10 Best Al Pacino Movies of All Time, Ranked
From 'The Godfather' to 'Scarface' to 'Heat,' this is Collider's ranking of the greatest Al Pacino movies ever.
There's no need to mince words: Al Pacino is an acting legend, and one of cinema's most acclaimed stars. He rose to prominence in the early 1970s, and has worked steadily in the world of film ever since, portraying both lead and supporting characters in a variety of classic movies. It's safe to assume that most of the time, if Al Pacino appears in a movie, he will ultimately steal the show, and might even be the best thing within the film.
With more than 50 years of fantastic performances in numerous great movies, it's hard to cover them all, and any attempt to rank his best will always leave some out. The following aims to encapsulate the cream of the crop, when it comes to movies that Pacino's appeared in, and are ranked below, starting with the very good and ending with the all-time classics - arguably masterpieces - that the legendary American actor has featured in.
Al Pacino excels in just about any genre, but it's fair to say that the actor's most at home when he's starring in something crime-related. He's one of the best of all time when it comes to portraying gangsters or criminals in general, which he gets to do in Donnie Brasco, playing a member of the mob.
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He befriends an undercover FBI agent played by Johnny Depp, with the drama of the film revolving around how this agent becomes conflicted over what to do after he takes a liking to the mob lifestyle. It's an entertaining and very well-made movie, being fairly easy to get absorbed in while also carrying additional interest for the fact that it's based on a true story.
Insomnia is one of Christopher Nolan's less overwhelming and/or confusing movies, but remains tremendously exciting, even without much by way of time manipulation or anything sci-fi/superhero-related. It is an intensely psychological thriller, though, revolving around two detectives sent to investigate a murder in a small town.
Al Pacino plays one of the detectives, and his character finds himself under increasing pressure thanks to an inability to sleep, which understandably makes the task at hand even more difficult. It's a surprisingly great movie, and also contains one of the very best dramatic performances Robin Williams ever gave, with the distinctly chilly look of the film, owing to its setting, also making it stick in one's mind long after it's over.
Arguably standing as one of the best-written movies of the 1990s, Glengarry Glen Ross is essentially a movie about men yelling at each other for almost two hours, but in a way that's riveting. It's about an intense competition that kicks off between various real estate salesmen, as they're told near the start of the film that all but two will be fired by the week's end.
It's a movie with an ensemble cast, and that means Al Pacino doesn't stand out quite as much as usual, instead fitting in well with a dynamic range of actors who are each firing on all cylinders. It's one of the most compelling dialogue-heavy movies of the past few decades, and is incredibly stressful for just about the entire runtime in the best way possible.
Michael Mann's best known for his action/crime movies, but The Insider is a more subdued film from the director that still manages to be utterly engrossing and exciting. It's based on a true story, and revolves around a 60 Minutes report that exposed some dramatic behind-the-scenes secrets within the tobacco industry in America.
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It might sound a little dry on paper, and its premise plus the fact that it clocks in at a lengthy 158 minutes might make it sound a little intimidating to watch. However, it's without a doubt worth giving a shot, as it ends up being remarkably captivating, benefiting from great pacing, strong direction, and impressive acting from the likes of Pacino, Russell Crowe, and Christopher Plummer, among others.
It might be a little slower and bleaker than something like Goodfellas or The Departed, but The Irishman can still be included among the greatest crime movies directed by Martin Scorsese. It tells the story of a hitman named Frank Sheeran (played by Robert De Niro), and focuses in particular on his involvement with the disappearance of union leader Jimmy Hoffa.
Al Pacino plays Hoffa here with a fiery dedication, and earned his most recent Oscar nomination (and his first since Scent of a Woman back in 1992) for the role. He's a key reason why the film ends up having such a tremendous emotional impact, with his portrayal of Hoffa being instrumental in making the tragic nature of the story - particularly regarding the way it ends - hit as hard as possible.
Speaking of De Niro and Pacino, the two also starred in the iconic crime/action epic Heat, released in 1995. This is a movie that shows filmmaker Michael Mann at his best, with the ambitious story revolving around an expert thief (De Niro) and an aggressive detective (Pacino) clashing, all the while the former is planning a highly ambitious heist.
The action might not be frequent, but when it hits, you feel every single second in the most intense manner possible, with a heist/shootout sequence for the ages. Similarly compelling is the diner scene, where the two main characters simply talk to each other, with it being just as dramatic and tense as any of the more explosive, action-packed sections of the movie.
Not many movies about bank robbing could top Heat, but Dog Day Afternoon is perhaps the rare movie revolving around such an act that might be even better. Here, Al Pacino plays a man on the other side of the law, with the premise involving a bank robbery/hostage situation going dramatically wrong, leading to a tense stand-off between robbers and police for just about the entire movie.
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It might sound like a bold claim, but Dog Day Afternoon really is one of the very best crime movies of all time. It's intensely personal, gripping, entertaining, and tragic, all in equal measure, and for as good as 1973's Serpico was as a collaboration between Pacino and director Sidney Lumet, this 1975 film was even better.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest sequels in cinema history, The Godfather: Part II earns its reputation as a legendary crime epic. Like the aforementioned The Irishman and Heat, this film also stars Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, though here, they're separated by decades, with Pacino's scenes playing out after the events of the first film, and De Niro's scenes being a series of extended flashbacks where he plays a younger version of the character Marlon Brando played in the first movie.
That makes The Godfather: Part II technically both a sequel and something of a prequel, but however you want to define it, it's a classic. Brando was technically the star of the first movie, but The Godfather: Part II ultimately belongs to Pacino, who shines in the lead role here. He takes his character, Michael Corleone, to dark yet tragically believable places that ensure his performance here is one of the very best in his entire career.
Scarface screams 1980s, but in an inevitably charming way that ensures it stands as one of the best movies of the decade in question. It's an unabashedly straightforward approach to a rise-and-fall gangster story, following Tony Montana as he comes from nothing, works his way into becoming a powerful gangster, and then loses it all thanks to his hubris and other personal flaws.
It was the first movie Brian De Palma and Pacino did together, and is much more excessive and over-the-top than their 1993 film Carlito's Way. But it's this unrelenting dedication to excess and ridiculousness that gives Scarface its unforgettable nature, with it being a defining 1980s movie and one of the very best gangster movies of all time, with Pacino's showy and bombastic performance as Tony Montana being one for the ages.
Not only is the original movie in The Godfather trilogy one of the best crime movies of all time, but it's also perhaps the greatest family drama in cinema history. It introduces the Corleone family in stunning fashion, being about an aging patriarch (Marlon Brando) doing all he can to take care of the business side of his family and its crime empire, as well as looking after his various relatives.
Though it was released after The Panic in Needle Park, The Godfather would've been the first movie many people saw Pacino in, and it's still one of his very best performances. He's a key supporting character who becomes the head of the family by the film's end, and though it's one of his oldest movies, some of the scenes in here still showcase his acting at its best. It's an incredible film with amazing acting from Brando, Pacino, and everyone else, and ultimately stands as the greatest movie in Pacino's entire body of work.
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Jeremy is an omnivore when it comes to movies. He'll gladly watch and write about almost anything, from old Godzilla films to gangster flicks to samurai movies to classic musicals to the French New Wave to the MCU. When he's not writing lists for Collider, he also likes to upload film reviews to his Letterboxd profile (username: Jeremy Urquhart) and Instagram account.Al PacinoDonnie BrascoJohnny DeppInsomnia Christopher Nolan'sRobin WilliamsGlengarry Glen RossMichael Mann'sThe Insider60 MinutesRussell CroweChristopher PlummerGoodfellasThe DepartedThe IrishmanMartin ScorseseFrank SheeranRobert De NiroJimmy HoffaHeatDog Day AfternoonSidney LumetThe Godfather: Part IIMarlon BrandoScarface The Godfather