Makin' a List You Can't Refuse: 25 Best Characters from 'The Godfather' Films

"I believe in America. America has made my fortune." 

The opening line of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (based, of course, on Mario Puzo's novel of the same title), is one of the best ways any movie has ever started. Hell, that movie is one of the greatest of all time, and Part II is quite possibly even better. 

But like all sequels, somewhere along the line you make a terrible mistake. No franchise is safe. Not Star Wars, not Jurassic Park-- no franchise has ever prolonged or expanded upon their story entirely unscathed. 

But let's not pretend like this is something you don't already know. Let's move on. Let's acknowledge cinematic missteps and get over it already, save for one last reflection on one more horrible mistake. 

December 25th marks 25 years since one of the biggest blunders in cinematic history: The Godfather Part III

It most certainly didn't need to be made. We were good with Fredo dying in Part II. Sure, there was room for some kind of conclusion, but bringing Andy Garcia into the mix isn't exactly what you want to do. 

To be fair, there are still some relatively cool scenes: Joey Zasa's helicopter shooting (an attempt to inject some mafioso excitement into what many perceive as a "boring" franchise), Joey Zasa's death, the attempted hit on Vincent Mancini, even one of the last scenes at the opera house. Very little of this movie actually works. 

In honor of one of the worst conclusions to two of the all-time greatest films ever made, we're ranking the 25 best characters from the series; one for each year we've had to deal with the fact that it ended the way it did. 

Criteria for ranking? Family, above all else. That's mostly a given. Except for Mary and Anthony. They don't count. Sure, Anthony drew a cute picture, but his story was weak. As for Mary? She's kind of creepy. She instigates incest. That's gross. 

Villains get favorable consideration here, but quotability is the major draw. That's all that matters in life. Can you put them in a scene and recite what they say at any given moment almost word for word? Good. They're on the list. Read on. 

25. Apollonia

Poor Apollonia. 

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday-- do we need to go on here? It's sad enough that she died. She was beautiful. Imagine their kids.


We're willing to bet that any kid of Michael and Apollonia's wouldn't have fallen in love with their half-cousin. She had maybe ten minutes of screen time, but she stole our hearts right away. RIP. 

24. Johnny Fontane

You can act like a man! 

Oh, Johnny. One of the few good things to come of Part III? Johnny Fontane. It's like they started doing all kinds of fan service and then when the script said: Mary hits on Vincent at party and they were like, "You know what? Eff it." 

Good to see Johnny Fontane one last time. 

23. Luca Brasi

Poor, poor Luca. He didn't get enough time on this Earth. 

But because of Luca we learned what true Sicilian messages are. You know, sleepin' with the fishes. 

22. Don Fanucci

What kind of man steals from his own people? 

One of the reasons Part II is so great is because it's got two compelling villains: Fanucci and Hyman Roth. This scene though? Top three of the entire film. 

21. Senator Geary

What a piece of work. He's economical, though. He gets what, three, maybe four scenes total? 

Each one is great. There's no wasted space with him. Every line is perfectly delivered. He's one of the unsung villains of the film, but he's not big enough to tap into the top 20. 

20. Busetta 

You probably never knew his name before you read this, right?

Top 20? Absolutely. Why? Do you remember the scene in Cuba with Hyman Roth where they're eating the cake? Re-watch that scene. He's so uncomfortable! 

Why did he wear a black turtleneck to Cuba?! Didn't Mike think, "Dress for the weather!" If not, why not? Doesn't he care? 

19. Joey Zasa

First inclination is to totally hate Joey Zasa. It makes sense. You're not wrong. He says stupid, goofy things. This line is pretty cool, and even if it's completely out of line with everything The Godfather is about, the helicopter scene is kind of sort of cool. 

Where he gets docked real cool points? That stupid scene where he interrupts Connie and Johnny Fontane singing. It's stupid. Really. 

18. Kay

Stay with us here. Aside from this scene and the scene at the end of Part I, Kay's pretty annoying. Not only is her presence annoying, but the fact that her thread in Part III is essentially what derails that movie. 

Nobody cares about her and Michael. She had an abortion. We don't want to see any attempt at that bridge being rebuilt. Way to go, Kay. You ruined the film. 

17. Carlo Rizzi

Piece of you-know-what. He comes in at #18 because of what we benefited from as an audience. He didn't really do anything great on screen (except for getting hit below the belt with a set of poker chips and still walking forward), but great things happened to him. 

Michael delivers one of the greatest lines in the first film: "Don't tell me you're innocent."


Sonny beats the living crap out of him. 

Finally, when he dies and kicks out the windshield. Perfection. Scum of the Earth? Absolutely. Some of the greatest scenes in the first film built around him? Yep. RIP, you Barzini rat bastard. 

16. Mosca of Montelerpe

He gets point for taking Mary out of the game. This is how you ruin movies. Whoever said, "Hey, let's have her say, 'Dad' right as she falls down!" should have lost their job. 

Mosca though, also kills Don Tommasino (honorable mention). Oh, who's Tommasino? He's the dude in the wheelchair in Part I. He helps hide Michael in Sicily. Not only that, but he's with Vito in Part II when they exact revenge on Don Ciccio. He gets lit up with a shotgun blast. That's why he's in the wheelchair. 


15. Mama Corleone

"You go see your children, then you worry about waiting on line!"

Oh, mama. She doesn't get a lot of screen time, but she's crucial. It's only after she dies that Fredo can die. So, yeah, it's sh*tty that we have to wait for her to die for Fredo to get what he deserves, but such is life. 


Also, remember Connie's wedding? Such a beautiful singer. She's the mama everyone deserves. 

14. Moe Greene

Quotability does this ranking justice. He has two scenes, one of which is where he gets shot in the eye. Big deal? 

Ummm... have you ever seen another character get shot in the eye?! 


Also, "I'm Moe Greene!" Two of the coolest lines in the movies are about Moe Greene. You get props for being talked about. Just ask Carlo Rizzi. 

"Mike, you don't talk to a man like Moe Greene like that!"The other? We'll talk about that later. 

13. Jack Woltz

This is far and away the most memorable scene of The Godfather movies, and it's quite possibly one of the most memorable scene of any movie ever made. 

Jack Woltz isn't exactly scum. His anger with Johnny Fontane is absolutely warranted. All he did was assert himself. He wasn't going to be threatened. He ain't no band leader. 

But if history has taught us anything, anyone (and anything) can be killed. 

12. Vincent 

He's one of the most unbalanced characters of all time. It's like he has this weird epiphany and dramatically changes the way he views the world he's interacting with. 

He goes from loose-cannon hothead to, "Yeah, now I'm in charge of the family. Let me get stoic with it." Why? It doesn't make sense? 

Let's not forget that he's boning his cousin! The scene where they make pasta is one of the most uncomfortable things you'll ever see. It's weird. 

All of that said, remember the home invaders he kills? Remember this whole scene where they masterfully kill Joey Zasa in a very fan-servicey sort of way (not totally unlike the way Vito kills Fanucci in Part II)? He has his moments, and he's fun to watch most of the time. 

Also, family. Family matters. 

11. Clemenza

Quotability: How to make a good sauce. Cannolis. How to talk to women. How to steal a rug. How to shoot a guy at dinner. How to dispose of a rat. All of that. Golden. 

Fragments aside, Clemenza is perfect. Even if we only see him in the first film, his presence is sorely missed in the sequels.  

10. Pentangeli

If you didn't know he'd lead off the top 10, well, you don't have the same appreciation for Part II that we do. From beginning to end, Frank Pentangeli is the most watchable presence in Part II. Sure, Michael, Fredo, and Young Vito are spectacular. 

But it's Frank Pentangeli that makes this movie. His court room performance is on point, his drunk dancing at the communion party is even better, and he lives in Don Corleone's old house! How much more significant can you get? 

9. Solozzo

Okay, so remember when we said the horse head scene was the most memorable of any movie ever? The Bronx Italian eatery is a painfully close second. 

Solozzo is a good villain. Like we said, villains are considered very favorably. He's the impetus for the discussion of whether something is personal or strictly business. Without this attack on The Don, we don't know what is what. 

"I am the hunted one!" See? Quotability. Solozzo's got it all. 


8. Hyman Roth

This is the business we've chosen. Such an underrated performance. Granted, Part II is all about Robert De Niro and Al Pacino putting on incredible performances, but from top to bottom, there isn't a bad performance in this entire movie. 

Hyman Roth is a great villain-- hell, he's one of the greatest of all time. To dig deeper, Lee Strasberg wasn't a big name actor. He was a teacher known mostly for "The Method." Part II came out in '74, and Strasberg died 8 years later. There isn't anyone quite like that anymore. 


You don't just dip out of the classroom and onto the set of one of the greatest movies of all time so seamlessly. Strasberg did exactly that. Salud. 

7. Connie

Family matters, sure, but Connie's great. The fights she has with Carlo, the awful transformation-- "Because I need money!" --even in Part III  when she adopts the maternal instincts she never had with her kids (which, where are they in Part III? What happens with those kids?!), it works. All of it. 

Also, Talia Shire is just perfect, and she was on a roll: 1972--The Godfather, 1974--The Godfather Part II, 1976-- Rocky. That's a pretty mean streak. She hasn't done too much since then, but that's an iconic roll in the best possible. 

6. Fredo

Quote. A. Bility. Fredo Corleone is a large part of the reason why Part II is so incredible. It repositioned what family meant in the context of a different family. But a rat is a rat is a rat is a rat. Also, a pretty heartbreaking moment when baby Fredo is so effing sick back in the day. 

Most importantly, his character transcended the medium. Anytime there's a rat or a tattle-tale, they're a Fredo. 

Okay, so more importantly, John Cazale. For the most part we've kept the actors out of their rankings. Connie's an important part of that, and if we dug into Kay's awful ranking, we'd rationalize kicking Diane Keaton out of the top 25 altogether (she had a solid run of just godawful rom-coms). 

But John Cazale left us far too early. He made The Conversation (great Coppola movie with Gene Hackman and Harrison Ford), two Godfather movies, Dog Day Afternoon (great movie), and The Deer Hunter, after which he died of cancer. 

It's one of the more tragic stories out of Hollywood, but it goes without saying how great a character Fredo was. 

5. Tom Hagen

It's not personal! The hit on your father wasn't personal! 

We're torn on this one. Fredo might deserve the top 5 nod here, but a rat is a rat is a rat is a rat. You had to feel bad for Tom. Maybe he wasn't a wartime consigliere, but he was a damn good lawyer. 

Everything he had to do was heartbreaking: he had to go to Woltz which ultimately ended in the death of Woltz's prized horse; he was kidnapped by Solozzo; he had to get a drink before telling his Don that Sonny was dead; he had to back out of the business-- "Mike, why am I out?" --he got shorted. 

But he was a good man. Even after Michael had to keep things from him, Tom stood by. Robert Duvall turned in one hell of a performance. How could you possibly speak ill of Tom Hagen?

4. Sonny

Um. Duh. 

Was there any doubt? James Caan. Absolutely kills it. Like, how much do we need to say here? Do we need to justify this selection? Is it too high? Is it too low? No.

This is exactly where he belongs, but that's as long as you can accept what we're about to do with the top 3. 

3. Vito Corleone

Robert De Niro's best performance ever? No. He's great. He's just as great as Marlon Brando though while still adding his own incomparable flourishes to the character. 

He's not big with the quotability, but his presence in every scene is the real value here. It's the gravitas you recognized from Marlon Brando's Don Corleone, but it's more natural because it isn't owed by position. It's through De Niro you accept the seriousness of Brando as The Godfather. 

2. Michael Corleone

"This one time I'll let you ask me about my affairs." 

"In my home! In my bedroom! Where my wife sleeps!" 

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" 


Yep. He's got quotability on lock. 

He's not number one, though, but that has everything to do with Al Pacino himself and The Godfather Part III

1. Don Corleone

Marlon Brando is the king, and unlike Al Pacino, he never lived long enough to see himself become the villain (read: make a bad sequel where his character gets weird). Now, that might be unfair to Michael Corleone, but Don Corleone (not to be confused with Young Vito) is the OG. 

He does everything, and we see every emotion from him. As unbalanced as Vincent Mancini is, Michael also has some weird moments that don't fit the trajectory and development of his character (most of this occurs in Part III). Not the Don though. 

You might take this as a huge love fest for Marlon Brando, but make no mistake: his performance is perfect. Every line is perfect, his presence is felt throughout, and he embodies every bit of gravitas the head of a family requires without overstepping the line into ill-fitting campiness (lookin' at you, Andy Garcia).

That's what makes The Godfather and Part II so great: they weren't concerned with the excitement of a gun-toting, blood-filled mob story. They were in-depth stories focused on characters. Each character mattered (except for Mary and Anthony Corleone), and each performance was nearly perfect. 

Check out 25 All-Time Greatest Characters from Martin Scorsese's Best Films

[Feature Image Courtesy Instagram] 

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