Idiots Guide: 10 Best Al Pacino Film Characters

It could easily be argued that Al Pacino is a living legend among the universe of thespian stars that have graced the silver screen in the past century. His talent is transcendent, his performances sublime. Without question Al Pacino has the ‘it’ factor that is instantly recognizable to most, and difficult to describe to many. In a career that has spanned a mind blowing 50 years, Mr. Pacino has played a treasure trove of characters. The following list aims to highlight some of the more memorable characters he has so effectively brought to life, for the enjoyment of movie goers the world over. Enjoy.

#10. ‘Johnny’ / “Frankie & Johnny” (1991) 

al pacino frankie and johnny

The light hearted and genuine Johnny tries his charming best to woo the closed off, and gun shy Frankie, in this heart warming love story directed by Garry Marshall.

#9. ‘Frank Serpico’ / “Serpico” (1973) 

serpico 2

Detective Frank Serpico tackles police corruption among his peers, and the hidden forces behind the blue shield of silence in this gritty biopic directed by Sidney Lumet.

#8. ‘Lt. Vincent Hanna’ / “Heat” (1995)

Pacino Heat

Pacino delivered a first rate performance as robbery-hommicide detective Lt.Vincent Hanna, in Director Michael Mann‘s smash hit ‘Heat’. Pacino plays a man  who’s obsession to his career has resulted in a life of juggling difficult marriages (he’s on his third), and a step daughter battling depression. These issues are all in addition to his doggedly tracking of a hyper violent crew of bank robbers headed by a disciplined professional thief Neil McCauley, exceptionally played by screen legend peer Robert De Niro.

#7. ‘Roy Cohn’ / “Angels in America” (2003) 

Pacino Angels America

Pacino won a Prime Time Emmy Award, and a Golden Globe for ‘Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie‘ for his portrayal of historically notorious attorney Roy Cohn in this critically acclaimed, and heavily awarded 2 part mini-film Series  ‘Angels in America‘ directed by the late great Mike Nichols. A film he later credited as his ‘Magnum Opus’. This movie series was based on Tony Kushner‘s Pulitzer Prize winning play, and is a personal favorite of this author and life-long film lover.

#6. ‘Arthur Kirkland’ / “And Justice for All…” (1979) 

Pacino Justice for All

An amazing performance in which Pacino plays an attorney who is wrestling for his very soul as he is forced to defend a guilty judge, while trying to maintain competent defenses for his innocent clients. His performance punctuated by the famous ‘You’re out of order’ monologue, in this legal drama directed by Norman Jewison.

#5. ‘Ricky Roma’ / “Glengarry Glen Ross”  (1992) 

Pacino Glen Garry

Ricky Roma is a slick, albeit morally questionable real-estate salesman who Pacino played flawlessly, in this psychological examination of the inner workings of a high pressure Chicago sales office. Dialogue rich, and talent heavy, this drama directed by James Foley, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Mamet, is a must watch. Seriously. I can’t stress this enough.

#4. ‘Carlito Brigante’ / “Carlito’s Way” (1993)


Recently released ex-convict Carlito Brigante wants to get away from the drugs, crime, and violence that had consumed most of his life. Standing in his way are a cast of characters who seem to be hell bent on blocking Carlito’s exit. Another sublime performance by Pacino in this 1993 Brian DePalma directed crime drama.

#3. ‘Sonny Wortzik’ / “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) 

Pacino Dog Day

In many ways, witnessing Sonny Wortzik’s financially motivated stress due to the declining health of his girlfriend, and the operation that he can’t afford, is something  that  struck a cord with audiences as much then, as it continues to do today. Watching the desperation that leads an otherwise good man to a bank robbery gone sour is nothing if not compelling film drama. Al Pacino’s portrayal was as realistic a performance as it gets in the business, and it made director Sidney Lumet‘s film an instant classic that has lasted the test of time.

#2. ‘Michael Corleone’ / “The Godfather” (1972) 

Pacino Godfather

There have been books, and thesis’s written about ‘The Godfather‘ films. We don’t have that kind of time, but suffice it to state that Al Pacino’s portrayal of the diabolically cunning Michael Corleone, is legendary in film history lore. Starting with the first of the eventual three films, originally directed by Francis Ford Coppola, ‘The Godfather’ series has become part of American film royalty. Al Pacino becoming it’s Prince.

#1. ‘Tony Montana’ / “Scarface” (1983) 

pacino scarface 2

In many ways, Tony Montana’s story embodies the dark underbelly of the morally bankrupt pursuit of happiness in America. Pacino’s portrayal of this Cuban immigrant who climbed to the heights of a south Florida based cocaine cartel, was alarmingly compelling. ‘Scarface‘s’ popularity has grown exponentially over the years, and achieved a cult following that is virtually unparalleled in film history. Brian DePalma directed this film written by the legendary filmmaker Oliver Stone, and the result was a crime film for the ages.


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