As Robert De Niro turns 75, fans await his latest hitman role

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Scorsese's cocky gangsters: Mean Streets (1973)

Director Martin Scorsese put the young actor in front of the camera for his third movie, Mean Streets. De Niro had already picked up a few other roles, but the drama about a young New York gangster marked his artistic breakthrough. The film was the beginning of a longtime and much-respected collaboration between the two.

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In the footsteps of Brando: The Godfather II(1974)

The following year, director Francis Ford Coppola offered De Niro a part in the sequel to his hit movie The Godfather. Taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he stepped into Marlon Brando's shoes. Brando, who shone in the first film as old gangster boss Vito Corleone, was long considered Hollywood's best actor. De Niro displaced him — both as the Godfather and as "best actor."

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De Niro in Europe: 1900 (1976)

European directors also became aware of the young American's prodigious acting ability. Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci hired De Niro for his five-hour epic 1900 (Novecento) which chronicled the lives of two men during Italy's 20th century struggle between Fascism and Communism. The New Yorker's charisma shone here alongside world stars such as Donald Sutherland and Burt Lancaster.

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Cult film Taxi Driver (1976)

That was immediately followed by the film that was to burn itself into the hearts and brains of millions of film fans all over the world: Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. De Niro's appearance as a lonely and increasingly violent New York taxi driver is today considered one of the most legendary appearances of an actor in American cinema history.

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The musical: New York, New York (1977)

One year later in the musical drama New York, New York, Scorsese gave De Niro the chance to show that he could not only play gangsters and men on the fringes of society. His appearance as saxophonist alongside Liza Minnelli gave an inkling as to where the actor's career would later end up, in a number of humorous and affectionate roles.

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Despair and violence: The Deer Hunter (1978)

In those early years, Robert De Niro made serious roles his own. Many of his performances from that time were clearly the best of his career. De Niro was totally convincing as a tortured and harassed US soldier in The Deer Hunter, a Vietnam drama that posed questions about the usefulness of violence.

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Crowning glory: Raging Bull (1980)

The following year, Robert De Niro picked up his first 'Best Actor' Oscar for Raging Bull, another Scorsese drama. His depiction of the violent and jealous boxer Jake LaMotta was hailed by critics for superbly bringing out the many sides of the character. He even gained 60 pounds (27 kilos) for the role.

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Epic crime drama: Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Half a decade later, it was once again an Italian director who drove De Niro to new heights. Alongside James Woods in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, De Niro won wide praise for his portrayal of a petty criminal who rises to become a gangster boss through alcohol smuggling.

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The mafia calls again: Casino (1995)

Having indulged in some lighter roles, Robert De Niro reset his acting career in the mid-1990s. Once again his old friend Martin Scorsese used him, this time in Casino, the epochal mafia film. Once again, De Niro's knack of being convincing as both brutal gangster and family man shone through.

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Congenial duo - De Niro and Pacino: Heat (1995)

Immediately afterwards, director Michael Mann united De Niro and Al Pacino, another legendary actor, in his thriller Heat. The pair complemented each other wonderfully. Once again cast as the gangster, De Niro delivered a gripping battle for honor and ethos with Pacino playing the homicide detective. The result was a real treat for fans of sophisticated American cinema.

The New Yorker is often hailed as the best US actor of our time. As De Niro, who starred in many gangster roles, turns 75, DW recalls 10 of his outstanding performances.

Is Robert De Niro the best American screen actor? Some movie critics, especially those who remember the 1970s and 80s, would unequivocally say yes. They'd say the question is pointless. Who could possibly compare?

One thing is certain: the New York-born actor has made so many masterful appearances on the big screen, won so much praise, and received so many awards that it would be impossible to leave De Niro's name off the list of America's best movie actors.

Read more: Martin Scorsese is still cinema's master storyteller

Immortal Duo: Scorsese and De Niro

Above all, it's the eight films De Niro shot for director Martin Scorsese that have made him immortal — Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino, to name but a few.

From the early years, De Niro showed his brilliance as a solid but slender character who could oscillate between sensitivity and violence. Entire scenes played out on his face.

De Niro is often praised by other actors for his charisma and skill. He could convey meaning just by moving an eyebrow, slightly raising the corner of his mouth or wrinkling his forehead. This came in handy as his career first got off the ground, when De Niro was mainly cast in gangster and mafia films, often in brutal and violent roles.

He used variants of these subtle acting skills in the second half of his career, where he tried his hand at several comedies.

Read more: Robert De Niro says 'F*** Trump' twice on live TV

From gangster flicks to rom-coms

Not everything De Niro touched succeeded though. After his great films with Scorsese, there were about a dozen films in which the great actor seemed to rest on his laurels. Sometimes his facial expressions suddenly appeared a little too routine and prepared. Even so, De Niro was still convincing in amiable roles.

The comedy Meet the Parents reaped millions at the box office, and in Midnight Run or Analyze This, De Niro left audiences in stitches. Even in supporting roles, the character actor shone through — his performance in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown must be singled out for mention.

New Yorker through and through

The American has been awarded two Oscars, one as best supporting actor in The Godfather II and one for his brilliant role as a boxer in Raging Bull.

Read more: Raging Bull Jake LaMotta dies, age 95

Several other times he's won nominations for many of Hollywood's top awards. Even so, the American west coast is not his favorite playground. A New Yorker through and through, De Niro grew up there with his favorite director Martin Scorsese and made many of his best films there.

It was in New York that De Niro, a media shy actor who shuns interviews, established the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002 with producer Jane Rosenthal. Named after the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, it has become one of the most successful events of its kind.

Ninth Scorsese film: "The Irishman"

As De Niro celebrates his 75th birthday on Friday, his gift to his fans is his first collaboration with Scorsese for many years. Once again in the role of a hitman, De Niro stars in The Irishman, a movie where the storyline unfolds mainly in flashbacks.

Probably shown on Netflix at the end of the year, The Irishman also sees De Niro reunited with Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel.

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'Gomorrah'

The 2008 Italian film "Gomorrah" is based on the book by Roberto Saviano, which describes the clandestine business of a clan within the powerful Sicilian Camorra crime syndicate. Saviano has been under police protection because of death threats following the publication of his bestselling non-fiction investigative work in 2006.

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'The Godfather'

Francis Ford Coppola was one of the first filmmakers to focus on the structures of organized crime with his 1972 hit feature film "The Godfather," a veritable mafia classic. Marlon Brando masterfully plays Don Vito Corleone, the head of a New York mafia family. Part II of the saga followed in 1974, part III in 1990.

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'Goodfellas'

Martin Scorsese's 1990 mafia blockbuster starring Robert de Niro is a classic mob movie. Based on a true story, it's the film adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi's non-fiction book entitled "Wiseguy" that chronicles the life of a mafia mobster. Pileggi co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese. "Goodfellas" is regarded as one of the greatest mafia films ever made.

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'The Departed'

Martin Scorsese (center), himself the son of Italian immigrants, directed numerous mafia films over his career. "The Departed," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson as a Boston crime boss, won four Oscars. Two of the characters are loosely based on a real-life famous gangster and a corrupt FBI agent.

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'Mean Streets'

Still a classic gangster film today, "Mean Streets" (1973) was Martin Scorsese's first mafia film, and the first time he worked with actor Robert De Niro. Set in New York City's Little Italy neighborhood — some of the greatest gangster films of all times take place in NY's gritty atmosphere — the film is about the daily struggles of a young Mafioso.

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'Al Capone'

Al Capone was a Chicago crime boss notorious during the prohibition era. He was known for always wearing a fedora hat, a loud tie and never leaving the house without his bodyguards. The above photo is a rare picture of the mobster taken at a football game in Chicago in 1931. Richard Wilson directed the 1959 film starring Rod Steiger as Al Capone.

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'The Untouchables'

In Brian de Palma's "The Untouchables" (1987), based on the book of the same name, a team of four officers brings down Al Capone. Sean Connery won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Jimmy Malone, a Bureau of Prohibition officer fed up with corruption.

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'The Sopranos'

"The Sopranos" (six seasons, 1999-2007 on HBO) is a superb TV series starring the late James Gandolfini as New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano. The show revolves around Tony's personal and business life, and the complex problems that land him in the office of a therapist. According to a US studio, a prequel to the hit mafia drama is being developed as a movie.