Robert De Niro Is Finally Back to Making Movies People Want to See

Robert De Niro has been on quite the acting journey, if arguably peaking early and ending up taking a long segue into wanting to be a big screen comedian. That sounds almost meta when you remember back to his iconic role as Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy. At least he didn’t have to kidnap anybody to make it happen.

After a long run in Oscar-caliber movies, De Niro’s career took a turn when he decided to act in Meet the Parents around the turn of the 21st century. Mind you, it wasn’t necessarily his first comedy, but it took him into “safer” movies and temporarily removed his status as an iconic dramatic actor.

Now he’s moving back to the territory where he was in the 1970s and ’80s with upcoming The Irishman as just starters.

What was the first real comedy De Niro starred in?

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro | Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

If you look back at De Niro’s vast filmography, you see the first definitive comedy he acted in was Midnight Run in 1988, which could have set him on a new film path. Even then, though, the part he played in the film was still gritty enough where it was considered a comedy-drama.

Maybe some will consider his acting turn in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil three years earlier his first real foray into comedy. With that film such a blazing satire about bureaucracy, it’s hard to distinguish it from a drama nowadays.

Not until doing films like Analyze This (with Billy Crystal) did we see him in fall-down funny roles. Maybe you can argue he was just a straight man to Crystal in the aforementioned film.

Regardless, it paved the path toward him making deeper dives into truly being funny himself.

Meet the Parents in 2000 started his Focker Family-era, which one could argue degraded his acting talents, if likely being his own career decision in trying new avenues.

Coasting in lighter films, then finding his way back

During most of the 2000s, film analysts have taken De Niro to task for becoming seemingly complacent and merely walking through many lightweight films to grab a paycheck.

Maybe he really did need the money since many of our past and greatest thespians had to sell out to make better money after declining box office fortunes. Some would maybe argue De Niro isn’t the greatest comedian in the world, particularly when many of his past Saturday Night Live appearances had him stiffly reading off cue cards during sketches. Only his recent impersonation of Robert Mueller proved he could really bring bigger laughs.

Yes, those SNL visits improved, and De Niro found himself rebounding to his old acting glory once he co-starred in Silver Linings Playbook back in 2012. He more or less returned to his method acting mode we all knew him from, not including another Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Now 76 years old, perhaps De Niro understands he needs to go back to where he started if he wants to end his film legacy on a soaring note.

‘The Irishman’ could be ‘Godfather’ territory all over again

Before The Irishman releases this November, De Niro is going to be co-starring with Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, playing a late-night TV host with allusions to The King of Comedy. This definitely won’t be comedy, however, not including having to take an Oscar back seat to Phoenix.

Only The Irishman, Martin Scorsese’s 3 1/2 hour epic about the Irish Mafia, may take De Niro back to territory when he was America’s greatest actor.

You can almost count on De Niro being nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars next year in a fierce battle among generations. Ultimately, it might come down to the younger guns like Adam Driver (for Marriage Story) and Phoenix (for Joker) beating out De Niro’s likely last chance to snag an Oscar this year.

No matter if De Niro wins or loses, he seem to have thrown a new hat into the cinematic ring. He seems to be realizing his fans want to see him in films they remember him best for after finding out he’ll likely never win awards for being a movie comedian.