Martin Scorsese is without a doubt one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, an author whose films are filled with violent intensity. Scorsese’s best films are generally considered to be his collaborations with Robert De Niro. Together, the two men made nine incredible, genre-defying, influential, realistic, and often extremely violent films that have influenced an entire generation of filmmakers. De Niro is an actor with a tremendous amount of intensity which Scorsese tapped into for his equally intense, brilliant films.
Many people consider the collaboration Taxi Driver to be the best film of all time. Not only did Taxi Driver feature Robert De Niro as star and Martin Scorsese as director, but it was written by writer / director Paul Schrader (co-writer of other Scorsese masterpieces like Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ) who is also a visionary artist directing films full of intensity and brutality (Affliction, Hardcore). Here is a ranking of the nine films in which Scorsese and De Niro collaborated to make cinema gold, the kind of movies you never forget.
9 New York, New York
Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York is different from his other collaborations with Robert De Niro because it is a musical drama. However, like their other collaborations, there are scenes of intensity and violence. De Niro stars as a jazz-playing saxophonist who enters both a personal and professional relationship with Liza Minnelli, who plays a jazz singer. Like several other collaborations, in particular The King of Comedy, Raging Bulland Taxi Driver, the film deals with success, fame, and becoming famous (or infamous). However, because the film has many highly stylized dance and music sequences it is quite different from, for example, Casino and these other films.
De Niro does an amazing job playing a person with serious personal and interpersonal relationship problems, and in this way, it is like his other collaborations with the director. As in Mean Streets, De Niro is not the main character but with his tremendous acting he steals the film and gives us a dazzling portrait of a complicated musician. Like every Scorsese film, this is a visual masterpiece and certainly one of the best musicals in film history.
8 Mean Streets
Mean Streets was the first collaboration between the director and actor, back in 1973. Like almost all Scorsese films, it takes place and was filmed in New York City. The film is about low-level New York mobsters and features other Scorsese favorites such as Harvey Keitel, who was also in Taxi Driver and The Irishman. De Niro is not the main character of the film, he is just the guy who steals the film because you can not take your eyes off him and his crazy antics and life.
In this great ’70s crime film, he plays Johnny Boy, a troubled gambler in some serious debt to some serious people. He’s a lunatic prone to out-of-control behavior, and Keitel’s character tries to help him, feeling guilty when he can not do more for a self-destructive man with no respect for any of the mob members to whom he is heavily in debt. Feelings of guilt, especially religious guilt, play a big part in Martin Scorsese’s films. The film ends in a tragedy that is somewhat open-ended.
7 Cape fear
Cape fear is a Scorsese remake of a horror / noir film that featured Gregory Peck in the lead and Robert Mitchum as the dangerous, recently released con who terrorizes Peck and his family. Here, Nick Nolte has the Peck role of a criminal defense attorney, Sam and De Niro plays the dangerous ex-convict newly released from prison. Sam had represented De Niro’s criminal Max Cady, but deliberately lost the case by withholding exonerating evidence because he knew his client was both guilty and extremely dangerous.
De Niro knows this, and when he is released from prison starts stalking Nolte as well as the people in his life, including Illeana Douglas as a law clerk in love with Sam, whom Cady rapes and beats her almost to death. He also approaches Juliette Lewis’s character Leigh, who plays Nolte’s teenage daughter and develops a crush on Cady as he insidiously tries to seduce her, as a way to get revenge on Nolte’s character for purposes of revenge. De Niro is absolutely terrifying in this rare movie remake from Scorsese.
6 Raging Bull
Raging Bull is the true story of Jake LaMotta, a mentally disturbed and troubled boxer. While there are many sports films and movies about boxing (such as Rocky and Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw), Raging Bull is the best film made about boxing or any sport. In the film, LaMotta has a troubled and cruel relationship with his wife, Vickie, played by Cathy Moriarity, and he has intense feelings of jealousy that make him violent and dangerous. When she mentions that his next opponent, a Black man, is handsome, something snaps within him, and the fight is more like a massacre in this deeply probing, dark character study. The film is as much about LaMotta’s personal problems as it is about his boxing career, and the result is a highly stylized, visually stunning masterpiece (with a great Joe Pesci performance, as Jake’s estranged brother). DeNiro won a well-deserved Oscar for this epic dissection of masculinity, race, and violence.
5 The King of Comedy
One might think that a movie called The King of Comedy that co-stars Jerry Lewis as TV host Jerry Langford is a comedy, and one would be somewhat wrong (it is filled with dark humor, with such humorous scenes as DeNiro squabbling with his mother, whose basement he lives in). In contrast, The King of Comedy‘s still relevant four decades later as a vicious satire of fame-hungry Americans. DeNiro is a repulsive wannabe standup comedian named Rupert Pupkin who dreams of finding success on Jerry Langford’s show. In an astounding performance, Sandra Bernhard is spectacular and hilarious in her role as one of Pupkin’s few friends, who is also obsessed with Langford and his show.
At first, Pupkin is mildly amusing, but the film turns dark when we learn that Pupkin will do literally anything for fame and 15 minutes in the spotlight, including turning to violence and crime. Jerry Lewis gives a rare serious performance as a TV host who has a show that Pupkin desperately wants to appear on as a guest comedian. The film Jokerin a bit of irony, has a role reversal, with a similar plot except that De Niro is the famous one who has his own show, and is not aware of the danger of one of his guests.
4 The Irishman (or, I Heard You Paint Houses)
The Irishman appeared in 2019, many years after De Niro and Scorsese’s last collaboration. Like Casino and GoodFellas, this is an epic and wild Scorsese movie about violent, troubled men, and the mob. The Irishman tells the story of union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), an incredibly powerful man who had been convicted of jury tampering and who was closely tied to organized crime. Hoffa hires Robert De Niro’s Frank (a Mafia man who “paints houses,” a term used for carrying out Mob hits) as his bodyguard. We see Frank rise from a truck driver to a powerful Mafia hitman. Eventually, Frank is ordered by the Mafia to take out Hoffa. In the film, which takes place mostly in the 1950s, De Niro and the other characters play young men, and Scorsese used digital technology to make his lead actors look younger.
Many people consider GoodFellas to be one of the best Mafia movies ever maderight up there with The Godfather. Ray Liotta stars as Henry Hill, a real life Mafioso who starts at the bottom and works his way up the hierarchy of the mob until he is a major cocaine dealer being hunted by federal agents. De Niro plays an established mob figure, Jimmy Conway, and works closely with Joe Pesci’s character, an ultraviolent psychopathic sadist who steals many of the scenes in the film. In fact, Pesci’s character is so notorious that it inspired a Saturday Night Live skit, and De Niro and Pesci appeared together as SNL guests on the show.
De Niro’s character is more reserved, but he too is essentially a psychopath willing to kill at the drop of a hat. Hill eventually gets caught and becomes an informant, putting Jimmy in prison. GoodFellas is full of energy and action and violence, great performances, a spellbinding story, and magnificent cinematography and editing. It’s tracking shots and use of pop music and voiceover has inspired countless films since.
Casinolike GoodFellas, is a Mafia story with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, although in this film Pesci is even more volatile, dangerous, violent, and terrifying, and his comeuppance is one of the most violent and intense scenes in any Scorsese film. Sharon Stone and James Woods both give dynamic and amazing performances. Stone plays the wife of De Niro’s Jewish gangster, and she still has feelings for her sleazy ex-boyfriend played by James Woods in one of his best, slimiest performances. Casino tells the story of how the mob came to rule Las Vegas, and it is an epic tale of the violent rise and fall of the power of the Mafia and its soldiers.
1 Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver is absolutely the best of the Scorsese-De Niro collaborations, and possibly the darkest. It has a unique place in film history, and it was both inspired by real crimes and a catalyst for real life violence. De Niro plays Travis Bickle, a disturbed and lonely Vietnam veteran with PTSD who works as a taxi driver and is somehow drawn to the worst, sleaziest and most dangerous areas of New York, where his clientele includes pimps and prostitutes. Everywhere he goes he sees violence, degradation, insanity, and filth which fuels the madness in Bickle’s mind.
His scars hint that he was a victim of torture and violence in the war and probably suffers from a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. His mental illness, troubled past, rough life, and terrifying environment all contribute to a violent conclusion, where he first plans to assassinate a political candidate and then ends up ‘saving’ a child prostitute, played by Jodie Foster, whose sleazy immoral pimp is played to perfection by Harvey Keitel. Scorsese himself has a small role in the film as a taxi passenger who plans to murder his cheating wife, and who possibly plants the seeds of homicidal revenge in Travis Bickle’s mind. The conclusion of the film is a violent, highly stylized bloodbath that is extremely difficult to watch where De Niro gives one of the most terrifying and intense performances in any film ever made. In the controversial ending, De Niro seems to have found peace and even some fame.