‘The Godfather’: Why Francis Ford Coppola Initially Didn’t Want To Direct the Film

by Emily Morgan

Undoubtedly, Francis Ford Coppola became a household name thanks to his work made famous in the 1972 blockbuster hit, The Godfather. However, the famed director nearly turned down the project that followed the Corleone crime family. As it turns out, getting Coppola to sign on wasn’t as easy as you might think. 

During a 2009 interview on “The Howard Stern Show,” the writer-director explained that he wasn’t interested in the film because he considered the novel that the screenplay was based on as “sort of sleazy.” 

As he tells Stern, Coppola wanted to make art films. 

“In those days, when I was young, I wanted to be like, you know, [Federico] Fellini and write beautiful [stories] — [or Jean-Luc] Godard and be an artist,” Coppola said to Stern and co-host Robin Quivers. 

He added that many major directors had turned away from the project since three previous gangster films were flops. As a result, the studio came to him because it would be made with a limited budget. 

As he describes, Coppola had just won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar winner for Patton in 1971. He also believed that Paramount wanted a “free rewrite” of The Godfather script, which made him question whether or not he wanted to sign on to the project. 

However, ultimately, Coppola couldn’t turn down the offer. His production company was in dire straits at the time, and he needed financial help. He also hoped revenue from The Godfather would help him get his mystery The Conversation in production.

As he recalls, his associates at Coppola’s production company, including future Star Wars writer-director George Lucas, told him he needed to place money ahead of making art. 

Coppola trades artistry for commerce and decides to make The Godfather

“They said, ‘Francis, we gotta make some money. We’re broke … the sheriff is going to chain the door,'” Coppola said of the times. “Do this book, you know this gangster book. Just do what they want and don’t argue with them.'”

The filmmaker also said that the gangster flick was given a budget of about $3 million, but ultimately, he made the film for $6.5 million. Its successor, The Godfather Part II was also successful at the box office and the Academy Awards. However, Coppola admitted to Stern that he didn’t want to direct that film either. 

Instead, he suggested to Paramount that they hire another young up-and-coming director, Martin Scorsese. 

“He was, like, four years younger than me and they said, ‘Who’s he? No, no, no, no,” Coppola said.

The director added that the main reason he wasn’t interested in the second film of the mafia franchise at first was that he didn’t “believe that The Godfather was the kind of story that could be serialized.'”

“I thought [the first film] was a drama and it over and that was the end, and Michael, you know, kind of corrupted himself and that was the story,” Coppola told Stern.