ByJon Miller, writer at Creators.co
A caffeinated commentator obsessed with political pop culture and then writing about it. "Don't talk unless you can improve the silence."
Jon Miller

When being asked which actor has become a defining figure of the Golden Age of filmmaking in the 1960s and 1970s, there’s no shortage of actors who we can consider to be part of that criteria. Such names likely to make an appearance are: Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Robert Duvall and, of course, Al Pacino.

April 25th is the birthday of the now 77-year-old Al Pacino, an actor who has probably maintained one of the most singular and compelling film and theater careers of all-time — a feat unmatched by any actor since no matter how much they have wanted it.

It is quite an experience when you can sit down and fully absorb just how much of an immensely talented actor has become, from his unsubtly underrated youthful performance as Bobby in Panic in Needle Park, to his woolly mammoth-sized rendition of the doctor of death in ’s You Don’t Know Jack. He is a wunderkind artist of the dramatic arts and conveys each and every character that he portrays with confidence and the utmost attention to detail.

Unlike most actors of his kind and after, Pacino’s performances rest on his subtle and not-so-subtle body language. For an actor, this can be just as important and meaningful as the dialogue itself if you know how to do it right. As a film fanatic, I find my brain in sponge mode when it comes to a unique and perceptive performance by the legend. He is one who likely solidifies his place as an actor like no other. To celebrate his birthday, here are the top performances of Al Pacino and where they stand today!

11. John Milton ('The Devil’s Advocate')

'The Devil's Advocate' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'The Devil's Advocate' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

Pacino’s character's name comes from the famous epic poet John Milton, whose work Paradise Lost was a clear influence on the film. It is a long and tedious poem that I wouldn’t wish upon even my worst enemies (if you can avoid it in college, you’ll thank me later).

However, Pacino makes the poem and this film much more bearable than it really should be. The film follows Keanu Reeves as a southern attorney taken under the wing of a big honcho. Unfortunately for Reeves, that honcho was played by Al Pacino and he steals every scene as the delectable villain.

'The Devil's Advocate' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'The Devil's Advocate' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

10. Bobby Deerfield ('Bobby Deerfield')

'Bobby Deerfield' [Credit: Columbia Pictures / Warner Bros.]
'Bobby Deerfield' [Credit: Columbia Pictures / Warner Bros.]

A criminally under-seen Pacino classic if there ever was one! The 1977 film follows Pacino as a controlling Formula One racer in Europe who starts to lose control (see what I did there) when he falls in love a terminally ill woman.

Other than being known for Pacino’s calculated performance as well as having some pretty remarkable shots of the Italian landscape, the film is highly regarded as Pacino’s first awful movie after a roster of so many '70s classics. However, the film is also a bit misunderstood. Sure, it by no means a classic — an inconsistence balance of drama and avant-garde are certainly to blame — but Pacino’s performance, like many of his, carries the film to soaring heights.

9. Tom Dobb ('Revolution')

'Revolution' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'Revolution' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

Another vastly misunderstood film in Pacino’s canister is Revolution. Mostly known for coming out after Scarface and for starting the new career resurgence of the “scream acting Pacino” that we know of today, Revolution was not met with the same critical and commercial welcoming party that, say, The Godfather received.

The American Revolution film was such a tasking and collaborate effort that Pacino took a four-year break from acting when it was all done. With that said, Pacino’s performance as Tom Dobb is quite complex, with a combination of fear and pride while also being a commentary of the psychological stresses of war.

8. Michael Corleone ('The Godfather, Part II, Part III')

'The Godfather' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'The Godfather' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

I know, it was pretty difficult for me to put it so low on this list. Being the Game of Thrones obsessive that I am, I often compare Jon Snow to Michael Corleone. Just like Al Pacino, I thought Kit Harington’s performance was decent, but nothing special in the beginning. Both characters are simple and neglected, but are later thrust into a weighty amount of responsibility with a lot to learn. It was not until the fourth and five seasons that I realized Jon Snow was actually becoming one of my favorite characters as Pacino’s Corleone was by the second and third films.

'The Godfather' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'The Godfather' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

It was hard to find a place for Pacino’s performances as Michael Corleone because it is not the same performance. It would make sense to split all three performances into different numbers on this list, but in a way, it also feels like betraying the character because it is The Godfather that shaped the Corleone that we love from The Godfather: Part II.

7. Tony Montana ('Scarface')

'Scarface' [Credit: Universal]
'Scarface' [Credit: Universal]

Of course we were going to have to find a place on this list for . Upon its 1983 release, Tony Montana became the quintessential gangster and drug kingpin. That “World Is Yours” globe so perfectly embellished the world of Montana and has given a whole new meaning to greed and antihero.

'Scarface' [Credit: Universal]
'Scarface' [Credit: Universal]

There’s a reason why rappers and songs have attempted to remake his image, or why the movie’s poster is on everyone’s bedroom walls, or why the movie is engrained into our very pop culture. It also helps that the film has an excessive amount of quotable lines that you can embed into your daily life, such as “I always tell the truth, even when I lie” and “I never fucked anybody over in my life didn't have it coming to them. You got that?” Actually, maybe don’t say any of those.

6. Roy Cohn ('Angels In America')

'Angels In America' [Credit: HBO]
'Angels In America' [Credit: HBO]

OK, so this one is an HBO miniseries, but it’s no less of an exemplary performance that perfectly displays the amount of sheer talent that Al Pacino has. Angels in America is by far one of the greatest dramatic plays of all time. The play and series is written by Tony Kushner and follows several characters as they are forced to deal with the heightened panic of the AIDS epidemic as well as Reagan-era New York City gay politics.

Pacino plays Roy Cohn, a fictional account of the real-life lawyer, who is dying from AIDS and is forced to confront his guilt of hypocritical homophobia and as well as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, whom he helped prosecute.

5. Frank Serpico ('Serpico')

'Serpico' [Credit: Paramount]
'Serpico' [Credit: Paramount]

The movie role that proved he was not a one-time actor. Pacino followed his success with The Godfather with the title role of a truly incorruptible New York City cop. Just like with The Godfather series (although with much less time), Pacino thoroughly conveys the pure rookie who strives to make a difference before fully developing into the hairy, stressful and distrustful — but still honorable — Frank Serpico. It helped shed a light on the corruption of the NYPD and paved a way for a new brand of justice.

4. Arthur Kirkland ('…And Justice For All')

'…And Justice For All' [Credit: Columbia]
'…And Justice For All' [Credit: Columbia]

Speaking of justice, have you ever wondered where that famous “You’re out of order!” line came from? Well, you must not be very surprised to discover that it came from the roaring mouth of Al Pacino. The film follows Pacino as a rather unconventional defense attorney who defends a judge on trial for sexual assault. He hates hypocrites and he hates corruption, and he proclaims it at the very top of his lungs.

3. Ricky Roma ('Glengarry Glen Ross')

'Glengarry Glen Ross' [Credit: New Line Cinema]
'Glengarry Glen Ross' [Credit: New Line Cinema]

Pacino is one of the rare actors that is joined by Emma Thompson, Cate Blanchett and Jamie Foxx in being nominated for two movie roles in one year. The same year he was nominated and won for Scent of a Woman (which did not make this list because it's kinda terrible), he was also nominated for Glengarry Glen Ross, a much stronger performance.

'Glengarry Glen Ross' [Credit: New Line Cinema]
'Glengarry Glen Ross' [Credit: New Line Cinema]

His renowned performance as real estate charmer Ricky Roma does not kick in until the second half of the movie, and when it does it is a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions. Equipped with every swear word in the urban dictionary and facial expression known to man, Pacino strikes his prey with a bolt of thunder like Zeus and crawls under the skin like Medusa. There’s no one else that can draw that kind of a performance, and we are all the more grateful that Pacino was up for the challenge.

2. Vincent Hanna ('Heat')

'Heat' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'Heat' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

This ultimate cops-and-robbers epic has been easily regarded as one of the best action movies to come out of the 1990s. Michael Mann’s intense thriller was highly anticipated for bringing together two living legends on the same screen, and even though Al Pacino and Robert De Niro share only two scenes together, they are well worth the enthusiasm.

The film is clear from the beginning who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, but Mann’s script does more than just follow those common tropes. De Niro’s Neil McCauley is a robber with a heart for decency, while Pacino’s Vincent Hanna is the good guy with tendency to veer towards absolute madness.

1. Sonny Wortzik ('Dog Day Afternoon')

'Dog Day Afternoon' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'Dog Day Afternoon' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

There are times when the Academy Awards have gotten wrong. That’s just a fact, I’m sorry to say. While Jack Nicholson’s performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is just as legendary, Al Pacino’s conflicting portrayal of Sonny, an inexperienced bank robber trying to obtain some quick cash for his boyfriend’s sex change, is a masterclass in acting. The impeccable harmony of a sweaty, exasperated young man in way over his head while also keeping the dark comedy alive and well is particularly noteworthy.

Not awarding an Oscar for such an intricately tense performance seems like the worst slap to the face. For a film that could have easily been made in an hour and 20 minutes, Pacino makes each and every second of the nearly two-and-a-half hour movie worthwhile. The performance is one for the ages and will hopefully become the defining performance of Al Pacino’s career where there are no limited amounts.

'Dog Day Afternoon' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'Dog Day Afternoon' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

Which of these films do you think best showcases Pacino's acting ability?

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