Pulling You Back In: A Godfather III FAQ
Note: If you haven’t seen The Godfather Part III and seeing The Godfather Part III is on your to-do list, you might want to save this article for later.
In the two decades since the release of The Godfather Part III, the film has become a bit of a punchline when people want to make a joke about sequels or notably egregious acts of scenery chewing. Let’s take a look at some questions you might have about the capper to Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary gangster trilogy.
Why the long layoff between the second and third installments?
Coppola has said he originally thought of the first two Godfather movies as telling a more or less complete story, but he later decided that a third chapter that illustrated Michael’s downfall would really cap things off nicely.
The biggest inducement to actually make the third film, though, was probably money. Coppola’s Godfather and Apocalypse Now hot streak of the 1970s didn’t survive the ’80s. He made an enormous artistic and financial gamble with the 1982 Vegas musical One From the Heart, only to have the film be a complete bust. (It grossed less than a million dollars on a $25 million budget.) A string of films with middling reviews and shabby box-office showings like Rumble Fish and Gardens of Stone bankrupted Coppola’s studio and pushed him nearly $30 million into debt.
Coppola later admitted that a big part of the reason he took on The Godfather Part III was that Paramount, who’d been pestering him to make a sequel for so long, offered him such a plum deal. He had been fighting off bankruptcy for years, but the studio was so mad to cash in on another installment of the series that it offered him $5 million and 15 percent of the film’s gross. If the film was a financial success, Coppola would finally be able to pay off his personal debts.
What did Coppola want to call the film?
Coppola initially wanted to name the film The Death of Michael Corleone, but Paramount nixed the idea in favor of the more straightforward The Godfather Part III.
What happened to Robert Duvall?
The great Robert Duvall had been a bright spot in the first two films thanks to his portrayal of Corleone family consigliere Tom Hagen, even earning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for the first film. Duvall wasn’t handsomely rewarded for his work, though; he only raked in $36,000 for his part in the first film.
The early conceptions of The Godfather Part III featured Duvall’s Hagen character in an even meatier role than he’d played in the first two films, but there was a snag: Duvall felt that the discrepancy between his salary and Pacino’s was too large. According to Duvall, he was fine with Pacino being the star and making more money, but he couldn’t stomach making a quarter of what Pacino did. When Duvall balked at the salary, Coppola sidestepped the problem by indicating that the Hagen character died before the third film began.
How exactly did Sofia Coppola end up with the Mary Corleone role?
Most viewers’ complaints about the film center on Coppola’s curious decision to cast his daughter, Sofia, in the role of Mary Corleone. Film critics hated Sofia’s performance with such a passion that they couldn’t think of enough ways to rip it. Janet Maslin’s review in the Times lamented that “Ms. Coppola, the director’s daughter, gives a flat, uneasy performance that seriously damages Mary’s impact as the linchpin of this story.” And that was probably the nicest thing anyone said about Sofia’s turn as Mary; most critics zeroed in on the performance’s nasal, wooden qualities.
Sofia hadn’t even been her dad’s first choice for the role. Winona Ryder fell ill just as production was about to start in Sicily, and the director made the critical misstep of replacing her with his daughter. Sofia ended up pulling in two Golden Raspberry awards by record margins, one for Worst Supporting Actress and one for Worst New Star.
Any other odd casting stories?
When Franc D’Ambrosio was auditioning for the role of Michael Corleone’s opera singer son Anthony, he didn’t even know in what film he was really trying to snag a part. The singer told The New York Times that he had to go through 10 auditions over seven months to secure the part, and he didn’t even know what the movie was until the fifth or sixth audition. The casting directors told him he was up for a part in a film called Secret Journal II. He joked to the Times, “I think they did not want to get totally inundated with pictures and resumes from anyone who is 25 years old and under and whose name ends in a vowel.”
Was the movie really all that terrible?
In the years since its release, the film’s title has become a sort of shorthand for terrible, unnecessary sequels. It probably wasn’t quite the catastrophe that everyone makes it out to be, though. Maslin’s Times review opens by calling the film “a valid and deeply moving continuation of the Corleone family saga” that “daringly holds forth the possibility of redemption,” and even Roger Ebert gave it three-and-a-half stars. It currently holds a solid 67% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Sofia Coppola’s Golden Raspberry wins weren’t the only awards buzz the film drew, either; it earned seven Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture and a Best Supporting Actor nod for Andy Garcia. It didn’t win any of the Oscars, but all the nominations show that it wasn’t a total fiasco. The film also did well at the box office with a total gross over $130 million.
In retrospect, it seems much of the venom that gets hurled at the film stems from the fact that it isn’t anywhere near as strong as the first two Godfather films. Coppola had given audiences two all-time classic gangster films, and after waiting 16 years for a third installment, they were hoping for more greatness. Instead, they got a pretty good crime movie with a needlessly complicated plot and one terrible casting decision.