Born in 1940, the 79-year-old living legend Al Pacino has been captivating audiences since 1969, with an appearance in the Patty Duke film, Me, Natalie. But it was his casting several years later by Francis Ford Coppola to play Michael Corleone in The Godfather that would set his career on fire. Known for a quiet and reserved approach with occasional bombastic and wild outbursts, four of his eight Oscar nominations came just in the seventies alone. He also has won an Emmy and a Tony - all three make up the Acting Triple Crown.
Despite being known for starring in mob and crime movies, he has yet to team up with Martin Scorsese for any movie. A wrong that has since been righted. The Irishman, starring Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, and costarring both Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci debuts on Netflix, November 1st. To get ready for what should be another great performance, here are Al Pacino’s 10 Most Iconic Roles, Ranked.
10 Michael Corleone
While mafia movies are fairly commonplace these days and even when The Godfather was first released, there was still nothing quite like it. There was also nothing quite like Al Pacino’s performance as the prodigal son, Michael.
His transformation from a kid who doesn’t want to be a part of The Family into the head of all of the Five Families of New York leaves you transfixed on him. Not just because Michael is our entry point into this world, but because Pacino is darkly charismatic in the role. From explaining to his future wife Kay who everyone is during Connie’s wedding all the way to “just when I thought I was gone...” The Godfather saga has become an indelible part of American film culture.
9 Tony Montana
After Don Corleone, Pacino’s next biggest role might be the role he’s most well-known for is the Cuban refugee turned violent drug dealer, Tony Montana in Scarface. Directed by Brian De Palma and written by Oliver Stone, the remake of the 1932 original is a completely insane twist on the American Dream and Tony’s mantra - first you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the woman.
The movie has become a hallmark among the hip-hop community and despite negative reviews at first, a huge classic, thanks solely to Pacino’s deliberate over the top performance.
8 Lefty Ruggiero
Pacino has been known for playing strong type of characters. He played a much more subdued mobster in Donnie Brasco.
Here played Lefty Ruggiero, an aging mobster looking for a way back to prominence when he meets Donnie Brasco (who is really FBI Agent Joe Pistone). Watching Pacino as more of a bumbling old-timer instead of the steely-eyed, calculating Godfather, or psychotic Tony Montana showed a side of Pacino seldom seen.
7 Detective Vincent Hanna
As the determined L.A. Detective, Vincent Hanna, Pacino gives the performance of a lifetime in the showdown with Robert DeNiro’s Neil McCauley in Michael Mann’s Heat.
While several critics like to bemoan some both actors’ choices of film roles in the latter stages of their careers, here Pacino was as good as he was in his early days tracking down McCauley and his team of bank robbers, plotting to take down a massive score.
6 Sonny Wortzik
In Gravesend, Brooklyn three young men attempt a bank robbery. Only one of them leaves before they even get started and the bank already made its afternoon pickup, leaving them with barely a thousand bucks to make off with.
Pacino played the head robber, Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon. Pacino became a bit of a folk hero with this movie. Sonny was just a young man trying to pay for his girlfriend’s sex change. The movie’s famous scene is him shouting “Attica,” to rile up the bystanders outside.
5 John Milton
The temptation of being a huge success at the expense of everything for hotshot Florida Kevin Lomax In The Devil’s Advocate. He’s invited to join a New York City law firm being run by John Milton (Pacino).
Success is one thing, but Kevin’s wife, Mary Ann starts to have demonic visions, leading Kevin to realize that Milton isn’t just his boss, he’s the Devil himself.
4 Frank Serpico
Imagine being a great cop and doing all you can to help serve and protect the city of New York. Officer Frank Serpico (Pacino) was a real-life NYPD officer.
He gets promoted to a plainclothes cop and starts to u cover corruption within the NYPD. Clearly, Serpico gets harassed by the very peers that he’s trying to bring down. Sidney Lumet directed Pacino to another Oscar nomination for his portrayal.
3 Will Dormer
The pairing of Pacino and Christopher Nolan yielded the taught and gripping thriller, Insomnia. Pacino plays L.A. Detective Will Dormer on assignment to Alaska to investigate the murder of a teen. On the home front, he’s being investigated by Internal Affairs.
Pacino as Dormer is a subdued performance but still intense, as he staves off the growing restlessness from both investigations and Robin Williams’ Walter Finch’s constant needling.
2 Frank Slade
Pacino has had to date, seven Best Actor nominations and one for Best Supporting Actor. On the same night he was nominated for his supporting role in Glengarry Glen Ross, he collected an Best Actor for Scent Of A Woman. Here, he plays Frank Slade, a retired Colonel who has become blind and an alcoholic.
His daughter hired prep school kid, Charlie to be his assistant of sorts. The film could have been your typical young man / old crank buddy movie. But Pacino, much like every film he’s a part of, elevates the film ten-fold.
1 Lowell Bergman
Based on the book, “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” Al Pacino once again teamed up with Michael Mann for The Insider. He played Lowell Bergman, a TV producer for 60 Minutes, who teamed up with Brown And Williamson Tobacco employee Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), to blow the whistle on the company and the tobacco industry at large. As Bergman, Pacino does what he can to help coax Wigand into revealing the truth about big tobacco.