Roger Ebert wrote “DePalma and his writer, Oliver Stone, have created a gallery of specific individuals, and one of the fascinations of the movie is that we aren’t watching crime-movie clichés, we’re watching people who are criminals.” He later added it to his “Great Movies” list. Vincent Canby also praised the film in the New York Times: The dominant mood of the film is… bleak and futile: what goes up must always come down. When it comes down in Scarface, the crash is as terrifying as it is vivid and arresting.”
Leonard Maltin was among those critics who held a negative opinion of Scarface. He gave the film 1½ stars out of four, stating that “…[Scarface] wallows in excess and unpleasantness for nearly three hours, and offers no new insights except that crime doesn’t pay. At least the 1932 movie moved.” In later editions of his annual movie guide, Maltin included an addendum to his review stating his surprise with the film’s newfound popularity as a cult-classic.
In his review for Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, “If Scarface makes you shudder, it’s from what you think you see and from the accumulated tension of this feral landscape. It’s a grand, shallow, decadent entertainment, which like all good Hollywood gangster movies delivers the punch and counterpunch of glamour and disgust”. Jay Scott, in his review for the Globe and Mail, writes, “For a while, Al Pacino is hypnotic as Montana. But the effort expended on the flawless Cuban accent and the attempts to flesh out a character cut from inch-thick cardboard are hopeless.” In his review for the Washington Post, Gary Arnold wrote, “A movie that appeared intent on revealing an alarmingly contemporary criminal subculture gradually reverts to underworld cliche, covering its derivative tracks with outrageous decor and an apocalyptic, production number finale, ingeniously choreographed to leave the antihero floating face down in a literal bloodbath.”
It currently holds a “Fresh” rating of 89% from Rotten Tomatoes, and an average score of 65/100 from Metacritic.
Pacino earned a nomination for Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama and Steven Bauer was nominated for Best Supporting Actor as well. DePalma was nominated for, but did not win, a Razzie Award for Worst Director.
In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its “Ten Top Ten”—the best ten films in ten “classic” American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Scarface was acknowledged as the tenth best in the gangster film genre. The line “Say hello to my little friend!” (spoken by Montana of his M16A1’s M203-grenade-launcher) took 61st place on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes list. Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #8 on their list of “The Top 50 Cult Films,”and Empire Magazine placed it among the top 500 films of all time, at #284. In 2010, VH1 rated the movie at number 5 in its list of 100 greatest movies of all time. Scarface was the first film in which the expletive “fuck” is used over 200 times.