History, Legacy & Showmanship
Tuesday, 08 November 2022 11:57

An Offer Moviegoers Couldn’t Refuse: Remembering “The Godfather” on its 50th Anniversary

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The Godfather has become such an indelible part of American culture and world culture that it’s become one of those films that everyone knows even if they’ve never seen it.” – Ray Morton, author of King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the golden anniversary of the release of The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary film about the Corleone crime family.

Based upon Mario Puzo’s best-selling 1969 novel, the film adaptation starring Marlon Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront) won three Academy Awards (including Best Picture), was for a period of time the highest-grossing motion picture, spawned two sequels, and influenced countless filmmakers. The Godfather also starred Al Pacino (Dog Day Afternoon, Scarface), James Caan (Rollerball, Thief), Richard Castellano (A Fine Madness, Lovers and Other Strangers), Robert Duvall (The Great Santini, Tender Mercies), Sterling Hayden (The Killing, The Long Goodbye), John Marley (Faces, Love Story), Richard Conte (I’ll Cry Tomorrow, Ocean’s 11), and Diane Keaton (Annie Hall, Looking for Mr. Goodbar). [Read on here...]

In 1990 the Library of Congress selected The Godfather for preservation in the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Its most recent home media release (on 4K Ultra HD) was earlier this year and is reviewed here.

For the occasion of The Godfather’s anniversary, The Bits features a multi-page article consisting of a 22-chapter oral history-style interview segment with a diverse group of pop culture authorities, film historians and filmmakers who reflect on the film, plus noteworthy box-office data and statistics, passages from a sampling of original reviews, and a reference listing of its North American first-run theatrical presentations.

The Godfather (1972)



  • 1 = Box-office rank among films directed by Coppola
  • 1 = Box-office rank among films released during 1972
  • 1 = Peak position on list of all-time box-office champs
  • 2 = Number of sequels
  • 3 = Number of Academy Awards
  • 3 = Number of years film industry’s top-earning film
  • 6 = Number of cinemas playing the film during its opening weekend
  • 6 = Number of years Paramount’s top-earning film
  • 11 = Number of Academy Award nominations (one nomination withdrawn)
  • 39 = Number of weeks longest-running engagement played (in a single-screen cinema)
  • 41 = Number of weeks longest-running engagement played (in a multiplex)
  • 125 = Number of days to gross $100 million*
  • 316 = Number of bookings added during film’s first week of wide release (Week #2)
  • $465,148 = Opening weekend box-office gross (6 theaters)
  • $6.0 million = Production cost
  • $6.8 million = Second weekend box-office gross* (322 theaters)
  • $42.5 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $81.5 million = Domestic box-office rental* (earnings through 12/31/1972)
  • $85.0 million = Domestic box-office rental* (earnings through 12/31/1973)
  • $85.7 million = Domestic box-office rental* (earnings through 12/31/1974)
  • $86.1 million = Domestic box-office rental (earnings through 12/31/1977)
  • $86.3 million = Domestic box-office rental (earnings through 12/31/1978)
  • $110.2 million = International box-office gross (first run)
  • $133.7 million = Domestic box-office gross* (first run)
  • $136.4 million = Domestic box-office gross (cumulative/lifetime)
  • $243.9 million = Worldwide box-office gross (first run)
  • $250.3 million = Worldwide box-office gross (cumulative/lifetime)
  • $607.9 million = Domestic box-office rental (adjusted for inflation)
  • $783.7 million = International box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
  • $951.1 million = Domestic box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
  • $1.7 billion = Worldwide box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)

*established new film industry record



“Artistically, The Godfather has nothing to prove, because it has few, if any, peers within its own genre. The result is a newly definitive gangster melodrama.” – Gary Arnold, The Washington Post

“Marlon Brando, playing the Mafioso chieftain in The Godfather, is an early favorite for next year’s Best Actor Oscar. As Don Vito Corleone, Brando turns in a flawless performance—affectionately human, beautifully real, and meticulously controlled—in what may turn out to be next year’s Best Picture.” – Wayne Harada, The Honolulu Advertiser

“With several million hardcover and paperback books acting as trailers, Paramount’s film version of Mario Puzo’s sprawling gangland novel, The Godfather, has a large pre-sold audience. This will bolster the potential for the film which has an outstanding performance by Al Pacino and a strong characterization by Marlon Brando in the title role. It also has excellent production values, flashes of excitement, and a well-picked cast. But it is also overlong at 175 minutes (played without intermission), and occasionally confusing. While never so placid as to be boring, it is never so gripping as to be superior screen drama. This should not mat Paramount’s [box office] expectations in any measure, though some filmgoers may be disappointed.” – A.D. Murphy, Variety

“Audiences must endure a three-hour marathon which finally conveys the feeling that for scene after scene the cameras must have been lubricated with olive oil. Except for the accent on family aspects of big-city gangster clans, other facets dealt with in The Godfather were much better treated in such movies as Scarface and Little Caesar. Coppola and Puzo have allowed themselves to wander at painful length in their screenplay, and the former directs at pasta pace throughout. Even moments of violence, since they are elaborately telegraphed, explode like waterlogged torpedoes.” – Robert Downing, The Denver Post

The Godfather is an epic gangster movie adaptation from the raw materials of Mario Puzo’s best-seller about the Mafia and probably the best of its kind ever made. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it fills the screen with a long, leisurely, but steadily engrossing account of the mid-40’s. It ends with sobering intimations of how one family, the Corleones, after a lifetime of criminality, stand on the brink of respectability, like every other powerful force (political, religious, economic) that has gone into the making of this country. In its own clear-headed cynicism, in which corruption not only breeds corruption but success as well. The Godfather’s truth is galling but inescapable.” – Kevin Kelly, The Boston Globe

The Godfather“It was a monumental task that producer Albert S. Ruddy, director Francis Ford Coppola and author-scripter Mario Puzo faced in turning Puzo’s panoramic best-selling The Godfather into manageable length for the screen. Had they achieved this jam with only passable success would have been understandable, but the fact that they have converted the novel into an engrossing pictorial action-filled motion picture of Mafia underworld operations is remarkable.” – William A. Payne, The Dallas Morning News

“The year’s first really satisfying, big commercial American film. One of the most brutal and moving chronicles of American life ever designed within the limits of popular entertainment.” – Vincent Canby, The New York Times

“Among those who have seen early screenings of The Godfather one frequently hears the observation, sometimes delivered in near reverential tones, that ‘This thing is going to make a ton of money.’ Indeed, Francis Ford Coppola’s movie adaptation of Mario Puzo’s Mafia novel does have the look of a box office monster. But happily, The Godfather has more to offer than mindless, calculated commercialism of the Love Story variety. It will make a bundle because it is one of those very, very rare films that virtually everyone will wind up seeing. The reason is that The Godfather is a totally engrossing movie. Quite apart from any artistic merits it may possess or lack, it is so damnably interesting that it is hard to imagine anyone being able to resist being caught up in it.” – Howell Raines, The Atlanta Constitution

The Godfather, even if it would be viewed as a long exercise in beautiful lighting techniques (there are scenes that more resemble a great painting than a strip of film), has considerable artistic merit. At the same time, unlike works like Sunday, Bloody Sunday and The Go Between I am not counting the minutes and waiting for the thing to end. Indeed, The Godfather is one of those very few pictures that we’d like to see go on, and on, and on—like the line at the box office.” – John Huddy, The Miami Herald

“It takes a masterful presentation of a gripping story to hold a man in his seat for 2 hours and 55 minutes with a minimum of squirming. This is what The Godfather does. Franc[i]s Ford Coppola has fashioned the movie into a series of small and satisfying climaxes to attract the eye and entertain the imagination while the mainstream of the picture rolls on and on. It could easily have become bloated; it doesn’t.” – Emerson Batdorff, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

The Godfather is a movie that seems to have everything! Warmth, violence, nostalgia, the charisma of Marlon Brando in one of his finest performances, and the dynastic sweep of an Italian-American Gone with the Wind.” – Jay Cocks, Time

The Godfather ends with a door being closed in the face of the audience, and it is because we have been behind the door for nearly three hours that the film has such remarkable appeal. To permit us a glimpse at The Mob, with all of its ethnic insularity, is like giving a chronic gambler a chance to wander above the false mirrors that overlook every casino.” – Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

“Although the movie is three hours long, it absorbs us so effectively it never has to hurry. There is something in the measured passage of time as Don Corleone hands over his reins of power that would have made a shorter, faster moving film seem unseemly. Even at this length, there are characters in relationships you can’t quite understand unless you’ve read the novel. Or perhaps you can, just by the way the characters look at each other.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“Some of the best, or at least most interesting foreign films in recent years have been made in the United States. Society is so fragmented and diverse that whole cultures, professions and regions are no less alien than foreign countries. Woodstock, The French Connection, The Panic in Needle Park, The Last Picture Show, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Derby—these and other movies have exposed us to cultures and people as remote from us as Africans or Eskimos. And now comes one of the best domestic foreign films since The Grapes of Wrath: The film version of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.” – Ted Mahar, The Oregonian (Portland)

“There are seldom cases where the movie outstrips the book, but I think this is one, possibly because Francis Ford Coppola is a better writer than Mario Puzo, or maybe it’s because Puzo was so anxious for the bread he knew he was going to earn that he didn’t polish the runaway best-seller.” – John Knott, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis)

The Godfather is blessed with top production value, is certain to be a powerhouse box office draw, spotlights a terrific performance by Pacino, whom I call the Italian Dustin Hoffman, and brings Brando back to his plateau of excellence.” – Phil Strassberg, The Arizona Republic (Phoenix)

“Although the film is only a few minutes short of being three hours in length, it is still too short.” – Alex Thien, Milwaukee Sentinel

“The score by Nino Rota is a fragrant lament that becomes more and more haunting as Coppola uses it to comment on different kinds of losses. Gordon [Willis’] cinematography reminds one of the European masters; there are visual ideas borrowed from The Damned and The Conformist, but [Willis] and Coppola have found their own justifiable uses for them.” – John Hartl, The Seattle Times

The Godfather is an intelligent labor of love, a masterful action picture, a shrewd look at American values, and an artful period piece. The combination is unquestionably the best gangster film ever produced.” – Paine Knickerbocker, San Francisco Chronicle

“What makes the film close to brilliant is that it moves often into the para-fictional and becomes like a saga, legend of no specific authorship with a big enough artistic bankroll to play for those kind of stakes and win. The film is about, really, nothing less than love and evil, and how they are not necessarily polar quantities. The filmmakers and actors are dealing with and make us respond to the property on that level.” – Jeff Millar, Houston Chronicle

“The picture is really Coppola’s triumph. He collaborated on the screenplay with Puzo and worked the whole thing out with an unobtrusive mastery which is capable of subtlety while refusing to be lured into arty byways.” – William B. Collins, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A superior work of popular entertainment! Reminds us of the vanished pleasures of the old-fashioned gangster movies!” – Richard Schickel, Life

“Al Pacino, as Brando’s heir, rattles around in a part too demanding for him. James Caan is OK as his older brother. The surprisingly rotten score by Nino Rota contains a quotation from Manhattan Serenade as a plane lands in Los Angeles. Francis Ford Coppola, the director and co-adapter (with Mario Puzo), has saved all his limited ingenuity for the shootings and stranglings, which are among the most vicious I can remember on film. The print of the picture showed to the New York press had very washed-out colors.” – Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic

“There is only one Brando. He is The Godfather. The centerpiece of what promises to be the Gone with the Wind of gangster movies.” – Paul D. Zimmerman, Newsweek

“The only thing I didn’t like about the film was Coppola’s insistence of low-key, shadowy photography, perhaps because he thinks it’s more natural. In some scenes the characters are so much in deep shadow it’s hard to tell who they are.” – Myles Standish, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Francis Ford Coppola on this evidence can cope with the spectacle film as writer and director. The pleasure of the film is that the performances by Brando and Pacino, strong and vivid as they are, do not overweigh the work of the ensemble. The consistency of texture is an index of Coppola’s skillful control. He has indeed brought off an assured and richly detailed piece of movie storytelling on a massive scale.” – Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times

“Even the critic whose stock-in-trade is evaluation, as opposed to prediction, has got to cut loose on the subject of The Godfather out of sheer excitement: This is going to be not only the most widely seen, but also the most widely honored movie of 1972. For a change, the general public and the list-makers and the award-givers are going to be able to say, as if in one voice, ‘Now, that’s what I call a movie!’” – Susan Stark, Detroit Free Press

“When one considers the different rates at which people read, it’s miraculous that films can ever solve the problem of a pace at which audiences can ‘read’ a film together. A hack director solves the problem of pacing by making only a few points and making those so emphatically that the audience can hardly help getting them (this is why many of the movies from the studio-system days are unspeakably insulting); the tendency of a clever, careless director is to go too fast, assuming that he’s made everything clear when he hasn’t, and leaving the audience behind. When a film has as much novelistic detail as this one, the problem might seem to be almost insuperable. Yet, full as it is, The Godfather goes by evenly, so we don’t feel rushed, or restless, either; there’s classic grandeur to the narrative flow. But Coppola’s attitudes are specifically modern—more so than in many films with a more jagged surface. Renoir’s openness is an expression of an almost pagan love of people and landscape; his style is an embrace. Coppola’s openness is a reflection of an exploratory sense of complexity; he doesn’t feel the need to comment on what he shows us, and he doesn’t want to reduce the meanings in a shot by pushing us this way or that. The assumption behind this film is that complexity will engage the audience.” – Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

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