De Niro v. Hoffman: Battle of the Best


As my family is wont to do, this past weekend we got into a discussion about who the greater actor is, Dustin Hoffman or Robert De Niro. My parents were adamant that Hoffman is superior, while my brother and I were steadfast that you’ve gotta go with Bob, end of story. My argument essentially boiled down to two main factors: De Niro’s peak was better than Hoffman’s, and his longevity (before schlock like “Rocky and Bullwinkle”) surpassed Hoffman’s.

One of my favorite baseball writers, Jay Jaffe, developed a score system called JAWS. Very simply (perhaps inelegantly) put, JAWS looks at a baseball player’s career WAR (Wins Above Replacement), as well as his peak seven seasons. What Jaffe is interested in is the player’s total career, as well as the standout seasons that made the player great. While I’m not a statistician or well-versed in sabermetrics, I’m going to (very loosely) apply his methodology to, again, show, that De Niro surpasses Hoffman. Now, I know that some people may choose Rotten Tomatoes scores, Oscar nominations, and the like to award “points” to each actor, and deduct said “points” for box-office flops or just bad performances. This is my blog. I’m not coming up with a fancy system. I’m just coming up with proof to show I’m right, by comparing the two actors’ IMDB resumes. Without further ado, De Niro v. Hoffman

First, let’s look at Dustin Hoffman’s IMDB resume. And I’ll admit: it’s fantastic. He’s a great, great actor. Please note that I’m only including major, important movies – “The Journey of the Fifth Horse,” a TV movie he made in 1966, is probably not worth mentioning. Let’s look at when he went from Dustin Hoffman to Dustin Freaking Hoffman:

The Graduate (1969)

Midnight Cowboy (1969)**

All the President’s Men (1976)

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Tootsie (1982)

Isthar (1987)* **

Rain Man (1988)

Dick Tracy (1990)**

Hook (1991)**

Hero (1992)

Outbreak (1995)

Sleepers (1996)**

Sphere (1998)

Moonlight Mile (2002)**

I Heart Huckabees (2004)**

Meet the Fockers (2004)**

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (2007)*

* = points deducted for a terrible movie

** = clearly supporting actor

So, yes, he had a pretty great run. Hard to top that 1969 – 1982 run. Between Tootsie, Kramer vs. Kramer, All the President’s Men, Midnight Cowboy and The Graduate, he had some iconic roles, and Rain Man is an all-time great performance. Note that there are two of the worst movies of all-time included on that list, and that the quality of his films falls off drastically starting in 1990. Let’s say six quality movies off of his resume. Very high quality, to be sure. Also, note how many of those movies were not carried by Hoffman alone: Kramer vs. Kramer, he’s playing off Meryl Streep; All the President’s Men, opposite Redford; Midnight Cowboy, Jon Voight; and Rain Man, Tom Cruise. Tootsie and The Graduate are the two on the list that are true, 100% Dustin Hoffman movies.

Now let’s discuss Bobby De Niro. There is no doubt that he’s taken some paycheck roles in his career, especially the last decade or so. But again, we’re interested in peak performance and career longevity. Hoffman arguably stopped being a capital-g Great actor (or stopped appearing in capital-g Great movies) in 1990. Again, we’ll focus on the important movies, and ignore short films and the like.

Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

Mean Streets (1973)

The Godfather: Part II (1974)

Taxi Driver (1976)

The Deer Hunter (1978)

  • brief interjection – this run arguably makes him the best actor of the 70s. Back to the list…

Raging Bull (1980)

Once Upon A Time in America (1984)

The Untouchables (1987)

Midnight Run (1988)

Goodfellas (1990)*

Awakenings (1990)

Cape Fear (1991)

This Boy’s Life (1993)

A Bronx Tale (1993)

Casino (1995)*

Heat (1995)

Sleepers (1996)**

Ronin (1998)

Analyze This (1999)

The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000)* **

Men of Honor (2000)**

Meet the Parents (2000)**

Analyze That (2002)*

Meet the Fockers (2000)**

Limitless (2011)**

New Year’s Eve (2011)* **

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)**

American Hustle (2013)**

So, yeah, this confirms what we all knew: around 1999/2000, De Niro starting saying yes to a lot of crap. He also took on a fair amount of supporting roles – in fact, he hasn’t really headlined a movie since arguably Analyze This, or Ronin before that. But guess what? For the movies he appeared in, from 1973 – 1990 (!), most of which were movies where he was clearly the lead (i.e. Taxi Driver and Raging Bull), De Niro crushed it. Period. That’s an incredible run for seventeen years!

As mentioned above, Hoffman had a good thirteen year run in his own right. But do his six great movies surpass the double-digit total of De Niro? No way. And, as great as Tootsie or Midnight Cowboy or Rain Man are as performances, do any of them top De Niro in Godfather II or Taxi Driver or Raging Bull? I don’t think so.

So, De Niro out-peaks Hoffman. His career longevity is superior. While he made quite a few clunkers, he still had great roles recently – including an Oscar nomination for Silver Linings Playbook just a few years ago. When is the last time we had a conversation about Dustin Hoffman being in the running for an Oscar? Certainly not when he was taking a payday for playing Captain Hook in 1990. De Niro (deservedly) gets grief for certain choices he’s made of late, but at the end of the day, the competition isn’t close.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. This one clearly goes to Bobby.

Agree/disagree? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

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