He made his debut with Holi in the year 1984. He then appeared in over 100 films throughout the decade. His most notable films includes 'Sardar' in which he plays the lead role of freedom fighter Vallabhai Patel, 'Maya Memsaab', a film based on Madame Bovary, in which he played a scheming shop-owner who entraps the title character into a series of financial schemes and the critically acclaimed 'Tamaana' where he played the challenging and ground-breaking role of a eunuch. This was a landmark performance in his career.
He played into one Telegu movie 'Kshana Kshanam' where his acting was really praiseworthy and remarkable. He has also played in some other Telegu movies like 'Money' and 'Money Money'. In the year 2004 he played in the Telegu version of 'Munnabhai MBBS' i.e. 'Shankar Dada MBBS'. In the year 2000, Paresh Rawal played a simple-minded and boisterous but kind-hearted Marathi landlord Baburao Ganpatrao Apte in the film 'Hera Pheri'. He repeated his enchanting role as Baburao in its sequel named 'Phir Hera Pheri' which was also successful. He portrayed one of three blind bank robbers in the hit film Aankhen. Rawal has since played many comedy roles in successful films including 'Awara Paagal Deewana', 'Garam Masala', 'Malamaal Weekly', 'Golmaal', 'Chup Chup Ke' and 'Bhagam Bhag', Bhool Bhulaiya, Welcome and De Dana Dan. Thereafter he did a serious role in the movie Aakrosh which was based on honour killing. He is also a famous theatre personality.
He is one of the few stars who have won both the Filmfare Best Comedian Award and the Filmfare Best Villain Award. He has also been awarded the prestigious National Award by the President of India for his roles in 'Sardar' and 'Tammanna'. He has also produced Hindi Serials including Teen Bahuraaniyaan of Zee TV and Main Aisi Kyunn Hoon of Sahara One.