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Young Robert De Niro: 14 Throwback Photos of the Award-Winning Actor

A look back on the 80-year-old star's illustrious career over the decades

Born to two painters, a young Robert De Niro was destined to be an artist in some form or another. Growing up in Manhattan, De Niro’s earliest introduction to the arts was during his youth in various school productions, his very first role being the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at the age of 10. Thanks to his mother and father’s involvement in the arts, De Niro always felt encouraged and supported in his artistic endeavors.

They would never tell me no,” De Niro told Interview Magazine in 1993. “My mother worked for a woman, Maria Ley-Piscator, who with her husband founded the Dramatic Workshop, which was connected to the New School. My mother did proofreading and typing and stuff for her, and as part of her payment, I was able to take acting classes there on Saturdays when I was 10,” he recalled. 

The young Robert De Niro paves his own path

His study of acting continued well into his teenage years, working with Stella Adler at the Conservatory of Acting and then later, at the Actor’s Studio, but not before dropping out of high school at 16 so he could fully devote himself to his craft. De Niro’s earliest credited roles came in Three Rooms in Manhattan (1965), Encounter (1965) and Young Wolves (1968).

Throughout the decades that followed, De Niro acted both on the screen and the stage. The year of 1968 brought him a starring role in Greetings, and films such as The Wedding Party (1969), Sam’s Song (1969) and Bloody Mama (1970) before briefly taking to the stage in 1972.

Robert De Niro, 1973
Robert De Niro, 1973Santi Visalli Inc./Getty Images

In 1973, he starred in Bang the Drum Slowly, and soon after came his pivotal role in The Godfather Part II, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Two years later came another one of his acclaimed roles in Taxi Driver, working with director Martin Scorsese for the second time, after collaborating with him in the 1973 film Mean Streets. Later collaborations throughout the 70s and 80s included New York, New York (1977) alongside Liza Minelli and Raging Bull (1980), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

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Robert De Niro, The Godfather II, 1974
Robert De Niro, The Godfather II, 1974John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Robert De Niro’s career throughout the 80s

De Niro had already established himself as a successful and accomplished actor by the 1980s, and the decade gave us films like The King of Comedy (1982), where he showed off his comedic side in the wake of more serious films, as well as Falling in Love (1984), Brazil (1985) and Jacknife (1989). By the turn of the decade, De Niro took on another one of his most revered roles in Goodfellas (1990). In 1991, he acted alongside Jessica Lange, Nick Nolte and Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear.

Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and Robert De Niro, Cape Fear, 1991
Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and Robert De Niro, Cape Fear, 1991Dirck Halstead/Getty Images

De Niro takes on a new role in the 90s: director

The year of 1993 marked De Niro’s directorial debut with the widely popular film A Bronx Tale. Then, in 1995 came another celebrated role in Casino alongside Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone.

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Wag the Dog (1997) was another success, and he also had roles in Great Expectations (1998), Analyze This (1999) and Flawless (1999).

The 2000s and beyond

The 2000s marked a turning point for De Niro as he began taking on more comedic roles, beginning with Meet the Parents (2000) opposite Ben Stiller. Later came its followup, Meet the Fockers (2004) and in 2010, the third installment, Little Fockers.

In recent years, we’ve seen De Niro shine in films ranging from Silver Linings Playbook (2012), The Intern (2015) and Dirty Grandpa (2016) to Joker (2019), The Irishman (2019) and Killers of the Flower Moon (2023).

From his days as a young actor in New York to becoming one of the most famous faces in Hollywood, Robert De Niro continues to impress. Here, take a look at the 80-year-old actor over the years of his early career!

Movies starring a young Robert De Niro

1973: Mean Streets

Robert De Niro, Mean Streets, 1973
Robert De Niro, Mean Streets, 1973FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

De Niro played the role of “Johnny Boy” in Mean Streets, a troublesome and dishonorable man whose criminal ways make those close to him seek their distance.

1974: The Godfather II

Robert De Niro, The Godfather II, 1974
Robert De Niro, The Godfather II, 1974Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Robert De Niro stars in this sequel to The Godfather, chronicling two storylines, that of Vito Corleone in 1917 and Michael Corleone in 1958.

1976: Taxi Driver

Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver, 1976
Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver, 1976John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

A young Robert De Niro inspects his gun in the 1976 film Taxi Driver. He starred in the film as a Vietnam veteran turned taxi driver, who, disgusted with the crime of the streets that surround him, turns into something of a vigilante, aiming to clean up the city through violent and limitless means. The film also stars Cybill Shepherd and Jodie Foster.

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1977: New York, New York

Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro, New York, New York, 1977
Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro, New York, New York, 1977Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

This Martin Scorsese film, New York, New York, tells the story of Jimmy, a jazz saxophonist and Francine, a singer, who become a musical duo and eventually fall in love. The film chronicles their tumultuous relationship and career, and De Niro even learned to play the saxophone for his part in the movie.

1978: The Deer Hunter

Robert De Niro, The Deer Hunter, 1978
Robert De Niro, The Deer Hunter, 1978

The Deer Hunter tells the story of three Pennsylvania men as they ship out to Vietnam and return as different men.

1980: Raging Bull

Robert De Niro, Raging Bull, 1980
Robert De Niro, Raging Bull, 1980United Artists/Archive Photos/Getty Images

De Niro stars as middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull whose gradual rise in the ranks of the boxing world cost him just about everything else.

1984: Once Upon a Time in America

Robert De Niro, Once Upon a Time in America, 1984
Robert De Niro, Once Upon a Time in America, 1984Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Once Upon a Time in America tells the story of De Niro as Jewish gangster “Noodles” and his journey to the top of the food chain over the years.

1986: Mission

Robert De Niro, Mission, 1986
Robert De Niro, Mission, 1986Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

A Spanish Jesuit attempts to convert the natives of the Guarini land and meets Rodrigo Mendoza, an ex-slave trader who is looking for absolution. When a treaty results in the land being ceded to Portugal, the natives are at risk of being captured for slave labor.

1993: A Bronx Tale

Robert De Niro, A Bronx Tale, 1993
Robert De Niro, A Bronx Tale, 1993Price Entertainment/Getty Images

This coming of age story chronicles the life of a boy named Calogero, whose father, played by De Niro, wants to keep him away from the mafia presence in his neighborhood, specifically, the influential Sonny, played by Chazz Palminteri.

Palminteri wrote the play the film was based on, and A Bronx Tale was De Niro’s directorial debut.

I felt like Chazz had written from such a specific point,” De Niro told Interview Magazine in 1993. “He knew that world, he knew what he was writing about. He wrote great characters, had a very good structure. I just had to fill it with the right people, and I didn’t want to use any name actors — other than Joe Pesci, who was perfect, because he knows that world too. A few other actors had parts, but mostly we worked with nonprofessionals.”

1995: Casino

Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone, Casino, 1995
Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone, Casino, 1995Universal Pictures/Getty Images

De Niro stars alongside Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci in Casino, as a man who is enlisted by the Chicago based Italian mafia to operate a Las Vegas casino.

2000: Meet the Parents

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, Meet the Parents, 2000
Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller, Meet the Parents, 2000Universal/Getty Images

Ben Stiller stars alongside Robert De Niro as Greg Focker, a man who plans on getting the blessing of his girlfriend’s father (De Niro) to propose. However, he comes to learn that it’s a more daunting task than he imagined.

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