Two of the best to ever grace the silver screen, sometimes even appearing together. Since the late 1960’s, both Al Pacino and Robert De Niro have blessed us with a plethora of roles that have moved audiences for years. To decide which one’s truly greater than the other is no easy task. Judging actors has always been a heavily biased process and it has a lot to do with the movies you see them in. Luckily for us, today we’ve some of the greatest movies of all time to use as samples.
Together they’ve brought us performances for the ages, whether its De Niro stepping in for Brando in Godfather II with Pacino returning as Michael Corleone and showing us they both had the chops to play gritty gangsters who do what it takes for family. Or years later in Heat playing on opposite sides of the good guy vs. bad guy spectrum. In 2008, we were finally able to see these two on screen at the same time more than ever before with the film Righteous Kill. The two played partners in the NYPD working the case of criminals being executed after they’ve escaped justice. For the purpose of this discussion, this movie doesn’t provide much evidence for leaning either way, but it does show the greatness of the actors and the power you can have when two actors of this caliber are paired up. Both are Oscar winners with De Niro in Raging Bull and the Godfather II and Pacino in Scent of A Woman.
Unfortunately though, neither are without their flaws. The major one of which isn’t their fault; type casting. As strong members of the Italian American community, this influence is noted in their movies. With Pacino especially in terms of Godfather, Godfather II, Godfather III, and Scarface, he was pigeon holed into playing this mobster, bad-ass crime lord, and while he did it very well, it was essentially the same part in 4 movies (I understand two are sequels but it shows in later casting rolls this is how he was viewed). Those later casting rolls I am referring to? Heat, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Donnie Brasco are only a few examples where he plays either a tough guy cop or some sort of criminal who, for the most part, always ends up having a crisis of conscious. So while yes he knocks it out of the park, it can get repetitive. However, in the movie Any Given Sunday, you saw another side of his acting and saw a character in the film with nothing to lose anymore as he feels his team that he coaches and his own personal life are slipping away.
De Niro’s no stranger to type casting either. Cast as the mob boss in Goodfellas after the Godfather debut and playing the crime leader in Heat and The Score.
However, De Niro more so than Pacino was able to break out and that’s why he gets the win in this argument. He showed range at some point that has allowed him to star in comedies opposite Ben Stiller and Sylvester Stallone, and even dramas opposite Meryl Streep. Overall, while both are truly masters of their craft, being able to have the range of someone like Robert De Niro is what makes him the better of the two actors.