During a backyard wedding reception for his daughter, Connie, and his new son-in-law, Carlo Rizzi, Don Vito Corleone, a Mafia boss known as the Godfather, conducts business in his office. With him are his oldest son, Sonny, and his adopted son and family lawyer, Tom Hagen. Several people come to Vito’s office to make requests, including Bonasera, an undertaker seeking revenge for a crime against his daughter, and Johnny Fontane, a Frank Sinatra-like singer and actor who wants Vito to help land him a part in a movie. As the wedding reception draws to a close, Vito dispatches Tom to Los Angeles to talk to Jack Woltz, the studio owner. Despite Tom’s prodding, Woltz refuses to give Fontane the part, so the Corleones make Woltz “an offer he can’t refuse.” The day after the meeting with Tom, Woltz wakes up in a blood-stained bed to discover the severed head of his prized horse under the covers at his feet.
Back in New York, a gangster named Sollozzo wants to involve the Corleone family in his narcotics smuggling operation. Two other crime families, the Barzinis and Tattaglias, are already in on the scheme, but Sollozzo wants Vito’s protection and financing too. Vito arranges a meeting with Sollozzo. Sonny and Tom support the idea of expanding the family business, but Vito cannot overcome his initial skepticism about the scheme and his distaste for drug trafficking. Vito rejects the offer and orders his bodyguard, Luca Brasi, to investigate Sollozzo. Luca is murdered, and shortly afterward a hit man attempts to assassinate Vito while he shops at a fruit market. Vito survives the shooting but is badly hurt, and Sonny temporarily takes control of the family business.
Vito’s youngest son, Michael, a World War II hero, is in town for his sister’s wedding, accompanied by his WASP girlfriend from New England, Kay Adams. Unlike Sonny and Tom, Michael is a “civilian” who has vowed never to get involved in the family business. While visiting his father in the hospital, however, Michael discovers that the guards who were supposed to be protecting Vito have disappeared, leaving Vito vulnerable to another assassination attempt. Michael hides his father and pretends to be a gangster holding a gun to scare off the assassins. He grills a crooked cop named Captain McCluskey about whereabouts of the men who should be guarding Vito, and McCluskey punches him. Michael is knocked unconscious. Days later, after receiving advice and a gun from members of the family, Michael arranges to meet at a quiet Italian restaurant with Sollozzo and McCluskey to negotiate a peace. At the meeting, Michael kills both men. He then flees to Sicily, where Vito was born.
Newspaper headlines announce the slew of Mafia killings that follow. Vito Corleone returns home from the hospital and is disappointed to learn that Michael has participated in a Mafia killing. While Vito recovers from his gunshot wounds, hot-headed Sonny and cautious Tom debate whether to escalate the war with the Tattaglias, Sollozzo’s sponsors.
When Sonny sees Connie with a black eye, he learns that Carlo has been beating Connie, and he attacks Carlo brutally, hitting him with a trash can. After she suffers another beating, Connie calls Sonny, crying. He loses his temper and in a fit of rage drives off to beat, if not kill, Carlo. Unaccompanied by bodyguards, Sonny is an easy target for the Corleones’ enemies. When he stops his car at a tollbooth, the car in front of him stops and gunmen hiding in the tollbooth open fire. Sonny staggers out of the car, riddled with bullets, and falls dead.
Meanwhile, in picturesque Sicily, Michael falls in love at first sight with Apollonia, a young Sicilian beauty. He courts her, and they marry, but the marriage is cut short when Apollonia is killed by a car bomb intended for Michael.
Back in New York, Vito assembles a meeting of the five main Mafia families. He announces that he will forgo vengeance for Sonny’s murder on the condition that Michael is allowed to return to New York unharmed.
A year after his return, Michael visits his old flame, Kay Adams, whom he hasn’t seen in over two years. He tells her he works for his father now, but in the course of their discussion, he promises that the Corleone family will soon become legitimate. He proposes, and Kay agrees to marry him.
Since Sonny is dead, Michael becomes head of the family. He begins planning to move the Corleone family to Las Vegas to enter the casino business. He demotes his adopted brother Tom from the position of consigliere, the primary advisor to the don. Vito serves as Michael’s advisor, but old age starts to take its toll on him and he eventually drops dead while playing with Michael’s young son, Anthony, among the tomato plants in his backyard.
Connie and Carlo have asked Michael to be the godfather to their son. As the baptism is performed, the heads of the other New York Mafia families are killed by Corleone hit men on Michael’s orders. When Michael exits the church, he gets word that the killings have been successful. He has become the undisputed Mafia boss of the city.
The Corleones are set to move to Las Vegas, but Michael stays behind to finish up some business. This business consists of taking revenge on two traitors to the family. First, he arranges for the killing of Tessio, his father’s old associate who has been dealing in secret with the Barzini family. Second, Michael kills his brother-in-law, Carlo, who tipped off the other families, allowing them to kill Sonny.
A few days later, a hysterical Connie accuses Michael of killing her husband, a charge he denies to Kay with a forceful, if not entirely convincing, “No.” Then he retreats to his office, closing his door on his wife, to conduct further business.
(Note: Two plotlines run through this movie. One continues Michael’s story in the late 1950s. The other examines Vito’s early years in Sicily and New York. This outline relates the scenes in the order in which they occur in the movie.)
The opening shot is of Michael Corleone, now Godfather, having his ring finger kissed.
In the next scene, nine-year-old Vito Andolini walks with his mother through the Sicilian countryside, near the town of Corleone. They are at the head of a funeral procession for Vito’s father, who was killed by a local Mafia boss, Don Ciccio. The year is 1901. During the procession, Don Ciccio’s men open fire in the surrounding hills and kill Vito’s older brother, Paolo. A few days later, Vito’s mother takes Vito with her to see Don Ciccio and begs the don to spare Vito’s life. When Don Ciccio refuses, Vito’s mother puts a knife to his throat and tells Vito to run. When Vito looks back, he sees his mother being shot squarely through the chest by Ciccio’s bodyguards. Then he keeps running. Don Ciccio hunts for young Vito, but friends help smuggle him onto a boat bound for America. Vito arrives at Ellis Island, where he is given the last name Corleone and quarantined for three months until he recovers from small pox.
The scene shifts to Lake Tahoe, in the 1950s. As Michael hosts a party at his compound to celebrate the communion of his son, Anthony, he conducts business in his office with Nevada Senator Pat Geary. Michael plans to expand his casino empire and rejects the senator’s attempts at extortion and his ethnic slurs against Italians. The senator leaves with a smirk. Next, a man named Johnny Ola tells Michael that Hyman Roth, Michael’s Miami-based business associate, sends word that he supports the casino move and foresees further opportunities for partnership. Finally, Frankie Pentangeli, an old mafioso from New York, visits Michael. Pentangeli opposes Michael’s alliance with Roth. When Michael ignores his protests, Pentangeli leaves the office in a fit of rage.
Michael’s sister, Connie, and brother, Fredo, both worry him. Connie visits the office during the party, along with her boyfriend Merle. Connie is overdressed and overly bejeweled and wants money from Michael so that she and Merle can book passage to Europe on the Queen. She also wants Michael’s blessing for her engagement to Merle, which Michael refuses to grant. At dinner, Fredo’s trampy blonde wife drinks excessively and makes racist comments about his Italian family.
Later in the party, Michael dances with his wife Kay. Kay is pregnant for the third time and is upset that Michael still hasn’t made the family legitimate, despite his promises that he would. That evening, Michael enters his bedroom, where Kay is already asleep, and bullets shatter the window. Michael grabs Kay and hurls both of them to the floor, and they both survive the attempted hit. Michael puts his adopted brother Tom Hagen in charge of the family, claiming that Tom is the only one he can truly trust, and decides to investigate what happened.
Back in 1917 New York, young Vito works as a grocery clerk. He sees Don Fanucci, a local Mafia don, prance around town, extorting money from local businesses. One night, as Vito eats dinner with his wife, a neighbor hisses through his window that he needs Vito to hide a parcel. Vito accepts the parcel, opens it, and finds several guns. The neighbor, named Clemenza, introduces himself later in the street. Vito loses his job at the grocery store when the owner is forced to hire Don Fanucci’s nephew.
Back in the 1950s, Michael visits Roth in Miami. He tells Roth he knows Pentangeli ordered the hit on him and assures Roth that their partnership will go forward. Michael says he’ll visit Pentangeli, and Roth gives his support when Michael says Pentangeli is a “dead man.” When Michael visits Pentangeli in New York Michael says he knows Roth was the one who ordered the hit. He asks Pentangeli to help him take revenge. In the middle of the night, Fredo receives a phone call that suggests he was somehow involved in the hit. When Pentangeli meets with the Rosato brothers, he is strangled, but he survives in the custody of the police.
Michael, Roth, and other important American businessmen convene in Havana for a meeting with the president of Cuba. Roth wants to make major investments there, but Michael is concerned about rebel activity. Fredo shows up in Cuba, and Michael tells his brother that he knows Roth was behind the attempt on his life. Fredo denies knowing Roth or Ola, but later that evening, he lets it slip that he knows them both. While Michael celebrates the New Year at the Cuban presidential palace, his orders are executed. A hit man strangles Ola on his hotel balcony. The hit man tries to kill Roth at the hospital by smothering him with a pillow, but he is shot dead before he can finish the job. At the party, Michael kisses Fredo on the lips and then tells Fredo he knows that he was involved in the hit. Later that evening Michael flees a chaotic Havana while the rebels, led by Fidel Castro, take over the city and the Cuban president resigns. When Michael reaches Nevada, Tom tells him that Roth managed to survive and that Kay experienced a miscarriage.
Cut back to New York in the early twentieth century. Young Vito, Clemenza, and Tessio, close friends now, have formed a gang. They steal furniture, clothing, and rugs from homes and then sell them. Don Fanucci tells the young men that he knows what they’re doing and demands a cut. Tessio and Clemenza are willing to pay, but Vito tells them to put their faith in him. He says he will take care of the problem with Fanucci but that they must remember the favor he’s done them. Vito meets with Fanucci and gives him only a fraction of the requested money. When the meeting is over, Vito follows Fanucci as he strolls through a street festival and then kills Fanucci in the entrance to his apartment. The killing done, Vito returns home and kisses his newborn son, Michael.
In the 1950s, Congress holds hearings in Washington, D.C., investigating the Mafia. A Pentangeli associate testifies against Michael. His testimony isn’t good enough to convict Michael of any crimes, because the associate claims never to have taken any orders directly from Michael. Meanwhile, Michael visits his mother and asks her if Vito ever worried about losing his family. His mother says you can never lose your family.
Back in early 1900s New York, young Vito is now a Mafia don. With his new standing in the community, he dresses in fine suits and requests favors on behalf of friends. One woman, a friend of Vito’s wife, asks him for help. Her landlord has evicted her without sufficient cause. Vito talks to the landlord and requests that he let the woman keep her apartment, as a favor. The landlord doesn’t take Vito seriously. Once he finds out who Vito is, though, he not only gives the woman back her apartment, he lowers the rent.
Testifying before Congress in the 1950s, Michael denies ever participating in any illicit activities. Congress tells him they have a witness who will testify against him, which means Michael could be found guilty of perjury. Back in Nevada, Tom tells Michael that Pentangeli is still alive and will be the one to testify against him. Fredo also admits to tipping off Roth but claims that he never expected Roth to try to kill Michael. Michael responds harshly, telling Fredo that he is no longer a brother to him and that he never wants to see him again. Back in Washington, Michael shows up at the congressional hearings with an unknown older man, and Pentangeli, who spots the man before the questioning, doesn’t reveal anything. The old man is Pentangeli’s brother, who has come from Sicily to influence him. In the hotel room after the hearing ends, Kay asks Michael why Pentangeli was so afraid of his brother, and Michael says only that it is a conflict between the brothers and has nothing to do with him. Kay tells Michael that she and the children are leaving him. Michael refuses to accept this, and during the ensuing argument, Kay tells him that she didn’t have a miscarriage, but an abortion. Michael punches Kay in the face.
Back in the early twentieth century, Vito returns to Sicily with his family, visits old friends, and kills Don Ciccio.
Back to the 1950s. At Mama Corleone’s funeral, Connie tries to make up with Michael and says that she forgives him for Carlo’s death. She wants to stay closer to the family now. She tries to orchestrate a reconciliation between Michael and Fredo, and Michael reluctantly allows his older brother to hug him. During the hug, Michael shoots an ominous glance to one of his men.
Michael has learned from news reports and his own sources that Roth will return to Miami because no other country will let him stay. Tom tries to dissuade Michael from killing Roth, saying that Roth is a sick man and will die shortly anyway. Michael ignores Tom and has Roth shot at the Miami airport upon his arrival. Meanwhile, Pentangeli, imprisoned for contempt of Congress, kills himself, after a visit from Tom helps convince him it is the honorable thing to do. Days later, Michael returns home to find Kay, who has been banished from the house, secretly visiting her children. As she leaves the house, he closes the door in her face. Finally, Fredo, fishing on Lake Tahoe with one of Michael’s henchmen, is killed as he recites a Hail Mary, praying to catch a fish.
In the movie’s final sequence, Michael is left alone in his boathouse to think about all that has happened. He remembers a scene in 1941. He and his siblings sit around the dining room table, waiting for Vito to come home so they can surprise him for his birthday. That morning the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, and Michael announces that he has enlisted in the army, a decision that angers Tom and Sonny, who say that Vito had other plans for him. When Vito enters the house, everyone rushes to greet him and sing “Happy Birthday,” except for Michael, who stays at the table alone.
The Godfather Part II ends with Michael sitting alone on a bench.
It is 1979. The Corleone compound at Lake Tahoe is abandoned. Michael has returned to New York, where he is pursuing his quest to make the Corleone family legitimate. He creates a charity, the Vito Corleone Foundation. At a ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Michael is awarded a medal of the Order of St. Sebastian. Kay, who has remarried, sits with her and Michael’s children, Anthony and Mary. At the lavish party following the ceremony, Anthony tells his father that he is dropping out of law school to pursue a career as an opera singer. Kay supports his choice, and she and Michael argue in private about Anthony’s future.
Vincent Mancini, Sonny Corleone’s illegitimate son, shows up at the party. He is embroiled in a feud with a mafioso named Joey Zasa, under whose stewardship the old Corleone neighborhood in New York has become lawless. In a room away from the party, Vincent and Zasa tell Michael about their feud. The discussion grows violent, and Vincent bites off part of Zasa’s ear. Vincent asks Michael if he can work for him, and Michael agrees to take his hot-headed, smooth-talking nephew under his wing. That night, two men, sent by Zasa, break into Vincent’s home. Vincent kills them both.
Michael wants to buy Immobiliare, an international real estate holding company that is controlled by the Vatican. He negotiates a transfer fee of $600,000,000 with Archbishop Gliday, who has plunged the Holy See into tremendous debt through his poor management and corrupt dealings as head of the Vatican bank. At Vatican City, however, Michael learns that some people oppose the deal. Ratification will be more complicated than he had expected.
Don Altobello, an elderly New York mafioso, tells Michael that his old New York partners want in on the Immobiliare deal. A meeting is arranged in Atlantic City, and Michael appeases most of the mafiosi with generous payoffs from their casino days. Zasa gets nothing. Furious, he declares that Michael is his enemy and tells everyone in the room they must choose between him and Michael. Zasa storms out of the meeting. Minutes later, a helicopter hovers outside the conference room, then sprays a barrage of bullets through the windows. Almost everyone present is killed, but Michael and Vincent escape, with Vincent acting as his uncle’s human shield. As Michael considers how to respond to this hit, he suffers a diabetic stroke and is hospitalized.
Vincent and Mary, though cousins, begin a romantic relationship. Vincent plans revenge on Zasa. At a street fair, Vincent and his accomplices murder Zasa and his bodyguards. Michael, still hospitalized, berates Vincent when he finds out, but Vincent insists that he got the go-ahead from Connie, who has become deeply involved in family affairs. Michael insists that Vincent break up with Mary because Vincent’s involvement in the Mafia puts Mary in danger. Vincent agrees. However, in Sicily, where the family moves to pursue the Vatican deal and attend Anthony’s opera debut, the relationship continues.
Michael tells Vincent to speak with Altobello and, in order to see where the old man’s loyalties lie, to pretend that he is thinking of leaving the Corleone family. Altobello supports the idea of Vincent switching allegiance and introduces Vincent to Licio Lucchesi, the man behind the plot to prevent Michael’s acquisition of Immobiliare.
Michael visits Cardinal Lamberto, a well-intentioned and pious priest, to speak about the Immobiliare deal. Lamberto convinces Michael to make confession, his first in thirty years, and Lamberto absolves Michael of his sins. Touring Sicily with Kay, who has arrived for Anthony’s performance, Michael asks for her forgiveness too. Just as both are admitting that they still love each other, Michael gets word that Don Tommasino, his Sicilian friend, has been killed, signaling that a new round of violence is about to begin. Cardinal Lamberto is elected Pope John Paul I, which means that the Immobiliare deal will likely be ratified.
Vincent tells Michael what he has learned from Altobello: Lucchesi is behind the plot against the Immobiliare deal, and an assassin has been hired to kill Michael. Vincent wants to strike back, but Michael cautions him, saying that if he goes ahead with such a plan, there’ll be no going back. Vincent insists on revenge, and Michael relents. He makes Vincent head of the Corleone family, the new Godfather. In exchange for the promotion, Vincent agrees to put an end to his relationship with Mary.
While Anthony performs the male lead of Cavalleria Rusticana, Vincent’s plans for revenge go into effect. Interspersed with scenes from Anthony’s performance are the brutal murders of Lucchesi, Altobello, and their associates, who have, however, already poisoned the new pope. An assassin, sent to kill Michael, lurks at the opera house. The assassin kills several of Vincent’s men, but the opera ends before he has the chance to shoot Michael. The assassin retreats to the opera house façade’s staircase and tries to shoot Michael there. Mary, upset and trying to speak to her father about the forced breakup with Vincent, steps in front of Michael and takes the bullet. Michael screams in pain and rage on the opera house stairs. Then the scene cuts to a shot of a white-haired and aged Michael, seated in the front yard of his Sicilian villa. He collapses in his chair and dies, alone and forgotten.