Which is the true legend of gangster film making – the OG The Godfather or the more violent, recent take Goodfellas? (Photos fair use from Warner Brothers and Paramount. )
Which is the true legend of gangster film making – the OG The Godfather or the more violent, recent take Goodfellas?

Photos fair use from Warner Brothers and Paramount.

The Godfather vs. Goodfellas

This side-by-side features staff writers Saige Joseph and Kenna McBean debating over which classic mafia movie is superior.

October 29, 2021

“The Godfather” Makes an Offer You Can’t Refuse

When told to think of the best mafia movies of all time, the two that come to mind without hesitation are The Godfather and Goodfellas. In my mind these two films couldn’t be more contrasting yet so similar in a variety of ways. I like to think of The Godfather as a slow burner, like watching a candle dwindle down over time. While on the other hand, Goodfellas is a fast paced movie, like a firecracker going off. 

When asked to pick which one reigns superior, I personally would choose The Godfather. Some people believe that Goodfellas is dominant, but there are a multitude of reasons why their movie choice is inferior. I mean, objectively speaking, on the AFI top 100 movies list, The Godfather is #2, while Goodfellas is at a sad #92. Also, The Godfather did win an Oscar for Best Picture and guess what didn’t? 

Correct: Goodfellas didn’t win Best Picture. 

A side note is Kenna might try to argue that Scorsese’s movies in general are better than Coppola’s. She mentions how Scorsese has a multitude of reputable films, while Coppola is most commonly known for The Godfather. Even so, that is insignificant because The Godfather is so good. We aren’t discussing other films now—strictly The Godfather versus Goodfellas. But, let me tell you that she has seen a mere 2 of Scorcesse’s movies, while I have seen 80% of them. Her lack of viewing diminishes her credibility on this debate, therefore enhancing my argument even further. 

Redeeming Character Traits

When dealing with mafia movies, it’s hard to come by characters that have at least some redeeming qualities. The mafia is a cruel, cutthroat game and with that comes harsh people. But, I stand by that The Godfather has more likable characters at the end of the day. 

In The Godfather, we get to see the main character, Michael Corleone, go through a major character development… not in a good way. But, that is just the reason that he’s a more likable character than Henry Hill–the “protagonist” of Goodfellas

The Godfather has more likable characters at the end of the day. ”

— Saige Joseph

We see how Corleone’s family pressure turned him into a bad person. Throughout The Godfather, Corleone doesn’t want to be involved with his family business (the mafia) and tries to distance himself from the lifestyle entirely. He enlists in the marines and tries to set himself on the right, wholesome path for life. But sadly, in the end he gets roped into the mafia. Because of that, the audience has even an ounce of sympathy for Corleone as we see that he wanted a better life for himself. 

On the contrary, one of the most famous lines from Goodfellas is, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” Henry Hill says this towards the beginning of the film. Chances are, even if you haven’t seen the film, you know this line. 

Those words linger, as right from the start the viewer is aware that being a gangster is something that Hill has admired and romanticized his entire life. He chose that life for himself and forced himself to become a part of it rather than try to distance himself from it, like Corleone did. 

Along with that, my personal favorite character from The Godfather, Sonny, is an amazing character. On the outside, he truly is a hothead and gets angered quite easily, but he is so much more than his ill fated temper. He really cares for his family and would do anything for them to keep them safe. When he finds out that his sister’s husband has been abusive, he runs over to her house to give her husband “a talk” and ensure that his sister will be safe. Nowhere in Goodfellas does the audience see that sort of depth like we do throughout The Godfather. 

Female Portrayal 

When these movies were made, the portrayal of women in film and the roles that they served remained virtually consistent throughout the industry: “Look at me”, “I need help”, “I need a man to save me”, and so on. But, The Godfather and Goodfellas still have two very clashing ways of showing women in films. The two leading ladies in these films are polar opposites in about every single aspect. 

In Goodfellas, Karen Hill, Henry Hill’s wife, is written like a complete idiot. All she seems to care about is the money that comes with having her husband be a gangster. Even when she finds out her husband has been cheating on her, she comes off as a whiny and immature childlike character. I really wish that they had made Karen Hill more of a likable character because I want so much more from her than a helpless little character, who can’t seem to think straight. I want to see that women can be strong characters too. 

The Godfather manages to contradict Karen Hill in every way. Kay Adams-Corleone, Michael Corleone’s wife, is a strong female. Their relationship is depicted as a true, two-sided relationship that began well before Michael was involved with the mafia. 

Though this relationship does start to diminish as the movie series progresses, Kay doesn’t lose her strength. Even when Kay is told to be left out of things that concern the mafia, she doesn’t stray from what she wants. Rather than fall into his control, Kay isn’t afraid to speak up and challenge Michael when necessary. She is an independent woman who has her own opinions that run deeper than money. 

Plot Twists

Now, I won’t go spoiling any major plot twists for you here. Rather, I’ll just talk about the generality of them. In Goodfellas, I found that many of the “plot twists” are predictable, unnecessarily complicated,  and that much of the plot is not as intriguing as that of The Godfather

The Godfather, even though a slower developmental story, I felt like every few minutes something big hooked me back in. With the run time just under 3 hours you might believe that it isn’t possible for that movie to be so entertaining, but believe me, it is.

The plot twists had a much greater payoff in the end and I was left more satisfied throughout The Godfather.  ”

— Saige Joseph

The plot is not too complicated and has just enough explanation for anyone to understand. (Note: This was something that I was wary about before viewing. In some movies with lots happening at once, I can get lost and then continue to be confused for the duration of the film).

Comparing the two films, I just think that it was easier for me to become completely invested with The Godfather. The plot twists had a much greater payoff in the end and I was left more satisfied throughout The Godfather.  

Film Classics

Even though I believe that The Godfather is better than Goodfellas, that doesn’t mean that Goodfellas is a bad movie. I think that if you’re a lover of mafia movies, or even if you like movies that contain consistent action, then Goodfellas is a film for you. That being said, if you’re even considering watching either of these films you should go for it. 

Neither of them will be a waste of time, and instead I believe that you’ll be hooked from the second you start watching. But, before you go into the films you should know that The Godfather does take more time to get to some action if that’s what you’re looking for. The opening scene of Goodfellas, however, drags the audience right into the mafia world.

Now, to leave you with one final thought. 

Pop Culture References 

Most of society tends to agree with me that The Godfather is superior. The Godfather is referenced in tons of media throughout society. 

Example A: Zootopia. In it, the character “Mr. Big” (the best character in the movie) is literally a parody of Marlon Brando’s character, Vito. The scene is a total copy of the first sequence in The Godfather, on Connie’s wedding day. Mr. Big even has the same voice as Marlon Brando, and his daughter is getting married just like Vito’s daughter is in The Godfather. This is especially entertaining for film fans because even a kid’s movie has some hidden gems within it. 

Example B: Moonrise Kingdom. In it, one of the scout leaders, Jason Schwartzman, has the line, “Take the carbon, leave the Bible.” This is a huge reference to one of the many famous lines from The Godfather, being “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” On top of that, the actor Jason Schwartzman who says that line has an ever greater connection to The Godfather because his mother, Talia Shire, played Connie, Vito’s daughter in The Godfather

So, there you go. The correct answer to the question of which movie is worthy of the title of the best mafia movie: The Godfather just makes an offer that you can’t refuse.

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Fast-Paced, Comedic, Scorsese: “Goodfellas” is so much better.

Another day, another argument with Saige. Again, she is choosing the popular side of the opinion as opposed to forming an opinion not based on the majority. 

In no way am I trying to say that The Godfather is a bad movie. I believe that the last scene is the best scene in all of film; the acting is amazing. It totally deserved the Oscar for Best Picture.

However, Goodfellas is the biggest Oscar blunder in history. This movie has a stacked cast, an acclaimed director, and amazing reviews. It lost to Dances to Wolves of all movies. Saige may choose to hide behind Oscar wins, AFI lists, and Rotten Tomato scores, but I think that it’s important to look beyond the statistics. 

Furthermore, Goodfellas was directed by Martin Scoresece–an amazing, highly reputable director. Can you name another movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the director of The Godfather? Exactly, you can’t. 

Other notable movies Scoresece has done include Taxi Driver, The Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street, just to name a few. Francis Ford Coppola directed The Outsiders, which was required viewing in eighth grade. That’s it. That’s sad. 

The soundtrack for Goodfellas totally slaps. It does such a good job of setting the mood for the scene and time period. The Godfather soundtrack consists of “The Godfather theme” and then variations of said theme. That’s it. In using culturally relevant music specific, Goodfellas make for a more compelling viewing experience. It’s also just really fun when you are watching a movie and they play a song that you know. It can engage you more in the story and make you understand the movie better. 

You will  never be bored when watching Goodfellas. The fast pace of the plot keeps you glued to the screen. The Godfather, however, is another story. The wedding scene in the beginning drags on and on and seems like it’s never going to end. Saige argues that the buildup creates a better payoff for the explosive end scene. But for me, it was like something was finally happening after they had talked about it so much. 

But in Goodfellas, the backstory of Henry Hill, the main protagonist, is cleared up in the first twenty to thirty minutes. They don’t need a whole other movie to clear up his childhood (looking at you, Godfather Part II). 

It can be really stressful to watch a movie that isn’t funny. The Godfather is not funny in the slightest, nor is it supposed to be. It isn’t inherently bad that it lacks humor, but it can create a tense viewing experience for the entire two hour and fifty five minute run-time. Goodfellas manages to seamlessly tie in humor with the seriousness of mob life. The characters are funny without trying to be funny, which makes it more entertaining and natural. Joe Pesci, who plays Tommy Devito, one of the antagonists in Goodfellas, is a talented actor who can play both funny and serious characters (think Home Alone: Harry Lime). 

These effortless pockets of humor are what make Goodfellas excel where The Godfather falls short.”

— Kenna McBean

These effortless pockets of humor are what make Goodfellas excel where The Godfather falls short. It is not very rewatchable because it is like a slow train to the climax the entire time. There is nothing funny to relieve the viewer of all the tragedies being thrown at them left and right. 

Both of these movies are very accomplished and excellent, with The Godfather being a good jumping off point for Goodfellas. However, if you want a movie that is fast-paced, action packed, tragic, comedic, romantic, and life-changing, then you should watch Goodfellas. Then, if you want to officially call yourself a movie person, watch The Godfather (but mostly to avoid judgement from Saige).


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