The Godfather

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"I believe in America."

The Godfather is a series of three films about a fictional Mafia crime family, the Corleone Family. The first movie came out in 1972, and was based upon Mario Puzo's novel of the same name. It was followed by The Godfather Part II in 1974 and The Godfather Part III in 1990. Francis Ford Coppola directed the films and scripted them with Puzo. The first two films are widely considered to be among the greatest films of all time.

The plot of the first movie begins in 1945 with Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), the youngest son of the Don of the Family, Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), returning from World War II and reuniting with his family at his sister Connie's wedding. The good times don't last long, however: shortly after the wedding a captain from a rival crime family tries to interest the Don and his Hot-Blooded eldest son, Sonny (James Caan), in the new up and coming moneymaker: heroin. The old fashioned Don is not interested, believing that selling drugs would wreck the political connections vital to the family, but when Sonny shows interest the rival family decides on a new course of action: kill Don Vito, and try to make a bargain with Sonny afterwards.

The assassination attempt on the Don fails to kill him but puts him in the hospital and Michael, who has never been interested or involved in the Family business before, thwarts a second attempt while visiting his father at the hospital. At a truce meeting Michael kills both the captain from the other family and a police captain that was involved in the second attempt at his father before going into hiding, and Sonny, furious at the attempts at his father's life, declares an all out Mob War.

Eventually Sonny is ambushed and killed, and Michael is forced out of hiding to try to take over the family. Michael pretends to be helpless at first, but after his father dies and he becomes the head of the Family, Michael ruthlessly purges The Moles within the family and his enemies in the other major mob families, leaving the Corleone family as the most powerful force in the mob scene.

The second film continues Michael's story while giving flashback accounts of the young Don Vito (Robert De Niro) from his troubled childhood to his eventual turn to crime and rise to power (based on parts of the original book which were cut from the first film). In the present Michael is juggling many problems, which include he and gangster Hyman Roth trading double-crosses and assassination attempts even as they do business together, his personal life with his wife and family crumbling, and the Corleone family trying to survive an investigation from the US government.

Eventually Michael manages to overcome everything, but the film ends on a theme of Pyrrhic Villainy: Michael's actions have destroyed his family, ended his marriage, he's killed his sole remaining brother, Fredo, after finding out that Fredo made a deal with Hyman Roth, and ends the movie utterly alone.

Many fans prefer to disregard the third film entirely, which is completely original and picks up events 20 years later in the timeline. Here an ailing and guilt stricken Michael increasingly attempts to make the Corleone family legitimate, but in doing so becomes less and less involved with the functions of the crime family, which gives more leeway to unscrupulous and unprincipled associates. Sonny's bastard son Vincent, a member of the crime family, speaks up about this and is taken under Michael's wing and groomed to replace him. There is one last round of assassinations and purges in the Corleone Family before Vincent becomes the new Don and, years later, Michael dies.

The first film was also loosely adapted by EA Games into a free-roaming action/adventure game that lets you create your own mobster (with a feature called Mob Face, based on EA's Tiger Woods Game Face) who starts out as the low man on the Corleone totem pole and experiences events from the first movie (he helps deliver the horse head to Jack Woltz's bed, for example) while rising through the ranks of the family, eventually becoming Don of New York. If you're looking for a spot-on adaptation of the movie look elsewhere, but think of it as "Grand Theft Auto: Cosa Nostra" and you should have a pretty fun time with it. The second film was also adapted into a videogame by EA, where you play the protagonist from the first game's replacement becoming Don of NYC, focusing on Hyman Roth's attempt to control Cuba.

Tropes for the video games go here.

Tropes used in The Godfather include:
  • Acrofatic: Clemenza is a great dancer, and Vito's surprising quickness for his size saves his life during Sollozzo's ambush.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The film drops a lot of the novel's subplots.
  • Affably Evil: Vito behaves like - and, in some ways, is - a family-oriented leader of his community, doing favors for the weak and punishing the wicked (when it doesn't interfere with Business). In some ways this is an Enforced Trope. People are expected to treat Don Vito like a treasured and respected friend. During his first scene, he chides the mortician for not being more sociable with him and only visiting when he needs a favor.
  • Affectionate Nickname: One of the many connotations of the Godfather title. Discussed by Michael during the Senate commission in Part II.
  • American Dream: The first line of the first film is "I believe in America... " A crucial theme of the film is how the five families are essentially living the American dream with specific ideals that America at the time greatly treasured (capitalism, gender roles, family values, etc). One could easily see this as a Deconstruction or even an attack on the idea of the American Dream, or at least a very different look at it.
    • Of course one could say that rather then living the American Dream they are living the European Dream manipulating kinship networks to create an empire of favor trading and patronage not to different from that of a Medieval lord or chieftain.
  • An Aesop: Being Evil Sucks. It's hidden behind considerable helpings of Do Not Do This Cool Thing, though.
  • Artistic License History: In The Godfather Part III, the deaths of Pope Paul VI and John Paul I all take place in 1979, while in reality these events took place in 1978! However, the name of the actual Cardinal who becomes John Paul I appears to have been changed.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Two interweaved killings set this up.
    • Vito killing Fanucci and deposing the local authority marks the cornerstone of his rule.
    • Michael killing Sollozzo and McClusky doubles as a rite of passage from naive newcomer to credible and defacto mafia leader, as he can no longer be a clean civilian and is now in Vito's world.
  • At the Opera Tonight: The climax of Part III.
  • Badass:
    • Luca Brasi is Don Vito's strong-arm enforcer, though he's not presented as badass as his character in the film. In fact, his two chief scenes involve him stumbling over a speech and getting killed.
      • Part of the point of the story is that both he and Vito are getting old. Still, in the book it takes two men to hold his arms while he's being strangled, instead of the knife-through-the-hand trick from the movie.
    • Michael is both a war hero and, in the end, a (Pyrrhically) badass gangster.
  • Badass Moustache: Vito Corleone sports a badass mustache, and he only begins wearing it after he gains power as a Mafia kingpin.
  • Bath Suicide: In Part II, Hagen visits Pentangeli in prison and talks about this practice in the Roman Empire, hinting that if Pentangeli does this his family will be spared. He does, and they are.
  • Batman Gambit: Barzini's plot had Tattaglia send Sollozzo to the Corleones to see about increasing the drug traffic. If Vito says yes then the drug trade can begin immediately and with the backing of the Corleone's extensive political contacts, but if he says no Sollozzo would sow discord within the Corleone ranks. If Sollozzo fails to sway the Corleone family and all out war broke out, which it did, the Corleone's would spend their time gunning for Sollozzo and Tattaglia. Any way it plays out, Barzini wins. It almost works except that Vito figures out "It was Barzini all along."
  • Being Evil Sucks: If you wish to be be a mob chief after watching this, then you are crazy.
  • Berserk Button: The normally calm and cool Michael loses it when Kay tells him she aborted their child, a son. Also, don't mess with Sonny's sister.
  • Best Served Cold:
    • Many years pass until the Corleones get their revenge in Part I. The novel and the chronological cut gives more details about how they slowly bide their time.
    • Vito is an adult family man when he returns to Sicily to exact revenge on the man (a crippled old man by then) who killed his brother and his parents when he was a child.
  • Big Applesauce
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Don Fanucci, the local kingping in Part II. He is very feared and acts all ruthless but he is a Paper Tiger: there are some paisans who don't pay him any tribute, he has no real muscle and resorts to police threats to enforce his demands. More detailed in the novel and alternative montages where Vito sees him receive quite a beating and being stabbed. In the film only the big scar under his chin alludes to that.
  • The Big Board: During the Senate investigation there is a big board with a diagram showing how the Corleone family is organized and branched.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Sonny Corleone has one of these toward his sister. It ultimately gets him killed.
  • Big Fancy House
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed:
    • Sonny, though it is less blatant in the film than in the book, where it is actually a minor plot point.
    • Johnny Fontane. Enough so that stories about its sheer girth are common on the Hollywood scene. One rumor (eventually confirmed) stated that he had to have his suits specially tailored in order to accommodate it.
    • "Superman" in the donkey show.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: The Baptism / Execution sequence from the end of Part I where Michael becomes the Godfather in both senses of the term. Not an actual birth but a very close symbolic one, a very young child gains admission to a new life in Christ.
  • Black and Gray Morality: The Corleone family are the protagonists of the film trilogy, but only because everyone else - the other mobsters, the cops, politicians, even Vatican clergy - are worse. The very first person we meet in the original film - the mortician - has only come to Don Vito because the courts had let the would-be rapists of his daughter go free. In the Corleones' favor, both Vito and Michael conduct themselves as good decent men... except for Michael's obsessive need for control.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal:
    • Vito is shot on the same day Paulie calls in sick. Sonny sees through the coincidence.
    • In Sicily, Apollonia is driving the car for the first time as a surprise to Michael, who notices his bodyguard Fabrizzio hurriedly walking away from his villa. Michael turns and screams to his wife, but it's too late, she starts the engine and the car explodes, killing her.
    • Tessio in the end of Part I.
    • Michael in Part II discusses the possibility pointing out that his men are just business men and their loyalty is based on that.
  • Break-In Threat: Jack Woltz wakes up with a horse head in his bed. Bonus points for it being his prize horse when it was still alive.
  • Break the Cutie: What Jack Woltz does to a very young, very beautiful actress during Tom Hagen's visit. Insiders say it's a description of something that happened to Elizabeth Taylor, probably at MGM. It was one of the factors that would ultimately lead to the horse-head incident, and is called an infamita by the Don himself.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Luca Brasi is Genre Savvy enough to wear one when going to speak to The Turk. It doesn't help, since he gets garroted instead, but its not like he could have discreetly worn a gorget.
  • Cain and Abel: Michael and Fredo, mixed with Finding Judas, Fredo claims he thought his actions would unblock a deal and be good for the family too.
  • Calling the Old Man Out:
    • Connie aggressively confronts Michael in the aftermath of the Carlo situation. She later confesses she behaves badly in order to get back at Michael and hurt him.
    • Fredo has an outburst of anger against the arrangements made by his father Vito and continued by Michael, who is his kid brother but is to all effects a second father figure; the Godfather.
  • Call to Agriculture: Retired Badass Vito Corleone exits this life playing hide and seek in his tomato garden.
  • Cement Shoes: "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes".
  • The Chains of Commanding: Michael has to juggle many hard balls in Part II. In Part III, he is an infirm man haunted by some of his past decisions, tired of an unbearable crown and has to give in.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • Don Vito himself, especially in the book where it is more obvious that Michael's purge of the five families was orchestrated by Vito years before, at his negotiations to bring Michael home from Sicily.
    • Michael in all three films.
    • The main antagonists of the movies-- Barzini, Roth, and Altobello -- are examples, albeit much less successful.
  • Chronic Villainy: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!"
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: The baker Enzo tries to light a cigarette when he and Michael Corleone are guarding Vito Corleone; Enzo's hands are shaking too hard to light the cigarette, but Michael is completely calm and lights it for him.
  • The Clan
  • Coattail-Riding Relative: Carlo thinks he's going to pull this off by marrying Connie, but the Corleones never offer him any opportunities. See under Gold Digger.
  • Color Motif: The color orange is a symbol of impending death. Usually, it comes in the form of orange fruit, but even orange clothing and orange decorations are used as foreshadowing towards death.
  • Confessional: In Part III, Michael gets to confess and receive absolution from the future Pope John Paul I himself.

His Holiness: "Your sins are terrible. And it is just that you suffer. Your life could be redeemed, but I know you do not believe that. You will not change."

  • The Consigliere: Trope Codifier Tom Hagen in the first two, less-seen B.J. Harrison in Part III.
  • Continuity Cameo: Johnny Fontane and Lucy Mancini. In the novel they both get big storylines nearly the equal of the main storyline with Michael. In the film Johnny has a very small part and Lucy just two shorts scenes confirming her as Sonny's mistress. They make a brief apparition again in Part III.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Subverted. Kay Corleone apparently suffers this trope, only to be revealed later that she aborted the child, out of hate towards her catholic husband and because she can't stand the idea of another child being raised under his criminal world. An inversion of Good Girls Avoid Abortion.
  • Cool Horse: Jack Woltz's prize horse Khartoum. Shame what happens to him due to the Don's offer getting refused.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat:
    • Senator Geary of Nevada in Part II, who tries to extort and bully Michael... and not out of greed but because Geary is a racist spiteful bastard.
    • Implied off-screen by the many politicians and judges that are indebted to Vito in the first two films.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Michael Corleone starts as a principled war hero firmly detached from the family business only to be gradually dragged into the criminal world and ending up as the new Don, cold and ruthless, alienated from his family. He tries to atone for some things in Part III.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Not the Trope Maker, but close.
  • Dangerously Close Shave: Subverted, during the Baptism Scene it certainly looks like this is about to happen to someone, but it turns out that the man getting a shave is a hitman for the Corleone family who is making time before ambushing the target.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Vito and Michael are aware of many of the trades and tropes of his profession, invoke some of them and make plans and gambits accordingly, hence their success. Many examples in this page: For instance Michael sends Vincent as a Fake Defector in Part III but -unlike Luca Brasi- with some dispositions to avoid being smelled as one.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat:
    • "Hello, Carlo."
    • Played with a bit earlier in the film: Clemenza takes Paulie Gatto with him on the pretense of scouting for apartments in preparation to "go to the mattresses", but he also brings along Rocco Lampone; Rocco sits in the back while Paulie drives and Clemenza rides shotgun. Paulie knows something is a little off and you can see it in his expression when he asks Rocco to move over because he's blocking the rear-view mirror. It turns out Paulie was right to be nervous.
  • Darker and Edgier: Coppola felt that the first movie had shown the Mafia in too warm and sentimental a light, so Part II was consciously made Darker and Edgier.
  • Deal with the Devil: Don Corleone's policy of doing favors for people in return for the person in question performing a service for him in the future has very strong undertones of this, but the Don does not make the people who call on him for help do anything evil. The mortician Bonasera, whose request for help opens the movie, is terrified of being indebted to Don Vito for such a favor and fears that one day the Don will show up at his doorstep with a pile of corpses and a "request" that he bury them. In the end, Vito calls in the favor to beg Bonasera to clean up Sonny's bullet-riddled body, as well as reconstruct his face so that his mother will be able to look upon him. When Don Vito himself dies, Bonasera is spotted at the funeral he apparently is providing for the late Don and is openly weeping.
  • Death Wail: Michael Corleone's scream when Mary dies was supposedly so primal and intense that the audio had to be cut from the movie.
  • Decapitated Army: Invoked by Sollozzo. Without Vito at the helm the Corleone family would lose half of his political connections and a lot of power.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "I'm honored that you have invited me to your daughter... 's wedding... on the day of your daughter's wedding." In reality, Lenny Montana was a professional wrestler and not a trained actor. His verbal stumble came from being awed just to be in the presence of Marlon Brando. It was felt afterward to keep it in because it fit Luca's awe of Don Vito. They also added an extra scene, where Luca Brasi practices his speech, to make his nervousness more realistic.
  • Dirty Cop
  • Disposable Sex Worker: In Part II, the Corleones get corrupt U.S. Senator Geary in their pocket when he wakes up in a room with a dead prostitute in a hotel run by Fredo. They had engaged in rough, possibly dangerous sex before the senator blacked out, but the exact circumstances of her death are never revealed, and it is awfully convenient for the Corleone interests that she died. There is a brief scene during that moment where Al Neri is idly washing his hands in a nearby bathroom, hinting he had set up the senator by drugging him unconscious and then killing the poor girl.
  • Distant Finale: Parts II and III.
  • The Don: Vito, Michael and the other Dons.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: The mob life looks very attractive when you can live it like Michael and Fredo and the rest. Even all the killings, fights, wife abuse, prostitution, drugs, animal cruelty, and double parking seem so appealing.
  • Downer Ending
  • The Dragon: Luca Brasi and Tom Hagen to Vito, Al Neri to Michael. There is a dragon vs dragon fight in Cuba between the unnamed Michael's bodyguard and Johnny Ola, Roth's man.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him:
    • Clemenza dies offscreen between the events of the first two films because of a contract dispute with the actor. Frank Pentangeli is actually his Suspiciously Similar Substitute.
    • This happens again when Tom Hagen does not appear in the third film.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Vito opposes entering into the drug trade because he thinks that they will drive away his allies in politics and the police force, not because he has any problem with the morality of selling them. He is eventually forced to get the Corleones into the trade when the Five Families kill Sonny and he needs to negotiate a truce. All the other Dons agree that it needs to be run "as a business," kept out of the hands of children and preferably within the black community.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: A major issue for Fredo in Part II.
  • The Dutiful Son: Michael. Connie is the prodigal sibling in Part II and becomes The Caretaker in Part III.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Michael and Fredo.

Michael: I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart, you broke my heart.

  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Exhibited many times. One of Michael's generous acts, in his mind, is not to have Fredo killed until after their mother is no longer alive to know about it, and Vito spends years waiting for revenge on the man who killed his mother.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Vito believes that his political connections, which regard gambling as "a harmless vice", will abandon the Family if they learn that hard drugs like heroin is being sold. Even after they agree to the trade, the Dons refuse to allow the drugs into schools or children.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: Vito to Michael. Vito figures on Sonny following his path, and Fredo... well... He wanted something better with Michael. The expression on his face when he's told that Michael killed Sollozzo and McKlusky is one of pure heartbreak.
  • The Exile:
    • Michael takes refuge in Sicily to avoid the heat of the mob war that ensues in Part I.
    • Michael tells Carlo that his punishment is being exiled from the family. He is instead exiled from this life.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Michael's hair goes from loose and boyish in the beginning of the first movie to slicked back when he's older and more ruthless later in the film and in Part II.
  • Extreme Melee Revenge: Carlo physically abuses Sonny's sister. Sonny then tracks down Carlo and attacks him in broad daylight. He uses his fists, his feet, Carlo's shoes, and a nearby metal trashcan (which is brought down smack on Carlo's head). All of this happens in public, and a crowd watches while Sonny's goons keep them from interfering. Carlo is left barely alive in a nearby puddle.
  • Face Palm: Michael's appalled reaction in Part II when he realizes Fredo's betrayal.
  • Fake Defector:
    • Don Corleone sends Luca Brasi to infiltrate the gang of Sollozzo to garner information, but Sollozzo is wise to the plot and Luca ends up sleeping with the fishes.
    • Michael puts Vincent under the tutelage of Don Altobello in Part III . Michael is Dangerously Genre Savvy and takes some precautions to avoid an obvious identification of the trope.
  • False Reassurance: In making the peace treaty with the Five Families that will bring Michael home, Don Vito promises that "I swear, on the souls of my grandchildren, that I will not be the one to break the peace we've made here today." And indeed he doesn't. Instead, Michael takes revenge after Vito's death.
  • Family Business: The ultimate variety.
  • Family Values Villain: Literally. Vito, subverted by Michael. The contrast between the two on this subject is a major theme in Part II.
  • Feudal Overlord: The resemblance with this is striking. As the Mafia is, in a way, an underground version of the pre-modern social system, it makes sense.
    • It is not unknown for businesses to replicate the old patron-client relationship with a dynasty at the head and a paternal relationship with workers from a local community. It is not thought of much as an American thing though in fact there are examples. Sometimes these kinds of arrangements are perfectly honest and do not involve the sort of enterprises that we don't actually see the Corleones doing.
  • The Fifties: Michael's half of Part II. Also, the latter half of Part I.
  • Five-Bad Band: The father and sons at the head of the Corleone Family form a neat model of this trope:
    • Big Bad: Vito; head of the family and; at his peak, implied to be the most powerful criminal in New York.
    • The Dragon: Tom Hagen. Serves as Consigliere (read: right-hand man) to three successive Dons of the Corleone Family.
    • Evil Genius: Michael proves himself to be this at least twice during Part I, and continuously throughout Part II, using devious and brutal schemes to keep the Corleone Family strong, despite their (numerous) ups and downs.
    • The Brute: Sonny. Despite doing his best to fill the roles of caporegime (read: general), and later acting Don, the only thing Sonny is ever really good at is violence (well, outside the bedroom that is...)
    • Dark Chick: Fredo. He may not be an actual chick, but he is only brother to be completely out of step with the rest of the family, and does have a troubling penchant for seeing things from the enemy's point of view...
    • Even if you go back to the start of the first movie, (in other words, prior to Michael getting involved in the family business) you still have a functional Five Bad lineup, albeit with some of the places switched around.
  • Five Second Foreshadowing: In the first movie, Michael realizes something is fishy about the car and quickly tries to warn his wife about it, but soon afterwards she starts the car and explodes.
  • Flashbacks: Used throughout Part II to depict the experiences of the young Vito. They are used to highlight Michael's struggles and failures to maintain the Corleone family in the present day.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • If you see an orange, somebody is about to have his day completely ruined.
    • Paulie utters some mildly disdainful comments during Connie's wedding.
    • "Exterminate? That's a bad word to use: exterminate! Get this guy. Watch out we don't exterminate you!"
    • Vito refuses to get into the narcotics business after the war, not only because he knows his political friends would abandon him but because he believes in the future the drug business could kill the Mafia. In Real Life, the Mafia has been crippled since The Seventies mostly due to the War On Drugs.
    • "Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever."
  • For Great Justice: As stated at the beginning of the movie, this is the reason why Amerigo Bonasera (and others) go to see Don Vito.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: the brothers are a perfect example. Sonny is choleric, Michael is melancholic, Fredo is sanguine, and Tom Hagen is phlegmatic.
  • Friendly Enemy: "Keep your friends close but your enemies closer."
    • Michael and Roth, Michael and Don Altobello.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare
  • Generational Saga
  • Genre Savvy: Luca Brasi wears a bullet proof vest when he goes to meet with The Turk. It does not help against a knife through the hand and a garrote, but give a mook credit for trying.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: The Don pulls this on Johnny Fontane when Fontane is complaining about Woltz keeping him from getting a part in his movie.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: What we mostly see is the attraction of a paternalistic faux-feudal honor culture, and at worse skullduggery and violence between people who at least know the score and participate of their free will. Only seldom do we get the idea that the Corleones are, kind of, you know criminals.
  • Glory Days: The nostalgic final conversation between Frankie "Five Angels" and Tom. The scene also shows an underneath comradeship and Frank thanks Tom for everything he has done as a farewell.

Frank : Those were the great old days, you know... And we was like the Roman Empire... The Corleone family was like the Roman Empire.
Tom : It was once.

  • Gold Digger: Connie's husband Carlo is a failed male example.
  • The Handler: Tom Hagen as consigliere to Don Vito.
  • Happy Flashback: A particularly effective one ends the second film. The Corleone children waiting for Vito and sitting around the dinner table, as Michael tells them he is joining the Marine Corps and going off to fight in World War II and thus bluntly detaching himself from the family business. There is a lot of character definition and foreshadowing and the moment represents the end of the happier, together times in the Corleone family's life. This is counterpointed by the final shot of Michael sitting alone in the Lake Tahoe compound.
  • Heel Face Turn: Subverted, Pentangeli is put under Witness Protection and is going to testify against the Corleone family. Michael and Tom Hagen find a way to prevent him breaking the omertà; his brother shows up the day he has to testify. It's interpretable if they stop Pentangeli by shaming him in front of his old school brother or there's some kind of Implied Death Threat going on.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Pentangeli. The Family wants him dead, but Tom Hagen tells him that if he kills himself the Corleones will provide for his surviving family from that point on.
  • Hidden Weapons: The Corleones correctly assume Michael is going to be thoroughly frisked before a meeting and discuss a method to plant a gun in a restaurant.
  • Historical In-Joke: Part III RetCons the death of Pope John Paul I and the murder of the Vatican's chief banker into part of a Mafia vs. Vatican conspiracy. Assuming they weren't in the first place.
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: Sollozo kidnapping Tom Hagen.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Not in a romantic sense but an expected sign of respect towards a Don.
  • An Immigrant's Tale: Emphasized on Part II. Vito arrives at Ellis Island from Sicily in 1901.
  • Impossible Task: Getting to the overprotected Pentangeli and Hyman Roth. Discussed in a clear reference to John F. Kennedy's assassination. The latter's outcome is a Shout-Out to Jack Ruby vs Oswald. The movie takes places months before the historical magnicide (around the time of the Cuban revolution).

Tom : It would be like trying to kill the President! There's no way we can get to him!
Michael : If anything in this life is certain, if History has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.

  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: At the Italian restaurant. What is scary is that the shot was not fatal, so McKlusky wheezes for a few seconds...
  • Improvised Weapon: In Part III, Don Lucchesi is assassinated in a truly spectacular fashion when he is stabbed in the throat with his own glasses.
  • Intermission: Part II has an intermission, though Part I lacks one.
  • Invisible to Gaydar: Fredo, mainly discussed in the original book and the Mark Winegartener follow-ups. Many of the personality conflicts he has with Michael and other Made Men are because of his issues dealing with his extremely repressed sexuality, occasionally leading to drunken one-night affairs, and his overcompensation by cultivating a reputation as a Vegas ladies' man. This gives him the impression of being inconsistent, flighty, and unreliable, all traits that attract the wrong kinds of attention and are liabilities for a man looking to make himself useful in the family business.
    • Subtly referenced in Part II. In Cuba, Michael gives Fredo the task of arranging entertainment for his visiting guests, all VIPs and politicians he hopes to win over and expedite his investment in the Cuban hotel industry. Fredo's choice of venue is a seedy club hosting a sex show, starring 'Superman'. While all the guests are laughing in good-natured disbelief at the size of Superman's more-powerful-than-a-locomotive, there is a two-second cut of Fredo staring, unblinking and almost trembling.
  • Irony: The Mafia caused Vito to run away from Sicily to America and there he became its leader.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: The main reason why Michael dislikes Vincent and Mary dating, and convinces Vincent to break off the romance. It leads to break her heart to save her. It does not work.

Mary : I'll always love you.
Vincent : Love somebody else.

  • Ivy League for Everyone: Michael goes to Darmouth College (where he meets Kay). A possible justification is hinted when Hagen mentions that his father pulled many strings to provide a deferment for Michael.
  • Justified Criminal: Michael presents himself as a choiceless one when confronted by Kay in Part III; he starts as a detached from crime college student turned war hero who is dragged into the underground world first to protect his vulnerable father and then to protect his whole family.
  • Karma Houdini: Fabrizio. A Deleted Scene from the second movie (which actually appeared as part of the purge at the end of the original novel) shows Michael's revenge. The scene is included in the made-for-TV, chronological order The Godfather Saga.
  • Kicked Upstairs:
    • In Part I, consigliere Tom Hagen is reassigned to handling the family move to Nevada because there is a big fight coming and he is not a wartime consigliere.
    • Fredo... "well"; he attends the meeting with Sollozo but he is later relegated to secondary roles far away from Michael's inner circle.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Decapitating a man's horse because he will not cast a guy in a movie. But see Break the Cutie above re. Woltz's dark side.
    • Killing your brother-in-law on the same day as becoming the Godfather of his son, after telling him you will not kill him.
  • Kissing Cousins: Mary and Vincent in Part III. Even if they had gotten a better actress than Sofia Coppola she still would not have been able to keep this forbidden romance between two first cousins from being Squick.
  • Kiss of Death: One of the most famous examples.
  • Knife Nut: Sollozzo is said to be very good with a knife, but being a businessman he avoids fighting if he can help it. This shows up briefly in the film when Luca Brasi meets with him in Bruno Tattaglia's nightclub. He stabs Luca Brasi's right hand , pinning it to the bar while one of Bruno's men garrotes Luca.
  • Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club: Genco Imports serves as the front organization for Don Corleone, is not explicitly portrayed as a paper thin disguise however. The criminal activities in New York are referred as 'the olive oil business'.
  • Lolicon: Woltz likes little girls in entirely the wrong way, as was revealed in the novel. See Break the Cutie above.
  • Lonely at the Top: Michael at the end of Part II.
  • Mad Magazine: The Oddfather, The Oddfather Part, Too, and The Oddfarther Part ZZZ.
  • The Mafia
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Don Vito specifically warns the other families against letting anything happen to Michael on the way back from Sicily, even going so far as to say that "If he should get struck by a bolt of lightning, then I'm going to blame some of the people in this room."
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Majority of gangsters are already Badasses In Nice Suits, but the nasty Bruno Tattaglia one-ups the lot by wearing a tux.
    • Inverted in the novel. The bosses of the Five Families are the worst-dressed of the bunch, wearing normal, no-nonsense business attire. Being the most powerful Mafia men in the nation, they don't have to play dress-up for anyone.
  • Massive-Numbered Siblings: Kay considers the Corleone siblings massive-numbered, and is surprised that Vito and Ma Corleone were generous enough to add a fifth member to their brood with Tom. Michael, however, reflects that four children constitutes a small family by Italian standards, and that Vito and Ma accordingly would have been miserly not to adopt Tom.
  • Meaningful Rename: Inverted, Vito Andolini is renamed Corleone because an Ellis Island bureaucrat simplified or goofed it up.
  • Mentor:
    • Vito and Clemenza to Mike (Pentangeli was supposed to be Clemenza in Part II, adding more drama to their relation).
    • Michael to Vincent.
    • Roth and Don Altobello are referred as one but it's just a calculated pose.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Fredo. Oh Dear God, poor Fredo.

Fredo: "Did you ever think about that, did you ever once think about that? Send Fredo off to do this, send Fredo off to do that! Let Fredo to take care of some Mickey Mouse night club somewhere! Send Fredo to pick somebody up at the airport! I'm your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over!"
Michael: "That's the way Pop wanted it."
Fredo (angry): "It ain't the way I wanted it! I can handle things! I'm smart! Not like everybody says! Like dumb! I'm smart and I want respect!"

  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal
    • Pentangeli has some disagreements with the Godfather and then flips to the authorities because he believes Michael is the one who put a hit on him.
    • Fredo cites being displaced by his kid brother and only trusted with minor and distant business as a reason behind his behavior.
  • Mob War: Between Feuding Families.
  • Moe Greene Special: The first film is the Trope Namer.
  • The Mole: Most plot twists in the trilogy involve someone betraying the family from within. Underlings like Paulie, who set up Don Vito for the street hit, and Fabrizio, who plants a bomb meant to kill Michael in Sicily, but kills Michael's wife Apollonia instead. Respected capo Sal Tessio is bought over by Barzini to set up Michael after Vito's death. In Part II, Pentangeli is tricked by Hyman Roth into revealing the Corleone Family's inner workings to the Senate hearings. Ultimately, the deepest betrayal was pulled by poor Fredo.
    • Part III has Joey Zasa as a too-obvious opponent that Michael quickly discerns as a front for hidden and more dangerous enemies: it is really Don Altobello working in league with the European banking interests to get Michael's vast wealth put into the Vatican banks.
  • Mook Promotion: Al Neri and Rocco Lampone are promoted from "Button Men" in the first movie to Michael's caporegimes in the second. Willi Cicci is a button in Part I and became Frank Pentangeli's capo in Part II. In Part III, he was originally planned to be the one who took over Michael's New York operation after he became legitimate, but actor Joe Spinell died before filming began. He was replaced by a new character, Joey Zasa.
  • More Gun:
    • The death of Sonny in the first film, who was more or less machine gunned from all angles until the bullets ran out.
    • In the third movie, a meeting between prominent families is interrupted by a helicopter with a machinegun. It is a bloodbath.
  • Mugging the Monster / Bullying a Dragon: Senator Geary tries to extort and bully Michael for a gambling license. A nonchalant Michael bides his time and turns the tables with a cold Frame-Up. It's worth pointing out that the Senator knows Michael is a powerful criminal but misevaluates him as harmless thinking that a political leader is out of his nefarious reach.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: In the final act of Part II, Tom questions the decision to kill Roth because Michael has already won, the hit is impossible and Roth is a very ill man with a low life expectancy. Michael rebukes him and replies that "Roth has been dying from the same heart attack for the last twenty years and anybody can be killed".
  • My Name Is Not Durwood: When Senator Geary addresses the party that opens Part II, he horribly botches the pronunciation of "Corleone". Later, when talking privately with Michael, he pronounces it correctly, revealing the insult.
  • Naive Newcomer:
    • Michael detached himself apart from the business and is laughed at by other members of the family when he proposes a hit against Sollozzo and McClusky. They consider him ignorant and too trigger happy. Subverted. Michael deliberately continues to project this image.
    • Michael's (non-Italian) fiancee, Kay Adams, in the first movie. Zigzagged as she is aware of some of the nasty things but Michael plays with it trying to downplay the criminal side of his family.

Michael : My father is no different than any powerful man, any man who's responsible for a lot of people, like a senator or a president.
Kay Adams : Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don't have men killed!
Michael : Oh? Who's being naive, Kay?
Michael : Kay, my father's way of doing things is over, it's finished. Even he knows that. I mean in five years, the Corleone Family is going to be completely legitimate. Trust me. That's all I can tell you about my business.

  • Neighbourhood Friendly Gangsters: Compare The Corleone family to the Tattaglias. Or to any other gangster for that matter.
  • Nepotism: Literal. Vito is made redundant and loses his job because Abbandando has to accommodate Fanucci's nephew.
  • Neutral No Longer: Michael is pulled into the family business when his father is almost killed by a rival who will keep on trying. Ironically the United States abandoning its neutrality after the attack on Pearl Harbor is the event that makes Michael declare his own neutrality away from the path of his father; he joins the Marine Corps the day after.
  • Nice Guy: People outside the immediate Corleone family consider Fredo to be the most likable. While Sonny has a hairpin trigger, and one always has to be on guard with Tom and Michael for subtle nuances and double meanings, Fredo has the distinction of being both friendly and harmless, the most easily approachable of the Corleones for a drink and casual conversation.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Don Ciciio attempts to kill all of Antonio Andolini's male relatives, including his 9-year-old son Vito, knowing they would be honor bound to avenge Antonio's murder. This forces Vito to escape to America, where he becomes a Don himself, eventually giving him the ability to return and kill Don Ciciio.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Johnny Fontane is Frank Sinatra (the resemblance is clearer in the novel, but still visible in the film). Billy Goff (a minor character in the novel) is a thinly disguised Willie Bioff, Moe Greene is obviously Bugsy Siegel, Hyman Roth is based on Meyer Lansky and Johnny Fontane's alcoholic friend Nino Valenti (in the novel) is probably based on Dean Martin. Joey Zasa (Joe Mantegna) in Part III is based on John Gotti, and his demise in his Italian-American pride parade is based on Joe Columbo.
    • Averted with real-life Pope John Paul I, whose conspiracy-rumored death closes Part III.
  • Non-Idle Rich: The Corleones at least work hard at criminality.
  • No Name Given: Don Vito's wife is never named in the movie, only referred to as "Mama". The DVD's special features named her "Carmella Corleone" as an afterthought.
  • Nothing Personal:
    • Perhaps the most famous use of this Stock Phrase. Worded several times on a heated debate.

Tom Hagen : Your father wouldn't want to hear this, Sonny. This is business, not personal.
Sonny : They shoot my father and it's business, my ass!
Tom Hagen : Even shooting your father was business, not personal, Sonny!
[After some debate Michael finally delivers it in the most famous form]
Michael : It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business.

    • And deconstructed by none other than Michael himself in the novel, who tells us, "It's all personal, every bit of business."
    • Tessio gives it to Hagen at the end of part I as a message to Mike.
  • Not Using the Zed Word: The word "Mafia" was deliberately never spoken in the first film, nor is the "official" name of the organization, La Cosa Nostra ("This thing of ours" or, simply "Our Thing"). Each term is mentioned exactly once in Part II, both by Michael Corleone when he faces the senate hearing, and he says them to immediately refute any connection between himself and any such organizations.
    • Twice. In the same scene, Senator Geary refers to "these hearings on the Mafia. . . "
    • As for the first movie: it was produced at a time when a Mafia AstroTurf organization was attempting to convince people that there was, in fact, no such thing as the Mafia. Accordingly, the word was never used in that movie. By the time of Godfather II, people had figured out the con, so it was once more politically correct to use the term (though in the novel at least, it's made clear that, strictly speaking, Don Vito and his lieutenants are not members of the Mafia: the Corleone family are upstarts rather than "official" mafiosi).
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Michael, specially in Part I; he deliberately projects the image of a weak boss and even his capos start to doubt his leadership. Not-So-Harmless Villain ensues.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: The Trope Namer, it's right up there on the poster.
  • Oh Crap: "Michael, why are the drapes open?"
  • Older and Wiser: Connie is practically a load in her younger years since the business is not female-friendly, but she evolves and by Part III she is Lady Macbeth.
  • One-Scene Wonder: The opening scene of the first film with Bonasera.
  • Passing the Torch. Vito to Michael in Part I. Michael to Vincent in Part III.
  • Pet the Dog: Vito adopting Tom Hagen.
  • Pink Mist: When Michael shoots Sollozzo in the head.
  • Pitying Perversion: Implied. Vito cannot accept the basket of food that Abbandando gifts to him in as severance in Part II. He'll find his own ways to provide for his family. Petty crime ensues.
  • Plot Parallel: Part II juxtaposes the creation of Vito's family with the gradual dissolution of Michael's one.
  • Politically-Incorrect Villain:
    • Don Emilio Barzini wants to get blacks hooked on heroin. Another Don agrees: "They're animals anyway, let them lose their souls."
    • Senator Geary from Part II goes out of his way to insult Michael's Italian-American heritage while trying to extort him.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Don Vito does not oppose the drug trade because of any moral opposition to drugs, but because he fears that it will destroy their political connections.
  • Pretty in Mink: Connie and her mother wear mink coats in the second film.
  • Proper Lady: Mama Corleone, though the novel epilogue revealed she is also a Stepford Smiler.
  • Punch Clock Villain
  • The Purge: Michael orchestrates a final purge in all three movies as the climax to each film.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy:
    • The ending of the second film, possibly the most devastating use of this trope ever.
    • The third film ends with Michael failing to save the Pope in time, and with Mary killed by the assassin that was after Michael.
  • Rated "M" for Manly: Not just for its' excessive violence and mafia fashion style. The Godfather is viewed as symbolic of men's gender roles - as Father, Brother, Businessman, Community leader - of 20th Century America. Lampshaded in the film You've Got Mail, where Tom Hanks' character explains to Meg Ryan's how The Godfather is the I-Ching of all wisdom and that every guy gets the movie. Meg's character promptly quizzes her mild-mannered boyfriend about the phrase "Going to the mattresses." He immediately and nonchalantly replies "Yeah, that's from The Godfather."
  • Read the Fine Print: Subverted, Johnny Fontane, doesn't look very happy about the sudden deal but signs the contract to perform in the family casinos at Las Vegas right away without reading or almost looking at it. He is a good godson after all.
  • Reality Ensues: Sonny's death, as well as the death of the Dons.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: A minor case, but the use of the word "Don" was so impacted by this film that most people are unaware of the proper form of address. In real life, the word "Don" is used in conjunction with a persons first name rather than their last. Thus, "Don Corleone" should be "Don Vito" or "Don Michael." This is of only minor importance in the movie itself, and there is occasional use of the proper form of address, but public perception of the the Mafia in particular (And Sicilian/Italian culture in general) was so defined by this move that most people are unaware of the correct usage.
  • Recut: The Godfather Saga, a special presentation of the first two films on NBC television in 1977, reassembled them into a strict chronological narrative, adding more than an hour of previously-unseen footage while deleting other scenes that were deemed too intense or violent for network TV. In 1992 Coppola stitched all three films together for the home video presentation The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980.
  • Redemption Rejection: Michael in the third movie. As his priest puts it, while Michael can be forgiven for his sins, as long as Michael himself does not believe he can earn forgiveness, he will never truly change his ways.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Frank Pentangeli in Part II.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Michael tries to avoid joining the Family in the first film, discusses his attempts to leave it in the second film, and conclusively fails in the third film.
  • Revealing Hug: During Mama Corleone's funeral in Part II, Michael and Fedo reconcile with a hug. As Mike embraces him, he makes a signal to his hitman Al Neri to kill him.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Subverted.
  • Right-Hand-Cat: In the form of a Throw It In - the cat that Vito is stroking early in the movie is a stray Marlon Brando befriended near the set.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The "Mafia money laundering at the Vatican" plot in Part III.
  • Royal Blood: The Corleones are one of the Royal Families of the criminal underworld; Vito, the self made man founder of the dynasty ascends from Rags to Royalty and his successors are his direct descendants. Sonny, the heir and first regent turns out to be The Caligula (he is shown more competent in the novel and in the Chronological / deleted scenes) and the third Don is his bastard son. The film starts during the wedding of the Mafia Princess and Michael ends up as the Unexpected Successor.
  • Say My Name : In Part III: "How are you, Joe... [Shoots Zasa three times]..ZASA!"
  • Scars Are Forever: McClusky's blow gives Michael a disfigured cheek. It gets repaired later; Fredo comments offhandedly that a surgeon did a very good job.
  • The Seventies: Part III.
  • Shown Their Work: In the first movie, the spaghetti sauce instructions are actually usable and a new 1946 Cadillac can be seen with wooden planks as bumpers (due to steel shortages, bumpers on very early post-World War Two cars were supplied some time later, to be installed by the dealer).
  • Slave to PR: Invoked by Michael. McClusky's police captain status makes him an untouchable target, but this can be nullified if the media controlled by the family starts airing his crooked side.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The endings to the three films.
  • Spinning Paper: The "Mattress Sequence", a montage of crime scene photos and headlines about the war between the five families. Made by George Lucas.
  • Spotting the Thread: "I didn't realize until this day, it was Barzini all along".
  • Stuffed in The Fridge: Apollonia, via car bomb.
  • Subculture: The Mafia. Interestingly it is the cultural aspects that are one of the main attraction.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Clemenza dies of a heart attack between the first and second films and his position as capo of the Corleone family's New York branch passes to Frank Pentangeli. This was not originally going to happen; the reason for this change was a disagreement between actor Richard Castellano and Coppola (Castellano wanted creative control over his character and Coppola would not allow it, so Castellano was dropped from the film).
  • Switch to English: Played with, in meaningful ways.
    • Invoked in Part I, Solozzo leaves McClusky out of the conversation by speaking in Italian/Sicilian, but Michael has a low command of the language and has to switch to English to give his retort. Michael relies on a translator later in Sicily.
    • The characters speak in Sicilian during the whole Vito's segment of Part II. Vito only starts to use English when he begins to deal with his community as the Godfather. His job is linked with his Americanization.
    • Michael switches to Italian in Part II in the middle of a cold conversation with Tom Hagen.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: The cannollis in Part III.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: Michael to Carlo--"Only don't tell me you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence. And makes me very angry." A rare effective use of this trope.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Poor Sonny... After Vito's failed assassination, they probably wanted to be sure that he was dead. Also because he was hated for his extreme violence; hence the moment where he gets kicked in the face by one of the gunman after he's dead.
  • Thicker Than Water
  • Timeshifted Actor:
    • Both Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando won Oscars for playing young and old Vito Corleone, thus making them only actors to ever win Oscars for playing the same character. Supporting and main role categories, respectively. A third actor plays Vito as a child.
    • Vito's grandson Anthony is played by three different actors, the children in Parts I and II are brothers in real life.
  • Title Drop: The iconic puppeteer hand logo is explained in this quote:

Vito, to Michael: "I knew Santino was going to have to go through all this and Fredo... well, Fredo was... But I never wanted this for you. I live my life, I don't apologize to take care of my family. And I refused to be a fool dancing on the strings held by all of those big shots. That's my life I don't apologize for that. But I always thought that when it was your time that you would be the one to hold the strings."

Sollozzo: All due respect, the Don, rest in peace, was slippin'. Ten years ago could I have gotten to him?

  • Villain Protagonist: Michael.
  • Villains Out Shopping:
    • The saga opens with a mafia wedding, though the top members of the mob are still working at first it becomes a leisure activity later.
    • Don Vito Corleone is out shopping for oranges. It immediately precedes a mob ambush.
    • "Leave the gun, take the cannolli" Clemenza casually switches between professional and personal family errands.
  • Viva Las Vegas: Where Michael sends Fredo to get him out of his hair, and where the family attempts to become legitimate in Part II.
  • We Do Not Know Each Other: This is the fatal mistake Fredo makes in Part II. He pretends not to know Johnny Ola when they meet in Cuba, but later on babbles excitedly about the various places in Havana that Ola took him to, while Michael can be seen covering his face in despair.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Played with, while all the Corleone brothers have big shoes to fill:
    • The initial Michael doesn't seek to please his father and does the opposite when he joins the Marines.
    • Fredo bitterly comments that he wasn't able to live up to Vito's standards and be more like him for once. He also seeks Michael's approval and apologizes to him. Michael despite being his younger brother is the head of the family, the Godfather and comes close to a second father.
  • While You Were in Diapers: Moe "I made my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders" Green.
  • Wicked Cultured: Tom Hagen discusses with a well-read Pentangelli how some things were done in The Roman Empire as a hint about how to solve his situation.
  • Wife-Basher Basher: Sonny Corleone, in spite of being an unfaithful husband, does not tolerate men hitting women. ESPECIALLY when it comes to his sister : "If you touch my sister again I'll kill you!". Unfortunately this is used to lure him to his death.
  • Writers Suck: The author of the novel which was being made into the movie that Johnny Fontanne wanted to star in. He was only briefly mentioned in the book, and not at all in the movie.
    • Although, at least in the movie, the details concerning the film Johnny wanted to star in really didn't matter.
  • You Killed My Father: Sonny for Michael. In Part II's backstory, Vito's father was murdered by a Sicilian mafia boss, Don Ciccio, when Vito was a child. He escaped to the U.S., became an influential crime boss there, and eventually returned to Sicily to meet Don Ciccio.

Don Ciccio: What was your father's name?
Vito: Antonio Andolini.
Don Ciccio: You'll have to speak up. I can't hear you
Vito: My father's name was Antonio Andolini... and this is for you! (stabs carves him)

Vito : Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, consider this justice a gift on my daughter's wedding day.