Total Recall: Al Pacino's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Stand Up Guys star.

Al Pacino

It may not be getting much critical love at the moment, but this weekend's Stand Up Guys has at least one thing going for it: An expertly seasoned cast that includes Alan Arkin, Christopher Walken, and Al Pacino. They've all made plenty of great films -- in fact, you can check out our countdown of Walken's best movies right here -- but seeing those names together made us realize that we've never dedicated a list to the mighty Pacino filmography, and we knew we had to take this chance to repent. Join us, if you will, for a stroll through a world where one of the greatest actors of his generation always lived up to his greatest potential, and movies like 88 Minutes and Jack and Jill never happened. It's time for Total Recall!

10. Donnie Brasco

87%

By 1997, gritty Al Pacino dramas about the never-ending struggle between law enforcement and organized crime were essentially a genre unto themselves, but Mike Newell's Donnie Brasco gave it just enough of a fresh twist to justify its own existence. Based on the true story of FBI agent Joe Pistone (played here by Johnny Depp), Brasco sensitively portrays his long, painful struggle to bring down the Mafia -- even at the expense of his friendship with Lefty Ruggiero, the low-level hitman played by Pacino, whose unwitting association with an undercover agent will all but certainly end his life. Admitting that it's "perhaps familiar in its outer trappings," Variety's Todd McCarthy countered that "Pacino's fine work is the key to the film succeeding to the extent that it does."

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9. Scent of a Woman

88%

Get yer hoo-ahs out -- the Academy certainly did, awarding Pacino his first Best Actor Oscar after four previous nominations. Given that those nominations included The Godfather, Part II and Dog Day Afternoon, it's tempting to say Pacino benefited from a little late-career grade inflation, but there's no arguing that it's his performance that elevates this Martin Brest-directed dramedy about a prep school student (Chris O'Donnell) who takes a job looking after a blind, alcoholic retired Army Ranger. "By the end of Scent of a Woman, we have arrived at the usual conclusion of the coming-of-age movie, and the usual conclusion of the prep school movie," admitted Roger Ebert. "But rarely have we been taken there with so much intelligence and skill."

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8. Scarface

88%

Scarface director Brian De Palma was inspired by Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson's 1932 gangster picture of the same name, but where the earlier version was a relatively straightforward morality play, De Palma's '80s update offered viewers a far more lurid take on the rags-to-bullets tale of crime kingpin Tony Montana. Garishly violent and gleefully profane, Scarface endured an extended battle with the MPAA before bowing to decidedly mixed reviews, but it was a fairly sizable commercial hit -- and critics have come around over the years, helping cement its status as an eminently quotable classic of over-the-top '80s crime cinema. "The dominant mood of the film is anything but funny," observed Vincent Canby of the New York Times, one of the few major contemporary critics to praise the film during its initial release. "It is bleak and futile: What goes up must always come down. When it comes down in Scarface, the crash is as terrifying as it is vivid and arresting."

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7. Serpico

90%

Pacino received his first Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work in this Sidney Lumet crime drama -- his second brush with the Academy during a torrid span that saw him earning some sort of Oscar nomination every year between 1972-75. While it was far from his biggest hit of the decade, it contains some of his strongest work, anchored by Lumet's sensitive direction and a Waldo Salt/Norman Wexler screenplay inspired by the real-life story of an NYPD officer whose efforts to root out corruption in the police force were met with life-threatening resistance. Calling it "One of the best films of our time, and our grandkids' time," Moviehole's Clint Morris marveled, "Serpico is pure Pacino, powerful as hell."

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6. Insomnia

92%

Pacino has played an awful lot of cops during his career, but arguably none more complex than Insomnia's Will Dormer, the officer whose murky past and tortured conscience can't erase the fact that he's a formidably dogged investigator. Dragged out of L.A. and into a gloomy corner of Alaska, Dormer cracks a murder case in spite of his partner's death and an attendant absence of sleep -- and that's when things really start to get grim for him. Directed by Christopher Nolan and stocked with a cast of talented actors that included Hilary Swank, Maura Tierney, Martin Donovan, and -- as the world's skeeviest crime writer -- Robin Williams, it racked up a healthy $113 million at the box office and wowed critics like Salon's Andrew O'Hehir, who grinned, "Here's proof that it's still possible to make pop-oriented yet personal movies with an A-list cast and a zillion bucks."

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Comments

Henrik Schia

Henrik Schia

I've a feeling the discussion on this list will get very heated.

Jan 30 - 09:36 AM

King  S.

King Simba

Things get heated when Heat doesn't make it to the top ten.

Jan 30 - 11:57 AM

Andrew Chaney

Andrew Chaney

I completely agree with you there. Heat was epic.

Jan 30 - 04:03 PM

Sergio Arias

Sergio Arias

Agreed!

Feb 1 - 02:26 AM

ram b.

ram bond

great comment mate, where the he*k is the modern crime drama classic, HEAT, it has to be up there with godfather no way this list is missing

Feb 3 - 12:47 PM

Jonny-Nature Ryane

Jonny-Nature Ryane

My God! Heat is not on this list!?!?!?

Jun 24 - 10:28 AM

J.W

James Wood

Where's Jack and Jill? ;)

Jan 30 - 09:40 AM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Or Gigli?

Jan 30 - 10:14 AM

Chris Buckley

Chris Buckley

Or Two-Bits?

Jan 30 - 01:49 PM

Paris Smallwood

Paris Smallwood

88 Minutes.

Jan 30 - 09:38 PM

Marian-Virgil Mirea

Marian-Virgil Mirea

Righteous Kill

Jan 31 - 11:03 PM

Sandeep Rathore

Sandeep Rathore

are u serious bro james wood.jack n jill?!!!!!!!

Jan 31 - 11:13 PM

Keith Allison

Keith Allison

REVOLUTION!!

Feb 4 - 02:23 AM

Eoghan Wallace

Eoghan Wallace

It says a great deal about Pacino's stellar filmography that not even 'Heat', the greatest heist movie of them all, was deemed worthy enough to make the list.

Jan 30 - 09:44 AM

Rbaldelli7

Michael Baldelli

Only if you don't consider Reservoir Dogs a Heist film. I would argue that Heat isn't even the best Pacino heist movie. That would go to Dog Day Afternoon.

Jan 30 - 07:41 PM

markit8dude

Paul Bongiorno

I agree, Michael.

Feb 2 - 01:32 AM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Or Gigli?

Jan 30 - 10:14 AM

Chris Buckley

Chris Buckley

Or Two-Bits?

Jan 30 - 01:49 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Was always a Devils Advocate fan myself.

Jan 30 - 10:14 AM

Muse Ikkle

Muse Ikkle

Agreed, has the devil ever been portrayed better?

Jan 30 - 02:22 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

I liked Peter Stormare in Constantine but he's a far second to Pacino.

Jan 30 - 07:48 PM

Kyle Frame

Kyle Frame

Agreed, he was awesome for that genre. Hope they do a sequel, I loved that movie.

Feb 3 - 05:23 AM

Pedro Lourenšo

Pedro Lourenšo

yes, robert deniro, harvey spencer...

Jan 31 - 09:45 AM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Jack Nicholson in Witches of Eastwick for me.

Jan 31 - 08:19 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

I like where all of you went with this. Great choices! Love De Niro in Angel Heart. No one eats an egg more sinister.

Feb 1 - 12:11 AM

Kyle Frame

Kyle Frame

Completely different genre, but I always liked Elizabeth Hurley's rendition in "Bedazzled". If nothing else, the Devil certainly has never been as sexy.

Feb 3 - 05:23 AM

David Miller

David Miller

Al Pacino was amazing in the Devil's Advocate. My favorite performance.

Jan 30 - 09:06 PM

Troy Theisen

Troy Theisen

Agreed!!! One of the best roles by anyone, ever!

Jan 31 - 01:27 PM

Clay Maracle

Clay Maracle

Heat should be 10 or 9.

Jan 30 - 10:19 AM

Mac

Joe Jarosz

It's funny, on one hand, he could be considered 1 of the top 20 greatest actors ever, but on the other, no one gets made fun of more than big Al. Think about it, His filmography is so good, that not only Heat was no on this list, but either was Dick Tracy. That's impressive. I think he's great, even though he gets a bad rap nowadays.

Jan 30 - 10:22 AM

Robert Beveridge

Robert Beveridge

The public wisely, and correctly, left Insomnia off their list. No idea what the critics were drinking when they watched it. Or they were reviewing the much superior original rather than Nolan's emasculated piece of crap.

Jan 30 - 10:36 AM

Dave J

Dave J

I've seen the original and don't think it's neither better nor worst than Nolans version because the original dwelled on atmosphere(notice the fog) and less dialogue, as opposed to Nolans which consisted to have reasonating dialogue! If the original was remade here in North America scene per scene then it would not have worked here at all since the police system is totally different!

And I just want to say that the users on here enjoyed all the "Twilight" and "Transformer" films than the RT critics do meaning if you have so much faith with the users so much then perhaps you should stop listening to the critics!

Jan 30 - 05:35 PM

markit8dude

Paul Bongiorno

No kidding Robert! The remake was TERRIBLE.

Feb 2 - 01:33 AM

Kyle Frame

Kyle Frame

I always felt like the female roles in Insomnia were criss-crossed. Maura Tierney should have been the cop and Swank could have been the inn keeper. Otherwise, the only thing drawing me in was the rare chance at the time, to see Robin Williams play the villain. However, your hinting at some vile loathing of all things Nolan, which makes your opinion biased and untrustworthy. A good critic will attempt open mindedness at all times.

Feb 3 - 05:26 AM

Johnny Boy

ved 76

Carlito's Way also deserves to be here...

Jan 30 - 10:57 AM

Anca Burlacu

Anca Burlacu

True. Or You don't know Jack and Frankie&Johnny.

Jan 30 - 11:31 AM

markit8dude

Paul Bongiorno

Frankie & Johnny.. come on. The 2 born to lose, lost souls finding one another shtick has been done to death.

Feb 2 - 01:34 AM

Muse Ikkle

Muse Ikkle

Correct!

Jan 30 - 02:20 PM

Anca Burlacu

Anca Burlacu

True. Or You don't know Jack and Frankie&Johnny.

Jan 30 - 11:31 AM

markit8dude

Paul Bongiorno

Frankie & Johnny.. come on. The 2 born to lose, lost souls finding one another shtick has been done to death.

Feb 2 - 01:34 AM

Brandon Rahbar

Brandon Rahbar

Pacino is my all-time favorite actor. He's just incredible. His late career filmography has gone largely ignored, but includes some hidden gems like The Merchant of Venice and two HBO movies for which he won Emmys: Angels In America and You Don't Know Jack. His Phil Spector movie looks great as well.

It really says a lot that Pacino can have a Top 10 that doesn't even include Heat, Carlito's Way, Sea of Love and And Justice For All.

Jan 30 - 11:49 AM

markit8dude

Paul Bongiorno

And Justice for All was AWESOME.

Feb 2 - 01:34 AM

Kyle Frame

Kyle Frame

His role in Angels in America was epic. Glad to see people remembering it.

Feb 3 - 05:28 AM

King  S.

King Simba

Things get heated when Heat doesn't make it to the top ten.

Jan 30 - 11:57 AM

Andrew Chaney

Andrew Chaney

I completely agree with you there. Heat was epic.

Jan 30 - 04:03 PM

Sergio Arias

Sergio Arias

Agreed!

Feb 1 - 02:26 AM

ram b.

ram bond

great comment mate, where the he*k is the modern crime drama classic, HEAT, it has to be up there with godfather no way this list is missing

Feb 3 - 12:47 PM

King  S.

King Simba

He may have starred in quite a few terrible films, but still it says a lot about an actor's filmography when his tenth best film is rated 88% positive.

Anyway, there were some surprises on this list, some pleasant (Insomnia making the list) others not so pleasant (Heat missing the list) but still I wouldn't have the top 3 any other way. I have to admit I was half expecting The Godfather to get knocked from the top spot due to some critic calling it overrated (as what seems to happen with almost every great film, including the sequel) or else rottentomatoes decided to pull some 40 year-old rotten review from a critic who had most likely changed his mind since then, but thankfully that didn't happen.

Jan 30 - 12:13 PM

Kyle Frame

Kyle Frame

The Godfather isn't overrated. If I can watch it for the first time 30 years after its been made and still be wowed, it's damned good.

Feb 3 - 05:28 AM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

"There's a bad guy coming through!"

Yeah, "Heat" and "Carlito's Way" should have replaced "Donnie Brasco" and "Insomnia" on the list, also worthy are smaller films like "Panic in Needle Park", "Scarecrow", "Author Author" and his "Looking for Richard" meta-documentary. Also, "Any Given Sunday" is one of his finest recent performances, better than "Insider" even (which was more of a Russell Crowe showcase).

Jan 30 - 12:16 PM

Dick Travis

Mick Travis

I think Pacino's best performance hands down is in DOG DAY AFTERNOON: the experience for him was so intense that he had to practically recuperate for 3 years before returning to acting from what I understand. Pacino is so funny and memorable in that role he should have won the Academy Award, although it was Jack Nicholson's time.

I like/love most of the other films on this list, however I'm a notorious non-fan of SCARFACE. I'm sorry, I've tried to understand what the allure of that movie is (particularly to rap artists), although admittedly I've never done cocaine in my life. The thing that bothers me so much is that people consider Tony Montana an underdog hero when in he fact he is nothing more than a misogynistic asshole whose English seems to be limited to just the word "fuck." Plus, I don't give a shit what rap artists say, nothing could top the 1932 original (which they seem to be ignorant as to its existence): why can't we have posters of Tony Camonte? It actually pisses me off that Universal has always shown favoritism to the remake, particularly when it never would have existed if it wasn't for the original. (PS-De Palma & Pacino attended a screening of its re-release in 1979.) By the way, I have to say it, but Pacino's over the top Cuban accent made me laugh my ass off!

Jan 30 - 12:28 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Hero? Anyone who doesn't understand that "Scarface" is essentially about the folly of pride (and the inevitable fall) doesn't deserve to consider themselves a fan of the film. Properly understood, it is powerful. For idiots, I suppose its meant to be emulated?

Jan 30 - 03:24 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

@Mick. Scarface is a lesson in excess and letting power go to your head. Plus, it has some iconic scenes, images and lines that resonate with the rap artists you are mentioning. Also, that same poster was on every white kids wall when I was in college so I take that into account as well. Tony Montana lived hard and died young, in a pool of his own blood (literally).

Jan 30 - 07:46 PM

Dick Travis

Mick Travis

@Infernal Dude You know what: I absolutely agree that the '83 version does have iconic scenes, images and lines as you say; I gave the film 2.5 stars out of 5 so it's not like I hated it. But seriously, what did you guys think of the 1932 version? (Bear in mind that "The World is Yours" did come from the original Howard Hawks-Ben Hecht version).

Jan 30 - 09:45 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

It's a classic, of course. I've found that it doesn't make much sense comparing the two.

Jan 30 - 10:07 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Ya, different eras of film making make different feeling films, IMO. To me, Scarface ('83) is a true example of '80s excess and has a very '80s vibe to it YET keeps a lot of the "gangster" themes intact. Either way, I still enjoy the film. Hell, I call someone a "fucking cock-A-roach " at least once a week.

Jan 30 - 10:44 PM

Andrew Targaryen

Andrew Targaryen

Impressive!

Jan 30 - 01:21 PM

Chris Buckley

Chris Buckley

Heat isn't eligible for this list because it already ranks number 1 on the greatest movies of all time list.

Jan 30 - 01:48 PM

Kyle Frame

Kyle Frame

The Shawshank Redemption.

Feb 3 - 05:30 AM

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