The world lost one of its brightest and fiercest stars in May 2022 with the death of Ray Liotta, who passed away suddenly. The legendary actor who made us laugh, cry, and feel just about every other emotion with his remarkable performances in the likes of Goodfellas and Field of Dreams leaves behind a remarkable legacy dating back several decades, and one that we won’t forget for some time.
In honor of his life and career, we have put together a list of Ray Liotta’s best movies and all the different ways you can watch them. In our hour of collective grief, the best way we can remember Liotta is to revisit a few of his most iconic performances.
Martin Scorsese’s landmark gangster film, Goodfellas, follows the rise and fall of mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) as he goes from a young kid enamored by the Mafia in Brooklyn to one of the most prominent figures in the crime world, and finally to someone who will do anything to keep himself out of trouble and alive, even it means turning on his friends and family.
It is hard not to get hooked by the smooth narration from Liotta’s character throughout this highly influential Academy Award-winning crime drama, especially his now iconic “As far back as I can remember…” line that opens the film’s sprawling narrative. Although Hill is far from being a likable guy, his character, personality, and coolness make him one you can’t help watch over and over again.
Field of Dreams (1989)
Phil Alden Robinson's 1989 baseball movie, Field of Dreams, centers on Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) as he is contacted by a mysterious voice that compels him to build a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield, saying “If you build it, he will come.” Initially thinking the “he” is “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), the baseball legend banned from the sport nearly a century earlier, Ray soon learns that something much larger than that is happening.
The amount of pain and weight carried on Ray Liotta’s Joe Jackson’s shoulders, on his face, and in his eyes in Field of Dreams is a masterclass in acting. Liotta, who was still an up-and-coming actor at the time, absolutely shines in this role and makes an already emotional movie all the more poignant, especially when he first arrives in Iowa.
Released in 2002, Joe Carnahan’s neo-noir crime thriller, Narc, follows narcotics detective Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) as he investigates the murder of a cop alongside the fallen officer’s morally ambiguous partner, Henry Oak (Ray Liotta). As he continues his investigation into the strange circumstances surrounding the death, Tellis learns more and more about his new partner, not knowing if he can fully trust him.
One of the things that made Ray Liotta such a great actor was the nuance and uncertainty he brought to a lot of his roles. This is especially true throughout Narc, where you don’t really know if he is just a good cop with unsavory tactics or a vicious killer who’ll do anything to protect himself above all else.
The 2001 biographical crime drama, Blow, tells the story of American drug kingpin George Jung (Johnny Depp), who helped usher in a new era of drug trafficking in the 1970s with his massive cocaine empire. But, as is the case with essentially every other story that starts with “young man makes a killing moving drugs,” this sad tale of a fall from grace is full of heartbreak, betrayal, and suffering.
Upon seeing Ray Liotta’s name on the cast list for this crime movie directed by Ted Demme, you would think he would be playing some kind of criminal, but that’s far from the case in Blow. In his portrayal of George’s father, Fred Jung, Liotta plays a loving father who is the voice of reason in his son’s ear, especially when it comes to understanding that “money isn’t real,” both as a child and an adult.
Cop Land (1997)
James Mangold’s 1997 crime drama, Cop Land, centers on a group of corrupt NYPD cops who take advantage of a loophole to live outside the department’s jurisdiction, meaning they can’t be touched by Internal Affairs for any of their misdeeds. But, when one of the officers accidentally kills two young men, the whole gig could potentially go up in flames, especially with Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) on the case.
This movie had a who’s who of great actors like Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, and Edie Falco, but one of the standouts was Ray Liotta, who portrayed Gary “Figgsy” Figgis, one of the one-time crooked cops who falls out of favor with his old buds. His slow descent into madness is always one aspect of Cop Land I love watching the most, and it’s hard to think of anyone who could have pulled it off so well.
Marriage Story (2019)
Noah Baumbach’s Academy Award-winning Netflix movie, Marriage Story, follows Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson), who decide to file for divorce after growing apart over the years. Although it seems like a good idea at the time, the decision pushes the once close couple to a place they never thought they’d be.
The two leads are phenomenal throughout the highly emotional movie, but it’s their lawyers — Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern) and Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta) — who provide some of the movie’s most intense and memorable moments. Liotta didn’t take home an Oscar like Dern, but his performance is right up there in terms of intensity and emotion. He very much felt like a real person and not a character on the screen.
The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)
Derek Cianfrance’s incredibly moving crime epic, The Place Beyond the Pines, centers on two men, played by Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, on opposite sides of an incident that forever changes their own lives but also those of their two sons years later.
One of the most unforgettable and menacing characters in The Place Beyond the Pines is Detective Peter Deluca, a role that Cianfrance told GQ was specifically written for Ray Liotta years before he even offered the actor a spot in the movie. Whenever Deluca is on screen is a moment worth remembering for the brilliance of the actor and the intimidating nature of the character.
Another James Mangold movie to feature Ray Liotta in a prominent role, the 2003 whodunit Identity follows a group of people trapped in an isolated Nevada hotel during a storm. To make matters worse, an unknown killer begins picking off the strangers one by one in this white-knuckle thriller loosely based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
There are plenty of reasons to celebrate Identity, including its twists and turns, handling of the psychological thriller genre, and the absurdly amazing cast, which includes John Cusack, Alfred Molina, and Ray Liotta, to name a few. Without giving much away, Liotta’s character, Samuel Rhodes, is responsible for some of the film’s most shocking and gratifying moments that make the movie more than worth a watch.
Something Wild (1986)
Jonathan Demme’s 1986 dark comedy, Something Wild, follows uptight banker Charles Driggs (Jeff Daniels) as he gets caught up in the hectic life of Audrey “Lulu” Hankel (Melanie Griffith), a free-spirited woman who has him go with her as a guest to her high school reunion. While there, Lulu’s husband, Ray Sinclair (Ray Liotta) arrives on the scene and takes an already complicated matter to the next level.
One of craziest, and honestly most impressive things about Ray Liotta’s electric performance is the fact that it was only his second film role (he had a few TV credits at this point in his career). If you didn’t know any better you would think this unhinged man on screen had been acting professionally for years, which is a testament to his incredible talent.
Corrina, Corrina (1994)
Jessie Nelson’s 1994 comedy-drama, Corrina, Corrina, tells the story of Manny Singer (Ray Liotta), a widower businessman looking for a babysitter to take care of his young daughter, Molly (Tina Majorino). Just when it looks like no one is fit for the job, in walks Corrina Washington (Whoopi Goldberg), who changes both of their lives for the better.
I distinctly remember watching Corrina, Corrina multiple times throughout my childhood as the movie was a permanent fixture on TNT back in ‘90s, and the film was actually my first time recalling Ray Liotta. He doesn’t cuss as much, he’s not as chaotic as usual, but his performance works great when put alongside Whoopi Goldberg, resulting in an impressive dynamic.
The Many Saints Of Newark (2021)
Alan Taylor’s 2021 Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark, takes it back to the beginning for young Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini) as he finds himself wrapped up in one of the most trying times of not only his life, but in the history of his crime-ridden hometown, experiencing things that will turn him from a child into the crime boss we all know and love (or love to hate).
Just like the original HBO drama series, The Many Saints of Newark has a large ensemble cast that includes Jon Bernthal, Leslie Odom Jr., Corey Stoll, and Ray Liotta playing not one, but two characters. No surprise, but Liotta’s range throughout the crime drama was masterful to say the least, and it serves as a nice reminder how great he was in gangster movies.
But, this is just a small portion of the great performances Ray Liotta gave us over the years, and his presence will be sorely missed in the weeks, months, and years to come. Oh, and I couldn’t end this story any other way than by including this hilarious clip from Wild Hogs.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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