Daniel Michael DeVito Jr. is an American actor with a prolific career that spans six decades. Initially known for his dramatic work on stage and screen, he would eventually become most famous for his roguish comedy roles. Our list of the best Danny DeVito films is a collection of some of the actor’s greatest comedic and dramatic performances.
Gaining acclaim for his early career role in the 1975 film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” DeVito quickly made a name for himself as terse NYC taxi dispatcher Louie De Palma in the 1978 television series “Taxi.” Since that time, he has starred in nearly 100 films and increased his worldwide fame with his hilariously iconic portrayal of Frank Reynolds on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Throughout the 1980s, DeVito captivated audiences with major hit films like “Romancing the Stone” (1984) and its sequel “Jewel of the Nile” (1985).
DeVito would continue to make audiences laugh out loud with his duo of comedy hits “Throw Momma from the Train” (1987) with Billy Crystal and “Twins” (1988) with Arnold Schwarzenegger. During that time, DeVito was one of the undisputed kings of motion picture, with a major film release every year beginning in 1981. At that time, DeVito was synonymous with comedy.
This would change in 1992 with DeVito’s portrayal of The Penguin in Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns.” He unleashed his dramatic chops in a brutal portrayal of Batman’s famous antagonist. After that film earned DeVito great acclaim, he began to dabble in more frequent forays into dramatic roles that were unfortunately poorly received. His next films “Hoffa” (1992) and “Jack the Bear” (1993) were box office disappointments; and his follow-up in action-comedy “Last Action Hero” with Schwarzenegger was a major flop. He would return to form shortly after that with the hit film “Junior” (1994). From the mid-1990s onward DeVito would focus on smaller supporting roles that were well received by fans and critics alike. Finally in 2006, DeVito joined the cast of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” in one of his most beloved and enduring roles.
The List: Best Danny DeVito Movies, According to Fans
“Batman Returns” was the major blockbuster follow-up to director Tim Burton’s “Batman” starring Michael Keaton. DeVito is nearly unrecognizable as he disappears into his viciously violent portrayal of Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin. WGTC expands on this in a rave review, “Anyone who doesn’t have this movie at the top of their Danny DeVito list is just plain wrong. Respectfully, of course. Becoming one of the most memorable and iconic villains from a superhero movie is not an easy thing to accomplish (just ask Jared Leto, who just couldn’t quite pull off what Heath Ledger managed to do with the Joker). Yet DeVito’s performance as the Penguin is still talked about to this very day, and there’s no question as to why. DeVito walked the fine line of drama, comedy, and horror and did so with immaculate precision to such an extent that at some points he managed to exude all three in a given scene.”
31 years ago today, June 19th, 1992 – Batman Returns was released in theaters! pic.twitter.com/jOCkjshmsF
— Batman '89 & Batman Returns (@Batman89Returns) June 19, 2023
“Penguin doesn’t fall into the ‘clinically insane’ category. He is fully aware and in control of his actions. His evil nature stems from being dealt a bad deck of cards early in life and getting bullied a lot for things out of his control. He’s one of Batman’s toughest rivals because he can match wits with the dark knight and outsmart our hero better than any other villain,” adds ScreenRant.
Cultured Vultures offers, “It seems almost absurd to create a list of Danny DeVito’s best movies, and not include his iconic take on The Penguin. This would also be the first time DeVito collaborated with Tim Burton… DeVito’s legendary makeup is still pretty horrifying, but DeVito also creates a villain unlike anything we had ever really seen before. To be honest, we haven’t seen a bad guy quite like his Penguin since.”
“L.A. Confidential” has been called a love letter to Hollywood by some reviewers. It is a clever film-noir that centers on a mythical version of Hollywood filled with detectives and dames. Top 10 Films states, “Danny DeVito only has a small role in L.A. Confidential but it’s such a great neo-noir from the 1990s, arguably the decade’s best film, that it’s impossible to ignore. And while DeVito might not get the screen time of his co-stars Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger, he makes the most of his character, Sid Hudgens, the publisher of the Hush-Hush tabloid magazine, who finds himself involved in rackets, police wrongdoing and femme fatales.”
“As corruption grows in 1950s Los Angeles, three policemen – one strait-laced, one brutal, and one sleazy – investigate a series of murders with their brand of justice. Why It’s Good: DeVito plays the narrator of the movie and plays a pivotal role in the events of the movie’s story. Outside of that, the movie features an ensemble cast set in one of the most popular eras in Los Angeles, the 1950s,” as described by AOTF.
“‘L.A. Confidential’ earned nine Academy Award nominations and won two, while also racking up over $125 million against its $35 million budget. Boasting a truly impressive Rotten Tomatoes score of over 95%, the film was praised for successfully adapting a presumed unadaptable novel with amazing performances across the board… ‘L.A. Confidential’ is a fantastic film featuring a phenomenal Danny DeVito performance that shoots it straight to the top of the best ever Danny DeVito films,” gushes Looper.
This macabre black comedy is considered an apex of DeVito’s career in the 1980s. This movie pairs DeVito with comedy legend Billy Crystal and features a slew of great comedy moments including a joke where DeVito bonks Crystal over the head with a cast-iron skillet. Gold Derby explains, “The critics were mixed on this film, but audiences loved the black comedy, making it the twelfth-highest grossing movie of the year. DeVito earned a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of the creepy Owen, and Anne Ramsey earned a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the paranoid Momma.”
“DeVito was able to show his talents both as an actor and a director in this film and he once again proved that he was a force to be reckoned with. Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito shine as respective student and teacher determined to carry out a murderous deed that would normally be nonsensical if it wasn’t so hysterical (spoiler: the title gives it away). The film earned DeVito a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor,” praises WGTC.
Top Ten Films adds, “In a take on Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Strangers on a Train,’ DeVito’s Owen Lift plans to swap murders with nice guy novelist Larry (Billy Crystal). His resentment towards his ex-wife for stealing his book and making a success out of it leads him to have murder on the mind also. It’s a fun comedy with DeVito also manning the director’s chair.”
DeVito’s gateway role to lasting fame was in “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” from director Milos Forman. DeVito earned praise for his grounded performance in this ensemble drama starring Jack Nicholson. Far Out writes, “With an influential cast of actors that includes the likes of Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Michael Berryman and Peter Brocco, ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ won five Academy Awards and became a staple of popular culture. Whilst the film is most certainly led by Nicholson, DeVito and the like help to create a sense of genuine authenticity as the criminal R.P. McMurphy helps to liberate the central mental institute from oppressive rule.”
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975) pic.twitter.com/rR61jgP2GX
— Michael Warburton (@MichaelWarbur17) June 27, 2023
“DeVito, who revised his off-Broadway role of psychiatric patient Martini, was the first to be cast by his long-time friend Michael Douglas, who produced the film. It’s a small but memorable role in a film that became one of the top-grossing movies of 1975, and became the second of only three films to win the ‘Big Five’ at the Academy Awards… It also won six Golden Globes and six BAFTAs, and continues to be listed as one of the greatest films ever made on almost every critic’s list,” states Gold Derby.
Insider summarizes, “In the stirring drama ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) pleads insanity to avoid jail time and is shipped off to a mental hospital. Shocked by the oppressive nature of the asylum, McMurphy grows close to his fellow inmates, including Chief Bromden (Will Sampson), Billy (Brad Dourif) and Martini (DeVito).”
In the late 1990s Danny DeVito had already achieved great fame and acclaim for his acting. The 1997 film “The Rainmaker” with Matt Damon gave DeVito the chance to flex his comedy and dramatic acting skills. Insider claims, ‘“The Rainmaker’ is a drama centered around a plucky law-school graduate Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon) who takes on a legal battle with an insurance company on behalf of a young woman (Claire Danes) whose son is battling cancer. With the help of Deck Shifflet (DeVito) the two set up a practice and attempt to form a strong defense.”
“John Grisham has seen plenty of his books turned into movies, but in 2004, he told Entertainment Weekly that ‘The Rainmaker’ was the best. It’s easy to understand why: with Francis Ford Coppola behind the cameras and an ace cast that included Matt Damon, Mickey Rourke, Jon Voight, and DeVito, it’d be hard to ask for a more skillfully assembled adaptation of the story,” claims Rotten Tomatoes.
Looper writes that, “Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, ‘The Rainmaker’ is frequently cited as the best film adaptation of a John Grisham novel with its focus on characters and a surprising amount of honestly earned humor. A smart legal drama that doesn’t let itself get bogged down in dry courtroom procedures, ‘The Rainmaker’ charms as well as thrills.”
You might also be interested in:
- Best Movies on Max
- The Best Movies on Amazon Prime Video
- Best Movies on Disney Plus
- Best Comedy Movies
- Gold Derby
- Far Out
- Top 10 Films
- Cultured Vultures
- Rotten Tomatoes
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