One of his first big breaks, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest puts DeVito side-by-side with a young Jack Nicholson in this story of a man falsely convicted of being mentally unstable and the rebellion he leads from inside the institution he’s placed in. DeVito is almost like the second-in-command to Nicholson, making for the most acclaimed feature film performance of his career.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest might be DeVito’s best feature film appearance, but It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is easily his best work on television. Abbreviated as Always Sunny, the show follows a group of horrible people and the ins and outs of their daily lives surrounding a small Irish pub in Pennsylvania. It’s frequently absurd, often vile, and unabashedly vulgar, but DeVito seems to be having the time of his life.
Writer and director James L. Brooks, also known for his work on The Simpsons, is responsible for quite a few of the most tender and heartfelt films of the 20th century. Terms of Endearment is one of the most notable, starring Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson as well as Danny DeVito as the man hopelessly in love with the former. It’s hard not to feel bad for him, especially considering how nice DeVito seems.
One example of a movie both directed by and starring DeVito, Matilda takes Roald Dahl’s classic book and realizes it on-screen to its fullest potential. He plays one of Matilda’s awful parents alongside actress Rhea Perlman, DeVito’s real-life wife, and the two really drive home how horrible the two characters are to lovable and sympathetic Matilda.
The role of the Penguin isn’t considered as coveted as that of the Joker, probably because no one will ever be able to play it as well as Danny DeVito did in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. The Joker seems to demand all kinds of different interpretations, but DeVito did such a good job there’s not much room for improvement here.
Based on the 1990 novel by Elmore Leonard (the author responsible for the works that inspired Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight and Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown), Get Shorty puts Gene Hackman, John Travolta, Rene Russo, and DeVito together to tell a hilarious mob story. It’s entertaining as anything else DeVito has done, but it’s so much more than that too.
Another directorial effort from DeVito, The War of the Roses sees a happily-married couple engage in a heated battle when their relationship suddenly unravels. DeVito plays a supporting role while letting Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner take the lead, but it’s so sly and original—and DeVito is never not stealing a scene whenever he shows up.
Oddly enough, Romancing the Stone also stars Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner alongside Danny DeVito. This one’s from Robert Zemeckis, following a romance novelist who finds himself setting out on an adventure that seems straight from the pages of his books. Once again, DeVito is a total scene-stealer.
One of Francis Ford Coppola’s last directorial efforts, The Rainmaker is a John Grisham adaptation with Matt Damon in the leading role. DeVito is a quasi-mentor of his, showing off just how great the actor can be in the right drama.
Written and directed by David Mamet, Danny DeVito once again plays up against Gene Hackman in this unconventional heist movie (aptly titled Heist). It’s a clever movie full of great scams and sharp wit, making for a nice little addition to DeVito’s best work.