Over the course of a nearly 50-year career, Robert De Niro has gone from being one of the most exciting, galvanizing actors of his or any generation to being known as “that guy who will appear in pretty much anything, as long as they pay him enough and the craft service is decent.” That’s a shocking, disheartening transition, but when exactly did it happen? When did he give up? It’s not like De Niro went directly from the set of Taxi Driver to the set of Meet The Fockers. There must have been a point at which De Niro essentially said to himself, “Fuck this Oscar-worthy stuff. I’m going for the long green.” Now, much to the betterment of future film historians, a diligent statistician named James Chapman has managed to pinpoint the exact year when that happened: 2002. After plotting on a graph the Rotten Tomatoes scores of various De Niro movies, Chapman shared his findings via an infographic on his Twitter account:
So there’s the data to prove that 2002 was De Niro’s breaking point. From then on, there would be a lot more Shark Tales and a lot few Deer Hunters in his life. De Niro would turn 59 that year, incidentally, and was still quite prolific. By that point in his career, maybe he had to be. There are mortgages and ex-wives to consider. He appeared in three movies in 2002: a coolly received drama called City By The Sea and two shameless buddy comedies—Analyze That with Billy Crystal and Showtime with Eddie Murphy. None of those dazzled the critics. As the chart suggests, De Niro went into career free fall from there, give or take the occasional Silver Linings Playbook. The days of The Intern, New Year’s Eve, and Last Vegas still lay ahead.