Fact: After decades of on-screen excellence, Robert De Niro has become a cautionary tale for actors everywhere, criticized for consistently phoning it in with increasingly middling and terrible movies. And for some time now, fans have struggled with the swift and steady decline of one of the definitive actors of his generation, wondering how it all went wrong. Did he just get tired in his later years? Was he money-hungry?
Perhaps we may never know the answer as to why it went downhill, but thanks to one guy, we at least now know when, exactly, things took a dark turn: 2002.
As James Chapman points out in this handy scatter plot compiled from the actor’s Rotten Tomatoes ratings, it was when De Niro was 59, the year of the forgettable Showtime (alongside Eddie Murphy), City by the Sea, and sequel Analyze That. In the years that followed, his films frequently rated below 50 percent on the review aggregator site, a few of them even clocking in at a dismal 4 percent. There’s a silver lining to this data, which is that De Niro still has many more years of career greatness behind him than he does terribleness. But still, it’s hard to see it plotted out so plainly and not feel a tinge of sadness.