When any actor has had a career as long as Al Pacino, there’s always going to be regrets about roles that they’ve turned down along the way. While Pacino did turn down Han Solo in Star Wars and John McClane in Die Hard – there’s only one movie that he truly feels that he should have accepted.
In 1978, arthouse auteur Terrence Malick followed up his debut Badlands with Days of Heaven starring Richard Gere and Sam Shepard. It’s a romantic period drama movie set in Texas in 1916, with Gere as an opportunistic drifter and Shepard as a shy, lonely farmer who he tries to take advantage of.
Al Pacino said in a 2015 interview that he ended up loving what would become one of the best movies of the 70s, and wish he’d accepted Gere’s role of Bill. “Terry, a long time ago, asked me to be in a movie, and I always wish, there is another one of my mistakes, there is a museum of mistakes, all the movies I rejected,” Pacino told The Independent.
By 1977, Al Pacino had made one masterpiece after another – from The Godfather, to Serpico, to The Godfather Part II, and to Dog Day Afternoon. The movie he ended up selecting instead of Days of Heaven was Sydney Pollack’s Bobby Deerfield. Pollack is a highly acclaimed director who has made classics such as The Swimmer, The Way We Were, Three Days of the Condor, and many more. But Bobby Deerfield is not in the same league as some of his best movies.
It took Terrence Malick two years to edit Days of Heaven, and he substantially reworked the film with a voiceover replacing a lot of the dialogue. It was a box office failure and met with a mixed critical reception at time, although it has achieved masterpiece status in the 45 years since. The cinematography by Nestor Almendros, and the score by Ennio Morricone are particularly special.
Malick was so exhausted from making Days of Heaven that he moved to Paris and there was an incredible twenty year gap before he directed his next film – which turned out to be one of the best war movies – The Thin Red Line. Between 2011 and 2019, Malick became much more prolific, and directed seven movies in eight years.
Al Pacino’s career has obviously not suffered as a result of turning Malick down – with him going on to make some of the best thriller movies of all time such as Scarface, Carlito’s Way, Heat, and The Insider.
Pacino won the lead actor Oscar in 1993 for romantic drama movie Scent of a Woman, but has arguably never again reached the heights of his 70s movies. With Pacino now 83, and Malick almost 80 – it would be great if the two worked together before it’s too late.
Check out our guide to the best actors of all time and the best directors of all time. We’re looking forward to seeing more brilliant acting in House of the Dragon season 2 and Yellowstone season 5 part 2.