Happy Birthday, Bobby D! Robert De Niro, who's been called the greatest actor of his generation, was born 70 years ago today, August 17. The two-time Oscar winner has played a variety of roles in his 70-odd movies over the past 40 years, but the films we remember best are the ones where he terrified the hell out of us.
In honor of his birthday, we've ranked his 11 Most Intimidating Roles -- and added 6 roles where he was actually a quite nice, likable guy we wouldn't mind having a beer with.
Gallery | Ranking De Niro's Least to Most Intimidating Roles
- 17. Leonard Lowe, ‘Awakenings’ (1990)
There can be no sweeter, kinder, more gentle-hearted character on De Niro's resumé than Leonard Lowe, who awakens from a coma to experience life for the first time. Watch this without crying, we dare you.
- 16. Wayne 'Mad Dog' Dobie, ‘Mad Dog and Glory’ (1993)
In a funny bit of role reversal, Bill Murray plays the scary gangster while De Niro is the nebbishy crime scene technician (the nickname "Mad Dog" is a joke, of course), who saves his life. In return, the gangster gifts him with a girl, Glory (Uma Thurman).
- 15. Captain Shakespeare, ‘Stardust’ (2007)
De Niro in drag? Dancing? With a feather fan? Get out! This unlikely character pops up in this fairy tale mash-up, making us rub our eyes to wonder if we just imagined it all.
- 14. Stan Harris, ‘New Year's Eve’ (2011)
Many a reviewer asked, "What is De Niro doing in a rom com?" Good question. He plays a dying man who just wants to see the ball in Times Square drop one more time, with Halle Berry as his hot nurse. And there's your answer.
- 13. Dr. Wally, ‘Marvin's Room’ (1996)
De Niro as a nice doctor who's just there to consult while everyone else deals with drama? Yep, that's the role, which reteams De Niro with Meryl Streep, his co-star in "The Deer Hunter" and "Falling In Love" (another relatively nice-guy role).
- 12. Lorenzo Anello, ‘A Bronx Tale’ (1993)
In this film, which was De Niro's directorial debut, he plays the decidedly unintimidating, ordinary, working-class dad who can't keep his son from falling under the influence of charismatic criminal Chazz Palmintieri.
- 11. Paul Vitti, ‘Analyze This’ (1999)
It's time to switch from nice to intimidating. De Niro's Vitti is a comedy gangster, but still, in this world, he's pretty intimidating. It's impossible for a put-upon therapist (Billy Crystal) to refuse to take him as his patient. Various (virtual) heart attacks ensue but no one gets seriously hurt.
- 10. Louis Cyphre, 'Angel Heart' (1985)
De Niro's Devil is actually rather low-key. He doesn't rage or hit or draw blood. He's just creepy and sly and we'll probably never forget those extremely long, pointed nails peeling that hardboiled egg.Excerpt from Angel Heart, directed by Alan Parker, 1987
- 9. Johnny Boy,’Mean Streets’ (1973)
One of De Niro's earliest roles was as hotheaded, impulsive Johnny Boy, who doesn't seem to care whether he lives or dies. He's the dubious friend who will drag you into trouble every time, with potentially deadly consequences.
- 8. Jack Byrnes, ‘Meet the Parents’ (2000)
Jack (unlike most of the characters) is on the right side of the law, but he's every prospective son-in-law's worst nightmare: A father-in-law who will never like you, never approve of you, and who always catches you at your absolute worst.
- 7. Travis Bickle, ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976)
This whole film builds to Travis's bloody rampage as a misguided avenging angel, but for most of the movie, he's a mild-mannered, if slightly twitchy guy. No one suspects the violent fantasies he's entertaining as drives through the city, getting slowly more and more unhinged.
- 6. James Conway, ‘Goodfellas’ (1990)
Jimmy is a one of the gangsters Henry (Ray Liotta) aspires to be. As he says in voiceover: "Jimmy was one of the most feared guys in the city. He was first locked up at age 11 and doing mob hits by the time he was 16." Jimmy doesn't hesitate to bump off those closest to him and even Henry suspects he'll be next in one of the film's most memorable scenes.
- 5. Vito Corleone, ‘The Godfather: Part II’ (1974)
Okay, why isn't this number one? Because De Niro's Corleone was a rising power, one who had to work to gain his fearsome reputation. He makes his bones and we know the outcome: He eventually becomes a man you obey, or else. De Niro gives us the glimmer of the power he'll soon wield and the lengths he'll go to for it.
- 4. Dwight Hansen, ‘This Boy's Life’ (1993)
This character isn't larger than life like some of De Niro's other villains -- he's all too realistic as a seemingly regular guy who takes a violent dislike to his new girlfriend's teenage son and sets out to prove who's boss. The intensity of his fury and the degree of his control makes him possibly scarier than any gangster or ex-con.
- 3. Al Capone, ‘The Untouchables’ (1987)
Capone was King of Chicago who could do what he liked since he was completely above the law. Ordering the death of a cop was just like ordering champagne for this corrupt kingpin.
- 2. Jake La Motta, ‘Raging Bull’ (1980)
One of De Niro's most unforgettable roles, this powerhouse inside the ring is also dangerously volatile outside of it. His temper is as quick and vicious as his fists and in his destructive rage, he damages everyone around him, most of all himself.
- 1. Max Cady, ‘Cape Fear’ (1991)
A tattooed, psychotic ex-con with an Old Testament-style sense of justice, whose acts of vengeance include poisoning the family dog, seducing the daughter, and slicing up the maid. The most out-of-control, terrifying, unstoppable force of Id in De Niro's career.