The late Ray Liotta was best known for his iconic role in Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic Goodfellas as the now-iconic Henry Hill, but there was much more to his celebrated career than that one appearance in the revered gangster classic.
Following his performance in Goodfellas, it could have been easy for Liotta to have become lethargic and languish in his typecast with his thick New Jersey accent and Italian roots, but he worked hard to make sure this was never the case, challenging his career whenever he could.
The actor even turned down a role in The Sopranos because he didn’t want people to see him as someone who could exclusively play Mafiosos. The soap opera, Another World, gave Liotta his first notable role, but he had greater ambitions than that. While it would have been comfortable to stay, he decided to quit and try to make it in Los Angeles.
Five years on from quitting the soap, Liotta’s brave decision had already been vindicated when he earned a first Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor following his portrayal of Ray Sinclair in Something Wild.
For almost 40 years, Liotta was a mainstay in Hollywood, and he was never short of beguiling offers. Below we celebrate his legacy by exploring his five best films.
Ray Liotta’s five best films:
Field Of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson, 1989)
Following the success of Something Wild, Liotta had begun to make a name for himself in Hollywood and was started to truly establish himself. The decision to cast him in the sports fantasy film, Field of Dreams, was a genius move, and he shone in the role of Shoeless Joe Jackson.
The film is based on a 1982 novel of the same name by W.P. Kinsella and stars Kevin Costner as a crazed baseball fan whose fantastical field begins to attract the ghosts of legendary former players. Not only is it a film which is as good for the soul as chicken soup, but it was also nominated for three Academy Awards.
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
The year after Field Of Dreams, Liotta took on a very different role that would define his career when he featured in Scorsese’s Goodfellas, which made him a household name in the process. The chemistry between Liotta, Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro has perhaps never been bettered in cinema history, and the film is a true classic.
All three of the main actors knew the world they were portraying on-screen, and Liotta added authenticity to Henry Hill, which many depictions of the criminal underworld lack. It was rightly lauded as a masterpiece, and it set a new high bar for gangster films which has yet to be matched. However, it remains a travesty how it lost out to Dancing With Wolves for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Blow (Ted Demme, 2001)
Although Liotta wasn’t cast in the main role for Blow, he lit up the screen every time he appeared. The biographical film stars Johnny Depp as a cocaine smuggler, George Jung who deceived cops and cartels in equal measure. It explores the wild story of how a boy from Massachusetts became an iconic cocaine smuggler.
Liotta plays Jung’s father, Frederick, who filed for bankruptcy when George was a child, which was a pivotal moment in his life. Their relationship is particularly poignant, and it’s not until Liotta’s character is lying on his death bed does the true meaning of life finally arrives at George.
Identity (James Mangold, 2003)
Identity is a captivating thriller which stars Liotta alongside John Cusack, and it’s harrowingly dark yet gripping. Ten strangers are placed in a hotel isolated from the outside world, and inexplicably, they are killed off one by one.
Liotta’s character is a bristling, evil animal, and the actor puts in an utterly chilling performance throughout. While Identity might not be as cinematically celebrated as some of Liotta’s other films, it was a hit at the box office, and it’s one of his most underrated parts.
Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, 2019)
As Liotta grew older, the leading man roles naturally started to fade, but that didn’t mean the value he added to films dwindled. Marriage Story is a prime example of the brilliance of his later output. While Scarlett Johannson and Adam Driver deservedly stole the headlines, Liotta’s role as the cunning lawyer, Jay Marotta, is devastating.
The Netflix film explores the part of a marriage that rom-coms choose to ignore. It’s an utterly heartbreaking and a real glimpse into how two people who once loved each other now detest everything about their former life partner. Furthermore, it was deservedly nominated in six categories at the 92nd Academy Awards.
Liotta said of the project: “Well, I got to play a lawyer. Noah Baumbach, I really the previous things that he’s done, and the script was just incredible. It’s just such a moving, well-told story. In terms of the way he directed it. And it was just a fun part in terms of playing….And then we, there’s just a few scenes, but they were just really, really well-written scenes. The whole thing is really, really good.”