Admired as one of the finest acting talents in cinematic history, Robert De Niro’s extraordinary gift for embodying film’s most intense characters, from Raging Bull’s Jake LaMotta to The Godfather: Part II’s Don Veto Corleone, is truly unparalleled. Working closely with mastermind director Martin Scorsese, De Niro’s performances in The Irishman, Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy are each iconic in the history of cinema.
Speaking in an interview with Charlie Rose upon the release of Jackie Brown, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino even marked Robert De Niro as “the best actor in the world”. Continuing, the director adds, “I’ve never seen an actor so completely consume himself in character, in true character work during the work. And what I mean by that is when Robert is playing Louis…he is working moment to moment”.
“De Niro has that down. He is so in character,” the director concludes, completing his shining speech about the great American actor. Though, just like each and every actor (apart from the famously picky Daniel Day-Lewis), Robert De Niro is not alien to a few poor performances for the allure of a paycheck.
Of course, his great cinematic achievements eclipse his more unforgivable movie low points, but there should be no exception to critical examination, so let’s take a look at Robert De Niro’s very worst performances:
Robert De Niro’s five worst performances
5. New Year’s Eve (Garry Marshall, 2011)
Robert De Niro escapes relatively unscathed in this disastrous ensemble drama, co-starring alongside the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Biel, Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron and Ashton Kutcher.
Here, De Niro plays Stan, the dying father of Claire Morgan (Hilary Swank), seemingly obsessed with seeing the turn of one more new year in a sappy, sentimental holiday drama. In this totally unenjoyable dreary journey, Hilary Swank hilariously reported at a press conference to promote the film in 2011 that Robert De Niro fell asleep whilst on set.
As the actor recalls, “I started getting a little emotional. The camera was not on me, but we were just getting into the mood, of the father-daughter relationship, and the father dying. I was feeling it, and I was going deep with De Niro. The next thing I know, he’s like, ‘Anyone got that coffee?’ I was like, ‘Oh my god, he was sleeping!’.
4. Godsend (Nick Hamm, 2004)
Strange science-fiction chillers and Robert De Niro don’t quite go hand-in-hand which may explain why his performance in 2004s Godsend feels so stilted, hindered by an entirely goofy central plot.
De Niro plays a manic geneticist who approaches the parents of a dead child and offers to clone him for them in this strange misfire of a film that lacks any kind of intellectual analysis. Upon being ‘reborn’ into the world, the cloned child has a newfound evil streak that is poorly constructed and incredibly undersold by the poor young actor, Cameron Bright. It’s one of De Niro’s more unforgettable roles and for good reason, but the remarkable lack of conviction in the film is truly unforgivable.
3. Little Fockers (Paul Weitz, 2010)
Many people are not even aware of the existence of the third film in the otherwise brilliant, Meet the Parents trilogy that sees Robert De Niro play the strict ex-military father-in-law of Ben Stiller’s Greg Focker.
Alongside the Harold Ramis crime, comedy Analyze This and Meet the Parents in 2000, Robert De Niro found himself in a surprising comedy niche that parodied his usual tough-guy persona. The low-point for co-stars Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, and Harvey Keitel, Little Fockers is by far the worst film in the series, with De Niro seemingly entirely disinterested by the film’s action, simply waiting until he can slink off set. What’s worse is that aside from the hyperactive child stars, each of the actor’s seem totally bored, simply waiting until they can receive their lucrative paycheck at the end of the day.
2. The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (Des McAnuff, 2000)
Speaking of paychecks, this is possibly the easiest one of De Niro’s career, playing the absurd ‘Fearless Leader’ in this bizarre family film about an animated Moose and Squirrel on a mission to save the world.
Putting De Niro’s bizarre maniacal monocle-wearing performance to one side, just for a moment, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle features perhaps the most sickening showcase of CGI ever put to screen, with the titular animated characters totally separate from their real-life background.
In tandem with some awful voice work and sound mixing, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle makes for a totally unwatchable experience, made only watchable thanks to Robert De Niro’s flabbergasting spoof of Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle.
1. Dirty Grandpa (Dan Mazer, 2016)
The premise of Dirty Grandpa is as structurally simple as the title suggests, revolving solely around the lude remarks of a dirty old man, regrettably played by Robert De Niro. Critically panned upon its release in 2016, Dirty Grandpa is raunchy in all the wrong places, casting a strange shadow over De Niro’s 21st-century legacy.
Starring as the dirty Grandpa in question, Robert De Niro commences on a road trip with his grandson, Jason Kelly (Zac Efron) shortly before he is due to get married, showing him life’s frivolities in Florida. Packed full of sexual dick jokes and childish pranks, Dirty Grandpa is a rather embarrassing outing for the veteran actor of The Godfather: Part II, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull.
In one scene, neither the audience nor Efron’s Jason can unsee, we witness Robert De Niro’s character graphically masturbating. Why? Because he’s a dirty Grandpa.