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The nine worst Al Pacino performances

Al Pacino does his best acting in years in ‘Manglehorn’, after years of insanely over-the-top roles. Here are nine particularly ripe and ridiculous Pacino performances

Written by
Tom Huddleston

It all started so well for Alfredo James Pacino. His star-making turn in ‘The Godfather’ is a masterclass in quiet menace and he’s even more terrifying in the sequel. In ‘Serpico’ he’s loveably rebellious, in ‘Cruising’ he embodies personal insecurity. And then, well, it all started to get a bit nuts. Out went the nuance and soul, replaced by unnecessary tics, method tricks, crazy accents and insane bellowing. Now, Pacino’s name has become a watchword for OTT scenery-chewing: fun to watch, but a far cry from the Al of old.

Scarface (1983)
  • Film
  • Thrillers

In brief: Manuel from ‘Fawlty Towers’ playing Captain Hook in the Wigan Pier panto.

Let’s get this out of the way. ‘Scarface’ is not a good movie, although it is a hilarious, demented and massively entertaining one. It’s hard to say if Pacino’s performance as a crazed Cuban drug lord is actually bad, or if he’s impersonating Latin America’s angriest oompa-loompa on a cocaine bender. In which case it’s genius.

Worst line: ‘Manolo, choot dat piece a chit!’

Ham-ometer: Thick-sliced and oh-so-spicy.

Dick Tracy (1990)
  • Film
  • Thrillers

In brief: The Spiv from ‘St Trinians’ after a bout of misguided plastic surgery.

This is another one of those Pacino performances that’s intentionally hammy, but not necessarily in a good way. Everything about Warren Beatty’s weird noir throwback was grotesque and OTT, so Al was probably just going with the flow. It’s an irksome, unlovely performance – but no more so than the film itself.

Worst line: ‘I just wanna take your head and I wanna crush it like an egg!’

Ham-ometer: More like spam: gristly and unpalatable.

Scent of a Woman (1992)
  • Film

In brief: Foghorn Leghorn’s shorter, angrier, blinder brother.

God bless the Oscars. Pacino delivers his worst performance to date, and they rush to award him Best Actor, rubber-stamping Shouty Al’s worst excesses. As an irascible, blind ex-military man he gets to be both grumpy old git and gooey teddy bear, and the results are gruesome.

Worst line: ‘Hoo-ha!’

Ham-ometer: Southern-fried and drenched in grease.

Heat (1995)
  • Film
  • Thrillers

In brief: McNulty from ‘The Wire’ with an electrode up his bum.

Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ is this close to being a great movie – sleek, stylish, superbly plotted and featuring one of the all-time great cinema shootouts. The turd in the pudding is Al’s performance as a crotchety detective, so berserkly brash it unbalances the entire film. Just check out the scene where he interrogates Ricky Harris in the junkyard – it’s hilarious.

Worst line: ‘She’s got a GREAT ASS!!!’

Ham-ometer: Way too salty for the surrounding sandwich.

The Devil's Advocate (1997)
  • Film

In brief: The Peperami animal in an Armani suit.

Al’s freakiest post-‘Scarface’ performance was in this wannabe-serious tale of a high-flying lawyer (Keanu Reeves) who goes to work for a guy who turns out to be – DUM! DUM! DUM! – the Devil himself. As Satan, Al gets to indulge all his worst instincts, especially that I’m-talking-I’m-talking-NOW-I’M-YELLING schtick that’s become one of his favourite tics.

Worst line: ‘He’s a tight-ass! He’s a sadist! He’s an absentee landlord! Worship that? NEVER!’

Ham-ometer: Sizzlin’ hot.

Any Given Sunday (1999)
  • Film
  • Drama

In brief: Pinocchio grows up, takes a job as an American football coach.

This is yet another Pacino movie where the entire script seems structured to give him opportunities to yell at people. Punchy, self-righteous and roughly the same shade of teak as an Ikea sideboard, his performance as a veteran American football coach actually adds brief flashes of interest to Oliver Stone’s tediously macho sports melodrama.

Worst line: ‘Either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals.’

Ham-ometer: Wood-smoked for a fuller flavour.

S1mØne (2002)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

In brief: Wyatt from ‘Weird Science’ as an ageing alcoholic.

Admittedly, this one is not really Al’s fault. The film was a misfire from the start, its ideas about a virtual movie star created on boozy producer Pacino’s home PC dated before the film was even released. But he doesn’t really help matters, over… stressing… every… word so excessively that the film feels twice as long as it is.

Worst line: ‘A star is digitised!’

Ham-ometer: CG-replicated pork substitute.

Gigli (2003)
  • Film

In brief: Ageing record producer, complete with aviators and rat-tail.

Okay, so no one emerged from this reputation-ruining ‘comedy’ disaster with any dignity, but Al should never have gone near it in the first place. He’s playing yet another mob boss – something he could presumably do in his sleep, if he didn’t wake himself up with all the shouting.

Worst line: ‘I know my fuckin’ name, you piece a shit!’

Ham-ometer: Tasteless chunks sprinkled on the world’s worst pizza.

The Merchant of Venice (2004)
  • Film
  • Drama

In brief: Michael Corleone in a floppy felt hat.

Al has been a longtime lover of Shakespeare – he even directed a documentary, ‘Looking for Richard’, about his struggles with the Bard. But when he finally got to tackle Shakey on screen, he ballsed it up big time. His Shylock is just a parade of Pacino acting tics – the angry mumbling thing, the quiet-LOUD thing, the funny accent thing – totally lacking shade or subtlety.

Worst line: Don’t be daft, this is Shakespeare.

Ham-ometer: This Elizabethan ham is starting to smell.

Read our review of ‘Manglehorn’

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama

A few years ago Al Pacino told an interviewer that the director’s job is to rein him in. So well done director David Gordon Green ('Joe', 'George Washington') for curbing his weakness for thespy overacting. Pacino gives his most natural performance in years in 'Manglehorn', the smalltown story of a man facing up to a lifetime of failed relationships. 


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