Once Upon a Time in America (1984) - Rotten Tomatoes

Once Upon a Time in America1984

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)



Critic Consensus: Sergio Leone's epic crime drama is visually stunning, stylistically bold, and emotionally haunting, and filled with great performances from the likes of Robert De Niro and James Woods.

Once Upon a Time in America Photos

Movie Info

Though some viewers might be put off by its length, graphic violence, and absence of likable characters, Sergio Leone's final film is also a cinematic masterpiece. Spanning four decades, the film tells the story of David "Noodles" Aaronson (Robert De Niro) and his Jewish pals, chronicling their childhoods on New York's Lower East Side in the 1920s, through their gangster careers in the 1930s, and culminating in Noodles' 1968 return to New York from self-imposed exile, at which time he learns the truth about the fate of his friends and again confronts the nightmare of his past. The acting, the re-creation of the time period, the cinematography, and the music are all superb. However, even more important is Leone's ability to make the film work on so many different levels: it's both a criticism of gangster-film mythology and a continuation of the director's exploration of the issues of time and history. Strange as it may seem, the violence and gore in the first half of the film turn into a sad elegy about wasted lives and lost love. The film's strengths emerge only in its full 229-minute version -- the 139-minute and other edited versions don't make nearly the same impact. ~ Yuri German, Rovi

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Robert De Niro
as David "Noodles" Aaronson
Treat Williams
as Jimmy O'Donnell
Joe Pesci
as Frankie
Danny Aiello
as Police Chief Aiello
Larry Rapp
as Fat Moe
Dutch Miller
as Van Linden
Amy Ryder
as Peggy
Richard Bright
as Chicken Joe
Gerard Murphy
as Crowning
Olga Karlatos
as Woman in the Puppet Theater
Ray Dittrich
as Trigger
Frank Gio
as Beefy
Karen Shallo
as Mrs. Aiello
Angelo Florio
as Willie the Ape
Scott Tiler
as Young Noodles
Rusty Jacobs
as Young Max/David
Brian Bloom
as Young Patsy
Adrian Curran
as Young Cockeye
Mike Monezzi
as Young Fat Moe
Jennifer Connelly
as Young Deborah
Noah Moazezi
as Dominic
Frankie Caserta
as Bugsy's Gang
Joseph Marzella
as Bugsy's Gang
Clem Caserta
as Al Capuano
Frank Sisto
as Fred Capuano
Jerry Strivelli
as Johnny Capuano
Julie Cohen
as Young Peggy
Marvin Scott
as Interviewer
Mike Gendel
as Irving Gold
Ann Neville
as Girl in Coffin
Joey Faye
as Adorable Old Man
Linda Ipanema
as Nurse Thompson
Tandy Cronyn
as Reporter
Richard Zobel
as Reporter
Baxter Harris
as Reporter
Arnon Milchan
as Chauffeur
Marty Licata
as Cemetery Caretaker
Marcia Jean Kurtz
as Max's Mother
Estelle Harris
as Peggy's Mother
Sergio Leone
as Ticket Agent
Alexander Godfrey
as Newstand Man
Cliff Cudney
as Mounted Policeman
Paul Farentino
as 2nd Mounted Policeman
Bruce Bahrenburg
as Sgt. P. Halloran
Mort Freeman
as Street Singer
Sandra Solberg
as Friend of Young Deborah
Massimo Liti
as Young Macrò
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Critic Reviews for Once Upon a Time in America

All Critics (55) | Top Critics (17)

The movie's four hours long, but no one had the time to write a single real character.

January 4, 2018 | Full Review…

This would-be epic schlep, dragging almost 50 years of chronology over a sluggish 140 minutes, is far too slight of text and ponderous of presentation to sustain more than nodding-off dramatic interest.

May 5, 2017 | Full Review…

Adding 22 minutes only enhances Leone's brilliant saga of guilt and betrayal

April 11, 2015 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Here was a filmmaker who specialized in pure, blistering images, and this operatic earthiness just doesn't play as well as the horrifying, salacious stuff.

November 21, 2012 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…

Sergio Leone's languid, lovely and lengthy ode to Lower East Side mobsters (more specifically, mobster films) ...

November 20, 2012 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
Top Critic

Leone is less interested in arousing an audience's easier emotions than in presenting, at a dispassionate distance, the horror of two men warily walking toward each other on a tightrope suspended above the snake pit of their , deepest compulsions.

April 12, 2011 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Once Upon a Time in America

Available now in its four-hour director's cut, Leone's supreme masterpiece is a magnificent epic - superbly directed, full of fantastic performances and with a beautiful story of friendship and betrayal that culminates in a profoundly moving, achingly sad ending.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer


It's hard to judge this masterpiece when thinking about Coppola and Scorsese's more well known gangster flicks or even to compare it to Leone's earlier westerns. It's unlike any other of his films as far pacing, energy etc. On the other hand, it is a truly epic, amazing look at the life of two individuals. The detail and deepness to the story is great.

Graham Jones
Graham Jones

Super Reviewer

"Once Upon a Time in America" is a stunning, lengthy, and novel-esque narration of three pivotal years (1922, 1933, and 1967) in the lives of two Jewish New York Gang members, Noodles and Max. The non-linear depiction of events, the brilliant imagery, the soundtrack, and amazing acting on behalf of Robert De Niro and James Woods make this film perfect, and it honestly defies categorization. "Once.." is not merely a gangster tale, but is more like a Dickens' novel in the vein of David Copperfield or Great Expectations. Every minute of its nearly 5 hours of duration is worth it, and one feels disappointed that the tale is told when the credits role. I could not possibly more highly rate a film, and I believe that it is as rewarding, entertaining, and fulfilling as any novel can be, and it should be elevated to a much higher regard. 89 percent simply doesn't cut it. 100 percent does. Find 5 hours during a dark night to ABSORB this masterpiece and don't you dare miss as single minute of it.

Colin Montgomery
Colin Montgomery

Super Reviewer

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