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Ray Liotta’s 10 best movie roles
Image: Warner Bros.


As He Stars in Cocaine Bear, Remembering Ray Liotta’s 10 Best Movie Roles 

Actor Ray Liotta passed away suddenly in 2022, leaving a legacy of memorable roles. 

Actor Ray Liotta passed away last May at 67 while on the Dominican Republic set of the film Dangerous Waters. He left behind a profound legacy of famous roles and movies, which included numerous roles as cops, FBI agents, and mobsters. 

Another thing Liotta was known for was being prolific. He often appeared in five or six movies in a single calendar year and even appeared in nine movies released in 2012. So it was perhaps unsurprising that Liotta left behind an extensive number of posthumous projects at the time of his death.

In honor of the release of one of those movies, Cocaine Bear, on Friday, a list of Ray Liotta’s most memorable roles: 

Ray Liotta The Rat Pack
Image: HBO Pictures

10. The Rat Pack (1998) 

There hasn’t really ever been a Frank Sinatra biopic or a definitive on-screen portrayal, but Liotta played Ol’ Blue Eyes in this 1998 HBO film, directed by Rob Cohen and released just months after Sinatra’s death. Liotta was a commanding presence, even if he didn’t do his own singing. 

9. Syndrome K (2022) 

Another posthumously released Liotta role was as the narrator of this 2022 documentary, telling the unheralded story of a trio of doctors at a hospital in Rome who saved a large group of Jewish people from the Nazis, by inventing a fake disease that made the Germans afraid to enter the hospital. Liotta, the director said in an interview, recorded his entire voiceover in a single day in 2019; the filmmaker praised Liotta’s skill with the story’s many long and difficult Italian and German names. 

Ray Liotta Blow movie
Image: New Line Cinema

8. Blow (2001) 

Directed by the late Ted Demme, Blow was one of many crime films in the 20 years after Goodfellas that aped the structure of that film in ways large and small. Liotta himself co-starred as Fred Jung, the father of Johnny Depp’s drug pin protagonist George Jung. Liotta’s character tells his son that money isn’t all that important, a lesson he very much ignores throughout. 

7. Narc (2002) 

Liotta gained a bunch of weight for this intense, Detroit-set cop film directed by Joe Carnahan, in which he played a narcotics detective investigating the murder of an undercover cop. The star and director would reunite in 2006 for Smokin’ Aces. 

6. The Many Saints of Newark (2021)

Liotta, despite a couple of close calls, never appeared on The Sopranos. But he did play a big role — two of them, in fact — in the prequel movie many years later. Liotta played loud, flamboyant mobster “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti, and surfaced later in the film as Dick’s incarcerated brother Salvatore “Sally” Moltisanti, a much more subdued and cerebral man who favors Eastern religion and old jazz records. The film wasn’t quite met with universal praise, but Liotta’s performance was one of the best parts. 

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

5. Observe and Report (2009) 

Director Jody Hill’s super-dark comedy, about a troubled young man named Ronnie (Seth Rogen) who dreams of being a cop, has been praised for anticipating a lot of cultural currents, especially the rise of incels, years in advance. Liotta had a memorable supporting turn as a boorish policeman who stands in the way of Ronnie’s cop dreams. 

4. Marriage Story (2019) 

Liotta appeared briefly, but very memorably, in Noah Baumbach’s 2019 drama as a sharp-suited, shark-like divorce lawyer, doing combat with Laura Dern in the courtroom before making nice outside of it. It was one of two movies in the fall of 2019 (The Report being the other) in which an attorney tells Adam Driver who owes him a retainer he’ll never be able to afford. 

3. Field of Dreams (1989) 

No, he didn’t look anything like the real “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. He batted right and threw left when the real Shoeless Joe did the opposite. Liotta’s Jackson did not speak with a Southern accent, and nor was he as “slow” as the real Jackson was purported to be. It made little sense that Kevin Costner ended his relationship with his own father because they disagreed about whether or not Jackson was a hero. But Liotta’s performance resonated emotionally, within the context of the film itself, in a way that’s made grown men cry for more than 30 years. 

Something Wild
Image: Orion Pictures

2. Something Wild (1986) 

It was just his second film, but Liotta particularly shone in Jonathan Demme’s movie as Ray Sinclair, the psycho ex-husband of Audrey (Melanie Griffith) and romantic rival of yuppie protagonist Charles (Jeff Daniels). It’s one of those breakthrough roles that made people ask, “who was that guy?” and earned Liotta a Golden Globe nomination. 

1. Goodfellas (1990) 

But of course, the film that earned Liotta immortality, and will still be talked about a century from now, is Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese’s 1990 mob epic in which Liotta played gangster-turned-snitch Henry Hill. Going from novice mobster to paranoid, middle-aged cokehead throughout the film’s three-decade narrative, Liotta more than held his own with luminaries like Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. And the film boasted one of the greatest voiceover narrations in the history of movies.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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