By this point, Robert De Niro hardly needs an introduction. From The Godfather Part II to The Irishman, the titan of American cinema has turned in over 50 years worth of performances working with heavy-hitting directors like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and David O. Russell.
De Niro has been a part of classic cinema for so long and regarded as a hero by so many younger generations of actors that it’s hard to imagine that once there was a time when De Niro himself was an aspiring young hopeful looking up to a hero of his own. Nevertheless, there was a generation of films and actors that came before the Hollywood heavyweight who gave him that spark and zeal to pursue a career in movies.
Speaking in an interview with Kenneth Branagh on who he found particularly inspiring, De Niro said: “The actors I thought were the most interesting were James Dean, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Kim Stanley and Greta Garbo.”
These actors were prominent during the Golden Age of Hollywood, some of them transitioning from silent black-and-white films to the widescreen in-colour films we’re more familiar with today. Of all of them, there is one actor who De Niro shares the most similarity with, embodying a similar spirit of tough masculinity balanced with sensitivity: Marlon Brando.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest actors of the 20th century and notorious for his darkly magnetic persona off-camera as well as on, it’s no surprise that De Niro thinks of Brando so highly. Asked by the Golden Globes in 2013 to distil his favourite films of all time down to a selection of three, the Italian-American gave two of those picks to films starring Brando and showed us what his best-loved movies by the classic actor were.
Robert De Niro’s favourite Marlon Brando films
A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan in 1951, saw the play of the same name by Tennessee Williams turned into an award-winning and critically acclaimed piece of cinema. The film focuses on the tensions that arise when an upper-class teacher falls on hard times and must move to New Orleans to live with her sister and antagonistic brother-in-law. Playing the brutish, snarling, suspicious Stanley, Brando’s performance in the film ultimately introduced him to mainstream audiences and launched him into the global limelight.
On The Waterfront, another Elia Kazan effort, this time released in 1955, was a 12-time nominated and eight-time winner of the Academy Awards and featured Brando as an ex-boxer struggling to face off against union corruption against a backdrop of the New Jersey docks. A famous scene towards the end has Brando’s character, Terry Malloy, lamenting the prestige he felt was robbed from him: “I coulda been a contender! I coulda been somebody.” The power of this moment rippled through cinema and affected De Niro so much that he pushed Martin Scorsese to change the ending speech in Raging Bull to include it.