Every Al Pacino and Robert De Niro movie collaboration is special, especially since no list of greatest film actors of all time would be complete without De Niro or Pacino featuring on it somewhere. The two broke through in a major way in the early ’70s with an almost embarrassing run of brilliant performances in classic films.
Pacino had Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and The Panic in Needle Park while De Niro had Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and The Deer Hunter. In the decades that passed, the two have appeared in their fair share of duds, but they’ve given some iconic turns too. While both played major roles in The Godfather Part IIthey didn’t share any screen time. Movie fans would have to wait over two decades for that to come to pass with 1995’s Heat. The duo has reteamed a couple of times since then too with some mixed results.
4 Righteous Kill (2008)
Righteous Kill sounded – on paper – like a dream come true. Following the acclaim that greeted Heat, Righteous Kill was pitched as a movie that would have the pair working together throughout, as they played veteran detectives on the trail of a killer who is targeting criminals. After starring in two movies previous to this one, Righteous Kill promised to have the two legendary actors sharing the screen for a significant portion of the movie. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a letdown.
The movie also featured Carla Gugino and Brian Dennehy, but the result was seen as a generic, lifeless thriller that holds just an 18% Rotten Tomatoes rating. The movie runs through cop movie clichés like it’s ticking off a list and neither Pacino nor De Niro give their best performance in it. The movie also seems to think it has set up a clever twist in the end without realizing how obvious it was from the very beginning.
3 The Irishman (2019)
Righteous Kill might have allowed De Niro and Pacino to share the screen for longer than in previous collaborations but the material was far below their talents. Luckily, they ended up working closely together again, this time for Martin Scorsese in The Irishman. De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman and associate of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) who also claims to be responsible for the unsolved disappearance of Hoffa. Not only are De Niro and Pacino working together on this Scorsese movie but they are joined by Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel.
Much was made of The Irishman‘s de-aging technology explored to make the duo look younger, its budget and length, but the result is one of Scorsese’s best. It’s a dark, funny and mournful mafia thriller that feels like the director reflecting on his own career with an insight that only comes with age. The movie ended up being nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and Pacino for Best Supporting Actor.
2 The Godfather Part II (1974)
The Godfather Part II quickly followed the acclaimed original and surprised many by matching its incredible legacy. The Godfather is considered one of the best movies ever made, while Part II is often regarded as one of the best sequels with some feeling it is better than The Godfather. The film tells an ambitious, split timeline saga of Pacino’s Michael coming to terms with his life as the new Don of his family while flashbacks detail the rise of his father Vito, played by De Niro.
The Godfather Part II is a masterful, textured crime drama that displays director Francis Ford Coppola’s mastery of drama and cinematic language. Pacino digs deeper into the complex nature of Michael Corleone with his descent into darkness made even more heartbreaking as the audience sees his father’s journey to power. De Niro had his breakout Hollywood role stepping into Marlon Brando’s shadow which earned him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Though the two never share the screen, the connection between their characters is strong.
1 Heat (1995)
Outside of Righteous Kill, pretty much every Al Pacino and Robert De Niro movie is a masterpiece. Heat was heavily advertised as the first onscreen pairing between the two, with their diner meeting now considered a classic in its own right. Michael Mann’s epic crime thriller cast Pacino as a cop chasing De Niro’s expert thief, but the film is also a rich ensemble with its bank heist setpiece being one of the best screen gunfights. Heat is endlessly quotable, feature many memorable sequences and performances and is about as good as action thrillers can get.
Yet with all the exciting sequences with shootouts and violence, the best scene is Heat’s iconic coffee shop scene in which the two actors sit across from each other and share dialogue for the first time in movie history. It is dynamic watching them play off each other with such rich material and seeing these two very different characters forming an unexpected bond. Heat’s reputation has only grown more positive in the years since it was released and its legacy is set to continue with the upcoming Heat 2.