- It’s certainly not hard to find more and more to say about the godfather even after 5-10 visits and times revisiting
- The opening long take is an absolute stunner and certainly not something I appreciated when I first started getting into cinema
- I think I may have referred to Fincher as “the master of darkness” on a recent post but of course Godon Willis- the DP here- is that. Pakula films, Woody Allen films- but nothing better than this.
- So many dissolves in the editing style took me back here. I love it. one highlight is the ellipsis editing dissolve approach at the horse head scene- wonderful
- It’s just one dizzyingly beautiful set piece after another
- The ending montage is one of the greatest in film history
- This may also be the greatest pure narrative in the history of film
- There’s zero fat here- Enzo the baker and the undertaker at the beginning – both come up later
- There is real love here in the two scenes between Clemenzo and Pacino- one showing him how to cook and the other how to shoot. There’s a lot here.
- The greatest single scene in the film, and there’s a lot to choose from, is the train noise close-up of Pacino
- The best film of 1972 and one of the very best films of all-time
Best Cast Ever maybe? Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and John Cazale among a few others that’s the cinematic equivalent to the Justice League.
@Randy– you are so right. What a cast! Brando was really the only name at the time– James Caan probably next. The Departed gets mentioned a lot as the greatest of all-time. There were a bunch of all-star ensemble films like The Longest Day (Wayne, Fonda, MItchum, Burton, Connery Steiger), How the West Was Won, etc that you could make an argument for.
Fun fact Sylvester Stallone, Robert Deniro, and Martin Sheen all tried putting for parts in this film.
Stanley Kubrick called this the Best Film Ever Made and The Greatest Cast of All Time.
Definitely one of the best of all time. What do you mean by a pure narrative film? What does that mean? Dont most movies have some sort of plot? (There are exceptions like Scorsese movies and 2001 that are more character and theme driven. However most movies have a concrete plot).
I noticed on my movie list that very few movies are long (I used to think long was 2.5 hours or more. However on tSPDt the average movie length isn’t even 2 hours. (109 minutes)).
Drake, how many minutes do you consider long for movies? Most of your movies on the top 500 are 120 minutes or less. Why do you have such few 2.5-3.5 hour movies? Why have most movies been 1:45-2:00 hours long?
@Azman — I think it’s the best pure story in cinema.
Sorry on the rest- I haven’t broken down the minutes of the films. Some auteurs make short films (Woody Allen comes to mind, Aki Kaurismaki) others long (Tarr, Scorsese makes long films). They often very by genre as well. Horror and comedy usually shorter and dramas or epics longer.
I think 120 minutes or so seems close to average.
hey what is your top film characters of all time. heres a rough top 30 only one character per actor and film/film series.in order roughly. what do you think of it
Seita Yukokawa (Grave of the fireflies)
Oskar Schindler (schindlers list)
Juror #8 (12 angry men)
Dewey Finn (school of rock)
Rick Blaine (casablnaca)
Ethan Edwards (searchers)
Darth Vader (star wars)
Ferris Bueller (ferris day off)
Llewyn Davis (inside llewyn davis)
rufus firefly (duck soup)
Indiana Jones (particularly raiders)
George Bailey (wonderful life)
Truman Burbank (truman show)
Everett McGill (o brother where art thou)
Travis Bickle (taxi driver)
Severus Snape (harry potter)
Alex De’Large (clockwork)
The Man with no name (mwnn trilogy)
Charles Foster Kane (citizen kane)
Wolverine (x men series)
Dr. Strangelove (dr strangelove)
Forrest Gump (forrest gump)
J.J. Gittes (chinatown)
John Mcclane (die hard)
Wesley (princess bride
Hans Landa (Inglorious basterds)
Jeffrey (Blue Velvet)
big bird (sesame street follow that bird)
You’ve got some great characters there, but have you ever heard of women?
@Graham “Have you ever heard of women?” Don’t know how to take a comment of that tone without a sense of anger. Anyways, as I mentioned Dorothy from the wizard of oz is great. Scarlett O’Hara. Padme or really most natalie portman characters. Wood in the searchers is a great smaller role. Debbie Reynolds singing in the rain. The woman from Rocco and his brothers. Lillian gish in broken blossoms. Holly hunter in raising arizona.There are many others. (Many female characters in the works of howard hawks and Arizona. Wilder)
Now we’re talking! Characters like that should be in there. I don’t why the sense of anger would be toward me as you seem to be agreeing with me by mentioning all these great female characters. I was just disappointed you had only men in the original list. Along with those you mentioned, I’d add Clarice Starling, Joan of Arc, Judy Barton (Madeline Elster), Elizabet Vogler, Annie Hall, and Ellen Ripley as some scattered ideas.
@Graham im sorry I wasn’t really angry It was just the way you phrased it put me off because something personal happened but I’m feeling better now. Sorry. Anyways those are some good add on. I suppose replace ripley with Sarah conner, and also have ypu seen the movie Cookies Fortune by Robert altman. It was qn overlooked classic in 1999. A sweet humanist antidote to magnolia if you will. It is on Netflix and has some great female characters in it and is about how the meshing of races is part of America whether you like it or not, and about the feelings of brotherhood trust and goodness in a small-town. A heart warming update of driving miss daisy. It is on Netflix, with liv Tyler julian Moore and Glen close and id recommend you watch it if you havent
Thanks for understanding. What you said is perfectly fine and sorry about whatever happened. I have not seen that movie you mentioned; thanks for the suggestion.
Also, how could I forget get Norma Desmond? She is a masterpiece of a character. Marge Gunderson, Imperator Furiosa, Phyllis Dietrichson, and more are quite interesting as well.
forgot dorothy, te lawrence, and atticus. those would be on especially first and last.
@m – really impressive list of characters. I started to add a few in my head and there’s just too many. Thanks for sharing…. give me Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth in Blue Velvet over Jeffrey is my only nitpick. Great list though
Why would anyone want an “antidote” to Magnolia?
Who is the greatest character of every decade? I am always asking questions like this and giving long-winded answers, but I will do it again because I think characters are one of the most fun things to talk about.
1910s: Technically Charlie’s The Tramp was invented in the mid-1910s and a brief Wikipedia look indicates he was in at least one movie over 40 minutes before 1920 (Academy cutoff length for a feature). This depends on the rules for the question. It’s especially weird with The Tramp not necessarily being the same person each time, just a similar figure. My official rules are: a character who had their first feature played by a certain actor in a decade can be nominated for any movie with that actor as the character that decade This way, Heath Ledger’s Joker counts as it is a new actor, but Han Solo could not count for 1980s because Harrison Ford first played him in the 70s.
1920s: Joan of Arc in The Passion of Joan of Arc by Falconetti is clearly one of the most powerful, expressive, and emotional performances in cinema. The wide-eyed close-ups and character development are completely unique to her. I am fairly confident in that choice.
Others: Johnnie Gray (The General), again The Tramp might or might not be disqualified
1930s: Scarlett O’Hara is the classic choice. It is startling for equality in the industry that the only best-of-the-decade characters for me that are women are way back in the early decades; this should not be true. Anyway, GWTW gives us four hours to discover a complex character that seems archetypal and disappointing at first.
Others: Hans Beckert (M), Susan Vance (Bringing up Baby), Rhett Butler (GWTW), Dorothy Gale (Wizard of Oz), again Tramp (City Lights) I do not count – I need to see more 30s movies
1940s: I think I may be expected to, and in the past probably would, choose Kane in obviously the best movie of the decade but I will switch the choice to Fred Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. An incredible examination of greed, delusion, and mania by Bogart inspiring others like Daniel Plainview.
Others: Tom Joad (Grapes of Wrath), Charles Foster Kane (Citizen Kane), Rick Blaine (Casablanca), Ilsa Lund (Casablanca), Phyllis Dietrichson (Double Indemnity), George Bailey (IaWL), Alicia Huberman (Notorious), Harry Lime (Third Man)
1950s: Terry Malloy captures all the emotions I love to find in cinema. Wistfulness, melancholy, naturalism, uniqueness and more. The scene in the taxi with Brando’s famous monologue is the greatest acting moment of all time. On this list, it’s not that he could have been a contender; he is a winner.
Others: Norma Desmond (Sunset Blvd.), Kanji Watanabe (Ikiru), Ethan Edwards (Searchers), Anronius Block (Seventh Seal), Juror 8 (12 Angry Men), Scottie Ferguson (Vertigo), Judy Barton/Madeline Elster (Vertigo)
1960s: I will choose T.E. Lawrence but it’s a near three-way tie with HAL and Norman Bates. Lawrence’s charming strangeness, charisma, egotism, and precision are so great, and the funny thing is that all three of these top nominees have these exact qualities!
Others: Norman Bates (Psycho), Michel Poiccard (Breathless), Guido Anselmi (8 1/2), Elisabet Vogler (Persona), The Man with no Name or Blondie (TGTBATU), Luke Jackson (Cool Hand Luke), HAL (2001), Frank (OUATITW)
That is the first part. The rest I will comment soon.
@Graham— I’m amazed! Thank you for sharing this
All right, let’s add the rest of the decades.
1970s: This is the reason why I’ve written this comment on The Godfather page. I can’t resist choosing Vito Corleone as the best character of the 70s, perhaps of all time, despite the overwhelming options. If I was considering characters for multiple movies, the Don’s son Michael, Drake’s favorite character, might prevail (Lecter may lose his win as well). With the rules of the game (hehe) as they are, the calmly controlling persona (hehe) and manufactured wheezy voice of this notorious (hehe) mafia man leaves me breathless (hehe) to provide a great winner for decade one of comment part ii (hehe).
Others: Michael Corleone (Godfather 1 or 2), Lope de Aguirre (Aguirre, WoG), Harry Caul (The Conversation), J.J. Gittes (Chinatown), Evelyn Mulwray (Chinatown), Randle McMurphy (OFOtCN), Nurse Ratched (OFOtCN), Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver), Howard Beale (Network), Annie Hall (duh), Darth Vader (Star Wars), Colonel Kurtz (Apocalypse Now), Ellen RIpley (Alien)
1980s: Jake LaMotta is the greatest exploration of anger in cinema, pounded to perfection by De Niro and Scorsese. It’s been said quite a few times that audiences go into Raging Bull seeing a monster and come out seeing a version of themselves. Perhaps the mirror at the beginning and the end are reminiscent of more than we might realize.
Others: Yoda (ESB), Indiana Jones (Raiders), Roy Batty (Blade Runner), Terminator (The Terminator), Noodles Aaronson (OUATIA), Hidetora Ichimonji (Ran), Christy Brown (My Left Foot)
1990s: I don’t think that this decade has a clear standout or two, only a large mass of wonderful options. I’ll choose Hopkins’ eerie, meticulous creation of Hannibal Lecter. It’s a great foundational idea to have a serial killer psychologist, even if his screen time is minimal. He slurps up this decade with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
Others: Tommy DeVito (Goodfellas), Clarice Starling (Silence of the Lambs), Amon Goeth (1993), Forrest Gump (duh), Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction), John Doe (Se7en), Marge Gunderson (Fargo), The Dude (The Big Lebowski), Tyler Durden (Fight Club), Frank T.J. Mackey (Magnolia)
2000s: I am simply unable to decide between Daniel Plainview and The Joker. These are masterpieces of character creation, manufactured voices and and precise acting by masters Ledger and DDL. They both have a competition in them that explodes into engrossing madness, all it taking being a little push. I can’t imagine the destruction that might occur if these two met.
Others: Betty Elms (Mulholland Dr.), Barry Egan (Punch-Drunk Love), Bob Harris (Lost in Translation), Theo Faron (Children of Men), Anton Chigurh (NCfOM), Robert Ford (Assassination of Jesse James), WALL-E (duh)
2010s: Currently, my favorite is Monsieur Gustave from Wes Anderson’s magnum opus, The Grand Budapest Hotel. This may switch over time. Ralph Fiennes undeniably crafts the role with perfection, establishing himself as one of the all-time underrated masters of versatility and energy. Gustave is a reminder of a world we wish could exist: Joyful, accepting, whimsical, and yet not without flaws.
Others: Jack O’Brien (ToL), Freddie Quell (The Master), Lancaster Dodd (The Master), Llewyn Davis (duh), Riggan Thomson (Birdman), Imperator Furiosa (Fury Road), Max Rockatansky (Fury Road), Cleo Gutiérrez (Roma)
The 2020s have obviously just begun (and not on a pleasant note…). I’m betting (hoping) David Fincher and Gary Oldman will knock Mank out of the park to cement Herman Mankiewicz as the best character of the year. We’ll see!
I’ve finally made it through all of the decades. Who would everyone else choose as the best of each?
@Graham– stellar work! I was sort of wondering why this was on The Godfather page but not it makes sense! I have to read and reread through your list here and give it some thought but at first blush I think it is just about perfect. Have you ever seen Naked (1993) from Mike Leigh? David Thewlis’ Johnny strikes me as one of the best singular characters from the 1990’s.
Thank you so much! I’m very pleased to hear that you like the list. The idea originally sprouted from an answer I was writing to a Quora question that I never completed.
I’m just a young high school freshman, so I have watched comparatively few movies, and not yet the one you mentioned. My interest in cinema began not long before quarantine, a surprisingly perfect time as I have had an abundance of time to watch over 120 movies by myself, usually late at night on my computer on perhaps-not-completely-legal sites….
I have been hesitant to see films with some mature topics like A Clockwork Orange, Black Swan, and Breaking the Waves that I expect to have really incredible characters, although I may watch them soon. I have been fine with such movies if I know things might be coming. A big chunk of my recent learning about cinema has been from this website. Thank you so much for creating it.
@Graham– well you are certainly a quick study. A freshman in high school? That’s impressive. “Naked” from Mike Leigh certainly falls into the “Clockwork Orange” mature theme camp so just a warning there. It is a great film- but certainly there are many others as good to cross off your list first that don’t have that type of content.
Best Male Characters:
1940s – Charles Foster KANE (Citizen Kane) (Honourable Mentions: Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Thomas Dunson (Red River))
1950s – Cnl. Nicholson (The Bridge On The River Kwai) (Honourable Mentions: Hank Quinlan (Touch Of Evil), “Daphne” (Some Like It Hot!), Juror #8 (12 Angry Men), Scottie Ferguson (Vertigo))
1960s – Luke Jackson (Cool Hand Luke) (Honourable Mentions: Ratso (Midnight Cowboy), Virgil Tibbs (In The Heat Of The Night), Eddie Felson (The Hustler), George Hanson (Easy Rider), CC Baxter (The Apartment), Thomas (Blow-Up))
1970s – Alex DeLarge (A Clockwork Orange) (Honourable Mentions: Sonny Wortzik (Dog Day Afternoon), Harry Caul (The Conversation), Jake Gittes (Chinatown), Philip Marlowe (The Long Goodbye), Lightfoot (Thunderbolt & Lightfoot), Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry), Jack Carter (Get Carter), Kilgore (Apocalypse Now))
1980s – The Mantle Twins (Dead Ringers) (Honourable Mentions: Withnail (Withnail & I), Gordon Gekko (Wall Street), Harold Shand (The Long Good Firday), Max Renn (Videodrome), The Joker (Batman))
1990s – Vincent Vega (Honourable Mentions: Jules Winnfield, Tommy DeVito, The Dude, Frank TJ Mackey, Ordell Robbie, Derek Vinyard, John Doe, Aaron Stampler, Bobby Peru)
2000s – Daniel Plainview (Honourable Mentions: Patrick Bateman, Alonzo Harris, Ulyssess Everett McGill, Donnie Darko, Barry Egan, Frank Abagnale Jr., Jimmy Markum, Vincent (Collateral), Howard Hughes, Richie Cusack, Theo Faron, Billy Costigan, Paul Avery, Anton Chigurh, Frank Lucas, The Joker, Sgt. William James, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, Cnl. Hans Landa)
2010s – Jordan Belfort (Honourable Mentions: Teddy Daniels, Dicky Eklund, The Driver, Billy Beane, Lancaster Dodd, Freddie Quell, Raoul Silva, Whip Whitaker, Dr. King Shultz, Calvin Candie, Llweyn Davis, Dt. Loki, Ron Woodroof, Solomon Northup, Irving Rosenfeld, Richie DiMaso, Terence Fletcher, M. Gustave, Regan Thompson, Mike Shiner, Lou Bloom, Nathan Bateman, Mark Baum, Hobie Doyle, Holland March, Marcus Hamilton, Sebastian Wilder, Dt. Bobby Andes, “Baby”, Connie Nikas, Pastor Ernst Toller, Juan (Moonlight), Charlie Barber, Jason Dixon, Phoenix Buchanan, Reynolds Woodcock, Jackson Maine, Jack Hock, Don Shirley, Howard Ratner, Arthur Fleck, Dt. Benoit Blanc, Jimmy Hoffa, Russell Buffalino, Rick Dalton, Cliff Booth)
Godfather is a great film, and almost everyone can agree. It is also rightfully iconic, more so than most other films. The horse in bed, Brando, the waltz, take the cannolis, the final montage. but not every scene is known. do you think there are any great films where every single scene is iconic. i can only think of 2001 and george lucas’ star wars, wizard of oz, singin’ in the rain. also a film fan could probably point out every scene from joan of arc
*maybe spielberg’s raiders as well. Jaws?
Interesting article on the symbolic use of doors in The Godfather. It’s something I noticed during a recent viewing. Several of the scenes are doors being kicked open during the murders of the 5 families scene. The final scene where the door is closed on Kay being both literally and figuratively as she is being separated from the “family business” is perhaps the best example but there are 38 instances involving doors according to the below article:
@James Trapp- I love articles like this- thank you for sharing.
[…] The Godfather – F. Coppola […]
What is the greatest opening line in cinema? My favorite is perhaps the theme-setting and abrupt first utterance of The Godfather, “I believe in America.” Raging Bull also has a hell of an opening line, “I remember those cheers. They still ring in my ears,” after the iconic opening credits shot. Citizen Kane of course begins with arguably cinema’s most famous word. Though I have not seen Patton, I am aware of its bold opening.
There are many choices. What are others’ favorites?
Goodfellas – “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster”
Patton – “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
Citizen Kane – “Rosebud”
Clockwork Orange – “There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening”
Great choices! However, I would like to note that the unforgettable voiceover line from Goodfellas is not, in fact, the true first line. A few are spoken before it. There are actually many instances of events near either end of a movie that are not technically the opening or closing. This especially occurs with final shots, such as Psycho’ smile, Citizen Kane’s sled, The Graduate’s fading happiness, and The Seventh Seal’s dance of death, none of which are the real last image onscreen.
@Graham – Also I know it’s not in the same level as quality of movies but the opening line of Rounders is amazing: “Listen, here’s the thing: If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker”
One of my favorite movies largely because it was popular when I got into poker and my friends and I would always quote it. Plus, amazing cast with Damon, Ed Norton, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Famke Janssen, etc.
Could you update this page, please? Maybe add some images. It was just a suggestion
@Finn- good suggestion- I’m overdue here for a rewatch- and this page hardly does this film justice.
I just got done seeing it for the first time in years, and I believe I am in a state of cinematic ecstasy overload. What’s astounding is that, as you say, it may be the greatest pure narrative in the history of cinema, it clearly has one of the best ensemble performances of all time, the use of dissolve edits is brilliant, the Christening/assassinations parallel editing montage is a gargantuan tour de force, as is the train noise scene with the killing of Sollozzo and McCluskey; and through all of this Coppola still is not content to make anything less than a visual masterpiece as well, crafting compositions of breathtaking beauty and simplicity such as (just off the top of my head):
The shot of Sonny’s lying dead on the causeway as Tom Hagen pulls up in his car
The shot of Vito lying dead in the garden
The shot of Don Barzini lying dead on the stairs with his associate at the foot of the stairs and a black car pulled up on the left side.
The doorway shot of Tom Hagen sitting in a chair with a glass in his hand after Sonny’s murder
The other doorway shot with Kay in the foreground and Michael in the background planting the seeds of alienation from his wife, beautifully foreshadowing the second film.
Don’t let the contrarians lead you astray! this is a film that more than deserves its reputation.
@Max -“Don’t let the contrarians lead you astray”
I can’t remember if I’ve shared this before. Either way enjoy.
Since we’re all going to die, I feel there’s one more secret I have to share with you… I do not care for Peter Griffin. He just… insists upon himself.
@Max – lol great response.
Did you decide to revisit because of the recent 4K release?
I am excited to see in 4K, surprising that it took so long.
No, I just came to the horrifying realization that I had never watched it with English subtitles, so there may have been some dialogue which I missed, a sensation which for me is the equivalent of medieval torture.
@Max- Well done!
I’m rather late to this conversation, but I am confident that the greatest movie character of the 1950s and possibly of all time is Ethan Edwards from The Searchers- A distillation of the very concept of vengeful monomaniacal hatred, a mythological figure who represents one half of a crossroads in the American experiment, the path of absolute destruction. It was only by his discovery and temporary containment of this destructive nature that he was able to redeem himself, in one of the most poetically beautiful moments in cinema. A deeply tragic individual, exploited for his abilities and for his willpower before being discarded after his purpose was served, doomed, like the Comanche whose eyes he shot out, to wander forever between the winds. It is my theory that Ethan also suffered from a form of severe obsessive compulsive disorder or associative anxiety, which led him to believe that his nieces were contaminated subhumans from their mere association with the Comanches (one could merely blame this on the conventional racism of the time, but if this were so then the other characters in the film would share Ethan’s sentiment, but instead they welcome Debbie back into their community as seen in the final shot). This contributes to the tragic nature of Ethan’s character, as he really was completely screwed by life from the very beginning, bound unwaveringly to Southern loyalties (a losing cause of course) the woman he loves being married to his brother, then his entire family is slaughtered save two, whom he now believes are an unconscionable stain on his bloodline that must be purged from existence to preserve his sanity. As I explained on the actual The Searchers page, there is substantial reason to believe that he succeeded in directly murdering one of them (Lucy) and of course he had every intention of doing the same to Debbie before his operatic redemption.
I apologize for this rather disorganized and oversimplified thesis.