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For other uses, see Serpico (disambiguation).
Serpico imp.jpg
theatrical release poster
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis
Roger M. Rothstein
Martin Bregman
Screenplay by Waldo Salt
Norman Wexler
Based on Serpico 
by Peter Maas
Starring Al Pacino
Music by Mikis Theodorakis
Giacomo Puccini
(arranged and conducted by) Bob James
Cinematography Arthur J. Ornitz
Edited by Dede Allen
Richard Marks
Ronald Roose
Angelo Corrao
Artists Entertainment Complex
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Cinema International Corporation
United International Pictures
Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • December 5, 1973 (1973-12-05) (US)
Running time
130 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget ~$3 million[1]
Box office $29,800,000[2]

Serpico is a 1973 American crime drama film directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Al Pacino. Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler wrote the screenplay, adapting Peter Maas's biography of NYPD officer Frank Serpico (born 1936), who went undercover to expose corruption in the force. Both Maas's book and the film cover 12 years, 1960 to June 15, 1972, in the life of Serpico, who was trying to be an honest policeman.

The film and principals were nominated for numerous awards, earning recognition for its score, direction, screenplay, and Pacino's performance. The film was also a commercial success.


Working as a uniformed patrolman, Frank Serpico excels at every assignment. He moves on to plainclothes assignments, where he slowly discovers a hidden world of corruption and graft among his own colleagues. After witnessing cops commit violence, take payoffs, and other forms of police corruption, Serpico decides to expose what he has seen, but he is harassed and threatened by his peers. The struggle leads to infighting within the police force, problems in his personal relationships, and Serpico's life being threatened. Finally, after being shot in the face during a drug bust on February 3, 1971, he testifies before the Knapp Commission, a government inquiry into NYPD police corruption between 1970 and 1972. After receiving a New York City Police Department Medal of Honor and a disability pension, Serpico resigns from the force and moves to Switzerland.



Prior to any work on the movie, producer Martin Bregman had lunch with Peter Maas to discuss a film adaptation of his biography of Frank Serpico. 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.

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 Lumet was worried that his presence would make the actors (particularly Pacino) self-conscious.

The story was filmed in the streets of New York City. A total of 104 different locations in four of the five boroughs of the city (all except Staten Island) were used.[1] 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 lived on Perry Street during the events depicted in the film. Lewisohn Stadium, which was closed at the time of filming, was used for one scene.

As the storyline needed to show the progression of Serpico's beard and hair length, individual scenes were filmed in reverse order, with 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.

Playwright Sidney Kingsley loaned his apartment to Lumet for use to film the party scene. In 1935, Kingsley had hired an 11-year-old Lumet to appear on Broadway in his play, Dead End, and they had remained friends ever since. Coincidentally, Kingsley, after months of research, had written an award-winning stage play about the NYPD, Detective Story, which was adapted into an iconic, award-winning film about the NYPD.

Awards and honors[edit]

The original score was composed by Mikis Theodorakis, nominated for both the Grammy Award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture and the BAFTA award for Best Film Music. Its Greek name is Dromoi Palioi, or "Old Streets". Sidney Lumet's direction was recognized by both the BAFTAs and the Directors Guild of America. The film was nominated for the Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture – Drama.

The film also received Academy Awards nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Al Pacino) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. The script won the Writers Guild Award for Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium.

Pacino won his first Golden Globe award for Best Actor in 1974 for his performance in the film.[3] He also received a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor.

Box office & Reception[edit]

Serpico was a major commercial success, given the times and its modest budget, which ranged from $2.5 million to $3 million. The film currently holds a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which reflects nearly universal acclaim. [1][4] It grossed $29.8 million at the domestic box office,[2] making it the 12th highest-grossing film of 1973.


Pacino's role as Frank Serpico is ranked at #40 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains list.[5] The film is also ranked at #84 on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers, a list of America's Most Inspiring Movies.[6]

Home video releases[edit]

Serpico was released on VHS and is available on Region 1 DVD since 2002 and Region 1 Blu-ray since 2013.

Television series[edit]

Further information: Serpico (TV series)

A weekly television series based on Maas' book and the motion picture was broadcast on NBC between September 1976 and February 1977, with David Birney playing the role of Frank Serpico. Only 14 episodes were broadcast, with one being unaired. The series was preceded by a pilot film, Serpico: The Deadly Game, which was broadcast in April 1976.



External links[edit]