Whilst the likes of Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell and Steve Carell certainly garner a considerable amount of fan support, there is no comedian with the same cult popularity as Danny DeVito. Thanks to his role in the ever-popular subversive comedy series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, DeVito has gained a modern fanbase of baying supporters who each cling to his every performance.
A dynamic oddball of comedy, DeVito’s journey to the height of cultural prominence has been an inspiring one, fighting against the challenges of Hollywood and casting prejudices to star in some of the biggest films of the modern era. When asked about the industry, DeVito said, “Hollywood is a jungle. It’s full of quicksand, vermin and flesh-eating beasts. Making a movie is not a walk in the park. Every movie is like navigating treacherous terrain”.
So popular in modern culture, the actor’s birthday on November 17th has been declared as ‘Danny DeVito Day’ in New Jersey in tribute to the actor, born and raised in the eastern state. Having starred in the films of Tim Burton, Miloš Forman and Robert Zemeckis among others, DeVito has enjoyed a career that continues to flourish in the contemporary industry.
Join us as we take a look back at the actor’s 10 greatest films of all time.
Danny DeVito’s 10 best films:
10. Get Shorty (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1995)
One of the actor’s most significant roles was in Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty, a comedy crime caper that saw DeVito appear alongside John Travolta, Gene Hackman, James Gandolfini and Rene Russo.
Playing a pompous actor named Martin Weir, DeVito shines in the ensemble cast in a film that follows a mobster who travels to Hollywood to collect a debt, only to discover the movie business is much like a venomous snake pit. Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard, the actor plays the titular ‘Shorty’ and somehow makes the arrogant character a likeable and enjoyable individual.
9. Big Fish (Tim Burton, 2003)
Pop-goth director Tim Burton tuned down his dark aesthetic by a few notches for his adaptation of the 1998 novel Big Fish by Daniel Wallace and inadvertently made one of his best films in the process.
The film stars Ewan McGregor as a younger version of a father recalling his fantastical youth, whilst featuring a host of colourful characters including Danny DeVito as a circus ringmaster. It is an artfully told story, displaying an emotional conclusion that makes it one of Burton’s most memorable films, though much credit has to be given to McGregor’s lead performance, the supporting cast, including DeVito, helps to create the ensemble treat.
8. Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992)
Although the sequel to Burton’s iconic 1989 film was criticised at the time of its release, Batman Returns remains a joyous film to return to. Set during the Christmas season, time has been kind to Burton’s bizarre romp, featuring DeVito as the villainous ‘Penguin’.
Starring alongside the likes of Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken, DeVito’s role as Penguin stands out from the bunch, with his heavily made-up appearance working to heighten his already theatrical character. Clearly having fun with the role, his character remains one of the only times Penguin has appeared on the silver screen, with Colin Farrell soon to take up the role in the upcoming The Batman.
7. The War of the Roses (Danny DeVito, 1989)
The second of the actor’s directorial efforts following the release of Throw Momma from the Train in 1987, The War of the Roses was a thrilling dark comedy starring Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas and Sean Astin.
Also starring DeVito in a leading role, the film follows the actor as a lawyer Gavin D’Amato, who tells a cautionary tale about the divorce of two close friends who were once happily married. A stylish, genuinely compelling dark comedy, DeVito received international acclaim for his film that went on to earn various Golden Globe and Bafta nominations. The film established the director not just as an iconic actor, but also as an influential filmmaker.
6. Hercules (Ron Clements, John Musker, 1997)
A popular voice actor thanks to his unique vocal cords that seem to fluctuate between bass and soprano, Danny DeVito has enjoyed animated roles in the likes of The Lorax and Smallfoot, though he’s better known for his work on the Disney classic Hercules.
Appearing with the voice-acting talents of James Woods, Bobcat Goldthwait and Tate Donovan, DeVito brings his own brand of unique comedy to the hilarious role of Phil, a character who looks undoubtedly similar to the actor himself. Helping to bring the film to life, Hercules remains one of the animation studio’s most significant films of all time, having inspired countless remakes and reimaginings.
5. Matilda (Danny DeVito, 1996)
The fourth directorial effort from the classic actor sees DeVito take on Roald Dahl’s Matilda, casting the likes of Mara Wilson, Pam Ferris, Embeth Davidtz and more in the largely modest list of actors.
Co-produced and directed by the legendary Danny DeVito, the cast captures the scope of the actor/director’s madcap genius, creating several iconic scenes of pop-culture history in the process. Those who have seen the film will find it hard to forget the sickening scene when Bruce Bogtrotter eats the chocolate cake, or when Miss Trunchbull throws Amanda Thripp out the window by her pigtails. Danny DeVito created a film in 1996 that would define a whole generation.
4. Ruthless People (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, 1986)
From the same minds who brought you the comedy classics Airplane, The Naked Gun, Top Secret and more, comes Ruthless People, one of the most underappreciated comedies from the iconic filmmaking trio.
Starring Danny DeVito as Sam, a man who plans to kill his wife Barbara (Bette Midler) in order to get her inheritance money, what plays out is a dark comedy that sees DeVito’s character bumble around as he tries to fix his mess of a problem. Earning a Golden Globe nomination for his hilarious portrayal, the film has long been remembered for its whacky, alternative comedy and box office success upon its release.
3. Romancing the Stone (Robert Zemeckis, 1984)
A forgotten great of early 1980s action filmmaking, Romancing the Stone from Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis is an adventurous romp starring the likes of Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner alongside Danny DeVito.
A box-office hit upon its release, Zemeckis’ film following a bird handler who teams up with a novelist for a wild adventurer, has since been forgotten by popular culture. Winning the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, DeVito appears in the film as Ralph, a greasy kidnapper tasked with hunting down the duo and retrieving their treasure map. Wonderfully theatrical, Romancing the Stone remains a wild romp even 37 years after its release.
2. L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)
Based on James Ellroy’s novel of the same name, L.A. Confidential is an iconic film of the late 1990s that tells the story of three LAPD detectives who discover something far more sinister beneath a homicide case.
Winning two Oscars including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Kim Basinger, the film stars an impressive ensemble cast of Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and James Cromwell. Danny DeVito also stars as the dogged news reporter, Sid Hudgens, a sleazy publisher who clings to the tabloids and publishes stories of celebrity arrests as one of the Hollywood press’ leading reporters.
1. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Milos Forman, 1975)
Appearing as Martini, a key part of the film’s supporting cast, Danny DeVito helps to elevate Milos Forman’s film One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a classic film of the 1970s that would be an iconic winner of Best Picture.
With an influential cast of actors that includes the likes of Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Michael Berryman and Peter Brocco, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest won five Academy Awards and became a staple of popular culture. Whilst the film is most certainly led by Nicholson, DeVito and the like help to create a sense of genuine authenticity as the criminal R.P. McMurphy helps to liberate the central mental institute from oppressive rule.