In 1990, Francis Ford Coppola released the third installment in the universally acclaimed Godfather series: The Godfather Part III. But unlike its predecessors, The Godfather Part III was anything but universally acclaimed. In late 2020, Ford Coppola released a recut version of The Godfather Part III, titled The Godfather Coda The Death of Michael Corleone. We’re going to look at what we can learn from The Godfather Coda by comparing it to the original cut. We’re going to analyze pacing, audio enhancements, and structural differences with the intent of better understanding the final chapter in the Corleone crime family.

The Godfather Coda The Death of Michael Corleone Trailer

“Just when I’m out, they pull me back in!” Put on some Nino Rota and read along as we break down The Godfather Coda The Death of Michael Corleone.

The Godfather Coda Was the Original Godfather III

Godfather Part III was never meant to be

Francis Ford Coppola and author/screenwriter Mario Puzo never intended to make a sequel to The Godfather, but the success of the first film all but guaranteed there would be successors.

After writing The Godfather script with Ford Coppola, Puzo conceived an idea to write a story called The Death of Michael Corleone, which followed the story of young Vito Corleone’s ascent to power, and Michael Corleone’s descent into disgrace. Paramount promised Ford Coppola complete creative control over the production and thus, The Godfather Part II was born. 

The Godfather Coda • Mario Puzo Francis Ford Coppola Robert Evans and Albert S Ruddy pictured left to right

The Godfather Coda  •  Puzo, Coppola, Robert Evans, and Albert S. Ruddy (left to right)

The Godfather Part II was a critical and commercial success. It received five Academy Award nominations and five Academy Award wins — and grossed more than 4x its budget at the box-office.

Nowadays, The Godfather Part II appears on the top of nearly every list of the best gangster movies and the best mafia movies.

So, how did Ford Coppola and Puzo follow up two masterpieces? With the appropriately titled The Godfather Part III. Before we go any further, let me say this: The Godfather Part III is not, nor ever was a bad film.

Was it as good as its predecessors? No. Could it have been better? Yes. Was it cursed from the get-go? Almost definitely. The Godfather Part III faced enormous challenges at every step of production, but it ultimately persevered. That being said, there were some noticeable shortcomings.

Francis Ford Coppola received a lot of flack for casting his daughter, Sofia Coppola, in the incredibly important role of Mary Corleone.

Sofia Coppola as Mary Corleone in The Godfather Coda The Death of Michael Corleone

Sofia Coppola as Mary Corleone in The Godfather Coda The Death of Michael Corleone

I won’t rag on Sofia Coppola’s performance because a) that’s been done to death and b) she was never supposed to be in the film in the first place. Here are all of the people who were linked to play the part before Coppola:

  1. Julia Roberts (dropped out due to scheduling conflicts)
  2. Madonna (Ford Coppola ultimately decided she was too old for the role)
  3. Rebecca Schaeffer (was murdered before her formal audition)
  4. Winona Ryder (suffered nervous exhaustion when she arrived to shoot in Rome)

So, the entire cast and crew was in Rome, behind in production, and in desperate need of somebody to play Mary Corleone; why not have Sofia Coppola play the role? She was the right age, and she was familiar with the cast/crew/script. 

Unfortunately, Sofia Coppola’s performance proved that acting is anything but easy, especially when compared to the performances of legendary actors like Andy Garcia, Diane Keaton, and Al Pacino. 

Sofia Coppola’s performance was panned by critics, as was the film’s convoluted structure and recycled themes. It was a gut-punch for Coppola and Puzo – who had enjoyed endless praise for their previous collaborations together. But even the film’s cynics knew there was a kernel of greatness in
The Godfather Part III. Enter The Godfather Coda The Death of Michael Corleone – a recut that set out to write the wrongs of the original.


What is The Godfather Coda?

The Godfather Coda The Death of Michael Corleone is a recut version of The Godfather Part III. Francis Ford Coppola oversaw the “recutting” process and declared the “Coda” to be the definitive version he and Mario Puzo always intended to make. Stars Al Pacino and Diane Keaton sanctioned the recut and suggested it was more emotional than the original.

The Godfather Coda Differences

  • Remastered audio/video
  • Different beginning and end
  • Changes to shots, scenes, and music

Godfather Coda Review and Analysis

Why Coppola made The Godfather Coda

The Godfather Part III was not the film Coppola wanted it to be. That’s no secret. With The Godfather Coda, Coppola was given the chance to renovate and restructure the original so it would more closely align with his vision. Let’s listen to Coppola explain how (and why) he made The Godfather Coda.

Coppola Explains The Godfather Coda Differences

In music, a coda is a finale section that brings a piece to its end. In film/literature, this section is often referred to as the denouement. Essentially, the denouement of a story serves to reflect back on the story’s major themes and make a final statement on everything that’s happened.  

If we think about the third Godfather film with this point in mind, then we can begin to see it more as a coda or denouement than as a direct successor to the first two films. Essentially, The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are one film. The Godfather Coda is a companion piece that finds resolution on the themes raised in those films.

It’s clear Francis Ford Coppola wanted to reconceptualize The Godfather Part III with The Godfather Coda. After the editing process was complete, Ford Coppola invited the original cast to Paramount Studios to watch the new cut. 

“When the original The Godfather Part III came out, it was a failure beyond belief. I remember seeing it and thinking, ‘What?’ I don’t know what to say. It was a disappointment, and that seemed to prevail,” star Diane Keaton said. 

Diane Keaton Gives a Great Godfather Coda Review

Diane Keaton Gives a Great Godfather Coda Review

“This new version was amazing. Francis did such good work on it. He made the ending work so much better, but the movie, in general, is vastly improved. He did a lot of work, and now I’m proud of the movie. I had written it off in my mind. To see it again, and in the way, I hoped it would turn out, was one of those magical experiences in my life and career.”

Keaton also praised the ways in which Ford Coppola resurrected Sofia  Copolla’s performance through editing techniques. “It also justifies and amplifies the relationship of a daughter and her father. It is amazing how much more powerful it is now, and it makes the movie more heartfelt and about family. That’s what I felt when I was seeing her in this new version, and I was so impressed.”

The Godfather Coda Differences

A closer look at the differences

There are a lot of differences between The Godfather Part III and
The Godfather Coda, but perhaps none are more pronounced than the changes in structure. The Godfather Coda gets to the action much quicker than the original by beginning with Michael’s meeting with the archbishop.

By beginning the film with the inciting incident, Coppola generates a much better pace. He also removes a lot of fluff from the original opening scene that many critics considered extraneous. 

The Godfather Coda Begins with a Meeting with the Archbishop

The Godfather Coda Begins with a Meeting with the Archbishop

Coda has an entirely new ending too. In the original cut, Michael retires to his Lake Tahoe estate after Mary’s murder – then one day slumps over in his chair and dies. In the new cut, everything is set up the same; but Michael is denied an on-camera death. Instead, he’s forced to live with the guilt of losing his closest loved one.

The Godfather Coda Differences • Al Pacino in The Godfather Coda Ending

Al Pacino in The Godfather Coda Ending

In many ways, this new ending serves to mirror the ending of The Godfather Part II. In both films, Coppola uses cross-dissolves to underscore the tragedy of generational corruption. But whereas in The Godfather Part II the tragedy was inherited (from Vito to Michael), it was imposed in The Godfather Part III. Still, the result is the same. Michael is left to ponder his mistakes, fist over face; haunted by the choices he’s made. 

There are also audio/visual updates to The Godfather Coda. Of course, these updates would likely be more noticeable in the cinema, but considering the world was still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic at the time of the recut’s release, very few had been able to see/hear them on the big screen. 

Impact of The Recut

How recuts change the meaning of films

The Godfather Coda is far from the first famous movie to be recut. In fact, some of the greatest movies of all-time, such as Blade Runner, Brazil, and Once Upon a Time in America, have all been recut multiple times. But how do people know which version to watch? Well, usually the “director’s cut” is the version that receives the most critical acclaim. 

Francis Ford Coppola is no stranger to recuts — Apocalypse Now has been recut several times. In 2019, Coppola released the aptly titled Apocalypse Now Final Cut. Let’s check out how that version of the film was made.

Apocalypse Now Final Cut Explained

Recuts prove that no film is ever dead — and that new technology allows filmmakers to revitalize their works with updated sound/visuals. There are those who argue films should be treated as artifacts; preserved in their original form. But there are others who say modern technology should be used to give old films new life. In the end, there’s no right or wrong opinion on the matter.

Final Thoughts

Takeaways from The Godfather Coda

The Godfather Coda The Death of Michael Corleone teaches us that cinema is an iterative medium. Most of the time, major iterations are made during the original cutting process — but sometimes, as proven by The Godfather Coda, the right iterations take longer to solidify than initially expected.

The Godfather Coda also serves as a celebration of two of the greatest films of all-time: The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. It’s the book-end to New Hollywood gangster cinema – and a treatise to Puzo and Coppola’s work together. It’s also a portal into the past for one of the world’s greatest female directors: Sofia Coppola.

And although her performance never matched the quality of Garcia, Keaton, or Pacino, she played an integral role in the story. Ultimately, Coppola proved she was best suited behind the camera (or the typewriter), but her cinematic talent was always undeniable.


The Godfather: Analysis of a Scene

Want to learn more about The Godfather movies? If your answer is yes, check out our next article in which we break down a famous scene from the original film. We’ll show you how Francis Ford Coppola used blocking and staging to create an unforgettable moment in cinema history.

Up Next: The Godfather: Director’s Playbook →
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