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The Godfather Part 1 vs The Godfather Part 2 - A Film Debate

Updated on October 6, 2012
The Godfather - Marlon Brando's most iconic performance.
The Godfather - Marlon Brando's most iconic performance.

The Godfather is often considered one of the finest movies in the history of cinema. It won multiple Oscars including the 1972 Best Picture Award. While this is commonly known as the greatest film ever, The Godfather 2 is often quietly considered an even better film! Having seen the whole series and considering both to be in my top movies of all time, I have often spent time debating which is the better film with myself and my friends.

That being said, I decided it's time to formally document my thoughts on these two great films and when thinking about how to debate this it was determined that the best way is to split the debate into categories and base the results on an aggregate result.

Let the debate begin!

Category 1: The Acting

The Godfather Part 1:

Wow - what can I say. The Godfather contained some of the most iconic performances in the history of film. Al Pacino as a young man in a role considered by the Academy as a supporting role (that just goes to show the quality on show here) that helped make his career. James Caan as hotheaded brother. My personal favorite, Robert Duvall in one of the films best roles as the family assistant. Even the smallest of roles were filled by some of the worlds most respected actors. Then of course, where The Godfather has the edge over its sequel, the one and only Marlon Brando in the most famous role in film history - The Godfather himself.

The Godfather Part 2

Well, initially looking at the cast you will see the many of the same names as you saw during the first film, which is a fantastic start. However, there are some gaping holes. The fantastic role played by James Caan in the first film is certainly missed in Part 2, but the obvious missing piece is that of Marlon Brando, The Godfather himself. The fact alone puts Part 2 in a hole that it is difficult to recover from.

However, where Brando is lost, we see the addition of another one of the greatest actors of all time, Part 2 boasts the appearance of Robert DeNiro as a young Don Corleone during the films ongoing flashbacks. These scenes are fantastic and add so much to the film, and DeNiro is simply at his best here. Adding to this, what we see in Al Pacino is an older, more experienced actor who plays young Michael Corleone with such fire and evil that he is in another league compared to part 1. Then throw in fantastic support from Diane Keaton and John Cazale. Wow.

The Edge goes to - TIE! (Sorry - you can't pick this one...too close)

Michael Corleone and his loyal family lawyer Tom.
Michael Corleone and his loyal family lawyer Tom.

Category 2: Famous Scenes

The Godfather Part 1

  • Sonny's Demise - The scene where Sonny Corleone stops his car at the toll booth and is brutally shot by multiple crooks carrying tommy-guns is one of the films most brutal and memorable scenes, highlighting the brutal reality of the mafia life.
  • Michael becomes a man -The Corleone family knows that an assassination has to happen, and young Michael offers to be the trigger man despite knowing he will have to disappear for a long stretch. The scene is a classic for so many reasons, from Michael's nerves, to his turnaround into cold hearted killer - not to mention the haunting sounds of the train as he performs the act.
  • A death in Cicily - Michael finds love during his extended vacation in Cicily and he seems to be preparing for a happy life together with his Italian princess. This idea is snatched from him swiftly and brutally in a car bomb meant for him, that claims the life of his new lover. A harsh blast of reality and one of the shocks of the film!
  • The Horses Head - Possible the most iconic scene in the series, Robert Duvall is set to make a deal with a rich man, for something Don Corleone desires. After being rudely denied, Duvall leaves and we are left surprised as to why he doesn't seem too upset. We then see the man wake up the next day, only to find the severed head of a horse sleeping next to him. Message received!
  • The Baptism - My personal favorite - possible one of the most chilling scenes in cinema history, this long montage provides the juxtaposition of Michael Corleone's newly born son being baptized, with Michael renouncing the sins of the devil, as his minions perform a series of brutal and merciless murders. This scene really shows that Don Corleone's philosophies will die with him and Michael will begin his brutal reign.

The Godfather Part 2

  • Fighting over the kids - One of the finest pieces of acting in the whole series is on show when Michael and his wife (Diane Keaton) are truly broken and Michael knows that she will leave him - he hates this but he will accept it, however when she tells him that she actually had an abortion he EXPLODES with a fierce outburst, and the look in Pacino's eyes during the scene make you believe that his anger has to be real. Amazing stuff.
  • The Death of Fredo - Technically this is a couple scenes, as when Michael finds out that Fredo has betrayed him he grabs Fredo by the face and explains to him that he "broke his heart". We then know what is coming when Michael declares that he wants Fredo to take the kids for a fishing trip and the kids don't show up. Fredo is alone on the boat with one of the henchman and he knows his time is up. A heartbreaking scene and the true finalization of Michael's brutality.
  • Vito's Revenge - One of the great scenes DeNiro has in the film, is his return to the city of Cicily to avenge his fathers death at the hands of Don Ciccio. After talking to the Don and feigning a show of respect he proceeds to brutally end the Don's life and show that you are never safe from your past!
  • The Death of Don Fanucci - Another DeNiro scene, where he decides that it is time to put an end to the reign of terror Don Fanucci has been placing on the citizens in his city, making them pay him fees and striking fear into the weak. He proceeds to put together his plot and put an end to the Don with his towel wrapped weapon.

The Edge goes to - The Godfather Part 1 (by a hair!!)

One of Michael's most memorable moments.
One of Michael's most memorable moments.

Category 3 - The Story/Plot

The Godfather Part 1

A fantastic piece of writing, the Godfather blends a number of brilliantly developed characters into one, taking them all in their own directions and on their own journey's, all of which would be deep enough to craft a movie all by themselves. The story is basic mafia fare, but there are plenty of twists and turns, and unexpected moments, some of which were described above. The beauty of the film is how it shows us the slow but inevitable changing of the guard and how Don Corleone's values just cannot live on, as he cannot also. Overall, a brilliantly simple plot that all comes together so well at the end.

The Godfather Part 2

The plot of the sequel essentially follows right on from The Godfather Part 1, but story plot is one that manages to show us the continual development of the Corleone family and it's plunge into darkness and real evil, while also showing us it's real beginnings with the "Young Don Corleone" scenes. DeNiro gives a great performance as young Vito, and this just adds to the films plot as we get to see how Vito became the great man that he was, while we see Michael becoming the monster that he is. On top of this we have some of the most heartbreaking and brutally real family drama as well as a continual sense of dread.

The Edge goes to - The Godfather Part 2 (You can't beat the Young Vito vs Michael combination)

Category 4 - Great Quotes

The Godfather Part 1 Quotes

  • "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes"
  • "Leave the gun - take the cannoli"
  • "I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I spoil them, as you can see. They talk when they should be listening."
  • "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse"

The Godfather Part 2

  • "It was an abortion Michael"
  • "My father taught me many things ... keep your friends close, but your enemies closer."
  • "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart."
  • "You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: nothing."

The Edge goes to - The Godfather Part 1 (how can you argue with Don Corleone's classic "offer you can't refuse!)

De Niro won the Oscar for his turn as young Vito Corleone.
De Niro won the Oscar for his turn as young Vito Corleone.

Category 5 - Awards and Honors

The Godfather Part 1 (Academy Awards)

  • Won 3 Oscars - Best Actor (Brando), Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Nominated for 8 more

The Godfather Part 2

  • Won 6 Oscars - Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Art Direction, Best Music, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture
  • Nominated for 5 more

The Edge goes to - The Godfather Part 2

The Conclusion

WOW! Well the numbers would say 2-2-1 which makes this a tie. However, nobody wants to read this whole article to find out I'm sitting on the fence. So here's the deal.

While in my opinion, and apparently the Academy Awards opinion also, The Godfather Part 2 may actually be the better overall film from top the bottom. HOWEVER, when you look at some of the most memorable, well known and iconic moments in the series and in the history of film, they are in The Godfather Part 1. Also, the presence of Marlon Brando in part 1 is to me the deciding factor. Brando IS "The Godfather" and he will forever be remembered for his performance as Don Corleone. For this reason -

The Winner - The Godfather Part 1

Thanks for reading! Do you agree??


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    • Al Greenbaum profile image

      Al Greenbaum 

      2 years ago from Europe

      It is hard to separate the two films. Though over three hours each in length, the time goes very quickly. Godfather Part 2 is the better one because of the cinematography. The tracking shot across the roofs as Robert De Niro gets ready to kill the local Don and thus overthrow him is brilliant.

    • jmartin1344 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Royal Oak, Michigan

      I would definitely agree with the idea of two films - that is a fantastic way to look at it.

      And thanks for pointing out my errors - I make a lot of them! Somebody has to keep me honest! Thanks for reading.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Fabulous article, I myself have always had the same debate with myself, however I came to the realization that in actuality, they are not two films, but one story. One long tale of a family's fortunes and the death of Michael Corleone's soul. However I cannot resist pointing out two things.

      1) It is Sicily, not Cicily.

      2) At the Baptism, it is not Michael's son that was being baptized, it was Constanzia and Carlo's child, and Michael was becoming Godfather to the child during the montage.

    • jmartin1344 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Royal Oak, Michigan

      Ha! I'm sure your history teacher wouldn't be saying that now if she saw your portfolio of articles. I didn't necessarily get them on my reports but I know within my own head that it was probably true!! I would recommend checking out On The Waterfront ... It's a pretty great movie. I haven't really fine tooth combed his acting in it (which I may do now, you've inspired me to grade him!) but it's a good film regardless.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Never seen 'On the Waterfront' beyond a few trailers. If I were his acting teacher on the strength of them I'd have given him a 'Could try harder' on his report. By the way Brando and I share a birthday, 3rd April. I always used to get 'Must try harder' on my reports!

    • jmartin1344 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Royal Oak, Michigan

      Absolutely, The two films go beautifully together. Also, that is a really interesting perspective on it - looking at filmography for each actor I can see what you mean - although I still think they were all fantastic, I take the point they may not have been out of their comfort zone, while Pacino and DeNiro were in new ground and excelled.

      Although, I would argue that Duvall was in his first chance to shine and while he didn't have that obvious screen presence and all of the "big money" scenes, I actually think he was a show stealer. I think his subtle loyalty and strength, as the rock of the family that never wavers was delivered so perfectly - he was supposed to be the guy they take for granted but who continues to truck on and his subtle performance suited that perfectly.

      De Niro was certainly an upgrade from Caan. And Brando was absolutely amazing in A Streetcar Named Desire for sure! What did you think of On The Waterfront?

      Thanks for reading!

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Godfather parts 1 and 2 complemented one another, number 2 filling in the gaps number 1 left. Brando or Duvall aside, Al Pacino and Robert de Niro made the films. Brando was OK in the first, but didn't 'act his socks off' (never did, after 'Streetcar') and de Niro balanced up the absence of Caan. Largely I think only Pacino and de Niro did any serious acting, the rest of the cast played roles they'd played in films previous or since.


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