The Godfather Part III is a 1990 American epic crime film produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola from the screenplay co-written with Mario Puzo. The film stars Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy García, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, George Hamilton, and Sofia Coppola. It is the third and final installment in The Godfather trilogy. A sequel to The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974), it concludes the fictional story of Michael Corleone, the patriarch of the Corleone family who attempts to legitimize his criminal empire. The film also includes fictionalized accounts of two real-life events: the 1978 death of Pope John Paul I and the Papal banking scandal of 1981–1982, both linked to Michael Corleone's business affairs.
Coppola and Puzo's intended title for the film was The Death of Michael Corleone, which Paramount Pictures rejected; Coppola considers the series to be a duology, while Part III serves as the epilogue. The Godfather Part III received generally mixed reviews. Critics praised Pacino and Garcia's performances, the cinematography, the editing, the production design and Coppola's direction but criticized the plot and the casting of Sofia Coppola.
The film was distributed by Paramount, which also distributed the previous two films. It premiered in Beverly Hills on December 20, 1990, and released in the United States on Christmas Day, December 25. It grossed $136.8 million and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. In December 2020, a recut version of the film, titled The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, was released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the original version.
In 1979, Michael Corleone is approaching 60. Wracked with guilt over his ruthless rise to power, especially for having ordered his brother Fredo Corleone's murder, he donates millions to charitable causes. Michael and Kay are divorced; their children, Anthony and Mary, live with Kay. At a reception in Michael's honor at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, which follows a papal order induction ceremony, Anthony tells his father that he is leaving law school to become an opera singer. Kay supports his decision; Michael wants Anthony to complete his law degree first but eventually agrees to let him go his own way. Kay reveals to Michael that she and Anthony know the truth about Fredo's death. Vincent Mancini, the out-of-wedlock son of Michael's long-dead brother Sonny, arrives at the reception. Michael's sister, Connie, arranges for Vincent to settle a dispute with his rival, Joey Zasa, but Zasa calls Vincent a bastard, and Vincent bites Zasa's ear. Michael, troubled by Vincent's temper yet impressed by his loyalty, agrees to include Vincent in the family business.
Michael knows that the head of the Vatican Bank, Archbishop Gilday, has accumulated a massive deficit and offers $600M in exchange for shares in Internazionale Immobiliare, an international real estate company, which would make him its largest single shareholder. He makes a tender offer to buy the Vatican's 25% share in the company, which will give him controlling interest. Immobiliare's board approves the offer, pending ratification by Pope Paul VI.
Don Altobello, a New York Mafia boss and Connie's godfather, tells Michael that his partners on The Commission want in on the Immobiliare deal. But wanting to finally become legitimate, Michael pays them from the sale of his Las Vegas holdings instead. Zasa receives nothing and, declaring Michael his enemy, storms out. Don Altobello, assuring Michael that he can diplomatically resolve the matter, leaves to speak to Zasa. Moments later, a helicopter hovers outside the conference room and opens fire. Most of the bosses are killed, but Michael, Vincent, and Michael's bodyguard, Al Neri, escape. Michael realizes that Altobello is the traitor, and suffers a diabetic stroke. As Michael recuperates, Vincent and Mary begin a romance, while Neri and Connie give Vincent permission to retaliate against Zasa. During a street festival, Vincent kills Zasa. Michael berates Vincent for his actions and insists that Vincent end his relationship with Mary because it is too dangerous.
The family goes to Sicily for Anthony's operatic debut in Palermo at the Teatro Massimo. Michael tells Vincent to pretend to defect from the Corleone family in order to spy on Altobello. Altobello introduces Vincent to Licio Lucchesi, Immobiliare's chairman. Michael visits Cardinal Lamberto, anticipated to become the next pope, to discuss the deal. Lamberto persuades Michael to make his first confession in 30 years, during which Michael tearfully confesses that he ordered Fredo's murder. Lamberto says that Michael deserves to suffer for his sins, but can be redeemed. He gives him sacramental absolution, permanently forgiving all his past sins in the eyes of God. Michael discovers that the Immobiliare deal is an elaborate swindle, arranged by Lucchesi, Gilday, and Vatican accountant Frederick Keinszig.
Vincent tells Michael that Altobello has hired Mosca, a veteran hitman, to assassinate Michael. Mosca and his son, disguised as priests, kill Corleone family friend Don Tommasino as he returns to his villa. While Michael and Kay tour Sicily, Michael asks for Kay's forgiveness, and they admit they still love each other. At Tommasino's funeral, Michael vows to sin no more. Following the pope's death, Cardinal Lamberto is elected to succeed him, choosing as his name Pope John Paul I. Subsequently, the Immobiliare deal is ratified. The plotters against the ratification attempt to cover their tracks and Gilday kills the new pope with poisoned tea. Michael sees that Vincent is a changed man and names him the new Don of the Corleone family, in return for ending his romance with Mary.
The family sees Anthony's performance in Cavalleria rusticana in Palermo while Vincent exacts his revenge:
At the opera house during Anthony's performance, three of Vincent's men search for Mosca, but he overcomes them. After the show, on the opera house steps as they leave, Mosca shoots at Michael, wounding him; a second bullet hits Mary, killing her as Mosca's son flees. Vincent shoots and kills Mosca. Michael cradles Mary's body and screams in agony; the scene fades out into a montage of Michael dancing with Mary; his first wife, Apollonia; and finally, Kay.
Years later, an elderly Michael, sitting alone in the courtyard of Don Tommasino's villa, slumps over, falls to the ground, and dies.
Coppola felt that the first two films had told the complete Corleone saga, and did not want to make another installment in the series. Paramount Pictures nevertheless spent years trying to make another sequel set in the 1970s with another director. Studio president Michael Eisner wrote a treatment in which the Central Intelligence Agency would team up with the Mafia to assassinate a Costa Rican dictator, while Alexander Jacobs wrote a screenplay in which Michael Corleone's son Anthony would inherit his father's crime family. In 1978, the studio hired Mario Puzo to write a story treatment for $250,000. This was expanded into a 1979 screenplay by Dean Riesner would have combined the two concepts by having Anthony Corleone as a CIA agent responsible for assassinating the dictator and then taking over the Corleone crime family. Gulf + Western CEO Charles Bluhdorn offered Richard Brooks the chance to direct the film, but he declined. First John Travolta and then Eric Roberts were hired as Anthony Corleone. Production on this story did not move forwards, and in 1982 Vincent Patrick wrote a new screenplay in which Michael Corleone and Tom Hagen would have been killed in the opening scene and the film would have focused around the first film's protagonists' children. It was not produced after the director Dan Curtis quit. In 1985 Nick Marino and Thomas Lee Wright submitted a screenplay called The Godfather: The Family Continues featuring a gang war between the Corleones and the Irish Mafia in Atlantic City, but it was rejected by the studio's new president Frank Mancuso Sr. because he believed it did not portray the Corleones sympathetically enough. Marino and Wright later sought Writers' Guild of America arbitration to receive a story credit on the final film, but were declined.
In 1985, development of The Godfather Part III stalled because the cast of the first two films demanded more money to reprise their roles and because Paramount Pictures decided that a third film could not be made without Coppola's involvement. The studio had previously considered Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Warren Beatty, and Michael Cimino, and motion picture head Ned Tanen favored Andrei Konchalovsky. That year, Coppola began considering returning to the franchise because of the dire financial situation initially caused by the failures of One from the Heart (1982) and The Cotton Club (1984). The latter film's producer Robert Evans, who also collaborated with Coppola on the first film, even tried unsuccessfully producing another Godfather film without Coppola's involvement. In 1988, after Puzo and Nicholas Gage wrote another draft, Talia Shire convinced Coppola to sign a deal to direct and write The Godfather Part III for $6 million and a share of the film's profits. Coppola and Puzo completed their final draft of the screenplay on May 10, 1989, and it would include almost none of the elements in the scripts proposed over the previous 12 years, except for a home-invasion scene from the original Reisner script which survived in almost its original form. Coppola intended Part III to be an epilogue to the first two films, and was also inspired by Shakespeare's King Lear. Coppola and Puzo preferred the title The Death of Michael Corleone, but Paramount Pictures found that unacceptable.
Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, and Talia Shire reprised their roles from the first two films, with Pacino accepting an $8 million salary. According to Coppola's audio commentary on the film in The Godfather DVD Collection, Robert Duvall refused to take part unless he was paid a salary comparable to the $6 million earned by Pacino in the previous film. In 2004, on the CBS program 60 Minutes, Duvall said, "if they paid Pacino twice what they paid me, that's fine, but not three or four times, which is what they did." When Duvall dropped out, Coppola rewrote the screenplay to portray Tom Hagen as having died before the story begins and created the character B. J. Harrison, played by George Hamilton, to replace the Hagen character in the story. Coppola stated that, to him, the movie feels incomplete "without [Robert] Duvall's participation". According to Coppola, had Duvall agreed to take part in the film, the Hagen character would have been heavily involved in running the Corleone charities. Duvall confirmed in a 2010 interview that he never regretted the decision of turning down his role.
Julia Roberts was originally cast as Mary but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Madonna wanted to play the role, but Coppola felt she was too old for the part. Rebecca Schaeffer was set to audition, but was murdered by an obsessed fan. Winona Ryder was cast in the role and starting filming her part, but dropped out a few weeks into production due to commitments with Mermaids (1990) and nervous exhaustion. Coppola considered replacing Ryder with either Madonna, Annabella Sciorra, or Laura San Giacomo. Ultimately, Sofia Coppola, the director's daughter, was given the role of Michael Corleone's daughter. Her much-criticized performance resulted in her father being accused of nepotism, a charge Coppola denies in the commentary track, asserting that, in his opinion, critics, "beginning with an article in Vanity Fair," were "using [my] daughter to attack me," something he finds ironic in light of the film's denouement when Mary pays the ultimate price for her father's sins. Andy Garcia was cast as Vincent over Alec Baldwin.
As an infant, Sofia Coppola had played Michael Corleone's infant nephew in The Godfather, during the climactic baptism/murder montage at the end of that film (Sofia Coppola also appeared in The Godfather Part II, as a small immigrant child in the scene where the nine-year-old Vito Corleone arrives by steamer at Ellis Island). The character of Michael's sister Connie is played by Francis Ford Coppola's sister, Talia Shire. Other Coppola relatives with cameos in the film included the director's mother, father (who wrote and conducted much of the music in the film), uncle, and granddaughter Gia.
Principal photography was set to begin on November 15, 1989, with six weeks of filming at Cinecittà Studios in Italy but the start date was pushed back to November 27. This period also included location shoots throughout Rome and Caprarola at landmarks such as the Palace of Justice, the Vatican Bank, Castello di Lunghezza, and Santa Maria della Quercia. However, production was delayed for three weeks due to the physical collapse of Ryder until a replacement could be found, which was complicated after Coppola was forced to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to his debts. Filming resumed in the early spring of 1990 in Sicily, with scenes shot in Palermo, Taormina, and Forza d'Agrò. Additionally filming took place in the United States in New York City and Atlantic City at locations such as the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Little Italy, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and Trump Castle. Coppola delayed the production in Italy even further by constantly rewriting and "tinkering" with the film, and reportedly did not come up with an ending for the film until two months before it was due to be released.
The film's soundtrack received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Score. The film's love theme, "Promise Me You'll Remember" (subtitled "Love Theme from The Godfather Part III") sung by Harry Connick, Jr., received Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Song.
Al Martino, who portrayed Johnny Fontane in The Godfather and The Godfather Part III, sings "To Each His Own".
The film was distributed by Paramount Pictures, premiering in Beverly Hills on December 20, 1990, and released in the United States on December 25.
For the film's 1991 home video release, Coppola re-edited it, adding 9 minutes of deleted footage, for a running time of 170 minutes. This cut was initially released on VHS & Laserdisc and was advertised as the "Final Director's Cut". It was the only version of the film available on home video until 2020. The original theatrical cut was released on home video in 2022, exclusively as a part of The Godfather Trilogy 4K Boxset.
For the film's 30th anniversary, a recut titled The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone received a limited theatrical release on December 4, 2020, followed by digital and home releases on December 8. This version includes changes to the beginning and the ending, and some re-edited scenes and musical cues. It has a runtime of 158 minutes.
Coppola said the 2020 recut is the one he and Puzo originally envisioned, and that it "vindicates" its status in The Godfather trilogy, as well as his daughter Sofia's performance. Both Pacino and Keaton gave their approval to the new cut, noting it as an improvement over the original theatrical release.
The Godfather Part III grossed $66.7 million in the United States and Canada, and $70.1 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $136.8 million, against a production budget of $54 million.
The film opened in 1,901 theaters, and grossed $19.6 million in its opening weekend, finishing second behind Home Alone. It would go on to generate a total of $6 million on Christmas Day, which was the highest at the time. For seven years, the film held that record until 1997 when it was surpassed by Titanic. In its second weekend it made $8.3 million, finishing third.
Upon the release of the recut version, The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, in December 2020, it made $52,000 from 179 theaters. In total, the film made $95,000 domestically, and $71,000 in four international markets.
Common criticisms of The Godfather Part III focused on Sofia Coppola's acting, the convoluted plot, and the film's inadequacy as a "stand-alone" story. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 66% based on 68 reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "The final installment of The Godfather saga recalls its predecessors' power when it's strictly business, but underwhelming performances and confused tonality brings less closure to the Corleone story." Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 60 out of 100, based on 19 critics, which indicates "mixed or average reviews". Opening day audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
In his review, Roger Ebert stated that it is "not even possible to understand this film without knowing the first two". Nonetheless, Ebert wrote an enthusiastic review, awarding the film three-and-a-half, a better rating than he originally gave The Godfather Part II (in his 2008 re-rating, he gave The Godfather Part II four stars and included it in his list of Great Movies). He also defended the casting of Sofia Coppola, who he felt was not miscast, stating, "There is no way to predict what kind of performance Francis Ford Coppola might have obtained from Winona Ryder, the experienced and talented young actress, who was originally set to play this role. But I think Sofia Coppola brings a quality of her own to Mary Corleone. A certain up-front vulnerability and simplicity that I think are appropriate and right for the role."
Ebert's colleague, Gene Siskel, also gave the film high praise and placed it tenth in his list of the ten best films of 1990. Siskel admitted that the ending was the film's weakest part, citing Al Pacino's makeup as very poor. He also said, "[Another] problem is the casting of Sofia Coppola, who is out of her acting league here. She's supposed to be Andy Garcia's love interest but no sparks fly. He's more like her babysitter." In response to Ebert's defense of Coppola, Siskel said: "I know what you're saying about her being sort of natural and not the polished bombshell, and that would've been wrong. There is one, a photographer in the picture, who takes care of that role, but at the same time, I don't think it's explained why [Vincent] really comes onto her, unless this guy is the most venal, craven guy, but look who he's playing around with. He's playing around with the Godfather's daughter."
Leonard Maltin, giving the film three out of four, stated that it is "masterfully told", but that casting Sofia Coppola was an "almost-fatal flaw". James Berardinelli gave the film a positive review, awarding it three-and-a-half. John Simon of the National Review described the film as "a tedious effort to flog an old hippopotamus into action".
On Rotten Tomatoes, the recut version, The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, holds an approval rating of 86% based on 58 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone pulls the audience back into Francis Ford Coppola's epic gangster saga with a freshly — albeit slightly — edited version of its final installment." On Metacritic, the film was assigned a weighted average score of 76 out of 100, based on 14 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Writing for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw gave the film three out of five stars and stated, "I'm not sure how much, if anything, Coppola's re-edit does for the film, but it's worth a watch." Owen Gleiberman of Variety stated, "Here's the news and the ever-so-slight scandal: It's the same damn movie. I'm not exaggerating; it really is. The one impactful change is the new opening scene." Writing for IndieWire, David Ehrlich said, "But when it was announced that [Coppola] had inevitably assembled a new cut of his most famous cause célèbre and re-christened it with the title he'd always wanted for the film... he wasn't trying to make it 'better' so much as he was trying to shift its place in history and reframe the picture as less the third part of a flawed trilogy than the postscript of a legendary dyad."
Although reception to the film was mixed, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Andy García), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Dean Tavoularis, Gary Fettis), and Best Music, Song (for Carmine Coppola and John Bettis for "Promise Me You'll Remember"). It is the only film in the series not to have Al Pacino nominated for an Academy Award (he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather and for Best Actor for The Godfather Part II). It is the only film in the trilogy not to win for Best Picture or any other Academy Award for that matter, as well as the only film in the trilogy not selected for preservation by the U.S. National Film Registry as of 2022. Along with The Lord of the Rings, The Godfather Trilogy shares the distinction that all of its installments were nominated for Best Picture.
The film was also nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards, but did not win. Sofia Coppola won two Golden Raspberry Awards for both Worst Supporting Actress and Worst New Star.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
Parts of the film are very loosely based on real historical events concerning the ending of the papacy of Pope Paul VI, the very short tenure of Pope John Paul I in 1978, and the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano in 1982. Like the character Cardinal Lamberto, who becomes John Paul I, the historical John Paul I, Albino Luciani, reigned for only a very short time before being found dead in his bed.
Journalist David Yallop argues that Luciani was planning a reform of Vatican finances and that he died by poisoning; these claims are reflected in the film. Yallop also names as a suspect Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, who was the head of the Vatican bank, like the character Archbishop Gilday in the film. However, while Marcinkus was noted for his muscular physique and Chicago origins, Gilday is a mild Irishman. The character has also drawn comparisons to Cardinal Giuseppe Caprio, as he was in charge of the Vatican finances during the approximate period in which the movie was based.
The character of Frederick Keinszig, the Swiss banker who is murdered and left hanging under a bridge, mirrors the fate (and physical appearance) of Roberto Calvi, the Italian head of the Banco Ambrosiano who was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982 (though it was initially unclear whether it was suicide or murder, in 2002 courts in London ruled the latter). The name "Keinszig" is taken from Manuela Kleinszig, the girlfriend of Flavio Carbone, who was indicted as one of Calvi's murderers in 2005.
Following the reaction to the third installment, Coppola stated that the idea of a fourth film was discussed but Mario Puzo died before they were able to write it. A potential script, told in a similar narrative to Part II, would have included De Niro reprising his role as a younger Vito Corleone in the 1930s; Leonardo DiCaprio was slated to portray a young Sonny Corleone gaining the Corleone family's political power; García as Vincent Corleone during the 1980s running the family business through ten years of destructive war, haunted by the death of his cousin Mary, and eventually losing the family's respect and power. García has since claimed the film's script was nearly produced.
Puzo's portion of the potential sequel, dealing with the Corleone family in the early 1930s, was eventually expanded into a novel by Edward Falco and published in 2012 as The Family Corleone. Paramount sued the Puzo estate to prevent publication of the novel, prompting a counter-suit on the part of the estate, claiming breach of contract. The studio and the estate subsequently settled the suits, allowing publication of the book, but with the studio retaining rights to possible future films.
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