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November 25, 2019

Which famous actors have a worse career than Al Pacino?

In an interview last week, Al Pacino revealed that he enjoys starring in bad movies as he views it as a challenge to improve them to the point of mediocrity.

As Al put it…

Sometimes they offer you money to do something that’s not adequate. And you talk yourself into it. And somewhere within you, you know that this thing is gonna be a lemon. But then, when it comes full circle, and you see it, you say, “Oh, no. I’m gonna make this better.” And you spend a lot of time and you’re doing all these things, and you say, “If I can just get this to be a mediocre film,” and you get excited by that. It’s an impulse that I’ve got to just put away now.

I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at this acting strategy to see whether it shows up in the data.  By looking at the Metascore (i.e. the average rating given by top critics, expressed as a figure out of 100) for all the movies in an actor’s career, we can track whether they are getting roles in better or worse films.

Not only that, we can see how Pacino’s career trajectory compares to that of other famous actors.

What does it mean to ‘Pacino’ one’s career?

As the chart below clearly shows, the average critic rating for Al Pacino movies has been reducing over time.

I’m going to refer to this type of career trajectory as doing ‘a Pacino’. To be more precise…

  • ‘Pacino’ (verb). To act in increasingly worse movies over the course of one’s career.  I.e. “After Gemini Man, I wonder if Will Smith is starting to Pacino himself“.

With the definition established, let’s look at how many other actors are currently Pacino’ing.

Who’s out Pacino’ing Pacino?

I built a dataset of the careers of 275 famous actors (male and female), all of whom have received high billing in at least ten movies over the past twenty years.  See the Note section at the end of this article for my methodology.

For each actor, I calculated the Pearson coefficient between their movies’ Metascores and release dates.   If each and every movie an actor starred is worse than the previous one, then they would receive a score of minus one.  If the movies got better each time then they would receive a score of one and if there was no correlation then it would be a score of zero.

The actor who’s career best matches the newly-defined term ‘Pacinoing’ is Eric Bana.

The second best Pacino in my study was Robert De Niro, followed by Jim Sturgess and Orlando Bloom.  De Niro should get extra points for managing to Pacino over such a long period of time and over so many movies, both of which adds to the level of difficulty required.

Of the 275 actors I studied, Al Pacino was the 14th best at Pacino’ing, nestled between Anthony Hopkins (15th) and Will Smith (13th).

Who is performing a ‘Reverse Pacino’?

One of the nice things about film data research is that sometimes we get to definitively answer age-old questions we’ve all been pondering for years.  In this case, it’s “Which Hollywood star is the exact opposite of Al Pacino?‘.

The answer is… Angelina Jolie.

Jolie managed to get the top spot by being even less like Al Pacino that the runners up, Chrises Pine/Evans and Dominic West.

Other actors who are currently successfully pulling off a Reverse Pacino include Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper and Kristen Bell.

Further reading

If you would like to read more about actors (the good, the bad and the pretty) then you may enjoy these past articles:

Notes

My actors list is all performers who were among the top ten billed names on at least ten movies which were first released in domestic cinemas between 1st January 1999 and 31st December 2018, and who were ranked in the top 5,000 on the IMDb MOVIEmeter. See my previous piece for why I chose this methodology.  This produced 275 names, which split into 200 male actors and 75 female actors (why this wasn’t an even gender split is a topic for another day!)  With my list of 275 names, I then went back and looked at all the movies they had made during their career, ignoring TV, shorts, music videos and other non-movie output.

Films without a Metascore were removed.

I opted for the gender-neutral usage of the word ‘actors’ as I don’t feel that gender has a role to play in the topic at hand.  We are looking at the diversity of productions a performer has worked on, and their gender is not a factor.  That’s not to say that gender is not a factor for the film industry, as the uneven numbers within the 275 top actors show.

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5 Responses

  1. Rick November 26, 2019 at 3:58 pm #

    “After Gemini Man, I wonder if Will Smith is starting to Pacino himself“…

    I think this resonates with the feeling we had in many –

    Thank you Stephen for the article!

    Rick

  2. Jack Malvern December 2, 2019 at 1:26 pm #

    If you don’t count films made before 1999 then you would exclude the Godfather films, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Scarface and others. Did you exclude these from Pacino’s profile? And would it make a difference for any of the other actors?

    • Stephen Follows December 2, 2019 at 1:27 pm #

      Those dates were for which stars were studied. Once they were on the list, I included all the movies they ever starred in

  3. Phil December 3, 2019 at 2:05 pm #

    I’d be interested in seeing Jack Nicholsons career trajectory as he’s my favourite actor. He’s been in some bombs but from memory not as many as De Niro or Pacino?

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