Best Danny Devito Performances, From Matilda to Twins

Actor/producer/director Danny Devito has been one of the most prolific artists over the last fifty years. He has shined on both the big and small screens playing countless memorable characters. Known mostly for his black comedy films and leaving audiences in stitches, he has also ventured into dramatic roles that have left an indelible mark on the history of Hollywood. From performances like the irascible Louis DePalma in Taxi to the gentle and lovable John Leary in Jack the Bear, what the actor lacks in physical stature, he more than makes up for with his versatility. Here’s a list of some of the highlights.

Vincent Benedict in Twins (1988)

DeVito has always been able to poke fun at himself and his short stature, never more so than in the Ivan Reitman helmed release in which he plays the fraternal “twin” brother of the sculpted action star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film works on the unexpected chemistry between the two leads as they encounter trouble in the search for their birth mother. The film was a massive success, garnering $216 million in sales and marking a huge DeVito payday.

Mr. Harry Wormwood in Matilda (1996)

Matilda is a 1996 American fantasy comedy film co-produced and directed by Danny DeVito, from a screenplay written by Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord.

With Mara Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz.

Martini in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Most of us got our first look at Devito in this classic as Martini, the bright-eyed, naive mental patient at Oregon State Hospital. Playing opposite Jack Nicholson, Devito left his mark on the film with his youthful exuberance, love for Monopoly, and getting under Nurse Ratched’s (Louise Fletcher) skin. The film won “the big five” Oscar awards and ranks 33rd on the AFI’s list of all-time best movies.

Lawrence Garfield in Other People’s Money (1991)

After having a decade of solid experience under his belt, Devito started out the 90s targeting high finance as Lawrence “Larry the Liquidator) Garfield, a brash corporate raider whose affinity for buying and selling companies doesn’t win him many friends. But after trying to acquire a company owned by Andrew Jorgeson (Gregory Peck), he falls for his daughter, (Penelope Ann Miller) making things quite a bit more complicated.

Bobby Ciaro in Hoffa (1992)

The biopic marked one of the few times DeVito would try his hand behind the camera as the director. It was also the second time he would get to work with Jack Nicholson, (the other being One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.)The diminutive actor used every inch of his 4-foot 10-inch height to portray Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa’s right-hand man, Bobby Ciaro. This was DeVito’s only real turn as a tough guy as he and Hoffa have to use a little muscle in order to get business done involving the labor unions back in the 60s and 70s.

Louis DePalma in Taxi (1978-1983)

Of course, who can forget the head taxi cab dispatcher everyone loved to hate, Louis DePalma, in the classic sitcom? From the safety of his caged office, Louis never met an employee he couldn’t berate or demean on his way to winning both a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award. This was the role that solidified DeVito as a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot in Batman Returns (1992)

Joining an all-star ensemble cast that included Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Christopher Walken DeVito used his shortish stature to his advantage, as he forayed into the DC universe as the Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot in Tim Burton’s entry into the Batman franchise. Under layers of prosthetics and make-up, the actor delivered a frightening iteration of the villain, out to foil Bruce Wayne’s alter ego and wreak havoc in the streets of Gotham. The film made over $266 million at the box office making it the highest-grossing movie DeVito has appeared in.

Owen Lift in Throw Mamma From the Train (1987)

Starring alongside Billy Crystal, DeVito also directed this black comedy about a man and his overbearing mother (Anne Ramsey). Inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train, the film revolves around Devito’s meek and timid portrayal as Owen Lift dreaming of killing his mother with the help of his creative writing teacher, Larry Donner (Billy Crystal).

Jack Leary in Jack the Bear (1993)

Delivering what many consider his most nuanced and emotional performance, Devito stars as a professional clown and a recent widower. After losing his wife in a car accident, his heartwarming portrayal as a single father left alone to care for his two young sons, was a memorable change of pace for the actor.

Frank Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2006-present)

Set to start its sixteenth season, the wildly popular sitcom that follows the shenanigans of five Philadelphia friends who own an Irish bar is the longest-running live-action TV show currently airing. It marks a successful return to TV for DeVito as the crass and abrasive Frank Reynolds opposite, Rob McElHenny (the show’s creator) Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, and Kaitlin Olson. It’s available to stream on Hulu and FX.

J. Lyman “Bruiser” Stone in The Rainmaker (1997)

In a performance that harkens back to Lous DePalma from Taxi, DeVito stars as a less than scrupulous, ambulance-chasing attorney in the adaptation of John Grisham’s 1995 best-selling novel and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Alongside his intrepid young associate, Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon), DeVito’s character J. Lyman “Bruiser” Stone stumbles into a massive insurance fraud case.

Ralph in Romancing the Stone (1984)

Fresh off his stint on Taxi, DeVito’s first film role is in the Robert Zemeckis-directed action-adventure romantic comedy. DeVito steps up in his role as the villainous Ralph, who abducts the sister of an acclaimed romanced novelist (Kathleen Turner). She enlists the help of exotic bird smuggler Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas) to help her navigate the treacherous Colombian jungle in a desperate search for her kidnapped sister. The film’s success earned it a Golden Globe Award for Best Picture-Musical or Comedy and spawned a sequel, The Jewel of the Nile just a year later.

Sam Stone in Ruthless People (1986)

After the success of Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile, DeVito was rewarded with his first role as a leading man. In Ruthless People, DeVito shines in yet another black comedy about a man whose scheme to have his wife (Bette Midler) killed goes awry as bumbling kidnappers (Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater) can’t bring themselves to do the deed. The movie was well-received by fans and critics alike and proved that the Italian actor could carry a film on his shoulders.

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Adam Regan
Adam Regan
Deputy Editor

Features and account management. 3 years media experience. Previously covered features for online and print editions.


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