Al Pacino vs Robert De Niro

Who is the better Actor?


This question was asked on a Movie forum a while ago and is a difficult one to answer as it is very subjective. However certainly worth exploring in a bit more detail.

They are both fine actors. Probably the best of their generation. They have both won Oscars. Robert De Niro has two and Al Pacino one. De Niro won Best Actor for Raging Bull in 1980 and Best Supporting Actor in 1974 for The Godfather Part II. Pacino won his only award as best Actor for Scent of a Woman in 1992. Ironically as De Niro won for Godfather Part II, many believed that Pacino should have won the accolade as best actor for the same film but bizarrely lost out to Art Carney for Harry and Tonto. De Niro has won a Golden Globe award for Raging Bull and Pacino two for Serpico and Scent of a Woman

However, having more awards than the other, does that make one a better actor? I don’t think so. They have regularly produced excellent and notable performances over the years and consistently turn in great acting.

Credit: The Playlist

For De Niro, other than his two Oscar winning performances, one can cite films such as Taxi Driver (Oscar nominated), The Deer Hunter (Oscar nominated), Goodfellas, Awakenings (Oscar nominated), Cape Fear (Oscar nominated) and the recent The Irishman as some of his many great roles. Possibly my favourite performance of his was in The King of Comedy where he plays a delusional and aspiring stand-up comedian who goes to extreme lengths to get himself famous in this black satirical comedy.

Credit: Hub Celebs

Pacino was nominated four times in a row from 1973 to 1976 for The Godfather, Serpico, The Godfather Part II and Dog Day Afternoon. The latter being my favourite performance of his. Based on a true story, he plays Sonny Wortzik an inept bank robber. Pacino’s nervous, twitching and at times comic portrayal is simply superb and at certain points in the film his agonising face expressions are so convincing we know what he is thinking without him having to utter a word. Other notable performances by Pacino are in And Justice for All (Oscar nominated), Glengarry Glen Ross(Oscar nominated) and another two of my other favourite performances which I believe are somewhat underrated are in Scarecrow and Scarface.

Many critics would argue that Pacino’s Oscar winning performance in Scent of a Woman was probably the worst of his Oscar nominated performances and he should have won for either or both of the Godfather films. I wholeheartedly with this.

Although they both appeared in The Godfather Part II, they didn’t actually share any screen time until they stared opposite each other in Heat.


This is an iconic moment in movie history, and it is interesting to see the two great actors together at last. In terms of judging them both in this film alone and in terms of acting, I personally believe that De Niro comes off better. Pacino is in full shouty and over the top mode whereas De Niro’s performance is much more understated. Of course, this could be the characters they are playing. The scene where the two meet in a restaurant is exceptional and the standout piece of the film. Both played it superbly and it was great for the audience to see these two prodigious performers demonstrating their great acting skills face to face. However, other than this scene, I think De Niro’s performance was more astute. There is a moment towards the end of the film where De Niro is in his car going to the airport to escape the clutches of the cops. His eyes and face tell it all. He can’t get revenge on the person who betrayed him out of his mind and he finally turns the car around to seek out his justice. Brilliant acting.

After this they have so far made two further films together. The disappointing Righteous Kill (2008) which they both might want to forget and the impressive The Irishman (2020) for which Pacino was Oscar nominated.

Both have also made some bad choices in films. Pacino’s Revolution was a disaster for him as well as the producers, and may have contributed to him staying away from movies for a few years after. De Niro seems to have done more movies than Pacino and therefore probably made more bad choices especially in recent times and particularly in the comedy genre.

Pacino has probably done more theatre especially in his early days and won awards on stage for his performances (Tony awards for Does the Tiger wear a Necktie? in 1967 and The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel in 1977). He has also won two Emmy awards in TV productions of Angels in America (2004) and You Don’t Know Jack (2010) which also earned him Golden Globe awards and was nominated for Phil Spectre (2013). But again, does that make him a better actor than De Niro? Probably not.

Therefore, it is all a matter of personal opinion and even the film critics would be divided on this subject. The acting world is not that competitive when it comes to who is best and maybe we should just be grateful that we can enjoy these two wonderful actors without having to divide them on merit.



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Mark Holburn

Mark Holburn


Lover of music, sport, animals, humour, movies and decency. A Level in Film Studies.