Top 5 Robert De Niro Films Of The 1970’s

There is no doubt that Robert De Niro is one of the most talented, fearless and ferocious actors of the last forty plus years. It is with this in mind that has lead me to my most recent top 5 list, or should I say lists. I have decided to break down Robert De Niro’s career, decade by decade with a top 5 list for every decade he has been relevant in the business.

This top 5 list will begin with the decade in which De Niro blazed on the scene and quickly became one of the most respected actors, the 1970’s. De Niro’s work was fairly limited in the 70’s but not at all to be forgotten as some of his most moving and unforgettable films would be made in the 70’s. Without any more build up, here are Robert De Niro’s best films of the 1970’s.

5. Bang The Drum Slowly

De Niro plays a baseball player with a fatal illness who forms a strong bond with one pitcher on the team. This was the first film in which people really took notice of De Niro and his acting ability. Based on a New York baseball team, it would be a fellow New Yorker that would cement him and begin his legacy.

4. Mean Streets

This would prove to be one of the most pivotal films in Robert De Niro’s career. It aligned him with a young visionary director named Martin Scorsese. The marriage of Scorsese and De Niro would prove to be one of the most prolific in Hollywood history. This pairing will appear many more times as these lists are written. Mean Streets is a raw, real look at life and crime in early 70’s New York City.

3. Taxi Driver

The second film made with Scorsese is the second film on the list. Playing Travis Bickle was a total master performance. Robert De Niro is absolutely terrifying and intense as the outcast cab driver who has crazy intentions and lives an odd life. Set in New York City it again portrays a scene in New York at the time it was filmed that people were not used to seeing and becoming afraid of.

2. The Godfather II

Playing one of the most iconic characters in film history, Vito Corleone, Robert De Niro would take home his first Academy Award. As a young Vito, his role would be spoken almost exclusively in Italian, which De Niro learned just for the role. This is the first and only time, two actors won Oscars for playing the same role. The Godfather II would go on to make De Niro a household name and star.

1. The Deer Hunter

The character of Michael and the film The Deer Hunter are quite possibly the most emotional in film history. Robert DeNiro is nothing shy of brilliant and fortunate to be surrounded by maybe the best performance by an ensemble cast ever. With memorable scenes like the Russian roulette scene and when Michael visits Steven in the hospital, he quite possibly became the greatest actor of his time. De Niro was never so emotional talking about a film as he was when he received his AFI life achievement award and spoke about his scene with John Savage when he visited him in the hospital, De Niro broke down in tears. That was enough to place this film at the top of all the movies he made in the 1970’s.

The Deer Hunter Is An Overlooked Masterpiece

Robert De Niro has made many, many iconic films in his time that will live on for generations. No film may be more overlooked than The Deer Hunter. The films span time periods, decades and cultures. The list is long and distinguished, and for a good reason, he made brilliant films with brilliant performances and chose brilliant scripts. Any filmmaker could create a masterpiece with De Niro in his prime. One filmmaker took full advantage of his opportunity to do so.

Michael Cimino’s second film was the period at the end of a long sentence that was the Vietnam War. The Deer Hunter may have been the most, sadly forgotten movie by many, as it’s rarely shown on television and certainly not on pay cable channels. It was the darkest side of the war that everyone knew was terrible, dark, sad and cruel.
The story is that of several Pennsylvania steel worker friends and what happens when three of them are proudly shipped off to Vietnam and leave their small blue-collar town behind. After being captured POW’s and facing the horror of what a POW goes through they struggle to return home and find any sense of normalcy.

The Deer Hunter took much criticism at the time of its release, and since for it’s most controversial scenes during the POW’s capture. The prisoners are forced to play Russian Roulette for sport for the Vietcong to gamble over. The film then shows the effects of the forced roulette has on the three surviving veterans. The controversy is over whether or not these things happened or if this was a figment of the imagination of the screenwriter. The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter. The scenes were shown for one reason only, and that’s to show how harrowing and horrific this war was, and ALL wars are. These powerful scenes that are even hard to watch no matter how many times you see them are like that, so they make the most profound impact on the viewer and reach them to show the ferocity of war.

American actors (left to right) Christopher Walken as Nick, Robert De Niro as Michael, Chuck Aspegren as Axel, John Savage as Steven and John Cazale (1935 – 1978) as Stan in a promotional portrait for ‘The Deer Hunter’, directed by Michael Cimino, 1978. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

When Robert De Niro was awarded the AFI lifetime achievement award in 2003 with a special ceremony, they touched on most of his films and showed clips of interviews where he discussed his movies. During no other discussion was he nearly as emotional as he was when he talked about The Deer Hunter and the effect it had on him. He was nominated for every award across the board but won very few, sadly.

Christopher Walken emerged as a star for his role as Nick. Nick becomes disconnected from reality and stays in Saigon and begins playing roulette for money and the thrill, not realizing his actions and what he has left behind at home. It’s only when Michael (De Niro) returns to Saigon to attempt to bring his friend home does he briefly see his friend through his jaded and fogged view of life.

Michael Cimino never achieved anything close to The Deer Hunter in his career again, nor does he ever have to. His film left an indelible mark on the minds of those who saw and those who continue to discover it. While the film will be remembered for its terrifying roulette scenes and Walken’s stunning performance, it will also be known for bringing Meryl Streep to the forefront of the movie world and being the last work of John Cazale who was in some of the most pivotal movies of the decade. It was the sad and last word on a horrific time in American history. The film is not a perfect film, but all of its aspects together from the story and the emotions it draws on to the acting to it’s most beautifully haunting musical score, it’s a movie that couldn’t be made any better.

Many artists make many many pieces and rarely are they masterpieces let alone one of them. Filmmakers are artists, and many of them don’t create masterpieces, Michael Cimino didn’t make too many films, but he has the distinct privilege of having made a true masterpiece, no matter how dark and depressing or sad it may be considered. It was indeed a piece that had to be crafted and, and it was done with a perfect stroke by its artist’s hand