On Tuesday evening March 14, 1972, the world premiere of The Godfather was held at Loews State Theatre in New York. By the following Friday, distribution had expanded to 316 theatres nationwide and the film was on its way to becoming the top grossing movie in history (at the time) returning $285M on a production budget of $6M. Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster epic was based on the best-selling 1969 novel by Mario Puzo, and his film adaptation was praised universally, particularly for the performances of Marlon Brando as mafia crime boss Vito Corleone and Al Pacino as Michael, Vito’s son and eventual heir to the family business. It won five Golden Globes – a record until 2017 – and three Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay (adapted) and Best Actor for Marlon Brando, who chose not to appear at the ceremony to accept his award, marking an early example of what has become a tradition of actors to leverage the spotlight of winning an award to highlight social injustice – in Brando’s case, Hollywood’s stereotyped portrayal of Native Americans. The Godfather’s combination of critical acclaim and financial success, together with The Godfather Part II in 1974, cemented the mafia epic as a very respectable Hollywood genre, paying box office dividends ever since.
“The Godfather brought in the era of the blockbusters, where they’re looking for the $100 million movie, the home run, the tent-pole attraction to build a schedule on. This had never happened before.” – Al Ruddy, Producer