What the Hell Happened to Robert De Niro?

Enjoying this four day weekend, I was on my couch watching TV like I’m prone to do, when I saw Robert De Niro on a commercial. Seeing that left me with a very important question: What in the hell happened to Robert De Niro? That is the question I and probably you have asked numerous times over the last fifteen years. Now let me get this out of the way: I’m a nobody, I’ve done nothing, and I deserve nothing so who do I think I am to question maybe the greatest actor (in his prime) in this history of actors? I can’t really answer that question. All  I can say is that there was a time in this world when a Robert De Niro new movie trailer would come out and there would be a general sentiment that it had to be a good movie because De Niro was in it. I would also like to note now that you should have De Niro’s IMBD page open while reading this as a point of reference.


My thesis statement is that De Niro’s downfall started because of the movie Meet the Parents. Before that movie came out, you can look at his IMBD page and it’s just classic movie after classic movie. Sure there are a couple of bombs, but overall it’s a hall of fame resume. I mean, Godfather Part II may be the greatest movie of all time, Raging Bull is one of the greatest performances of all time, and Midnight Run is one of the most underrated movies of all time. The list goes on and on.

So 2000 comes along and I’m sure the Meet the Parents script found itself with De Niro and the thinking was probably “Hey, Bob, you’ve never done a comedy quite like this, playing on your natural, intimidating vibe. The script is good and this Ben Stiller guy is funny, so let’s mix in this ONE comedy movie before you get back to making important, epic movies”. I wasn’t there obviously, but I’m guessing the conversation went something like that.

Look, it’s hard to remember because the Focker sequels were just god-awful and lazy retreads, but the first movie was fresh and really, really funny. The first movie made a shitload of money and everybody loved De Niro so much in the movie that it must have spawned some mutation in his brain that grossly affected his movie selection process. His selection in movies is what we are going to look at now, and I must warn you, it’s going to be grizzly.

The last fifteen years of De Niro’s career have been like watching Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards jersey. It just doesn’t feel right. I’m not going to cover voiceover work like Shark Tale or movies where it’s clear that it’s not a Robert De Niro vehicle like The Good Shepherd and I won’t count small independent movies because those are a different animal altogether. Just know, that I will be using the words, “awful”, “terrible” and “horrible” a wholeeeeeeeeeee lot. ….With that said, let’s take a look at the last fourteen years of the De Niro era:


2001: Fifteen Minutes

I really don’t remember this movie at all. I know I’ve seen it, but it brings back no memories. The trailer explains the whole awfulness of the movie as it’s clearly about TV glorifying violence and what that is saying about our country moving forward into the future. The movie has Kelsey Grammer in a big role which I definitely don’t remember. The movie has no lasting memory other than seeming really dated now.

2001: The Score

OK, so some people will claim that this movie isn’t terrible but they’re in denial. The story behind this movie is that Fat Marlon Brando hated the director Frank Oz so much that he refused to talk to him on set and so De Niro had to be the go-between. Brando wore an ear-piece with an assistant off-camera giving him his lines. Plus there was Edward Norton, who at that time was supposed to be the heir-apparent to De Niro in the “serious actor” department.

The movie is a giant mess of Brando and De Niro looking as if they’re disinterested in the whole thing, waiting for it to end so some guy off-camera could hand them a bag with a money sign on it and Ed Norton overacting trying to prove that he can “hang with the big dogs”.  With that said, this movie is like Citizen Kane compared to the rest of the movies that we’re about to visit here.



Yuck…..That is my reaction after watching that trailer. Yuck. Say it ain’t so, Robert…say it ain’t so. We’re also looking at you Eddie Murphy. Don’t think I won’t write 3,000 words about your movie selection process over the last twenty years too. What on earth was De Niro trying to accomplish here? Did he read the script or was he just handed twenty million dollars and told to show up at some location on a specific date to begin filming?

I think this was the movie where we all first started asking the “What the f**k is De Niro doing?” question. I don’t think I was in full revolt mode yet but I was definitely getting perturbed. There’s really nothing good in the movie to talk about other than the unintentional comedy of the trailer headlining Rene Russo as one of the stars, because god knows in 2002 if you wanted to put butts in movie theater seats, Rene Russo was the woman you went to. This is the point at which we start our climb like Frodo Baggins at Mount Doom.

2002: City by the Sea

Forty-eight percent on Rotten Tomatoes… I’m not a math major or anything but I know that’s about an F- in school terms. Just like other movies on this list, it doesn’t have any lasting memories. It’s not a movie that you would ever specifically seek out to watch. It’s just a cardboard performance from De Niro, a performance that any actor could play. The title of the movie is just awful too; “City by the Sea” sounds very self-important and really has absolutely nothing to do with the movie. If there were still video stores (RIP Blockbuster and Captain Video, my high school job back in ‘97-‘98) this movie would be the one where there would be sixteen copies always available, that you walk by a hundred times and never can talk yourself into. They should put that last sentence above the movie poster. Let’s move on.

2002: Analyze That

Much like Meet the Parents, Analyze This wasn’t an awful movie. It wasn’t the smash hit that Meet the Parents was, but it was a funny movie that featured De Niro doing something at that time that we really never saw from him before. Yes, the first movie’s plot was somewhat contrived and really not that believable, but it did have some funny moments. Of course in a giant money grab they decided to re-open this world and what we got was a giant pile of shit…Pardon my French.

Billy Crystal sucks. I don’t care what anybody says; he’s awful. He’s been living off City Slickers (which I do love) and being a funny Oscars host, specifically in ‘90-’91, for twenty-five years and I’ve had enough of it! He stinks! And when did we live in a world where Lisa Kudrow got to have her name above a movie title (I guess in 2002)? Side question, if you take the Brad Pitt/Jennifer Aniston debacle out of the equation, who is the biggest star out of the Friends cast today? I can’t think of one notable thing that any of them have been in in the past ten years.

Anyways, back to Analyze That… It’s awful. The plot is so contrived. I mean, a noted mafia boss gets released from prison into the custody of his shrink? I don’t really remember John Gotti being released to his psychiatrist and hilarity ensuing. The whole movie is De Niro making veiled mafia threats with Billy Crystal reacting to him….awful. This is only 2002 still and De Niro is already at the point of appearing not to care anymore just making one bomb after another. We’re only in 2002!!!!!!

2004: Godsend


Oh boy, is this an epic bomb. Just go back and watch that trailer one more time, please, especially the 2:08 mark where De Niro repeats “What we’ve done…what we’ve done!!” OMG is that horrible. Poor Greg Kinnear…Remember when he was a “thing”? He had that good run where he went from hosting Talk Soup on the E! channel (before it turned into the Kardashian Channel) to getting nominated for an Oscar for As Good As It Gets. After that, he had his chance in a slew of forgettable starring vehicles and now I think he got relegated to some shitty Fox cop procedural show.

Basically, this movie is about De Niro cloning a monster for a couple that just lost their kid. Spoiler alert… the big reveal is that De Niro really used DNA from his psycho-monster son who died and mixed it with Kinnear’s son’s DNA and what happens is that the cloned monstrosity son has an internal battle with himself at the age of eight between his good side and De Niro’s evil son’s side. Yeah, that’s the movie…think about that for a second.

We’re right in the heart of this now with De Niro picking these bombs that he’s way above doing and instead of doing the movie, the second he read the script he should have taken out his shlong and pissed on it (I know… how poetic). Words can’t explain how bad this movie is. Rotten Tomatoes gave this movie a 4%. I could get a 4% from filming myself wake up in the morning wiping my nightly drool off my pillow. This movie is so bad that in the last ten years, I’ve never seen it on TV or cable, almost like De Niro had every print of this movie destroyed, which I wouldn’t blame him for. On to the next bomb…

2004: Meet the Fockers

Back to the scene of the crime… one giant Saturday Night Live sketch basically. This movie made a shitload of money, but it’s so predictable and douchey. The whole movie is filled with lazy writing with one unbelievable set piece after another. We get it. Robert De Niro is uptight, Dustin Hoffman is a sensitive, free spirit and Ben Stiller is going to make one awkward stare after another. I can understand that De Niro got paid a ridiculous amount of money to do this movie but when you put it in line with the other movies he made during this period it really confirmed the worry of all us De Niro fans: Was he ever going to be the De Niro of old? Will we see another Goodfellas…It can’t get worse than this, right? Sadly the answer was yes…yes it can and yes it did.

2005: Hide and Seek

In the Year of our De Niro 2005, we were first greeted with this gem, and by gem, I mean catastrophe. De Niro played a therapist with glasses to really hammer home his character…not exactly fluctuating his weight like he did in Raging Bull. This whole movie stinks. He plays a therapist who moves his daughter to a small town after the death of his wife if I remember correctly. Soon after moving his daughter, played by Dakota Fanning before she grew too old and was euthanized, he starts claiming to have an imaginary friend named Charlie. Charlie starts doing really bad things and De Niro is at a loss as to what to do.

Spoiler alert, the stupid 2005 thriller plot twist of this movie is that De Niro is actually “Charlie” as he disassociates from time to time and does horrible things. De Niro really being the crazy person killing people is so lame and you see it coming a mile away. It’s just awful. What the hell are you doing, Bob!??? Why are you doing movies like this?? That was my reaction when I saw this movie.

At this point, why wasn’t there an intervention led by Martin Scorsese, with Joe Pesci and Francis Ford Coppola pleading with him to stop this madness? He needed you guys. Like every other dude born in the 80’s I had a crush on Elisabeth Shue from Adventures in Babysitting, but I don’t want to see Robert f*****g De Niro starring in a horrible thriller with her. This high budget, crappy movie is so beneath De Niro that it’s hard to believe it happened, but it did and now we’re left with it forever.

I’m skipping, The Good Shepherd-2006(not starring him really), Stardust-2007(not starring him), and What Just Happened-2008(independent movie that I’ve never heard of).

We will just move on to the movie that cemented this lost decade for De Niro as well as being  quite possibly and literally the worst movie ever made all things considered:

2008: Righteous Kill

They fooled us…I remember when the press first hit for this movie; they were trying to tie parallels to the movie Heat, the last time De Niro and Pacino were on screen together. It’s really hard to put into words how awful this movie really is. The name of the movie stinks, the characters’ names in the movie stink (Turk and Rooster??), the script stinks, the editing stinks, the soundtrack stinks…you get the point. If not, maybe this will help:

Pacino and De Niro throughout the whole movie look like two hack actors wearing Al Pacino and Robert De Niro masks. Every mannerism that each of those two are known for are overly exaggerated in this movie–Pacino with his random screams and outbursts and De Niro’s awful, deep breathing, tilted head movement thing…so horrible.

The plot of this movie is self-explanatory, as there’s a serial killer that they think is a cop (spoiler alert) who is killing “bad guys” and it turns out that Pacino is actually this serial killer.

There is no way that everybody involved in this movie read the script and thought they would be making a quality movie. This is the Hindenburg of De Niro’s career and at this point he should have been forced to retire and put in a home. This is the point that even the strongest De Niro fans had to admit that something terrible has happened to the old buck.

It had to be awkward for everybody in Hollywood when they ran into De Niro when this movie came out. Like, did Joe Pesci just avoid him for a year? Did people have to pretend that they liked this movie and compliment him? Must have been tough.

2009: Everybody’s Fine


Has anybody seen this movie? I remember I tried to watch it once and I have no feelings about it. It’s like the equivalent of elevator music; you hear it and forget about it in one second. You can tell the movie is trying to be something deep and say something about family and the importance of not taking things for granted, but really it’s saying that Robert De Niro can no longer be trusted to make good movies. I would write more but I already forgot what movie we’re talking about here.

2010: Stone


Since The Score chemistry was so awesome, let’s reunite De Niro and Edward Norton said nobody ever. I never saw this movie; I don’t remember it being in the theaters. I’ve never seen it in a red box, and I’ve never seen it on television. Not seeing this movie, I don’t know how to summarize it, but from the trailer it looks like it’s about Edward Norton overacting while being married to Milla Jovovich who thankfully appeared in a non-Resident Evil movie for the first time in fifteen years.

De Niro, I guess, plays a white collar parole board member. I’m guessing it’s a white collar job because he’s wearing glasses again to let us know that he’s not playing a tough guy.  Apparently this movie only grossed a million dollars which would tell me that maybe one of you out there has actually seen this movie. It’s four years later and I’ve never heard this movie mentioned ever, so I’m guessing it’s not going to have a long second life on cable and like so many other movies on this list it’s just another forgettable De Niro movie. Writing this is depressing…We’re not even done yet and looking back at this list it’s just crazy how bad all these movies really are…even the ones I’ve never seen like Stone, I can safely say sucked.

2010: Little Fockers

Hopefully this third installment of the Fockers ends it all but since there are so many dummies in our country that helped this movie gross over a 100 million dollars, I’m sure they will suck every drop out of this tired premise that they can. Meet the Fockers was lame and predictable. This one is just offensive. How many times can we watch De Niro do the “I’m watching you” finger thing to Ben Stiller? WE GET IT! De Niro, you had the chance to stop this from happening and you blew it; you did nothing. It doesn’t even matter what the plot of this movie is because it’s exactly the same from movie one through this piece of shit. Robert you didn’t have to be in this. Maybe the producers of this franchise have incriminating photos of De Niro or something because why else would he willingly choose to do this? Also, what the hell is Harvey Keitel doing in this movie? It’s the most random cameo in a movie since Will Smith in Jersey Girl. I don’t care what anybody says: nobody over the age of ten has willingly watched this movie more than once; there’s just no way. De Niro had waved the white flag. He doesn’t care. At best maybe he has to pay child support for like sixteen kids that none of us know about. Let’s hope that’s the case.

I’m skipping The Ages of Love, Limitless and Killer Elite, New Year’s Eve, Red Lights and Being Flynn all for the reasons I have listed before. I guess out of this specific pile of shit you can say that Limitless was decent, which on a curve for this list means it was a A+. The rest is just a mess of nothing…nothing…Why Bob?…Why?

2012: Freelancers

I never saw this movie, in fact, I’ve never heard of this movie, but it looks like literally the exact same plot/story from the movie Street Kings, which I did see and can say was terrible.

Was there any thought or reason as to why De Niro would do this movie? I can’t begin to imagine ever sitting down and watching this. I just wish that somebody would have stopped it long before it got to the point of being released.

I’m skipping Silver Linings Playbook because it’s not really a De Niro movie. It’s not bad. I kind of liked it, but I don’t think it’s anything special.

2013: The Big Wedding

Everything about that trailer annoys me…the music that is played, which is played in every ensemble family movie trailer,  the quick cuts in the trailer to highlight “funny” moments, the Katherine Heigl-ness of it all…It’s all bad. The big wedding with the zany family and all the hijinks you can pack into two hours….yuck.

I wonder what 1990 Robert De Niro would have thought if he saw the trailer for this movie. That version of himself would never have been caught dead in a movie like this. How could he let this happen?  This is a movie that maybe could have worked in 1999, but in 2013, it’s just so played out and De Niro should have known better.

2013: Killing Season

Talk about two washed up actors…jeez…Has anybody ever heard of this movie? What awful accent is John Travolta trying to convey there? Why is he rocking a dyed jet black beard? He does like one movie a year and each of those movies has been a bomb since Get Shorty.  Who’s in control of De Niro’s scripts– meaning who is deciding what scripts to give him to read? That person should be asked to walk into oncoming traffic. That movie looks so horrible. Please tell me one of you has seen that movie and can share how atrocious it is. This list is worse than I thought it was going to be.

2013: The Family

So his foray back into a mobbish movie is this piece of crap? …a comedy/action movie with Tommy Lee Jones and Michelle Pfeiffer? Where in the hell has she been? Seriously, remember when Michelle Pfeiffer was one of the biggest movie stars in the world? She even played a hardcore chick who sits on a chair backwards demonstrating how badass someone is when they sit on a chair that way in that Gangster’s Paradise music video.


Anyways, back to this movie and this list, which should be feeling old by now. I mean, look how bad that movie looks. Is there anybody who willingly went to see this movie? Another movie that was forgotten the day that it came out and has never been shown anywhere again.  The only thing that stands out about it is that Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones are in it, because neither of them has been seen really in the past ten years (other than No Country for Old Men, which was awesome for Tommy Lee Jones) and this is the movie that they decide to do? They probably decided to do this movie because like us they had some trust that De Niro can’t really make a bad movie but they must have ignored this list.

2013: Grudge Match

Mercifully, this is the last movie on this list that I’m covering. Sadly this movie feels the most sad, because Sly and De Niro have combined to make the most iconic boxing movies in movie history. I haven’t been able to bring myself to see this movie; it feels wrong and sad. I mean, how old are both those guys? They both, I think, have to be near their 70’s.

I can predict everything that will happen in the movie without having to see it, You have two retired boxers, who had a controversial match in their primes. They come together in a contrived way and decide to fight again to “settle the score” once and for all, but everybody tells them that they’re too old. They prove everybody wrong and show just because you’re old it doesn’t mean that you can’t challenge yourself or accomplish a goal. They have a big fight at the end that ends in a draw.

Anybody who’s actually seen this movie, am I close? Regardless this movie caps off the most depressing list in the history of lists.

2000 was the last year that De Niro was actually De Niro. Imagine being born in 1995 or later and only knowing De Niro for the movies that he made from this list. I mean, look again at this list of movies that we covered…Look at them!! Every single one is horrible in its own right. Maybe if I were in his shoes I would have made the same choices… doubtful, but maybe I would have. Looking at his movies pre-2000 juxtaposed with his movies after that year, it’s as if he had two different careers.

I also learned that many careers came off the rails post 2000. I mean, look at Al Pacino, John Travolta, Eddie Murphy, Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, Steve Martin, and many more. (I’m saying this in Daniel Stern’s Wonder Years narrator voice). I guess with time everything changes and people grow old and pass their prime. I guess Jack Nicholson is the model for how to age in movies gracefully. He has been in some bombs, yes, but he hasn’t forced himself to do twenty bombs in a row. Maybe De Niro has another great performance in him, but based on this list, I wouldn’t bet on it.

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