In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Godfather Trilogy

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Reference
  • The Production Background
  • The 1970s Context
  • New Hollywood Cinema
  • Politics, Ideology, and Capitalism
  • Italian-Americans and Ethnicity
  • Family Saga
  • Masculinity and Femininity
  • Narrative and Film Style
  • Stars and Performance
  • Legacy and Influence

Cinema and Media Studies The Godfather Trilogy
Fran Mason
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 March 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0248


The Godfather Trilogy forms an important body of work in American cinema, not only because the films, particularly Part I (1972) and Part II (1974), have received acclaim from journalists, critics, and audiences but also because they have received so much attention from academics. The emphasis in the study and appreciation of the trilogy has, however, been on Parts I and II, partly because of their complexity and longevity but also because of how they helped redefine the gangster genre in portraying the Mafia on film, and because of the films’ contributions to the development of New Hollywood Cinema in the 1970s (all of which have formed important perspectives in academic approaches to the trilogy). Part III (1990) has been felt by critics either to be a disappointment or a coda to the prior incarnations of the series, although it has also attracted academic interest for these very reasons. It is, however, Parts I and II that have served as the main focus of critical attention and not only as gangster films—even if the study of genre has had further influence because their generic revisions introduced the Mafia film. This innovation has produced a range of academic responses that locate the films via reference to histories of organized crime and author Mario Puzo’s representation of the Mafia crime family in the novel on which Parts I and II are based as well as accounts that extend discussion to consider their influence on related representations of the criminal underworld, their impact on popular conceptions of the Mafia, and their representation of Italian-American ethnicity and related areas such as the family and gender. The family has also formed another nexus of connections in criticism because it is so often treated in relation to American culture, and this has also generated a significant body of work on the political and ideological consideration of capitalism in the films. Finally, because Francis Ford Coppola was an important influence in New Hollywood Cinema, there have also been significant considerations of all three films by reference to auteur theory and to Coppola’s balancing of artistic and commercial imperatives.

Introductory Works

The continuing popularity of The Godfather Trilogy, and the cult status attached to it, means that the films have attracted a number of introductory works identifying key themes and approaches for both a general audience and for students of film. Browne 2000 is aimed at a general audience and includes essays on a variety of topics. Lewis 2010 offers a detailed account of Part I, and Russo 2011 provides a thematic analysis of Part II. McCarty 2004 is a useful introduction for a general audience, as are Cowie 1997 and Lebo 2005, who also provide information that will be of interest and relevance to film students.

  • Browne, Nick, ed. Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather Trilogy.” Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    Includes essays by Lewis (on the film’s production), Dika (on nostalgia for Old World values) and Greene (on operatic style), noted in other sections, as well as essays on violence, the mythology of the mafia, and ideology and genre.

  • Cowie, Peter. The Godfather Book. London: Faber, 1997.

    Cowie’s book offers a wealth of detail on the production of each film, discussion of the re-working of Puzo’s novel, and chapters on the main characters, the family, the misuse of power, and visual style.

  • Lebo, Harlan. The Godfather Legacy. Rev. ed. New York: Fireside, 2005.

    Lebo offers short biographies of Puzo and Coppola and interesting detail on the writing of the script, production design, cinematography, music, and the shoot for Part I, before concluding with chapters on Parts I and III and an afterword in the revised edition.

  • Lewis, Jon. The Godfather. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    A detailed account of Part I, arguing that it became a commercial and artistic landmark in American cinema because of its reworking of genre conventions.

  • McCarty, John. “An Offer Hollywood Couldn’t Refuse.” In Bullets Over Hollywood: The American Gangster Picture from the Silents toThe Sopranos”. By John McCarty, 222–239. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2004.

    A readable overview of the trilogy offering a summary of key themes (the family, the banality of evil, Italian-American identity) as well as background on the films’ production.

  • Russo, John Paul. “Thematic Patterns in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II.” In Mafia Movies: A Reader. Edited by Dana Renga, 111–117. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.

    Russo examines themes of plenitude and community in Vito’s narrative and loss and loneliness in Michael’s narrative.

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