Hit or Miss: Robert De Niro the last 10 years

Everybody’s Fine hits theaters this weekend, a remake of a 1990 Italian film about a widower reconnecting with his kids (at Christmas time, of course), and it has most of us thinking: Yea … so what good movies has Robert De Niro done lately? That’s a head-scratcher.


Past his prime, De Niro has yet to many find roles that both fit what he’s looking for while earning him more critical praise. He’s still considered a legend (and rightfully so) and his name on the marquee attracts a lot of attention (usually), but he hasn’t been nominated for an Academy Award in almost 18 years.

Will any of this change with this sensitive-man role in Everybody’s Fine? With a light release schedule, he could make a statement at the box office this weekend, but as for the critics? It’s split down the middle at this point, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

With these questions in mind, I thought it would be appropriate to not merely rank the best and worst of De Niro (what a debate that would be), but examine his film choices of the last 10 years (1999-present) and sort the bad from the good, in order to really see what Bobby’s career has really become.

I sorted through his credits on imdb and have listed the most notable ones in order from 1999-2009 and simply labeled them hit or miss. Can’t say I’ve seen all of these films (namely the misses), but my research is thorough.

Analyze This (1999) – HITRobert-DeNiro---Analyze-This-Photograph-C10046478

How does the most iconic face in Hollywood crime drama transition to comedy? Play a mafia don who sees a psychologist (Billy Crystal) in order to get in touch with his feelings and rid himself of inner-conflict. When everyone takes you seriously as an actor and you want to do comedy, sometimes it works best to slide yourself in and it doesn’t hurt to have Harold Ramis directing. Analyze This took top spot at the box office two weeks in a row in March of 1999 and grossed more than $100 million. Clearly this was a good choice.

Men of Honor (2000) – MISS

This naval training inspiration drama about fighting the odds and racism was not one of De Niro’s most off-target misses of the last ten years, but it’s hard to look back on any film starring Cuba Gooding Jr. nowadays and say “now that’s a hit” unless it rhymes with “Ferry for Hire.” It was certainly a good fit for De Niro and the “fighting the obstacles” story always holds on to some merits, but nothing too memorable.

Meet the Parents (2000) – HIT


With the help of an up-and-comer in Ben Stiller, De Niro found box office success in his next comedy, easily his best. Not totally unlike playing a mafia don that can’t shake the quirks that come with that kind of role, Jack Byrnes is ex-CIA and uses his skills to interrogate his future son-in-law due to his overprotective and slightly paranoid nature. The writing was pretty funny but it was unveiling De Niro’s quirky side that made this comedy work on all levels and become the box office hit it was, grossing $330 million worldwide.

The Score (2001) – HIT

If you’re going to do a straight-up no-tricks heist movie, it can’t hurt to choose the one that would be Marlon Brando’s last film. Directed by Yoda himself, Frank Oz, “Score” teamed De Niro with the late Brando and a younger but esteemed Edward Norton. Adding his name to those two talents of different generations, De Niro was able to make something run-of-the-mill such as a young thief and a retiring one who agree to “one last heist” work. It might not have been special, but it did not tarnish De Niro’s resume.

Showtime (2002) – MISS


f someone asked me if I wanted to star alongside Eddie Murphy in a cop buddy comedy and the nearest calendar told me it wasn’t a year that started with 1,9 and 8, I would run for the hills. De Niro somehow didn’t, thinking that playing a detective was a natural step after quirky mafia don and ex-CIA father-in-law. The film was supposed to spoof buddy comedies, but it sort of fell into the genre it was spoofing. Possibly the biggest miss of the last ten years for De Niro and maybe one of the biggest of his career.

Analyze That (2002) – MISS

It was a bad year for Bobby in 2002. Not a good idea to press your luck with a sequel to a good but not an amazing comedy and certainly not a sequel-warranting one. You don’t see a whole lot of middle-aged-guy comedies let alone sequels these days for a reason. “That” was a massive flop, making half of what its predecessor did at the box office, a mere $55 million worldwide.

Meet the Fockers (2004) – HIT

Not as well-received critically, this sequel to Meet the Parents was solidly entertaining, particularly if you’re older and Jewish. Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand made a great compliment to the Byrnes family and De Niro, while no different, was still good. Everything was good enough, however, to earn this film more than $500 million at the box office (partly thanks to its Christmas release.) This is one of those so-so movies that’s perfect and fun to watch on TV.

Hide and Seek (2005) – MISS


This was the movie that made everyone realize that the creepy child was an overused cliché in horror movies. Talk about stars of different generations, De Niro worked with the young Dakota Fanning in this horror movie about a widower and his daughter who, traumatized, creates an imaginary friend that gets a bit out of hand. I hope De Niro was paid well to be a fish-out-of-water in a genre he’d basically never experimented with before (unless you count when he played the creature in Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein). It did reasonably well at the box office, but not well enough to trump the mediocrity of the film.

The Good Shepherd (2006) – HIT

One of those aspiring Oscar films that didn’t measure up, “Shepherd” was an interesting story about the birth of the CIA and a fitting choice to get back into mainstream drama for De Niro, especially as he played a small supporting role and didn’t attempt to carry the film he also helped produce. A bit too long but chock-full of talent, De Niro certainly didn’t err here despite this film not winning heaps of praise.

Stardust (2007) – HIT


Completely underappreciated is Matthew Vaughn’s whimsical fantasy, which is capped off by De Niro’s brilliant turn as the captain, Captain Shakespeare to be specific, of a flying pirate ship. The role is so funny, that I dare not divulge anymore and suggest you find some time to rent this really enjoyable and easily digestible film. Although the box office numbers don’t back it up, Stardust was definitely a great cameo for De Niro even though it will remain a secret for most people.

Righteous Kill (2008) – MISS

This was a film in denial/thought De Niro and Al Pacino would pack the same menacing punch they did years ago. Critics and fans have wised up to the movie choices of those two actors over the last ten years. Unless the writing and direction give probable cause for quality, there’s no guarantee of money being made just because the marquee would have grabbed everyone’s attention in 1992.

The honest analysis (not to reference any of the above movies) is that nothing here except for the “Parents” movies is particularly memorable. Is De Niro just looking to pay the bills? Is he more concerned about producing and wants to act under his terms (and basic ones at that)? Hard to say, but even though my list has one more hit than miss, it could go either way. Certainly box office success has kept going in the positive direction whereas critics’ responses have gone the opposite. Everybody’s Fine could continue with that trend.


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