AFI Movie Club: THE GODFATHER – American Film Institute
The Godfather Film Still - Marlon Brando



THE GODFATHER is secure in the pantheon of the greatest American films of all time – appearing across five of the American Film Institute’s lists. In addition, the iconic – and arguably definitive – gangster film features indelible performances from Al Pacino and Diane Keaton, both recipients of the AFI Life Achievement Award.

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Movie Trivia about THE GODFATHER

DID YOU KNOW?  According to Paramount Vice President Robert Evans, Burt Lancaster offered the studio $1,000,000 to buy the rights to Mario Puzo’s novel. Lancaster wanted to play Don Vito Corleone, which ultimately was played by Marlon Brando. 

DID YOU KNOW? Originally, the studio was looking for cost-cutting measures when determining the budget and suggested that the film’s setting be shifted from the ‘40s and ‘50s to the 1970s. The studio also pushed to have the narrative take place in a metropolitan city other than New York City to lower production costs. 

DID YOU KNOW? Actor Richard Castellano – who played Clemenza – improvised the “take the cannoli” line based on a suggestion from his onscreen and real-life wife, Ardell Sheridan. It was a riff on an earlier scene where she had asked him to pick up the dessert. 

DID YOU KNOW? Marlon Brando used cue cards instead of memorizing his lines, claiming that it increased the spontaneity of his performance. His lines were printed and placed off-camera in his line of sight. 

DID YOU KNOW? Before Sofia Coppola portrayed Mary Corleone in THE GODFATHER: PART III – and before she established herself as a formidable filmmaker in her own right – she appeared briefly in the first film as the infant in the iconic baptism scene. 

DID YOU KNOW? Academy Award®-winning screenwriter Robert Towne stepped in to help with the screenplay for THE GODFATHER. His notable contribution was the scene between Michael and Vito Corleone, in which Vito tells Michael that he never wanted this life for him. When Francis Ford Coppola won the Oscar® for Best Adapted Screenplay, he specifically thanked Towne for writing the beautiful scene in the garden. 

DID YOU KNOW? The cat that Don Vito Corleone is seen petting at the beginning of the film was not originally intended to be in the scene. According to director Francis Ford Coppola, he saw a stray wandering the Paramount studio lot, so he took the cat and put it on Marlon Brando’s lap without saying a word. A pet lover (and an impeccable actor), Brando knew exactly what to do from there. 

DID YOU KNOW? When it was time to film the scene of two orderlies lugging an ailing Don Vito Corleone up the stairs of his mansion, a pair of grips from the film crew volunteered for the chance to be onscreen. Marlon Brando, always looking for a laugh, filled the stretcher with weights as a practical joke. 

DID YOU KNOW?  Paramount studio executives were concerned that Al Pacino’s acting was not up to the challenge of a role that occupied such a significant amount of screen time. According to director Francis Ford Coppola, it was Pacino’s performance in the scene in which Michael kills Sollozzo and McCluskey that finally convinced studio executives that Pacino was perfect for the part. Pacino went on to be nominated for an Academy Award® for his performance. 

DID YOU KNOW? Diane Keaton modeled her character of Kay Adams on Eleanor Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola’s wife. 

DID YOU KNOW?  Robert De Niro was originally cast as Paulie Gatto in THE GODFATHER. Director Francis Ford Coppola released him from his contract when a larger role in THAT GANG COULDN’T SHOOT STRAIGHT was offered to De Niro – a role that had first gone to Al Pacino. After a legal battle, MGM and Paramount settled out of court to release Pacino from his contract, so that he could play Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER. De Niro would return in THE GODFATHER II as a young Don Corleone, for which he won an Oscar®. 

DID YOU KNOW?  The limited number of initial venues exhibiting THE GODFATHER created huge lines outside theaters. Ticket sales reached record levels, forcing many theater owners to run the picture round-the-clock. THE GODFATHER ended up breaking many box-office records at the time, including surpassing GONE WITH THE WIND as the highest grossing movie of all time. 

DID YOU KNOW? THE GODFATHER was nominated for 11 Academy Awards®, including three nominations in the same category – Best Actor in a Supporting Role for James Caan, Robert Duvall and Al Pacino. THE GODFATHER went on to win three Oscars® ­– Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Marlon Brando) and Best Picture.  

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The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

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-A common through-line in the film is the separation of business and personal lives. Are there any characters who are able to successfully compartmentalize these two disparate aspects of their lives? What happens to those that cannot separate their emotions from their work? 

-What do you think is typical about the Corleones as an American family? What’s unconventional? 

-Why is family so important to the Corleones? 

-Does Don Vito Corleone have limits to what he is willing to do? Even though Don Vito is the leader of a crime family, do his limits come from his moral standards? How does he – and how do audiences – reconcile his moral standards with his criminal and violent business practices? 

-What makes Michael change his mind about joining the family business? 

-What are the differences between how Michael runs the family business and how his father ran it? 

-What does Kay realize when the door is closing at the end of the movie? What are the early indicators that she would become an outsider in her own marriage? 

-What is it about THE GODFATHER that makes is such a classic of American cinema? What is it that makes the story such a distinctly American story? 

-Why does THE GODFATHER continue to resonate with audiences still today? 

-How would you rate THE GODFATHER? 

In this exclusive video from the AFI Archive, Sydney Pollack talks about THE GODFATHER:

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