What makes "The Godfather" a great film?

For no particular reason other than boredom, I’ve decided to watch every film on the IMDB’s Top 250 list.

There’s just one problem. Those dreaded words…right there at number 2, and again at number 3…

The Godfather.

Now, I watched the first Godfather about six months ago–forced myself to sit through it, because I knew it was a Great Film. It was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life: so slow, so meandering, so goddamn dull. Endless mumbled conversations. Murky photography in various shades of brown. And, of course, Brando’s ridiculous voice. I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the plot: I was so bored I must have repressed the memory.

But it seems to be one of the most highly regarded films ever made: the AFI votes it the second-best; the BFI the fourth-best.

So please tell me: what am I missing? Why is this a Great Film? I honestly would like to know, because it irritates me. I feel like there must be something wrong with me.

I expect to be told that I’m too young to appreciate it, that I need to get used to the slower pacing of older films, or maybe that I’m an idiot whose attention span can only be held by a torrent of explosions and special effects. But I don’t think that’s true. I love a lot of films from the forties and fifties, some of which are very slow and character-driven. Hell, I even liked Lost in Translation, the ultimate film about nothing!

So let’s hear your opinions. Let me know why you love this film.

Well, I just officially got old as hell.

Watch Al Pacino’s face in the restaurant scene. You can see his inner struggle, and decision to finally and irrevocably cross the line.

I don’t know if it’s one of the best movies ever, but it’s one of my favorites. If I channel surf late at night and come across it, well, I’m not going to bed anytime soon.

Do you think that it insists upon itself?

I can list some things that are great about it, but I can’t make you like it.

  1. The acting. One of the best and deepest casts ever assembled. Brando created one of the most iconic characters in the history of movies with a couple of cottonballs in his mouth and some specific mannersisms and speech affects.

  2. The story, particularly the arc of Michael, who starts out appearing to be clean cut and innocuous – the “good” kid – who is slowly revealed to be the coldest and most ruthless member of the family.

  3. The dialogue. The dialogue is compelling, intelligent, and thought provoking from the first scene to the last.

  4. Great individual scenes – Sonny beating the shit out of Carlo, "“Leave the gun, take the cannoli,” the horse head, Michael shooting Solozzo and the cop, the final scene, the movie is full of indelible moments.

  5. I think it might help to know that The Godfather essentially originated the mob movie genre. There had been movies about mobsters before, buyt this was original in not only making them protags, but giving them an internal moral code and an at least partially sympathetic gloss. It was a new and original angle at the time.

  6. The direction – the music choices, the cinematography, the look, sound and lighting that all created a specific mood and sense of time and place.



Take just the opening act, the wedding. The film has a huge cast. Yet we are able to quickly learn about them, their flaws and strengths, their relationships, etc. Very few films ever made have been able to successfully get the audience up to speed on so many cast members in such a short period of time. Too many viewers don’t realize that this is being done, it fits in so naturally. That right there is great film making.

Another commonly mentioned aspect of the film is how it makes these gangsters human and therefore likeable to a certain degree. Since The Godfather was made, there have been a lot films and TV series that do this. But this was the first to do it on a grand scale.

It is not about Vito. It is about Michael. He is not like his family. He doesn’t fit in with them. But then things change. He learns that protecting your family trumps all. What happens to the rest of his family is just background structure to push his story along.

Plus you learn useful things, like “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”

As far as the colors go, the most recent DVDs and BluRays have better color than all past versions.

Yes, it is very good. It is a patiently told story of why a good man turns/falls to evil and how the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

For the moment, I suggest that you skip these films. Watch a lot of the other films on the Top 250. When, in a few months or a few years, you’re ready to see The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, go back and watch them then. I think that they’re great films, but film watching should be an enjoyable experience. Don’t force yourself if you’re not really in that good a mood for them.

Actually, that’s the movie that the director himself thought he made: “Well, I guess I failed. I took a popular, pulpy, salacious novel and turned it into a bunch’a guys sitting around in dark rooms, talking.”

Anyway, it’s deep. It’s even deeper when you add GF2 to the mix, but I have to warn you: if you thought GF was slow, etc, you’re going to think the same thing about GF2. The films don’t spoonfeed you answers and motivations, especially in regards to the father-son dynamic between Vito and Michael and the decisions made when Michael returns from Sicily.

For me to go into why I think so, I would likely have to talk about GF2 which would involve a bunch of spoiler boxes, which I don’t feel like doing.

But if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. Nothing wrong in that.

What makes The Godfather a great film?

One word:


Re: Brando’s voice: something never mentioned in the movie, but in the backstory (I can’t remember if it was in the novel or just something they came up with when filming) Don Corleone had been shot in the throat during one of the mob wars years before the events of the movie.

I feel The Godfather is a great film and I also feel it’s a very accessible film. There’s nothing in it I can think of that needs to be explained in order to appreciate the movie. So if you didn’t like it, I guess that’s it. All I can suggest is wait a few years and try it again - maybe it’ll strike a chord next time.

I just watched The Godfather for the first time a year or two ago. I did think the characterization and certain individual scenes were very good, but overall the movie was a bit on the slow and meandering side, as you said. Then, I discussed the film with some others, and found out the staggering amount of things from the entire mob genre that originated with The Godfather. It gave me a much greater appreciation for the film, because I took those things for granted.

As a matter of fact GF2, which is a great film and on par with the original, is one of the most confusing popular films ever made as far as motivation and who did what to who. There are several question threads about it on here from people who’ve watched it and loved it but still aren’t quite sure they caught everything.

It’s mythic and romantic – great families in modern America, fighting it out with cunning treachery and straight-up courage like medieval barons, or Italian Renaissance princes. Loyalty, betrayal, plots and assassinations and counter-feints, it’s got it all.

Of course, in all that mythic romance we never see what they’re fighting over, turf-rights to carry on the sordid business of loansharking, shaking down merchants, hijacking trucks, etc. For that see Goodfellas or The Sopranos.

I second this. Godfather I and II are like two parts of a Shakespearean tragedy, a uniquely American one. They are two of the only films in which I see something new every time I watch them, whether it’s a new way to think about a character’s motives or a different way to interpret a line of dialogue. It’s really incredible. So many layers and such beautiful direction.

But if it ain’t your bag, nobody’s gonna really convince you.

It’s most assuredly not the best movie ever made.

It is, however, a good movie. I watch it about every 3-4 years.

I’d go with that. :stuck_out_tongue:

It made itself an offer it couldn’t refuse.

I agree. I finally saw it a few months ago for the first time (it was on cable) and was sucked right in. As a rule, I generally dislike long movies, and three hours is a whopper of a movie for me. But the Godfather pulled me right in – I meant to turn it off after the wedding scene (the film started at midnight and I wanted to get to bed), but I just couldn’t stop watching. The characters, acting, and storytelling were all so believable and true, that I couldn’t possibly get to sleep until I found out what happened to all of them. So, for me, it was just a visceral interest in the characters and story. I can’t really dissect everything about the movie that made it great any better than has been said here.

Anyhow, I’ve had many experiences with albums and sometimes movies that didn’t grab me the first time around, but years later, whose brilliance I suddenly understood. So I’d just give it some time and come back to it a few years later.

One of my biggest, longest-lasting questions about GF2 was the nature of the “deal” between Roth and Michael - what was going on there, what was the $2 million to purchase, etc? It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized:

Roth was conning Michael by trying to get Michael to buy into Cuba when Roth knew it was going down the tubes. Roth gets $2 million, Michael gets “ownership” interest in a bunch of nationalized hotels.

Other GF mysteries (at least to me):

In GF III, what was Don Altobello up to?

What ever happened to Carlo and Connie’s son – the one baptized, with Michael as godfather, during the “Sicilian Vespers” scene at the end of GF I? He never appears or is even mentioned again – not even in GF III, when Michael is looking around for an heir and his own son will have none of it.