The Godfather

1972 American crime film by Francis Ford Coppola

The Godfather is a 1972 American crime movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It is based on Mario Puzo's novel of the same name. Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay. Its lead stars are Marlon Brando and Al Pacino.[2] The movie is about the history of the Corleone crime family. It takes the story up to Michael Corleone becoming crime boss in 1955. It is the first movie in The Godfather trilogy.

The Godfather
The movie's logo
Directed byFrancis Ford Coppola
Written byMario Puzo (also novel)
Francis Ford Coppola (screenplay)
Produced byAlbert S. Ruddy
Gray Frederickson (associate)
StarringMarlon Brando
Al Pacino
James Caan
Richard Castellano
Robert Duvall
Sterling Hayden
John Marley
Richard Conte
Diane Keaton
CinematographyGordon Willis
Edited byWilliam Reynolds
Peter Zinner
Music byCarmine Coppola
Nino Rota
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
March 24, 1972
Running time
175 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish / Italian / Latin
Box office$287 million[1]

It is considered one of the greatest movies of all time and the best gangster movie and movie about the Mafia.[3][4]

It is the year 1945 in New York City. Vito Corleone leads the Corleone crime family. He is the Don (Crime Boss/Godfather) of the family. His daughter Connie is marrying Carlo. Vito's youngest son is Michael, and his girlfriend is Kay Adams. Johnny Fontane wants a movie role. The director Jack Woltz says no. Vito has Jack's favorite horse beheaded, and Jack gives in.

Sollozzo wants Vito to enter his drug business. Vito says no and says it would be bad for his political connections. Vito sends Luca Brasi to the Tattaglia crime family. At the meeting, Luca is killed with a piano wire. Other workers from the Tattaglia family gun down Vito and capture Tom Hagen. Vito survives and ends up in a hospital. Sonny, Vito's oldest son, now leads the crime family. Sonny has Bruno Tattaglia killed. Michael visits Vito and watches him at the hospital. Police captain Mark McCluskey beats Michael when he leaves.

Sollozzo and McCluskey want to meet with Michael. Michael agrees to the meeting. Michael, Sonny, and Clemenza plan a way to murder the two. Clemenza places a gun at the meeting place at a Bronx restaurant beforehand. During the meeting, Michael gets the gun and shoots the two men. Michael quietly leaves the restaurant.

There is now open war among the Five Families. Michael flees to Sicily, Italy. Fredo, Vito's middle son, stays in Las Vegas. Moe Greene protects Fredo. Carlo is abusive to his wife, Connie. For this, Sonny publicly attacks Carlo. Carlo is abusive again. Sonny drives to their home. At a highway booth, men shoot him many times and kill him. Michael marries Apollonia in Italy. A car bomb that was for Michael kills her.  

Vito is better and hears about his son's death. He sets up a meeting with the Five Families. At the meeting, Vito promises he will not get back at them for his son and will enter the drug business. Michael returns home to New York because he is safe now. Michael marries Kay and has two children. Michael starts taking over the family business. Vito tells Michael that Dan Barzini is responsible for Sonny's death. Michael sends Tom Hagen to Las Vegas and gets advice from his father. Michael wants to move his family to Las Vegas and meets with Moe Greene. He learns that Fredo is more loyal to Greene than to the Corleone family.

Vito dies of a heart attack in 1955. There is a large funeral. At the funeral, Tessio says that Barzini wants to meet. Michael now knows that Tessio is a traitor, because Barzini is a traitor. Michael has all the five family bosses, Tessio and Greene, killed. At the same time, Michael has the baptism of his son. Michael has Carlo confess to Sonny's murder and says he is now in exile. However, Clemenza murders Carlo with a wire. Kay asks Michael if it is true what Carlo said. Michael denies it. Capos pay respect to Michael, the new "Don Corleone".

    Structure of Mafia Crime Family
    Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone: Don (crime boss/Godfather) of the Corleone family
  • Al Pacino as Michael: Vito's youngest son
  • James Caan as Sonny: Vito's eldest son
  • Richard Castellano as Clemenza: a caporegime (captain in charge of a group of soldiers) in the Corleone crime family, Sonny's godfather
  • Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen: Corleone consigliere (advisor to crime boss)
  • Sterling Hayden as Capt. McCluskey: a corrupt police captain who works for Sollozzo
  • John Marley as Jack Woltz: Hollywood film producer who is intimidated by the Corleones
  • Richard Conte as Barzini: a crime boss of a rival crime family
  • Al Lettieri as Sollozzo: an enemy who wants Vito to get into the drug business, supported by the Tattaglia family
  • Diane Keaton as Kay Adams: Michael's girlfriend and, later, second wife
  • Abe Vigoda as Tessio: a caporegime (captain in charge of a group of soldiers) in the Corleone crime family
  • Talia Shire as Connie: Vito's only daughter
  • Gianni Russo as Carlo: Connie's abusive husband
  • John Cazale as Fredo: Vito's middle son
  • Rudy Bond as Cuneo: a Don (crime boss) of a rival crime family
  • Al Martino as Johnny Fontane: singer
  • Morgana King as Mama Corleone: Vito's wife
  • Lenny Montana as Luca Brasi: Vito's enforcer (deals with threats)
  • Johnny Martino as Paulie Gatto: a soldier (official member of a crime family) in the Corleone crime family
  • Salvatore Corsitto as Bonasera: the funeral director
  • Richard Bright as Neri: soldier (official member of a crime family) in the Corleone crime family, later Michael's enforcer (deals with threats)




Francis Ford Coppola (pictured in 2011) was selected as director.

The movie is based on the book The Godfather by Mario Puzo. The book was very popular. It was a New York Times best seller for 67 weeks.[5] The novel takes place from 1945 to 1955. It tells the story of Vito Corleone from childhood to adulthood. Paramount Pictures wanted to make a movie about the novel. The studio gave Puzo money to finish the novel so it could be filmed. Paramount originally wanted to make the film for $80,000 and release it in 1971.[6]

The film's main plot is the same as the book. However, a few things in the novel are not in the movie. Some subplots and backstories are not in the film. For instance, Johnny Fontane and Lucy Mancini are more developed in the book. The book also gives a background to the villain Jack Woltz. The childhood of Vito Corleone is not in the film. In the book, Johnny Fontane goes to Hollywood. In the end, Kay Corleone accepts Michael as the new boss over the family. She realizes how heartless her husband is.[7][8]

The characters in the movie are the same in the book. Both the book and the movie are about the Corleone crime family. Vito Corleone serves as the crime boss. Vito Corleone and the other characters are not based on real-life people. However, some characters connect to real-life mobsters. These include the real "Five Families" in New York. Real-life mobsters like Frank Costello and Carlo Gambino were a basis for Vito Corleone.[9][10] Johnny Fontane is based on Frank Sinatra.[11][12]



Paramount wanted Italian-Americans in the movie. Robert Evans and others from Paramount believed that their last film, The Brotherhood, was unsuccessful because there were no Italian-Americans.[13] Paramount first wanted Sergio Leone to direct the film. The studio also went to Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Yates, Richard Brooks, Arthur Penn, Costa-Gavras, and Otto Preminger. All of them said no to the movie. Francis Ford Coppola, who would direct the film, said no at first. He thought the book was "cheap stuff". He changed his mind because of finances and advice from others.[5]

There was much tension between Coppola and Paramount. Francis Ford Coppola wanted the movie to be in the 1940s and 1950s like the book. He also wanted a larger budget to make the film in New York City and Sicily. Paramount allowed this because the book was so popular. The studio had wanted a low-budget film because previous films were unsuccessful. Coppola did many screen tests, which cost money. There were disagreements about whether to have Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in the film. Coppola wanted the actors, but Evans did not. Some people wanted to fire Coppola, but he eventually had several people fired.[14][15][16][17]

Marlon Brando



Both Puzo and Coppola worked on the screenplay separately.[18] Paramount paid Puzo $100,000 to write the script. Puzo wanted to stick to his book. This was the first screenplay Puzo had written. Coppola wanted to emphasize the themes of culture, character, power, and family. Coppola created a booklet with pages from The Godfather and made notes on 50 scenes. The final script was completed on March 29, 1971 and was 163 pages long.[19] The Italian-American Civil Rights League, led by Joseph Colombo, wanted words like "mafia" and "Cosa Nostra" not to be used in the film. Any of these words in the script were replaced with other words.[20][21]  



Puzo and Coppola wanted to have Marlon Brando play Vito Corleone. Paramount was against this and wanted Ernest Borgnine. Other people considered for the role were George C. Scott, Richard Conte, Anthony Quinn and Orson Welles. Borgnine and Brando were the two finalists.[22] Paramount would only cast Brando under certain conditions. Brando would have to do a screen test, earn less for the film, and was not allowed to cause any problems.[23]

Al Pacino

For Michael Corleone, Paramount wanted  Warren Beatty or Robert Redford. Robert Evans wanted Ryan O'Neal. Coppola wanted Al Pacino.[24] Dustin Hoffman, Martin Sheen, and James Caan auditioned as well.[25] At first, James Caan was to play Michael. Coppola convinced Evans to have Pacino play Michael.[26] Paramount chose actors based on their heights. For instance, they chose Caan because he was short, like Pacino.[13]

Al Martino was a singer. He wanted to play Johnny Fontane. Coppola removed him and replaced him with Vic Damone. Martino went to his crime boss. The boss published papers about Coppola switching the roles. Eventually, Damone gave up the part to please the mob. Robert De Niro originally wanted to play Paulie Gatto, but he quit. Johnny Martino took his place. The actors Diane Keaton, John Cazale, and Gianni Russo got their roles in the film. Coppola gave his family members roles. They included his sister Talia Shire, his daughter Sofia and his father, Carmine.[13]



Actors could practice the script for two weeks before filming. The two weeks ended with a dinner, where everyone had to play their roles. Most of the film was shot in real locations in New York City and Sicily. Filming was in New York City from March 29, 1971, to July 2, 1971, and in Sicily until August 6, 1971. After filming, scenes from the film were removed. Most of these scenes did not add to the plot.[27]

Coppola worked with cinematographer Gordon Willis. They did not use modern filming techniques. Instead, they used the "tableau format". Tableau shots are when actors and objects are in the picture like a painting. The two used light and darkness and shadows to show psychological changes.[28] The scenes in Sicily are softer and more romantic than the ones in New York.[29]

There were many different real shooting locations. The opening wedding scene was shot on Staten Island. The scene with a beheaded horse used a real horse.[30] The horse had already been beheaded before the film used it.[31] The scene was filmed at Sands Point Preserve on Long Island.[32] The murder of Sonny was filmed at Mitchel Field in Uniondale, New York. Sonny's car was a 1941 Lincoln Continental. Several scenes were filmed at Filmways in East Harlem.[33] The Corleone olive oil business was on Mott Street in New York City.[34] There were over 120 locations in New York City.[35] The scenes in Las Vegas were filmed on location. In Sicily, scenes were in Savoca and Forza d'Agrò.[36]

Coppola hired Nino Rota to be the composer for the film. He wrote several pieces, including the "Love Theme." Rota used some of his music from Fortunella (1958). Evans did not like the music, but Coppola convinced Evans to keep it. Coppola thought the music made the film more Italian. Coppola's father, Carmine Coppola, also composed some music. Other music in the film include Cherubino's aria, "Non so più cosa son" from Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart and "C'è la luna mezzo mare", a Sicilian song.[37][38]

Theater advertisement for The Godfather in Allentown, PA (May 28)



The Godfather was first released in theaters at Loews's State Theatre in New York City on Tuesday, March 14, 1972.[39] The Godfather was also on television on NBC. The first half was on November 16, 1974 and the second half on November 18, 1974.[40] The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration restored the original video and was released in 2008.[41]



Box Office


The movie was a financial success. It was the highest-grossing film in 1972. On its first day in theaters, the film made about $58,000. Tickets were about $3 to $4.00.[42] In the opening weekend, the film made about $241,000 in New York and about $300,000 in total.[43] The film made about $10 million in one week. This was a record at the time.[44] It made over $100 million in 18 weeks. This was another record. It was the fastest film to reach that number.[45] The Godfather was the number one film for over 23 weeks.[46] The film would eventually make about $134,000,000.[47]

Critical response


The Godfather received very positive reviews. The film has a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics said the movie went beyond expectations and created new standards for cinema.[48] They praised the cinematography and said it was revolutionary.[49] Roger Ebert wrote that the film is completely absorbing and has many complex character interactions.[50] Critics and other directors praised the cast. They said it was one of the best.[51] Many said that Coppola should get the most praise.[49][52] The film has a 100 out of 100 on Metacritic with "universal acclaim".[53]



At the Golden Globe Awards, the film got nominations for Best Picture – Drama, James Caan for Best Supporting Actor, Al Pacino and Marlon Brando for Best Actor – Drama, Best Score, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. The film went on to win Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actor – Drama (Brando), Best Original Score, and Best Picture – Drama.[54]

The film got 11 nominations at the Academy Awards. They included: Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Marlon Brando for Best Actor, Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola for Best Adapted Screenplay, Pacino, Caan, and Robert Duvall for Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Nino Rota for Best Original Score, Coppola for Best Director, and Best Sound.[55] The movie won Best Actor for Brando, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.[56]

The film got five nominations at the British Academy Film Awards, including Pacino for Most Promising Newcomer, Rota for the BAFTA Award for Best Original Music, Duvall for Best Supporting Actor, and Brando for Best Actor, the film's costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone for Best Costume Design. The film won for Film Music.[57]  

Brando boycotted the Academy Awards and rejected the Golden Globe Award.[58] He did this because he did not like how the movie industry showed Native Americans.[59][60] Pacino also boycotted the Academy Award. He did not want the award for Best Supporting Actor, but Best Actor.[61]



The Godfather was chosen to be part of the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1990. The film is on several lists of the American Film Institute. It is number 3 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies, number 11 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills, number 5 in AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores and number 1 in AFI's 10 Top 10 Gangster Film. In Sight & Sound director's poll, the film got 6th place in 1992,[62] 2nd place in 2002[63] and 7th place in 2012.[64] In a 1998 Time Out poll, the film was ranked the best movie ever.[65] In 1999, Entertainment Weekly named the film the best of all time.[66] The National Society of Film Critics voted the film No. 39 out of the top 100 essential movies.[67] Time magazine named the film one of the top 100 films of all time.[68] The film got second place in BBC's 100 Greatest American Films list.[69]

Legacy and influence


Sequels and other movies


A sequel, The Godfather Part II, was released in 1974 and won another Best Picture Oscar. It was the only sequel to do so until 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The third movie in The Godfather trilogy, The Godfather Part III, came out in 1990. The critics thought it was not as good as the other two movies.

Many films about the Italian-American Mafia came after The Godfather trilogy. One notable film is Goodfellas by Martin Scorsese. A study found that over 81 percent of all films about Italian-American mobsters were created after The Godfather. There are about ten films each year on the subject.[70]

The Godfather Effect


In 2012, the book The Godfather Effect showed the influence of The Godfather trilogy. The book was a critical success. The study shows how the films changed views on Italian-American immigrants. It also changed how Americans saw their own national identities.[71] The movies changed how Hollywood showed Italians. They removed stereotypes about Italian-Americans.[72] The films tried to show the Mafia realistically and from the criminals' perspective.[73] The Godfather trilogy changed the gangster genre. The family is central in the movies. There are no reckless and brutal criminals, but criminals who protect and support the family.[74] The movies were also about the failures of the American Dream. The Godfather opens with the words, "I believe in America". The movie shows the corruption of American business.[75] The films reflected public opinion. People were unhappy with events like the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.[76] The film also showed the darker side of the American Dream and conflicts between family and business.[77]

In other media


Other movies and TV shows have referenced or parodied The Godfather. Brando himself played Vito in the parody comedy film The Freshman (1990). In Saturday Night Live, John Belushi played Vito Corleone in a therapy session.[78] The Sopranos referenced quotes from the film.[79] The Simpsons refers several times to the film like the scenes of the beheaded horse and Sonny's murder.[80] Modern Family parodied the baptism scene.[81] The arctic shrew Mr. Big in Zootopia is a parody of Vito Corleone.[82] The 2006 video game The Godfather is based on the movie.[83] The Offer is a TV show with ten episodes. It is based on the development of The Godfather.[84] Francis and The Godfather will be a film about the making of The Godfather. It will star Oscar Isaac as Francis Ford Coppola.[85][86]


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