Evolution of Al Pacino: From 'Godfather' to 'Hunters' (Photos)

A look back at the extraordinary career of the Hollywood legend on his 81st birthday

Rosemary Rossi

From portraying a mob don and an AIDS-stricken attorney to a comic strip villain and a Nazi hunter, Al Pacino has done it all. In honor of his long and distinguished career (and his 80th birthday), we offer up this retrospect that showcases his expansive diversity.

“N.Y.P.D”  (1968)   •   A then 28-year-old Pacino made his TV debut on this ABC police procedural plan the victim of a shooting.

“Me, Natalie”  (1971)   •   Pacino had a small role in this film starring Patty Duke about a girl who struggles with her appearance.

“The Panic in Needle Park”  (1971)   •   Pacino played a small-town crook leading a woman down a path of heroin addiction. His work in this film caught the eye of director Francis Ford Coppola.

“The Godfather”  (1971)   •   Coppola cast him as Michael Corleone — for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination. Need we say more?

“Serpico”  (1973)   •   Pacino earned his second Oscar nomination playing New York City policeman Frank Serpico, who goes undercover to expose corruption within the NYPD.

“The Godfather: Part II”  (1974)   •   Oscar nod No. 3 came reprising his role as Michael Corleone and what Newsweek called “arguably cinema’s greatest portrayal of the hardening of a heart.”

“Dog Day Afternoon”  (1975)   •   And Oscar nomination No. 4, this time playing real-life bank robber John Wojtowicz.

“And Justice for All”  (1979)   •   Oscar nod No. 5 came for his work in this courtroom drama.

“Author! Author!”  (1982)   •   This comedy-drama directed by Arthur Hiller about a Broadway playwright was panned by critics…

“Scarface”  (1983)   •   … So he returned to crime dramas like this one directed by Brian De Palma and what many consider a defining role in his career.

“Revolution”  (1985)   •   Playing a fur trapper pulled into the American Revolution didn’t register with critics or Pacino fans.

Sea of Love  (1989)  •  In this neo-noir thriller, Pacino plays a burned-out detective on the hunt for a serial killer who finds their victims through a singles column. Ellen Barkin is his sexy leading lady, who is either the perp… or the next casualty.

“Dick Tracy”  (1990)   •  Critic Roger Ebert described Pacino as a “scene-stealer” in his role as Big Boy Caprice (pictured with Madonna) in this Warren Beatty-directed film, which earned him, yes, an Oscar nomination.

“The Godfather: Part III” (1990)   •   The third time was not the charm in this franchise.

“Frankie and Johnny”  (1991)   •   Appearing opposite Michelle Pfeiffer, who also appeared with him in “Scarface,” Pacino plays a recently paroled cook who begins a romance with a waitress.

“Glengarry Glen Ross”  (1992)   •   Pacino became the first actor to earn two Oscar nominations the same year, for different films, first for playing Richard “Ricky” Roma, the top salesman in a real estate office…

“Scent of a Woman”  (1992)   •   … and also for playing blind U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (here with Gabrielle Anwar). He finally took home the Oscar for the supporting role, along with the catchphrase “Hoo-wah!”

“Carlito’s Way”  (1993)   •   With the help of his attorney (Sean Penn), gangster Carlito Brigante is released from prison and vows to go straight.

“Heat”  (1995)   •   The first time Pacino and Robert De Niro appeared on screen together. If that’s not a reason to watch Michael Mann’s crime film, nothing is.

City Hall  (1996)  •  Pacino plays an ambitious New York City mayor whose deputy (John Cusack) uncovers corruption where he least expects it after a young boy is accidentally shot and killed.

“Donnie Brasco”  (1997)   •   Pacino again took on a true story, playing real-life gangster “Lefty” to Johnny Depp’s undercover FBI agent.

“The Devil’s Advocate”  (1997)   •   Pacino played Satan himself in this supernatural thriller with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron.

“The Insider”  (1999)   •  Pacino plays “60 Minutes” producer Lowell Bergman opposite Russell Crowe’s chemist who comes under attack for exposing the tobacco industry.

“Any Given Sunday”  (1999)   •   Oliver Stone directed Pacino in this sports drama about a fictional professional football team and its veteran coach.

“Insomnia”  (2002)   •   Pacino plays a Los Angeles homicide detective sent to investigate a murder in Alaska, where the sun never sets. Robin Williams and Hilary Swank co-star.

“Gigli”  (2003)   •   Yes, Pacino was in this Jennifer Lopez-Ben Affleck production that many consider one of the worst films in history. He played a New York-based mob boss.

“Angels in America”  (2003)   •   Pacino won a  Golden Globe for his portrayal of lawyer Roy Cohn in the HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play about gay life in America.

“Ocean’s Thirteen”  (2007)   •   Once again, Pacino took on the role of a film’s antagonist, this time as a casino tycoon in the third film in the Ocean’s trilogy.

“You Don’t Know Jack”  (2010)   •   Pacino earned an Emmy Award and another Golden Globe for his portrayal of Jack Kevorkian, the physician-assisted suicide advocate, in this HBO Films biopic.

“Phil Spector” (2013)   •   Three years later, Pacino was back at HBO in another biopic, this time playing record producer Phil Spector during his 2009 murder trial.

“Paterno”  (2018)   •   And again five years later, Pacino appeared in another HBO film — playing the Penn State football coach in the midst of a child sex abuse scandal.

“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”  (2019)   •  Pacino plays casting agent Marvin Schwarz in Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning film that also stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.

“The Irishman”  (2019)   •   As Teamsters chief Jimmy Hoffa, Pacino appeared alongside Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in this 209-minute crime epic directed by Martin Scorsese.

“Hunters”  (2020)   •   In the Amazon Prime series, Pacino plays fictional Nazi hunter Meyer Offerman.
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