Born in the Bronx, NY in 1928, Pakula was educated on the East Coast, attending Yale University where he studied Theatre and Drama. From there, Pakula moved to Los Angeles, California where he worked in the Warner Brothers cartoon department. While working in Hollywood, he produced plays on Broadway and produced the 1962 film To Kill A Mockingbird. In 1969 Pakula directed his first film, The Sterile Cuckoo, starring Liza Minnelli. His sensitivities to working with actors earned him the reputation as an "actor’s director.”
Pakula next began directing his film tryptic called "The Paranoia Trilogy." The series began with the detective thriller Klute starring Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda in 1971, which received critical acclaim. His next film The Parallax View was released in 1974 and played upon the conspiracy theories about the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and starred Warren Beatty. In 1976, Pakula finished off his trilogy with All The President's Men starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffmann. The film won critical acclaim in the press and received three Academy Awards.
Pakula finished off the 1970s with the films Comes a Horseman and Starting Over to mixed critical success. In 1982 Pakula had another success with the Academy Award-winning film Sophie's Choice. Pakula adapted the William Styron novel Sophie's Choice into a screenplay and then directed the subsequent film. The film starred Meryl Streep and earned her an Academy Award win for best actress and Pakula a nomination for best director. He went on to direct Dream Lover, See You In the Morning, The Devil's Own and Presumed Innocent until his death in 1998 in a car accident on Long Island.