‘Godfather’ Almost Starred One Hollywood Icon: Why It Didn’t Happen

by Josh Lanier
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Godfather is a must-see for any film buff. It’s perfectly cast, but producers looked at several other actors for the movie before they landed on that iconic roster. For Michael Corleone, the film’s anti-hero, producers offered the role to several people before landing on Al Pacino. But it was an offer that they all could refuse.

The Godfather follows the fall and return of the Corleone crime family. After Don Vito Corleone dies and rivals kill his eldest son and heir, Sonny, his youngest son Michael is forced to step into the role. He goes from an uncomfortable outsider to the cold, calculating boss of the family. That transformation makes portraying him difficult. We know that Al Pacino had the range to pull it off, but producers 50 years ago weren’t so sure.

Producers looked at several potential actors. They considered Martin Sheen and Robert Redford. Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty both turned down the role. They all had their reasons for not wanting to do it, but Jack Nicholson had a rather progressive excuse for saying no to the part.

“Back then I believed that Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians,” Nicholson said in 2004. “Mario Puzo had written such a great book that if you go back to it you’ll see so much of what was special about the movie. There were a lot of actors who could have played Michael, myself included, but Al Pacino was Michael Corleone. I can’t think of a better compliment to pay him.”

Turning down the role didn’t hurt Nicholson’s career nor to it cause a problem for The Godfather. Al Pacino earned two Academy Award nominations for the role in Godfather I &II.

Paramount to Release Remastered ‘Godfather’ on 50th Anniversary

Director Francis Ford Coppola remastered The Godfather ahead of its 50th anniversary. Paramount will release that updated version to theaters on Feb. 24th. The studio released a color trailer for the film last week.

Coppolla led the update of all three Godfather films. He and a team spent about 1,000 hours on the project.

“I am very proud of ‘The Godfather,’ which certainly defined the first third of my creative life,” Coppola said. “With this 50th anniversary tribute, I’m especially proud of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is included, as it captures Mario and my original vision in definitively concluding our epic trilogy.

“… It’s also gratifying to celebrate this milestone with Paramount alongside the wonderful fans who’ve loved it for decades, younger generations who still find it relevant today, and those who will discover it for the first time.”

Fans can watch it in theaters next month or purchase the three Godfather films in 4K Ultra HD and digital on March 22.