Al Pacino at the the 71st Venice Film Festival in 2014

Al Pacino at the 71st Venice Film Festival in 2014 (Photo by Andrea Raffin on Shutterstock)

Al Pacino: a name synonymous with intensity, iconic characters, and maybe yelling a thing or two. From his raw debut in the gritty streets of “The Panic in Needle Park” to the layered gravitas of “The Godfather,” Pacino has carved a path through cinema history, leaving audiences breathless (and sometimes a little scared) in his wake. But with a filmography spanning decades, where do you even begin? Fear not, film buff! This guide will be your key to unlocking the best of Pacino, separating the “Hoo-ah!”s from the hidden gems. We at StudyFinds have combed through 10 existing expert lists to bring you the consensus top five best Al Pacino movies of all time. Don’t agree with our list? We would love to hear from you in the comments down below! Now, onto the list!

The List: Best Al Pacino Movies, According to Experts

1.“The Godfather” Trilogy (1972-1990)

There’s a reason a poster for these films hangs in the halls of The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. Pacino’s performance in “The Godfather” Trilogy should basically be treated as a masterclass in method acting. “Unsurprisingly, Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’ trilogy has been touted as the best film series ever made, and it is unquestionably a breathtaking feat of filmmaking. ‘The Godfather’ revolutionized the gangland crime-drama genre, setting a precedent and blueprint for how future films of the like should be made. More generally, it transformed cinema, has subsequently transcended the realms of film, and has become a point of social reference. ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Scarface,’ ‘Donnie Brasco,’ ‘The Departed,’ and the list goes on, have all taken a piece of ‘The Godfather’ in one way or another,” notes MovieWeb.

“You’re welcome to dismiss ‘The Godfather: Part III’ as an unfortunate afterthought. But even then, Michael Corleone remains the character that defines Al Pacino’s cinematic legacy. In the first installment, the young Michael is handsome, sweet, and sensitive, but Pacino keenly and effortlessly navigates the character into murkier waters, demonstrating just how seductive power can be. We never stop sensing the good man trapped inside the leader of this Mob clan, and Pacino holds that tension between darkness and light, always making us hope that Michael can pull himself free. Pacino’s dead eyes in ‘Part III’ show what a futile dream that was to harbor—for the audience and for Michael,” writes Vulture.

“‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Godfather Part II’ are the second and fourth-highest-rated movies of all time on IMDb, respectively. The movies tell the rise and fall of the most ruthless gangster in movies, Michael Corleone (Pacino). Not only did the first film introduce the world to Pacino, but it also showed just how great of an actor he was. The original film saw Al Pacino acting as an optimistic war hero, a vengeful hothead, and a corrupt businessman, and that was all one role. While ‘The Godfather Part III’ doesn’t have the same reputation as its predecessors, it’s still a great film that satisfyingly completes Michael’s tragic story,” says ScreenRant.

Iconic Al Pacino Lines From “The Godfather”:

  • “I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So, I stole a bike and asked him for forgiveness.”
  • “Fredo, you’re my older brother and I love you, but don’t you ever go against the family again. Ever.”
  •  “I respect those who tell me the truth no matter how hard it is.”

 2. “Scarface” (1983)

Before Pfeiffer and Pacino went on to star in Gary Marshall’s 1991 dramedy “Frankie & Johnny,” they appeared in the iconic “Scarface”. The film explores themes of greed, power, and the consequences of pursuing the American Dream through Pacino’s portrayal of the famed drug lord. “There’s no doubt that the character of Tony Montana in Brian De Palma’s epic crime drama ‘Scarface’ is one of Al Pacino’s most iconic roles. An updated remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, the sweeping saga charts Tony’s rise from penniless Cuban refugee to a wealthy drug lord while he destroys himself and everything else around him in the process, including his relationship with wife Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) in the process,” comments SlashFilm.

“Very, very close to taking the title of Al Pacino’s most iconic role is the Miami drug kingpin Tony Montana. Tony and his best friend Manny (Steven Bauer) receive green cards from Cuba after assassinating a Cuban general. Once in Miami, Tony viciously and ruthlessly murders his way to the top of the cocaine trade in Florida. With his rapid rise to power, his standoff with Miami PD, and his ongoing war with the Colombian Cartel, Tony ends up spiraling out of control and destroying the relationships once close to him. But he also goes out with the biggest bang in the history of film,” describes Collider.

“In this absorbing storyline, Pacino plays the unforgettable character Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant who rises from rags to riches in the drug trade. Tony’s larger-than-life personality and insatiable hunger for power define Pacino’s electric performance. As we witness Tony’s ruthless ascent and eventual downfall, Pacino’s intensity and raw energy keep us on the edge of our seats. At the core of ‘Scarface,’ Pacino’s commanding presence fuels a gritty depiction of the criminal underworld’s dark underbelly. With its quotable lines and explosive action, this film has become a cult classic,” explains BuddyTV.

Iconic Al Pacino Lines From “Scarface”:

  • “Say hello to my little friend!”
  • “I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”
  • “I’m Tony Montana! You F*** With Me, You F***in’ With The Best!”

3.“Dog Day Afternoon” (1975)

While Pacino is known for playing roles where his characters teeter on the right side of the law, it’s his role in “Dog Day Afternoon” that really blurred the lines between heroism and villainism. “As the later chapters of his career prove, Pacino is an actor who is very capable of doing something huge and unexpected. In ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, though, Pacino is big in all the right ways. His depiction of Sonny Wortzik, an actual bank robber who finds himself managing a hostage negotiation, is frenetic and alive for every moment of this taut thriller’s runtime. ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ is deeply humane, and that’s part of what makes Sonny’s tragic end even more heartbreaking. He’s a good guy in a bad spot, and he finds himself totally trapped by a world that seems to be pushing him away at every turn,” reports The Manual.

“‘Dog Day Afternoon’ is the kind of movie that could easily spin off into unintentional farce: based on a true story, it revolves around a first-time crook (Pacino) who attempts to rob a bank to pay for his lover’s (Chris Sarandon) sex-change operation. Yet director Sidney Lumet grounds the sensationalistic material with documentary realism, even when spectators and news cameras turn a hostage situation into a three-ring circus. Pacino brings great passion and sympathy to the role of Sonny, a man who’s too kind and considerate to be a criminal. Frank Pierson won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, while the film competed for Best Picture and Best Director. Pacino was nominated as Best Actor, yet lost to Jack Nicholson (‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’),” says GoldDerby.

“‘Dog Day Afternoon’ is the second collaboration between Pacino and Lumet, and it’s just as emotionally exhausting and distressing as ‘Serpico’, if not more so. It’s almost as if ‘Inside Man’ was stripped of all its style and entertainment, but it’s completely engaging and impossible not to empathize with Sonny (Pacino) and Sal (John Cazele). But ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ is culturally significant not just because it depicts the worst heist in movie history, but because it had an LGBTQ+ character at the forefront of the story, which was rare in the 1970s,” comments ScreenRant.

Iconic Al Pacino Lines From “Dog Day Afternoon”:

  • “Attica! Attica!”
  • “Sonny here! Tell ’em to get me Sonny!”
  • “Under enough pressure, you can split a diamond. You can split a cop. You can split anything.”

 4. “Heat” (1995)

“Heat,” a crime drama released in 1995, marked the first time that acting legends Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro would appear on screen in the same scene, and let us tell you, people were excited. Hey, People are still excited when they get to watch this film. “Al Pacino has a remarkable filmography, and one of the greats within it is Michael Mann’s ‘Heat,’ which also happens to mark the second time Pacino would star in a film with his friend Robert De Niro. Despite the fact that they both acted in ‘The Godfather Part II,’ the two had never appeared in the same scene together. Even in ‘Heat’, they are kept apart except for a single diner scene, which is cut so that you never see both of their faces at the same time on the screen,” describes SlashFilm.

“The film world is entitled to feel a tad aggrieved at the fact that there are only four films that star Al Pacino alongside Robert De Niro, and Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ is a part of that exclusive club (although they only appear in two scenes together), and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Highly-skilled bank robber Neil McCauley (De Niro) carries out a series of heists with his crew of accomplices, despite being under the attentive eye of Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Pacino), who is out to catch the mastermind criminal,” explains MovieWeb.

“‘Heat’ wasn’t just a movie; it was an event. It saw two of the world’s biggest actors (who had been competing for roles for years) face off against each other in an exciting chase thriller. The film is hugely influential, too, as the final shootout is used to teach Marines. Vincent Hanna (Pacino) is the ultimate role of the actor that sees him screaming and yelling all of his lines, a trademark of his, which might be because Hanna was addicted to cocaine in the original script,” adds Screenrant.

Iconic Al Pacino Lines From “Heat”:

  • “I am angry. I am very angry, Ralph. You know, you can ball my wife if she wants you to. You can lounge around here on her sofa, in her ex-husband’s dead-tech, post-modernistic bullshit house…”
  • “Because heat. Because heat is all around. You feel it? It’s everywhere. Right here. Right now.”
  • “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”

 5. “Serpico” (1973)

Trading in his guns and cannoli for an NYPD badge, the last film on the list comes in the form of Pacino’s first biopic. A treat for any actor, but specifically one of Pacino’s craft. “Al Pacino might be best known for some of his gangster roles, but he plays one hell of a cop too. In ‘Serpico’, Pacino plays Frank Serpico, one of the few honest cops in 1970s New York City. He fights criminals as much as he tries to uncover and put a stop to widespread corruption in the NYPD. The film is based on the true story of Frank Serpico, who helped blow the whistle on the corruption that plagued the real-life NYPD in the 1960s and ‘70s,” says One37PM.

“Frank Serpico is an incredibly complicated character who is brilliantly brought to life by Pacino in one of his more animated performances to date. His struggle to come to terms with and accept the rampant corruption that surrounds him makes for a strong narrative indeed, as do the difficult decisions that he’s forced to make as the story progresses. ‘Serpico’ drew criticism from some quarters due to perceived inaccuracies in its portrayal of the NYPD, but the majority of critics were in awe of the movie. Amongst other things, they highlighted its gritty depiction of corruption and crime in the city and Pacino’s fantastic performance as two of its biggest strengths,” writes GameRant.

“Quickly following ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Serpico’ sees Pacino on the other side of the law, as he plays the titular NYPD police officer, the only one in his precinct that isn’t dirty, trying to clean up the streets. Pacino worked with director Sydney Lumet to bring the real-life Frank Serpico to the big screen, and the actor delivered a performance that established his eccentric and lively style. Once again, the ’70s crime movie is unique in that it doesn’t glamorize any part of what Serpico or the criminals do, and it’s closer to a documentary about the celebrated police officer than it is a Hollywood movie,” concludes ScreenRant.

Iconic Al Pacino Lines From “Serpico”:

  • “You know what they say, don’t you? If you love a man’s garden, you gotta love the man!”
  • “The greatest injustice is the silence of good people.”
  • “You stupid f**k! You didn’t know me? You fired without a warning, without a f***ing brain in your head?”

Sources used to create our list:

Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.

About Jilly Hite

Janelle is a freelance writer from New York. Her writing focuses on parenting, tech, business, interior design, education, and telling people’s inspiring stories. Janelle has written for Mustela and Newton Baby and has bylines in Pregnant Chicken, Syracuse Woman Magazine, the Baldwinsville Messenger, and Family Times Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in literacy from the State University of New York at Oswego.

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