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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Roger M. Rothstein
Martin Bregman
Written by Peter Maas (book)
Waldo Salt
Norman Wexler
Sidney Kingsley
Starring Al Pacino
John Randolph
Tony Roberts
Bernard Barrow
M. Emmet Walsh
Music by Mikis Theodorakis
Giacomo Puccini
Cinematography Arthur J. Ornitz
Editing by Dede Allen
Richard Marks
Ronald Roose
Angelo Corrao
Distributed by Paramount Pictures (USA/UK)
Columbia Pictures (Australia)
Release date(s) December 5, 1973
Running time 130 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,000,000
Gross revenue $29,800,000

Serpico is a 1973 American crime film directed by Sidney Lumet. It is based on the true story of New York City policeman Frank Serpico. Serpico eventually went undercover to expose the corruption of his fellow officers, after being pushed to the brink at first by their distrust and later by the threats and intimidation they leveled against him. It stars Al Pacino, John Randolph and Tony Roberts.



The film opens with Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) covered in blood and slumped in the backseat of a police car as it races to a hospital with lights and sirens blaring. He has just been shot in the face. The rest of the movie tells the story of Serpico's career up to this moment, starting with him becoming a police officer in 1960. He is idealistic and often frustrated by internal politics. Serpico also refuses to join in on police corruption, specifically that which involves shaking down and taking payoffs from gambling and drug dealing organizations. His refusal to take bribes earns him the suspicion of his fellow officers throughout the majority of the precincts to which he is assigned. Additionally, Serpico finds trouble fitting in due to his embrace of the counterculture of the 1960s: He moves to Greenwich Village, grows his hair and beard long in order to maintain a more plainclothes appearance, and associates with a more left-wing crowd distrusts the NYPD. He is wounded and shot in the cheek in a hallway shootout but survives.


Prior to any work on the movie, producer Martin Bregman had lunch with biographical book author Peter Maas to discuss a film adaptation. Waldo Salt, a screenwriter, began to write the script which director Sidney Lumet deemed to be too long. Another screenwriter, Norman Wexler, did the structural work followed by play lines. Screenwriter Sidney Kingsley also wrote and did structural work on the script.

Director John G. Avildsen was originally slated to direct the movie, but was removed from production due to differences with producer Bregman. Lumet took the helm as director just before filming. The real-life Frank Serpico wished to be present during the filming of the movie based on his life. Initially he was permitted to stay, but was eventually dismissed from the filming, as director Lumet was worried that his presence would make the actors (particularly lead actor Al Pacino) self-conscious.

The story was filmed in the streets of New York City. A total of 105 different locations in four of the five boroughs of the city were used. No filming took place in Staten Island. An apartment at 5-7 Minetta Street in Manhattan's Greenwich Village was used as Serpico's residence, though according to the Peter Maas book he actually lived on Perry Street during the events depicted in the film.

As the storyline needed to show the progression of Frank Serpico's beard and hair length, individual scenes were filmed in reverse order, with actor Al Pacino's hair being trimmed for each scene set earlier in the film's timeline.

Woodie King Jr., originally cast as a hoodlum, was replaced after suffering a broken leg while filming a chase scene for this movie. He returned to the set two months later to play Leslie's friend Larry in the party scene.

The original music theme was composed by Mikis Theodorakis, winning both Grammy and BAFTA Awards. Its Greek name is Dromoi Palioi.

The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Al Pacino) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Pacino won his first Golden Globe award for Best Actor in 1974 for his performance in the film.


Serpico is hailed as a classic film. Pacino's performance in the movie is widely considered as one of his best. His role as Frank Serpico is ranked at #40 on the American Film Institutes "100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains" list. The film is also ranked at #84 on the American Film Institutes "100 Years... 100 Cheers: America's Most Inspiring Movies" list.

A movie poster for Serpico appears on the bedroom wall of John Travolta's character in the movie Saturday Night Fever.

Serpico was made into a 1976 television series starring David Birney. There was also a movie made in the same year, called Serpico: The Deadly Game also starring Birney. The movie Serpico was also a likely influence on the mid-'70s television series Baretta, which also featured a gritty ethnic big city cop who kept a cockatoo for a pet.

In the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode Bums: Making A Mess All Over the City, Charlie Kelly imagines he is an undercover cop and refers to himself as Serpico.

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