1. The Godfather (1972)

IMDB Rating: 9.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

Storyline:
The Godfather is a crime drama directed by Francis Ford Coppola based on the novel of the same name. The movie follows the story of the Corleone family, an Italian-American crime family led by patriarch Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). Al Pacino stars as Michael Corleone, the youngest son who was initially reluctant to get involved in the family’s criminal activities but eventually becomes engulfed in the world of crime.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino’s performance as Michael Corleone is often regarded as one of the greatest in cinematic history. His stunning interpretation of a character transforming from an innocent, detached young man into a ruthless mafia boss, justifies the narrative arc perfectly. The subtle changes in his demeanor and expressions expertly demonstrated his internal turmoil and struggle, earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
In The Godfather, Pacino gives a deeply nuanced, complicated performance that showcases the complexity of his acting skills. His portrayal of Michael’s transformation is both captivating and haunting, making the audience engrossed in his journey. His performance not only led to a drastic rise in his career but solidified his position as a brilliant actor capable of delivering stunning performances in challenging roles.

2. The Godfather: Part II (1974)

IMDB Rating: 9.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

Storyline:
The Godfather: Part II is the sequel to the 1972 film The Godfather. It not only continues the story of Michael Corleone as the new Don of the Corleone family but also explores the early life of his father, Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro), in 1920s New York. In the parallel storylines, the film intricately weaves the narratives of father and son, linking the past with the present.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
In The Godfather: Part II, Pacino further developed his iconic character of Michael Corleone. His portrayal of a man isolated by power and haunted by the choices he’s made showed the darker side of the character. Pacino perfectly balanced the ruthlessness of Michael with an underlying sadness, creating a complex character that drew audiences in. His standout performance earned him his second Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Actor.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino’s performance in The Godfather: Part II is a practised study in the art of metamorphosis. His skill shined through in embodying the profound transformation of the once-reasonable Michael into a character consumed by his hunger for power. He evolved his character subtly throughout the film, portraying a now hardened individual marred by the weight of his responsibilities, irrevocably changed by his circumstances.

3. Scarface (1983)

IMDB Rating: 8.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 81%

Storyline:
Scarface, directed by Brian De Palma, is a crime drama that tells the tale of a Cuban refugee Tony Montana (Al Pacino) who arrives in 1980s Miami with nothing and rises to become a powerful drug lord. The story is a raw depiction of the dark side of the American dream, with Montana’s overpowering ambition leading him down a path of excess and eventual self-destruction.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino’s performance as Tony Montana has become legendary in the realm of cinema. His larger-than-life portrayal of a man consumed by greed was both grotesque and oddly captivating. Pacino fully committed to every aspect of Montana’s character, from his unique accent to his volatile personality, delivering a performance that was full of energy and remarkably memorable.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Though the movie received mixed reviews upon release, there’s no ignoring Pacino’s powerful performance that has helped Scarface achieve cult status over the years. Pacino brought a level of intensity to the role that was riveting, embodying a man deranged by his desire for power and wealth. His performance showcased his versatility, proving that no role is too challenging for this consummate actor.

4. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

IMDB Rating: 8.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

Storyline:
Dog Day Afternoon, directed by Sidney Lumet, is based on the real-life story of a man named Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) who attempts to rob a bank to pay for his lover’s sex reassignment surgery. The film unfolds as a tense drama, turning a desperate man’s attempt at a heist into a bizarre spectacle that captures the attention of the entire city.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
In Dog Day Afternoon, Pacino uses his exceptional skills to bring a high degree of intensity and humor to his role. His character, Sonny, is nervous, fast-talking, and unpredictable, and Pacino embodies these characteristics with absolute commitment. His performance beautifully captures Sonny’s desperation, fear, and determination, earning him yet another Oscar nomination.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino’s memorable performance is a testament to his ability to fully inhabit the characters he portrays. The actor’s strong portrayal of Sonny’s internal and external struggles made spectators laugh, feel anxious, and sympathize. This film character further authenticates Pacino’s exemplary talent for portraying a vast array of unconventional and complex characters.

5. Scent of a Woman (1992)

IMDB Rating: 8.0/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

Storyline:
In Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino plays Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, a cantankerous, blind retired military officer whose challenging personality tests the patience of everyone around him. When student Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell) is hired as his caretaker over Thanksgiving weekend, he is unprepared for the demanding task that lies ahead.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
This film presented Pacino with one of his most challenging roles to date. He delivers an unforgettable performance as Frank Slade, demonstrating strong charisma and wit in spite of his character’s cantankerous nature. He commands every scene he’s in and his famous ‘Hoo-ah’ cry has wormed its way into pop culture. It’s no surprise that this role won him his first Oscar for Best Actor.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino’s performance in Scent of a Woman is magnificent, transcending the stereotype of a disability and creating a unique, colorful individual who is as flawed as he is fascinating. He was meticulous in his portrayal of blindness, doing justice to a marginalized community. His portrayal of a man grappling with vulnerability, bitterness, and underlying despair was both believable and moving, showcasing once again Pacino’s extraordinary acting range.

6. Serpico (1973)

IMDB Rating: 7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%

Storyline:
Based on the true story of New York cop Frank Serpico (Al Pacino), the film is a gritty, realistic depiction of rampant police corruption. Serpico is an honest cop who refuses to take bribes, making him an isolated figure within his precinct. His dedication to justice and integrity put both his career and his life in grave danger.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino’s portrayal of Frank Serpico is one of his most iconic performances. He successfully fleshes out the character’s complexity, morphing from a naïve rookie to a seasoned, disillusioned officer. He stunningly conveys Serpico’s rage, frustration, and desperation, embodying the character’s defiance and determination to expose the truth.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino’s performance is central to the success of Serpico. Serpico is portrayed as a poignant, solitary figure labouring against a corrupt system, a portrayal that resonates because of Pacino’s skill to mine the depths of the character’s psyche, delivering a forceful and wreaking performance. The film earned him his second Best Actor Oscar nomination and solidified his reputation within the industry as a leading man capable of complex, compelling performances.

7. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

IMDB Rating: 7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

Storyline:
Glengarry Glen Ross follows an ensemble cast of salesmen who are under pressure to perform in a company that pushes hardline sales tactics. Al Pacino brilliantly plays the smooth-talking Ricky Roma, a top-ranking salesman whose methods and morals are questionable at best.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino’s portrayal of the slick, manipulative Ricky Roma is loaded with dynamism and charm. He injects the appropriate amounts of grit and cynicism into his character, drawing the viewer into his quick-paced world of persuasive sales pitches. This role earned Pacino another nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino delivers a sharp, engaging performance that showcases hustling at its best. His Ricky Roma is fantastically sleazy, desperate, and competitive, a character who embodies the cutthroat nature of sales. Pacino manages to make such a morally ambiguous character engrossing, painting a vivid picture of the underbelly of sales and marketing.

8. Carlito’s Way (1993)

IMDB Rating: 7.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%

Storyline:
In Carlito’s Way, Pacino stars as Carlito Brigante, a former drug dealer who, after being released from prison, attempts to leave his criminal past behind. However, despite his best efforts, he finds himself drawn back into the life he is so desperate to escape.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino delivers a captivating portrayal of a man wrestling with his destiny, a hardened gangster striving for redemption but forever haunted by his past. He imbues Carlito with both toughness and vulnerability, lending depth to the character. His impressive performance is marked by intensity and several brilliantly executed dramatic scenes with his co-stars.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino runs the gamut of high emotion in this role, showcasing his innate ability for on-screen intensity. He succeeds in making viewers empathize and root for Carlito despite his criminal background. His riveting performance allows the audience to understand the complexities and personal battles of the character, proving his unmatched prowess in creating multi-faceted characters.

9. The Insider (1999)

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

Storyline:
The Insider is a riveting drama based on a true story. It tells the story of a research chemist who comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a “60 Minutes” expose on Big Tobacco. Al Pacino stars as CBS producer Lowell Bergman, battling to protect the integrity of his source and the freedom of the press.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino’s performance in The Insider is a perfect balance of restraint and intensity. Pacino portrays investigative journalist Bergman with a subtle determination, managing to humanize a role that could easily have been one-dimensional. His portrayal emphasizes the sincerity and unwavering commitment of the character to his work and source.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
In The Insider, Pacino’s performance is understated yet compelling, cementing his reputation as one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood. He added depth and authenticity to his character, pushing the narrative forward while standing strong in the backdrop of the whistleblower’s distressing fate. His reliable and thoughtful portrayal of Lowell Bergman is one of the reasons why The Insider is considered a brilliant journalistic film.

10. Donnie Brasco (1997)

IMDB Rating: 7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

Storyline:
Based on a true story, Donnie Brasco follows undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp) who infiltrates the Mafia, operating under the name Donnie Brasco. Pacino plays Lefty, a weather-worn hitman who takes Donnie under his wing, not knowing his true identity.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino delivers a touching and vulnerable performance as Lefty, a low-level mobster who lives a life filled with disappointment and unfulfilled dreams. His portrayal is gritty and poignant, offering a unique look at the mellowed side of a character struggling to hold onto his significance in a world that seems to have moved past him.

Why it’s a Major Performance:
Pacino’s portrayal of Lefty, a character steeped in melancholy and regret, is powerful and deeply emotional. He humanizes this downtrodden, often overlooked character, making the viewers empathize with his plight. Despite sharing screen space with a young and magnetizing Johnny Depp, Pacino’s riveting performance never fails to draw focus, cementing his place as a master thespian.