AFI film school #23: The Godfather— Why it's objectively the best movie ever


You could safely say that The Beatles are the greatest band of all time, and it would be hard to argue against. They’re as influential as anyone, they have the most #1 hits, they’ve made five albums that all fill critics top ten lists, they have a wide range of music from simple songs to complex one. Basically any category that a band could dominate in, they do so.

But could the same be said for any movie? While there are thousands of great ones, there’s not one that most people will agree is the best. Sure, Citizen Kane has topped the most lists, but for every person who says it’s the best, there’s someone else who says it’s not. And I don’t know anyone who lists it as their favorite.

I think when determining the best movie ever made, we can turn to another, and you guessed it, it’s the topic of this week’s discussion.

I do realize how ridiculous it is to try to quantify greatness, but the only thing we can do is look at all the qualities that people usually use to determine it, and see how well a movie stacks-up.

Usually with each film on this list, I discuss what makes the movie so good, but this has been done countlessly with this one. Instead, I am simply going to make a case for why The Godfather is the best movie ever made. Definitively.

So here we are (I’m following along with the order of the podcast you can’t refuse, Unspooled) with the 1973 classic, written by Mario Puzo and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

The Checklist

Since the “best” is so subjective and can be determined by so many different things, here is a checklist of everything that could define it,  and how the Godfather destroys in every category. 

Amazing Story -- Epic. A huge story that spans generations. It dives into a fascinating topic (the Mafia) while still being relateable (we all know family drama).

Solid themes -- The theme is the backbone of a film, so it has to speak to something important in life. The main theme here is “the loss of our humanity can lead to great evil,” as evidenced by Michael’s transformation throughout the film, especially in his last scene with Kay. This is a topic I think everyone can agree is important.

Great characters -- Sometimes one iconic character is enough to make a film great, but this movie has a huge ensemble cast, ALL of them iconic characters: Vito, Sonny, Kay, Michael, Fredo, Connie, Tom, Clamenza, Tessio, Luca Brasi, etc, etc, etc.


Flawless technique -- Can you have much better acting? Or cinematography? Or direction? Or music?

Gives the feels -- The Godfather contains emotions from every part of the feelingl continuum: drama (most of the whole film), comedy (anything with Sonny, Fredo, or Clamenza), tension (that restaurant scene!), sadness (Vito reacting to his son’s death), romance/ sex (Michael with Kay/ Apollonia), surprise (Carlo’s setup against Sonny), joy (Vito’s lighter moments), nostalgia (remembering what Michael was in comparison to what has become) and awe (that baptism/ hit on the five family scene!). Truly great films are comfortable in comedy, drama, and art, and this one really is the master at all three.


Entertaining--See all of the reasons above

Recognized -- Countless awards in all categories (including the Oscar for best picture), top 3 placement in both AFI Top 100 Lists, #2 placement in the IMDB top 250 list, 98% in both Critics and Audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Yeah, this movie has done ok for itself.

Influential -- The Godfather has influenced hundreds of films and TV shows, most notably Goodfellas (often considered the best film of the 90’s), Sopranos and Breaking Bad (often considered two of the best shows ever made).


Innovative -- From the screenplay to the music to things Gordon Wilson did behind the camera to the montages, The Godfather did lots of firsts. If you’re a film student, you’re going to be studying this one A LOT.

Memorable -- Does this film have lots of famous scenes that are still parodied and referenced all of the time? The favor at the wedding day, horse head in the bed, “leave the gun, take the cannoli,” Sonny’s death, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,” the baptism scene, the closing shot, the music. Those are just a few of the many Godfather moments we’ve seen again and again, depicted in other media.


Holds Up -- The movie works just as well today as it did then. Partly because of the smart choice to make it a period piece, everything feels as though it could work as a current Netflix (or Cideshow) series.

Lots of people’s favorite -- If you ask people their favorite movies (which I’ve done maybe TOO much) this will come up again and again. Its high popularity on any movie fan site is indicative of this.

Spawns more awesomeness -- The Godfather 2 exists only because of The Godfather 1. We won’t ding it because of The Godfather 3. It doesn’t make any of the other two any less fantastic.


As you can see, by anyone’s measurement of what makes a movie great, The Godfather passes in flying colors. This is something that can’t be said for any other movie, not even Citizen Kane, which lacks in the “lots of people's favorites” category, is not quite as entertaining, and did not spawn an equally great Citizen Kane 2 film.

So maybe The Godfather doesn’t dominate quite as much as John, Paul, George, and Ringo did--I don’t see any screaming fans fainting when Tessio comes out (although maybe Johnny Fontane can do it), but it’s the movie that comes as close to doing it.

So on the next AFI list, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a new Don on top. RIP Don Charles Foster Kane.

Thanks for reading!

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