Ray Liotta's iconic career was more than just a journey through cinema; it was a profound contribution to Italian American storytelling. Best known for his unforgettable portrayal as Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese's 1990 classic "Goodfellas," Liotta redefined the perception of mafia roles with his nuanced performance. Even after his passing in 2022, his enduring legacy continues to resonate. Over a filmography spanning at least 68 movies, Liotta's dynamic range allowed him to immerse himself in diverse characters. From his intense presence to his endearing charisma, America Domani has curated a selection of seven essential Ray Liotta films that deserve a special place in your next movie night.
Something Wild (1986)
In his second feature film, Ray Liotta stepped into the shoes of Ray Sinclair, the ex-husband of Melanie Griffith's mysterious Lulu. The movie begins as an electrifying action-comedy, with Liotta's entrance setting the stage with a mesmerizing dance, transitioning seamlessly from waltz to tango. Yet, the plot morphs into a riveting thriller. Liotta's commanding presence captivates the audience, showcasing his multifaceted acting prowess that remains a hallmark of his cinematic journey.
Field of Dreams (1989)
Stepping into the shoes of the legendary "Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Ray Liotta assumed the role of "The Voice" for the protagonist Ray Kinsella, portrayed by Kevin Costner. In the heartwarming tale of building a baseball field amidst a cornfield, the past comes to life as historic players emerge from the corn stalks to play. Among these luminaries, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson stands tall, personified by Liotta's remarkable portrayal combining sportsmanship, passion, and a willful spirit beneath a rugged exterior. Widely acclaimed as one of his finest performances, Liotta's depiction captures the essence of drive, passion, and determination.
Portraying the main character in the iconic film "Goodfellas," Ray Liotta's portrayal of Henry Hill arguably stands as the pinnacle of his career. The movie delves into the journey of mobster Henry Hill, a man consumed by the allure and intricacies of the mafia world. As Hill climbs the ladder of power within the Lucchese crime family in New York, Liotta's performance unravels a story of ambition and intrigue. With Hill's perspective guiding the narrative, the film features an ensemble cast including A-list actors like Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. Although it faced stiff competition, the film garnered acclaim, with Joe Pesci clinching the Best Supporting Actor award for his stellar contribution.
Unlawful Entry (1992)
Liotta embraced the role of a villainous cop whose true nature extends far beyond the facade he presents. Sharing the screen with Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe, Liotta plays Officer Pete Davis, a character trapped by an escalating fixation on the wife of a befriended couple. The complexity of Liotta's performance shines in a pivotal sequence, where he implores Russell's character to mercilessly confront the intruder who breached their home. This role culminated in a triumph at the 1993 MTV Movie Awards, where he clinched the accolade for Best Villain, further affirming his mastery of multifaceted characters.
Cop Land (1997)
This film boasts a roster of familiar names like Harvey Keitel and Robert Patrick and Ray Liotta delivers an unforgettable performance as Gary Figgis, a paranoid and unhinged corrupt cop. Amidst the backdrop of a compelling story with lead actor Sylvester Stallone, Liotta's portrayal is filled with intensity, capturing a character that is both distressed and unpredictable. Memorable scenes, such as Figgis' dart-fueled encounter with Robert Patrick, solidify this role as one of Liotta's most iconic, second perhaps only to his role in "Goodfellas."
The Rat Pack (1998)
Featured on HBO, Liotta’s transformation and portrayal of Italian American crooner Frank Sinatra was a testament to his dedication. While the film didn’t receive any critical acclaim, Liotta infused his own interpretation into the legendary singer's persona, channeling Sinatra's timeless charisma as a cornerstone of one of American music's seminal supergroups.
Marriage Story (2019)
Liotta ventures into the poignant exploration of divorce and courtroom drama. As a fierce attorney hired by Adam Driver's character, Charlie, amidst a tumultuous divorce battle with Scarlett Johansson's character Nicole, Liotta's performance resonates with unyielding determination. His portrayal captures the relentless legal advocate, exemplified by his bold threats of email hacking against Johansson's character. One of the film’s memorable scenes is Liotta engaging in a riveting courtroom showdown with Laura Dern's character, crafting a collection of unforgettable moments that further underscore his versatility and depth as an actor.
Assistant Editor for America Domani, AJ Forrisi is a Brooklyn-based writer and photographer. His work focuses on food, travel, sports, landscapes, and urban scenes. You can find him on Instagram @aj.photo.works.