Many people are of the opinion that Robert De Niro had done almost no comedy movies until the late 90s, when Wag the Dog (1997), Analyze This (1999), and Meet the Parents (2000) all came along. From his breakthrough role in Martin Scorsese‘s Mean Streets (1973), De Niro was certainly overwhelmingly associated with dark and gritty crime thriller movies – mainly in the gangster genre.
It’s certainly true that there was very little comedy on Robert De Niro‘s resume throughout the seventies and eighties. However one movie stands out from this time as being departure for him, and it’s actually one of his best movies – 1988’s Midnight Run. It still has a crime storyline, as De Niro plays a bounty hunter and Charles Grodin plays a mob boss’ accountant.
Midnight Run is a great example of a mismatched buddy comedy that involves the pair traveling from New York to Los Angeles, on the run from both the law and from the mob boss’ hired goons. De Niro’s decision to do a comedy at this point in his career almost led him to playing Tom Hanks‘ lead role in Big – something that it’s absolutely impossible to imagine now.
De Niro’s co-star in Midnight Run could have been Robin Williams, or even Bruce Willis (who was starring in comedy series Moonlighting at the time). De Niro’s chemistry with Grodin was the best in the auditions, but he wasn’t as big a star as some of the other names mentioned. It worked out for the best though, as it’s now considered a comedy classic.
Midnight Run did well at the box office, but not as well as Big – which was the fourth highest grossing movie of the year. Bruce Willis went in a very different direction and did Die Hard in 1988, immediately transforming him into the action movie star we know today. For Williams, Midnight Run would have come in between Good Morning Vietnam (1987) and Dead Poets Society (1989) – both of which leaned more towards drama.