The 10 Best Movies Starring Al Pacino

Al Pacino, one of the most iconic actors in Hollywood history, has left an indelible mark on the film industry with his powerful performances and intense on-screen presence. His career, spanning over five decades, includes a myriad of roles that showcase his versatility and commitment to his craft. Here, we explore ten of the best movies starring Al Pacino, delving into his characters, the films’ impacts, and their lasting legacies.

1. The Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990)

While this list focuses on individual films, it’s impossible to discuss Al Pacino’s career without acknowledging his seminal role as Michael Corleone in The Godfather trilogy. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, this series is widely regarded as one of the greatest in cinematic history. Pacino’s transformation from the reluctant family outsider to the ruthless mafia boss is a masterclass in acting. His portrayal earned him Oscar nominations and cemented his status as a Hollywood legend.

2. Scarface (1983)

In Scarface, directed by Brian De Palma and written by Oliver Stone, Pacino stars as Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant who rises to power in Miami’s drug underworld. The film, though initially met with mixed reviews, has become a cult classic. Pacino’s portrayal of Montana is iconic, embodying both the ambition and the ultimate downfall of his character. His performance, marked by an intense and raw energy, has left an enduring legacy in pop culture, with lines like “Say hello to my little friend!” becoming part of cinema lore.

3. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon showcases one of Pacino’s most compelling performances as Sonny Wortzik, a man who attempts to rob a bank to pay for his partner’s sex reassignment surgery. The film, based on a true story, is a tense, character-driven drama that explores themes of desperation and the American Dream gone awry. Pacino’s portrayal of Sonny is both empathetic and electrifying, earning him another Oscar nomination and solidifying his reputation as a fearless actor willing to tackle complex and unconventional roles.

4. Serpico (1973)

In Serpico, also directed by Sidney Lumet, Pacino stars as Frank Serpico, an honest cop who exposes corruption within the New York City Police Department. Based on a true story, the film is a gritty, realistic portrayal of one man’s fight against systemic corruption. Pacino’s performance is powerful and nuanced, capturing Serpico’s moral integrity and the personal toll of his crusade. This role further established Pacino as a formidable talent in the industry and earned him an Academy Award nomination.

5. Heat (1995)

Michael Mann’s Heat is a crime saga that pairs Pacino with another legendary actor, Robert De Niro. Pacino plays Lt. Vincent Hanna, an obsessive LAPD detective on the trail of De Niro’s master thief, Neil McCauley. The film is renowned for its meticulous attention to detail, thrilling heist sequences, and the intense diner face-off between Pacino and De Niro. Pacino’s performance as Hanna is intense and driven, reflecting a character who is as relentless in his pursuit of criminals as he is haunted by his personal demons.

6. Scent of a Woman (1992)

Pacino won his first and only Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in Scent of a Woman. Directed by Martin Brest, the film stars Pacino as Lt. Colonel Frank Slade, a blind, irascible retired Army officer who embarks on a life-affirming journey with a young caretaker, played by Chris O’Donnell. Pacino’s performance is a tour de force, blending bravado with vulnerability. His iconic “Hoo-ah!” and the moving monologue at the film’s climax are standout moments that highlight his ability to command the screen.

7. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

In Glengarry Glen Ross, based on David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Pacino plays Ricky Roma, a slick, manipulative real estate salesman. The film, directed by James Foley, features an ensemble cast including Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, and Ed Harris. Pacino’s performance is charismatic and compelling, earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The film is renowned for its sharp dialogue and intense performances, with Pacino’s portrayal of Roma standing out as a highlight.

8. The Insider (1999)

Directed by Michael Mann, The Insider stars Pacino as Lowell Bergman, a producer for the CBS news program 60 Minutes, who works with whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe) to expose the tobacco industry’s lies. The film is a gripping, meticulously crafted drama about journalistic integrity and corporate malfeasance. Pacino’s performance as Bergman is understated yet powerful, portraying a man committed to revealing the truth despite immense pressure and personal risk.

9. Carlito’s Way (1993)

Reuniting with Scarface director Brian De Palma, Pacino stars in Carlito’s Way as Carlito Brigante, a former drug lord trying to go straight after being released from prison. The film is a poignant crime drama that explores themes of redemption and the inescapability of one’s past. Pacino’s performance is both soulful and magnetic, capturing Carlito’s internal struggle and his doomed quest for a better life. The film has gained a strong following over the years and is often praised for its character depth and emotional resonance.

10. Donnie Brasco (1997)

In Donnie Brasco, directed by Mike Newell, Pacino plays Lefty Ruggiero, an aging mobster who unwittingly befriends an undercover FBI agent, played by Johnny Depp. The film is based on the true story of Joseph D. Pistone, who infiltrated the mafia in the 1970s. Pacino’s portrayal of Lefty is poignant and sympathetic, depicting a loyal but disillusioned man who is ultimately betrayed by the system he trusted. The film is a gripping character study and a testament to Pacino’s ability to imbue his characters with depth and humanity.


Al Pacino’s career is a testament to his extraordinary talent and dedication to his craft. Each of these films showcases different facets of his acting prowess, from the raw intensity of Scarface and the emotional depth of Scent of a Woman, to the nuanced performances in The Insider and Donnie Brasco. Pacino’s ability to fully inhabit his characters and bring them to life on screen has made him one of the most respected and influential actors in film history. His legacy is marked by a commitment to challenging roles and a fearless approach to storytelling, ensuring that his work will continue to be celebrated for generations to come.