Al Pacino was offered $5 million but wanted $7 million plus profits from gross to reprise his role as Michael. Francis Ford Coppola refused and threatened to rewrite the script by starting off with Michael's funeral sequence instead of the film's introduction. Pacino agreed to the $5-million offer.
Robert Duvall turned down the $1 million the studio offered to recreate his role of Tom Hagen. Duvall did not feel that his proposed salary was commensurate with what co-stars Al Pacino and Diane Keaton were getting ($5 million and $1.5 million respectively). The character was subsequently written out. Duvall later defended his position on the grounds that the only reason why anyone wanted to make another Godfather picture after so many years was to make money.
Francis Ford Coppola once admitted that he was still unhappy over the final result because of lack of time on working with the script. According to him, he wanted $6 million for the writer, producer, director fee with six months work on the scriptwriting. The studio instead gave him only $1 million in fees and six weeks to work on the script, in order to meet the Christmas 1990 release. He also regretted that the character of Tom Hagen had to be written out of the script because the studio refused to meet Robert Duvall's financial demands; according to Coppola, with Hagen gone, an essential character and counterpart for Michael Corleone was missing from the movie.
Because of the popularity of the two earlier Godfather movies, Frank Sinatra reversed his anti-Godfather stance and expressed interest in playing Don Altobello. He lost interest because of the size of the paycheck for the role, and it went to Eli Wallach. Sinatra got his role in From Here to Eternity (1953) when Wallach backed out because of the low pay for that movie.
Every movie from The Godfather trilogy (1972-1990) begins with a lavish celebration of some kind, with the first one being Connie's wedding, the second for Anthony's First Communion, the third in honor of Michael's award from Pope Paul VI.
For her widely panned performance in this film, Sofia Coppola not only "won" two Razzie Awards (for Worst Supporting Actress and Worst New Star) but also set a new record for the percentage of votes received by any actor up to that point in Golden Raspberry Awards history. In a field of five contenders, she took over 65% of Razzie members' votes in both categories.
Rebecca Schaeffer was in the running to play Mary Corleone, but she was tragically murdered on the morning of her audition. Winona Ryder was later cast in the part, which she was ultimately replaced by Sofia Coppola.
Paramount tried to go ahead with the film for many years without Francis Ford Coppola, who had refused to make another sequel. About twelve scripts were written. Most of the scripts included the Corleone family being led by Michael's son Anthony, battling the CIA, Fidel Castro's Cuban government, or South American drug cartels. A 1978 draft by Mario Puzo dealt with Anthony Corleone being recruited by the CIA to assassinate a Latin American dictator. Dean Riesner also wrote a draft based on Puzo's ideas. Drafts were also written by Paramount producers Michael Eisner and Don Simpson. The film was scheduled for a Christmas 1980 release date. These scripts were discarded when Coppola decided to work on the script with Puzo. But Coppola eventually abandoned the project. Puzo wrote another script in 1986 with producer Nicholas Gage that featured Sonny Corleone's illegitimate son Vincent Mancini while showing the early life of the young Sonny Corleone. Paramount considered Sidney Lumet, Costa-Gavras, Alan J. Pakula, Robert Benton, Michael Cimino and Michael Mann to direct. At one point, they were even close to signing Sylvester Stallone to direct and star in the film.
Sofia Coppola had to loop about 20% of her original dialogue for the final cut after a disastrous early screening for the New York press on December 12, 1990, where many of the critics acrimoniously singled out her performance. According to an interview in Entertainment Weekly the following month, she said her greatest vocal challenges for the role were eschewing her "Valley Girl" accent and correctly pronouncing the name "Corleone."
Al Pacino and Diane Keaton had dated on and off for several years after making the first film together, ultimately breaking up for good when Keaton wanted a serious long-term relationship and Pacino did not. This led to some friction when they first arrived on the set. Like their characters, they were able to get past the issues in their past. In real life, however, it involved Keaton traveling back to New York with Pacino for the funeral of his grandmother, who had died during production.
After the argument between Michael Corleone and the members of the Vatican, he leaves the building, saying, "We're back with the Borgias". Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather (1972), later wrote a book about the Borgias called 'The Family'. It was later revealed, during the broadcast of the television series The Borgias (2011), that the Borgias were the original inspiration for the Corleones. Vito was based on Rodrigo Borgia, AKA Pope Alexander VI. Michael was based on Cesare Borgia, Santino on Juan Borgia, Fredo on Gioffre Borgia, and Connie on Lucrezia Borgia.
Early in the film, Joey Zasa presents Michael Corleone with the "Italian of the Year" award, for which he personally recommended him. This is reference to James Caan, who is Jewish, receiving the actual award in 1973 for his portrayal of Santino "Sonny" Corleone in the original film.
Francis Ford Coppola did this movie as part of dealing with his personal and studio financial problems. Paramount approved this film with a $56 million budget under strict conditions that he was given $1 million for the writer-producer-director fee, the final cut of the film must not be less than 140 minutes and any additional expenses would not be covered by the studio.
The initial draft for this film had Tom Hagen in it. Robert Duvall wanted $5 million to reprise this role. Paramount Studios turned him down and the part was recast and altered for George Hamilton to play the new Hagen-like character, lawyer B.J. Harrison. A line of dialogue was inserted that explained Hagen had died years before.
When Winona Ryder withdrew from the film, Laura San Giacomo and Linda Fiorentino were both considered for the role of Mary Corleone before Francis Ford Coppola decided his daughter Sofia should play the part, even rewriting the script for the part to match Sofia's age (in the original draft the character was more than 5 years older). Sofia Coppola, only 19, expressed apprehension at playing the role, as she was attending college at the time and had only limited experience as an actress, but nonetheless bowed to her father's request as production was already falling behind schedule.
Sophia Coppola is in fact the third member of Francis Ford Coppola to play a part in the series. Each time Coppola has done this, the cast member has had the same relationship to Michael on-screen as they have to Coppola off-screen. Talia Shire, Francis's sister, plays Michael's sister. Italia Coppola, Francis's mother, played Mama Corleone during the funeral scene in The Godfather: Part II (1974). Sofia Coppola plays Michael's daughter. In addition, Diane Keaton has said that she based her performance as Kay on Eleanor Coppola, since they are both Protestants who married into a large Catholic family.
Joe Spinell, who played Willi Cicci in The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974), was to have reprised his role but died before production was to begin. An earlier version of the script had Cicci working for new characters, the Russo Brothers. The three characters were eventually combined into Joey Zasa.
Winona Ryder's departure of the film created a major fuss on set and in the media. Ryder did actually arrive on set to perform the part of Mary Malone, but ultimately backed out. She arrived on set in Rome, two days after completing work on Mermaids (1990) in Massachusetts, but passed out immediately in her hotel room upon arrival and was eventually examined with over-exhaustion. Following her departure of the film, several headlines were created about the exit, either claiming that she was pregnant, that she had a nervous breakdown, that drugs were involved, that her then-boyfriend Johnny Depp was having an affair and making her crazy, or that Depp talked her out of doing the film so that she could appear in Edward Scissorhands (1990). On set, Ryder's replacement of the untested Sofia Coppola was a divisive choice among the cast of the film and more than one name player reportedly threatened to quit the movie. Meanwhile, Ryder, still recovering from exhaustion, was threatened with lawsuits from several parties, such as Paramount Pictures. However, Ryder met a lot of support and empathy from the cast including Diane Keaton and Al Pacino, who both checked in on her well-being many times throughout several weeks.
Michael tells Vincent to "never let anyone know what you're thinking." His father Vito told Vincent's father Sonny the same thing in The Godfather (1972). In that case, though, the positions are reversed: Sonny wanted to do business with Sollozzo, which Vito refused to do. Vincent wants to strike back against Joey Zaza, while Michael encourages diplomacy.
Even during filming, Sofia Coppola was acutely aware of the battering she was getting in the press for being the director's daughter in a choice part. She found it to be very distracting and upsetting when she was trying hard to concentrate on acting.
At the reception, after the opening ceremony, Vincent bites Zasa's ear. Much later, in the opera house, during Anthony's performance (in "Cavalleria Rusticana" by Pietro Mascagni), he is very amused to see the scene with Turiddu biting Alfio's ear. It is not random: biting ear and drawing blood stands for fighting to the death, according to Sicillian custom.
Al Pacino stated that he did not agree with the portrayal of Michael in the film. He didn't believe that Michael would ever feel regret or remorse for his actions, especially the murder of his brother.
Corrado Gaipa, who played Don Tommasino, was to reprise his role but died before production began. Coppola, working on the assumption that no one would remember Gaipa's character, hired another actor, Vittorio Duse, to play Don Tommasino.
Eccentric character actor, Timothy Carey (who had turned down roles in both of the previous films) desired to play the role of Don Altobello. Coppola, however, was skeptical, convinced that Carey was too young-looking to play the part. Carey, undaunted, had an elaborate screen test filmed, in which he had colored his hair white and powdered his face to appear older, and had even gotten access to the Hilton Hotel. Coppola was apparently impressed and considered Carey for the part, but shortly thereafter, Carey suffered a serious stroke that put him out of the running.
Unlike the previous two films, Al Pacino was not nominated for an Oscar for his performance in this one. However, as with the first film, he found himself competing with a cast mate at Oscar time. Previously, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, as were Robert Duvall and James Caan. For this film, Andy Garcia was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, just as his on-screen father James Caan had been. Pacino was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Dick Tracy (1990), a role which re-united him with James Caan.
The movie would originally open with the scene of Michael talking business with the Vatican cardinal. It eventually opened with a Michael voice-over, and the original opening scene was pushed back to much later in the movie. The unedited version (where the two characters discuss Emperor Constantine) is seen on a DVD extra.
Contrary to some advertisements, this is the only film in the trilogy that did not receive an extensive remaster as part of American Zoetrope's "Francis Ford Coppola Restoration" in 2008. Instead, a more traditional remaster was performed; most likely due to the film's then-recent vintage not requiring meticulous effort.
Charlie Bludhorn, to whom the movie is dedicated, was the founder of Gulf+Western, which had acquired Paramount in 1966. He tried to keep the studio afloat after the disastrous failure of "Darling Lili" by making some shady transactions with the Italian firm Societa Generale Immobiliare International (SGI).
The movie unites Al Pacino and Joe Mantegna, who share a role in common. Both have played Ricky Roma in different versions of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. Mantegna originated the role in the Broadway play (1984) while Pacino played the role in the film version Glengarry Glen Ross (1992).
The first song played by the band at Michael Corleone's party following the church ceremony is "Cuban Rhapsody," the same melody sung by "Yolanda," the entertainer in the New Year's Eve nightclub scene in The Godfather: Part II (1974).
Joey Zaza, who takes over the Corleone Family's New York operations, was modeled after Gambino Family boss John Gotti. In real life, Gotti lead the coup against the previous boss, Paul Castellano, the real-life uncle of The Godfather (1972) cast member Richard Castellano. In the story, Clemenza's character, Pete Clemenza, is the first heir to the Corleone operations in New York.
Madonna lobbied for the role of Mary Corleone, even meeting with Francis Ford Coppola and Robert De Niro. It was decided that she was too old for the role. She was offered the role of Grace Hamilton, but she wanted too much money for such a small part.
When Michael and his daughter, Mary, pick up Kay, Mary turns around to take a picture of her parents, facing the camera, and says "Hey Dad, smile!", meaning, of course, Michael. Behind the camera is Francis Ford Coppola, the director, who is the father of the actress Sofia Coppola, playing Mary.
Eli Wallach was previously considered for the part of Maggio in From Here to Eternity (1953), but turned it down, leading to the part going to Frank Sinatra. Legend has it that Sinatra used mob ties to get the part, which inspired the Johnny Fontaine sub-plot in the original The Godfather (1972).
When Michael and the rest of the family arrives in Sicily, a group of local citizens is holding up a banner greeting 'Commendatore Michael Corleone' on either side of the name appears the hammer and sickle of the Italian Communist Party.
When Joey Zasa is making his campaign to the community, he argues that Italians shouldn't be viewed as gangsters and, while praising them, he mentions that Don Ameche played an Italian telephone pioneer in an old movie. Joe Mantegna, who plays Zasa, appeared as a small-time gangster in Things Change (1988) along with Ameche.
The opening shot of the Sicilian section bearing the caption 'Bagheria, Sicily' was shot on the road below the temple at Segesta, 60km away from Bagheria and on no possible approach route. In the intervening 25 years the area has been fenced and the verges are grown but it it still possible to stand on the side of the road exactly where the camera's point of view would have been.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In a March 2010 interview, Andy Garcia revealed that Francis Ford Coppola had informally planned a fourth Godfather film. Much like The Godfather: Part II (1974), the film would follow a parallel narrative in different eras, with one story focusing on Garcia's character, Vincent, leading the Family into the modern era, and the other story following the youth of Vincent's father, Sonny, with Leonardo DiCaprio tipped as Coppola's first choice for the role. Coppola, along with Mario Puzo began work on the story, though Puzo's death cut short the development. Coppola didn't wish to continue without Puzo's involvement, so the project was abandoned. Paramount studios, however, has considered proceeding with a fourth film without Puzo, or even Coppola's involvement (possibly based on the Godfather novels by Mark Winegardner), though as of 2010, no official plans for a fourth film exist.
Originally, the script was to center around Tom and Michael. Tom was going to be an informant. When Robert Duvall got the script he realized his character was the second lead, yet the studio was offering the same amount of money as he received for the last film (around 1/9th the money all the other principals received). Duvall counteroffered through Francis Ford Coppola to Paramount. Paramount denied offering more money and told Coppola to re-write the script without Tom. This version was the only one to feature Michael dying in a car accident at the end of the film.
According to Francis Ford Coppola, the original script had a different ending in which Michael and Kay reconciled together after the opera sequence. It dissolves to a church service sequence in which a gunman guns down Michael before getting shot and it ends with Michael lying to Kay for the last time before he dies. Coppola later decided against that and opted for the ending in the film with the gunman element from the original ending retained. The ending which was filmed was inspired by a real-life incident in which sound designer Richard Beggs lost his daughter to that similar circumstance.
The presence of oranges in all three "Godfather" movies indicates that a death or an assassination attempt will soon happen: Don Vito places a slice of orange peel over his teeth to frighten young Anrhony in the Godfather. Michael sucks on an orange in Part II while planning Hyman Roth's assassination. Don Altobello tosses a kid an orange just before ordering Michael's assassination. An orange rolls over the table just before the helicopter attack. Michael and Altobello are both seen drinking orange juice. Michael Corleone dies with an orange in his hand.
Originally, Calo was to kill Don Lucchesi by snapping his neck and this was filmed. However, Francis Ford Coppola did not like how it looked and decided to change it to a very bloody death, inspired by Akira Kurosawa's films. The blood spurt from Lucchesi's neck originally earned the film an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, so a few seconds were deleted in order to garner an R rating. Although unused in the film, a clip of Calo snapping Lucchesi's neck was included in the film's official trailer.
The character of Joey Zasa was based on two mob kingpins of the 1960s and early 1970s. One was Joe Columbo, who organized the Italian-American Civil Rights League, which was supposedly a civil rights organization but was actually intended to stop FBI investigations into mob activities. Colombo embarrassed others in the Cosa Nostra by keeping a high public profile and enraged Mafia bigwigs when they discovered he was making a fortune from the organization and not sharing any of the money with them. He was shot in New York's Columbus Circle (though he didn't die until several years later) during a rally by his organization. The hitman, a black gangster, was immediately shot and killed by "person or persons unknown", according to police reports. The other is Joe Gallo, who organized the hit on Colombo, was known (and reviled by other mobsters) for recruiting blacks and Hispanics into his crew and hung out with several Hollywood and Broadway celebrities, including actor Jerry Orbach.
Francis Ford Coppola lobbied intensely for the film to be called 'The Death of Michael Corleone' rather than 'The Godfather Part III' but in the end was overruled by the studio. However, when the film was released on DVD, the penultimate chapter was called 'The Death of Michael Corleone'.
Most of the rogue characters are based on the key players of the 30-Day Pope conspiracy during Pope John Paul I's brief reign. Kenzig the banker was based on Roberto Calvi, managing director of the Bank of Milan who was found hanged in London in June 19, 1982. He was accused by Italian authorities of being involved in the disappearance of Vatican funds amounting to $1.25 billion. Lucchesi was based on Giulio Andreotti, an Italian politician and former Prime Minister. Gilday was based on Paul Marcinkus, a one-time director of the Vatican Bank who to this day has remained silent about the conspiracy.
The movie provides a fictional explanation for several events surrounding the real-life scandals of the Vatican Bank, from 1978 to 1982. Most notably, the film depicts the alleged murder of Pope John Paul I, who was found dead sitting up in his bed on September 29, 1978, only 33 days after assuming the papacy. Journalist David Yallop has speculated that John Paul I died after drinking poisoned tea (as depicted in the film), the victim of a conspiracy by archbishops and cardinals who were fearful of the new pope's planned reforms for the Vatican Bank (the character of Archbishop Gilday is based on Paul Marcinkus, a Chicago-born archbishop who was the head of the Vatican Bank at the time). Also in the film, the murder of the Swiss banker Frederick Keinszig mirrors the real-life death of Italian banker Roberto Calvi, president of the Banco Ambrosiano. In 1982 the bank--which had strong ties to both the Vatican Bank and the Sicilian Mafia--collapsed largely due to Calvi's shady international money exchanges. On June 18, 1982, Calvi (who had fled Italy to escape indictment) was found hanging from the Blackfriar's Bridge in London, with $15,000 in various currencies in his pocket. His death was first ruled a suicide, then later a murder. In 2005 five people--including two Sicilian gangsters--were indicted for Calvi's murder, but all were acquitted in 2007. Additionally in the film, the Sicilian Don Licio Lucchesi is a loose caricature of former Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, who had ties to the Sicilian Mafia early in his career but who later turned on them. With Lucchesi's thick glasses and ever-present bodyguard, the caricature of Andreotti would be very recognizable to Italian audiences.