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Robert De Niro’s Most Unhinged Movie Roles

By Jake Beardslee · May 31, 2024

Robert De Niro, the legendary actor known for intense, often unhinged performances, recently entered the political arena by appearing at a Biden campaign press conference. At a recent Biden campaign event, De Niro warned that "If Trump returns to the White House, you can kiss these freedoms goodbye that we all take for granted...If he gets in. I can tell you right now. He will never leave. He will never leave. You know that. He will never leave."   Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

In response, former President Donald Trump took to Truth Social to mock De Niro, calling him a "wacko" and saying he "suffers from an incurable case of TRUMP DERANGEMENT SYNDROME." Trump wrote, "Robert, whose movies, artistry, and brand have gone WAY DOWN IN VALUE since he entered the political arena at the request of Crooked Joe Biden, looked so pathetic and sad out there."  Charly Triballeau / Pool / USA TODAY NETWORK

Let's take a look back at De Niro's most iconic "wacko" roles throughout the years, the acting tour-de-forces that established his reputation long before his latest transition into an outspoken political figure.  Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY NETWORK

Taxi Driver (1976)

In the 1976 film Taxi Driver, De Niro embodied the deeply disturbed Travis Bickle, a loner cab driver who descends into psychotic delusions and an attempted assassination plot. His chilling line "You talkin' to me?" has become iconic. For his raw, unsettling performance, De Niro earned his first Oscar nomination.  Columbia Pictures / Wikimedia

Raging Bull (1980)

He went on to win the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull (1980), depicting the self-destructive real-life boxer's violent rages and mental unraveling. De Niro's commitment to the part, gaining 60 pounds and subjecting himself to physical punishment, was considered a new peak for method acting.  United Artists / Wikimedia

The King of Comedy (1982)

In the darkly comedic psychological thriller, The King of Comedy (1982), De Niro played Rupert Pupkin, an mentally disturbed comedian obsessed with breaking into the world of standup. Pupkin's delusional fixation on talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) spirals into kidnapping, making for an unsettling portrait of showbiz psychosis.  Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Cape Fear (1991)

As Max Cady in Cape Fear (1991), De Niro transformed himself into a truly terrifying figure - a vengeful ex-convict consumed with getting even against the lawyer who bungled his case years earlier. With bulging muscles, teeth sharpened to points, and a piercing stare, De Niro's Cady embodied pure menacing madness.  USA TODAY Sports / USA TODAY NETWORK

Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995)

As gangsters consumed by greed, paranoia and homicidal impulses, De Niro created two more indelible "wacko" characters in Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995). In the former he memorably played Jimmy Conway, while in Casino he was the mob associate Ace Rothstein, both men slowly driven mad by their criminal lifestyles.   Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Meet the Parents (2000)

In the 2000 comedy Meet the Parents, De Niro played Jack Byrnes, the overbearing ex-CIA agent father of Ben Stiller's character's girlfriend. While not as overtly disturbing as some of his earlier roles, De Niro's Jack Byrnes was hilariously neurotic and displayed obsessive, controlling behavior that made life miserable for Stiller's character. Jack Byrnes was one of De Niro's most memorable comedic "wacko" characters.  Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY

Analyze This (1999)

In a rare comedic change of pace, De Niro parodied his tough guy persona as an anxiety-ridden mobster seeking therapy in the 1999 film Analyze This and its 2002 sequel. His character's anger issues, obsessive-compulsive quirks, and irrational fears provided much of the humor.  Schreibwerkzeug / Wikimedia

Whether you agree with his fiery anti-Trump rhetoric or not, there's no denying Robert De Niro has convincingly portrayed some of cinema's most memorable "wacko" characters over his legendary career.  Robert Hanashiro / USA TODAY