‘The Godfather’ reentered the box office charts on its 50th anniversary

On Friday, February 25, Paramount Pictures re-released “The Godfather: 50 Years” into 156 AMC Dolby theaters as an anniversary tribute to the Oscar-winning film from director Francis Ford Coppola. “The Godfather” has been re-released many times over the past few decades, first in 1997 for the movie’s 25th anniversary, and then quite a few times since then (at least in the United States), the last time being in 2017. It’s an interesting movie to revisit in the middle of one of the longest and most competitive Oscar races in recent memory.

“The Godfather: 50 Years” came close to making it into the top 10 this past weekend with a box office take of more than $965,000, three times what “The Godfather” made its very first weekend at the box office back in March ‘72, but that was in just six theaters, for comparison. The next week Coppola’s movie expanded into 323 theaters and made $5.2 million, which in 1972 money was huge, especially when you consider that the original movie’s eventual box office of around $135 million is closer to $742 million when adjusted for inflation. No re-release of “The Godfather” has done that well, even in their entire runs, but this is the widest re-release of the movie yet.

Considered a film classic, the movie famously won three Oscars at the 1973 ceremony out of it 11 nominations, taking Best Picture as well as Best Adapted Screenplay for Coppola and novelist Mario Puzo. While Marlon Brando, playing title character Don Vito Corleone, was the only one of the four nominated actors able to convert that into a win, he didn’t show up to accept his Oscar. He instead sent Native American actor Sacheen Littlefeather (aka Maria Cruz) to accept it in a moment that’s now the stuff of Oscar legend. That was Brando’s statement against the poor treatment of American Indigenous peoples in the entertainment biz.

I was too young to have seen “The Godfather” when it first came out, and I didn’t see it for the first time until maybe 10 years later. Despite many opportunities, I also never actually watched it in a movie theater until it was re-released last week. It’s more likely I first saw a highly-edited version on television (maybe as a two-night network event) or probably rented it on VHS before finally buying my own copies.

“The Godfather” offers so many memorable scenes, from the famed horse’s head in the bed of a studio exec – the “offer he couldn’t refuse” – to the fate of Caan’s Sonny after overstepping his bounds while filling in for his father after the don is taken out of commission.

This re-release looks great, though maybe isn’t able to fully take advantage of the Dolby Vision technology, other than possibly being a better transfer due to this restoration having been overseen by Coppola himself from “300 cartons of film.” “The Godfather” originally cost $6 million to make, which would barely pay for most Blumhouse movies these days; adjusted for inflation that would be around $40 million today, which is still a bargain compared to most tentpole studio movies. Still, it showed that the young Coppola knew how to spread that dollar around considering that the movie takes place in many different locations, including New York, Vegas, Hollywood, and even Sicily. In fact, the majority of it was filmed in New York with a few pick-ups in Sicily, plus the Dominican Republic to stand in for Cuba in a few scenes.

Brando had already won an Oscar almost 20 years earlier for Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront,” and he was in his late-40s when he filmed his even more memorable role for Coppola. “The Godfather” came out the same year as another memorable performance by Brando: “Last Tango in Paris” premiered at the New York Film Festival that same year. Clearly the controversy around that movie – yes, even back in those days – did not deter Brando from winning his second Oscar. Brando would only reunite with Coppola one more time in 1979 for “Apocalypse Now,” and he would only make nine more movies before his death in 2004 at age 80.

But the legacy of “The Godfather” — and Brando himself — continues to this day. Consider that Oscar winner Jared Leto, like “The Godfather,” also turned 50 recently. He’s a notorious Method actor similar to Brando. Another recent Oscar winner, Joaquin Phoenix, 47, has been compared to Brando in his performances.

As for the rest of the “Godfather” cast, this is one of the few films that has ever received three Oscar nominations in a single acting category (“The Godfather Part II” was another). There’s only a few scenes in the movie that features all three Best Supporting Actor nominees together – Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, and James Caan, all fairly early in their careers – and one of the key ones is the scene in which they discuss the then-32-year-old Pacino’s character Michael Corleone getting more hands-on in the family business by killing a key competitor and the chief of police.

When Michael Corleone decides to take over a hotel and casino in Las Vegas, he makes Moe Green an offer he can’t refuse, and Moe ends up being just one of the loose ends Michael cleans up as the new Godfather in the memorable and climactic murder montage intercut with the baptism of Michael’s niece, for whom he is the Godfather, a nice parallel for sure. Moments later, the baby’s father also gets what he’s due, which greatly upsets Michael’s sister, played by a 26-year-old Talia Shire, who is Coppola’s actual kid sister.

Watching this movie 50 years later, you realize what an influence it had on the careers of artists like Martin Scorsese and “The Sopranos” creator David Chase, both of whom were in their mid-20s when it was released, so there’s a good chance they would have seen it in movie theaters. But probably the most interesting thing to me about re-watching “The Godfather” 50 years after its initial release is how young the audience was at my theater. Even though the movie has been available in various formats for many, many years now, it shows that young people will still go out to theaters to see an event movie like this 50th anniversary re-release of Coppola’s classic, which is heartening to anyone who worries that cinema or the theatrical experience is dead.

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