to instill values and integrity in his son in a neighborhood dominated by organized crime.

In a career often defined by portrayals of tough guys and gangsters, De Niro’s role as Lorenzo Anello offered a different perspective, that of a moral compass in a world of corruption. The grace with which he handled the role made it one of his most acclaimed performances.