Ever since his humble beginnings in the intimate drug-based drama The Panic in Needle Park followed by his mainstream breakthrough in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, Al Pacino has been regarded as one of the greatest actors who ever lived.
In recent years, he’s been occasionally letting moviegoers down with disappointing turns in the likes of Jack and Jill, but at least he hasn’t sold out quite as much as his fellow screen legend Robert De Niro. Pacino’s filmography is still occupied by a majority of great work. So, here are Al Pacino’s 10 Best Movies, According To Rotten Tomatoes.
10 Donnie Brasco (88%)
Although it doesn’t get included on as many lists of the greatest gangster movies ever made as it deserves to be, Donnie Brasco is a fascinating two-hander about the relationship of two guys navigating the criminal underworld. Johnny Depp plays an FBI agent who goes so deep undercover that he spends years using the titular alias and infiltrating the mob, while Al Pacino plays the aging gangster that he befriends over that time. The palpable on-screen chemistry shared by the two actors makes the dramatic irony even more poignant. It’s a more serious, true-to-life version of a classic Point Break story.
9 Serpico (90%)
Al Pacino gives one of his most memorably animated performances in this biopic about an undercover cop who becomes sick and tired of all the corruption crawling around his department. With regular Pacino collaborator Sidney Lumet at the helm, this movie becomes a visual treat. New York City is practically a character in the film (that’s usually a tacky thing to say, but the way that Lumet shoots the city, it’s true). The movie, like the book that it’s based on, covers over a decade of Frank Serpico’s life, with Pacino using the timeframe to build a character and develop his bitter attitude towards police work.
8 You Don’t Know Jack (91%)
This HBO movie stars Al Pacino as Dr. Jack Kevorkian, one of the most controversial and polarizing figures in the history of medicine. Often termed “Dr. Death” by the media, Kevorkian was involved in a number of assisted suicides for terminally ill and disabled people. Euthanasia is a highly debated topic, so any movie hoping to tackle it would need to have a lot of points to make and a well-rounded discussion wrapped up in its narrative. Fortunately, You Don’t Know Jack has commentary in spades, with most of the film’s focus going to Kevorkian’s fifth and final trial for second-degree murder.
7 Insomnia (92%)
When movie buffs think of Christopher Nolan, they think of The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, and Dunkirk. But just like Quentin Tarantino with Jackie Brown and Stanley Kubrick with Barry Lyndon, Nolan has an underrated masterwork that is often shamefully overlooked, and that is Insomnia, a remake of a Norwegian thriller that was praised by the original’s filmmakers themselves.
Insomnia is a cat-and-mouse thriller starring Al Pacino as a cop and Robin Williams playing brilliantly against type as the serial killer he’s chasing. It’s set in chilly Alaska, and Nolan’s use of blue colors makes the viewer feel as cold as if they were actually there.
6 TIE: Glengarry Glen Ross (95%)
This film adaptation of the David Mamet play of the same name is arguably as iconic as the play itself. Director James Foley recruited Mamet himself to adapt his play for the screen, so a lot of his sharp dialogue has been left intact. Set across just two days, Glengarry Glen Ross tells the story of a real estate firm where four salesmen are told that, after one week, the two with the lowest sales will be fired. Like the play, the movie is bursting with Mamet’s signature energy. Al Pacino was the first star to sign on. He wanted to appear on stage, but he couldn’t commit to it, due to scheduling conflicts, so he offered his services to a film adaptation instead.
5 TIE: Dog Day Afternoon (95%)
This tale of a real-life bank robbery sets itself apart from the rest of the heist movie genre by humanizing the robbers. Al Pacino plays Sonny Wortzik, one of the robbers, who has never committed a crime before and simply wants to steal some money in order to pay for his lover’s gender reassignment surgery. The robbery initially goes according to plan, but also quickly goes awry. Before long, there are police swarming the block and Sonny is wondering where it all went wrong, trying to negotiate a clean break from the situation. It’s a performance-driven movie, driven by fantastic performances.
4 The Insider (96%)
Director Michael Mann’s best-known collaboration with Al Pacino is certainly Heat, the slick action thriller about bank robbers that brought film noir tropes to action-packed ‘90s cinema and paired Pacino with Robert De Niro on-screen for the first time ever. However, arguably the better film is The Insider, the story of a whistle-blower that took on a tobacco company. Pacino stars alongside Russell Crowe in the film, while Christopher Plummer provides strong support. The movie is too dense and complex to appeal to mainstream viewers, but if you have an interest in journalism or the shady dealings of corporate America, it’s definitely worth a watch.
3 The Godfather Part II (97%)
Although it’s often used as an example of a rare sequel that’s better than the original, according to Rotten Tomatoes, the first Godfather movie is slightly better than the second one. Still, The Godfather Part II is far better than anyone could’ve expected from the sequel to one of the greatest movies ever made. The sequel told the parallel storylines of Michael Corleone taking over the family business following his father’s death, and a young Vito Corleone, played by Robert De Niro, arriving in America as a young immigrant and building his criminal empire at the turn of the century.
2 The Godfather (98%)
Long considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made, The Godfather tells the story of the Corleone crime family, specifically focusing on the wayward son Michael, played by Al Pacino. Whereas Vito, the Don, has allowed all of his other sons to get involved in the family business, he wants Michael to lead a legitimate life.
He’s educated, he’s just returned from the war, and he’s got a bright future ahead of him. However, an attempt on his father’s life and an opportunity to murder a crooked cop both draw Michael towards a life of crime. Michael Corleone is the ultimate tragic hero.
1 Salomé (100%)
There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of this movie, and that’s likely because it has a very strange form. For starters, it’s not a standalone work – it’s a companion piece to Wilde Salomé, an experimental mix of documentary and drama directed by Al Pacino, based on Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé. Pacino also wrote and directed this companion movie, which stars himself and Jessica Chastain. The companion was edited out of the original, with some new footage thrown in. Naturally, it was buried by the distributor, with a quiet U.S. release in 2013 and an even quieter British release in 2014.