The much-maligned final entry into The Godfather trilogy traditionally takes quite a beating from fanboys (and girls). It wasn’t that bad, guys. Sure, it wasn’t as epic as the first two movies, but we got closure. Just when you thought you were out, the saga pulls you back in.
1. Director Francis Ford Coppola planned to call this movie The Death of Michael Corleone, but the studio didn’t go for it because it was too spoileriffic as a title. When the movie eventually hit DVD, the penultimate chapter received Coppola’s desired title.
2. Coppola’s goal in making this final installment was to make Michael finally pay for all of his wrongdoings. The original script had him dying in a car accident (or by gunfire) at the end of the movie, but the revised ending seemed much more fitting as a punishment.
3. Robert Duvall was scheduled to return as Tom Hagen, Michael’s consigliere (advisor) and right-hand man. Salary negotiations broke down (the studio wanted to pay him the same amount as the second movie but for a lead role), and the studio made Coppola rewrite the script with one line explaining the death of Tom years ago.
4. The role of Mary Corleone was almost played by Rebecca Schaeffer, but she was tragically murdered immediately before final casting. Winona Ryder accepted the role but dropped out on the first day of shooting. Sofia Coppola popped in on short notice, and critics eviscerated her performance. After an early screening, she needed to re-loop much of her dialogue for the final cut because of her “valley girl” accent.
5. The symbolic oranges (which always signal death or destruction on the horizon) made a return appearance for this film. Of particular significance was the orange that rolls over a table in Atlantic City just before a helicopter assassinates nearly everyone in the penthouse. Michael also dies while holding an orange.
7. The Vatican made it known that they were very opposed to the film’s story of church corruption. They refused entry to the city after learning that they movie fictionalized the real-life scandals of the Vatican Bank from 1978-1982 (including the murder of Pope John Paul I).
8. The role of Vincent Mancini was a hot one. Alec Baldwin, Charlie Sheen, Val Kilmer, Nicolas Cage, Matt Dillon, and Billy Zane all competed for the role. Julia Roberts and Madonna both wanted to play Mary Corleone. Julia had scheduling conflicts, and Madonna was too old to play a 19-year-old.
9. During Andy Garcia’s fight scene in Vincent’s apartment, he insisted on using a real gun instead of prop pistol to beat the stuntman. The poor stuntman ended up with a large cut that required stitches.
9. Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco, made a cameo in one of the opening scenes as a politician who wants to make a deal with Michael.
10. The Joey Zasa character was based upon two real-life mob kingpins of the 1960s and 1970s. One of these kingpins was Joe Columbo, who embarrassed others in la Cosa Nostra by maintaining a high public profile and hiding money from other Mafia kingpins. He was shot in public (like Zasa) during one of his rallies for the Italian-American Civil Rights League.
11. The film’s complex plot revolves around efforts of Michael to fully legitimize his family through donations to the Catholic church. He believes buying massive amounts of real estate from the Vatican will help him meet that goal, but he doesn’t realize the church was just as corrupt as the Mafia.
12. The film almost ended up with an NC-17 rating. A scene exists where one of Michael’s bodyguards, Calo, killed Don Lucchesi by breaking his neck. Coppola decided to change the death to a much more bloody one, but the MPAA penalized the film with an NC-17. Coppola deleted several seconds of the gore to gain an R rating and get the movie into theaters.
13. One of the movie’s many draft scripts involved Michael and Katy reconciling after the death of Mary. Michael was to be shot during a future church service scene, and he was to tell one final lie to Kay before dying. Coppola decided to nix that ending in favor of the opera bloodbath.
14. Al Pacino’s “silent scream” wasn’t so silent. Coppola cut out the sound after he deemed it too “agonizing” for viewers to witness. The silence ended up being a hallmark, although it was lampooned by bitter audience members.
15. Coppola wrote Michael Corleone’s funeral, which was also rehearsed, but never filmed. Instead, the film ends with Michael dying alone and abandoned by everyone. He tried so hard to keep the family together and ended up losing all that he loved.
16. Years after the film was released, Coppola revealed that Michael died in 1997. Mary died the early 1980s, which meant Michael lived in complete loneliness and solitude for many years. He returned to Sicily to live out his punishment.
17. Andy Garcia revealed that Coppola had planned a Godfather: Part IV with a dual narrative that resembled Part II. The movie would have revolved around Vincent leading the family into a new (likely even more violent) ear and his father, Sonny, moving through young adulthood. Leo DiCaprio was tipped to play Sonny. The project was abandoned after author Mario Puzo’s death.