Played by Marlon Brando (1) and Robert De Niro (2)
Founder and head of the Corleone family and one of the trilogy’s two protagonists. As an older man, Vito is a shrewd Mafia boss known as the Godfather. As a younger man, he is a ruthlessly ambitious Sicilian immigrant in New York’s Little Italy in the early twentieth century. Vito is a warm and loving father and husband. He wears his hair slicked back and seems incapable of talking without mumbling.
Played by Al Pacino
The trilogy’s other protagonist. Michael is Vito’s youngest son. At the beginning of The Godfather, he is uninvolved in the Mafia and seems headed for a successful career in politics or another “legitimate” field. Over the course of the film, he abandons these plans. He joins the family business and succeeds his father as head of the Corleone family. A cold-blooded Mafia don with no tolerance for dissent or treachery, Michael is even bolder, more violent, and more ambitious than Vito, and he becomes fantastically rich in the casino business. He proves much less successful in his personal life. Michael seems incapable of relaxing enough to smile, and his tense relationship with his wife, Kay, whom he divorces, is a constant source of anguish.
Played by Diane Keaton
Michael’s girlfriend at the beginning of The Godfather and later his wife. Kay is an all-American girl from New Hampshire who falls in love with a decorated World War II veteran and winds up a Mafia don’s wife. At first, she plays dumb and chooses to ignore the violence that goes on around her. But eventually, she rebels against the prohibitions on her movement, Michael’s cold distance, and the threats to her and her family, leaving Michael at the end of The Godfather Part II. By The Godfather Part III, she has remarried.
Played by Robert Duvall
The Corleone family lawyer and sometime chief advisor, or consigliere. An orphan on the street, Tom was adopted by Vito and grew up as a member of the Corleone family. Although he is intricately involved in the family business, Tom is not a violent man and rarely gets his hands dirty. At times he comes across as a voice of reason in family debates, while at other times he is timid, overly cautious, and unimaginative.
Read an in-depth analysis of Tom Hagen.
Played by James Caan
Vito’s oldest son. Sonny is hot-headed, violent, and reckless, a combination that leads him into a death trap set by a rival family. A philanderer, Sonny has an illegitimate child, Vincent Mancini, who succeeds Michael as head of the Corleone family in The Godfather Part III.
Played by John Cazale
Vito’s middle son. Weak-willed and terribly insecure, Fredo is overshadowed by his older brother’s reckless passion and his younger brother’s unshakeable confidence. He briefly finds himself living the life of a decadent playboy in Las Vegas, but his comfort with women and drink is only a cover for his essential unease.
Played by Talia Shire
Vito’s daughter. At the opening of The Godfather, Connie marries Carlo Rizzi, who turns out to be an abusive, adulterous terror. After Michael kills Carlo, Connie enters a period of rebellion against her brother, behaving like a spoiled, overgrown child, pathetic, lost, and very angry. By the end of The Godfather Part II, however, she regains control of her life, and in Part III she emerges as the backbone of the family.
Played by Gianni Russo
Connie’s abusive husband. Carlo betrays the Corleone family, tipping off Sonny’s killers, and is killed by Michael for his transgression.
Played by Simonetta Stefanelli
Michael’s first wife. While hiding out in Sicily in The Godfather, Michael falls in love at first sight with Apollonia, a sixteen-year-old beauty. Just days after their marriage, Apollonia is killed in a car bomb intended for Michael.
Played by Richard S. Castellano (1) and B. Kirby, Jr. (2)
A member of the Corleone crime family and longtime associate of Vito. Clemenza is jolly, easygoing, and well-fed, but he is also a vicious killer. He gives Michael lessons in cooking and firing a gun in The Godfather.
Played by Abe Vigoda (1, 2) and John Aprea (2)
A member of the Corleone family and longtime associate of Vito. Cleverer than Clemenza, Tessio betrays Michael at the end of The Godfather.
Played by Gaston Moschin
An early-twentieth-century Little Italy Mafia don. Fanucci is a small-time extortionist who dresses like a big-time pimp. Murdering him is Vito Corleone’s first step toward gaining power in his neighborhood.
Played by Richard Conte
The head of one of the five Mafia families of New York.
Played by Salvatore Corsitto
An undertaker who asks Vito to avenge his daughter’s beating.
Played by Al Martino
A famous singer and actor, like Frank Sinatra. Though a successful performer, Johnny Fontane comes to Vito, his godfather, for help with his career on more than one occasion.
Played by Al Lettieri
A gangster known as the Turk. Sollozzo is involved in the narcotics trade and is backed by Barzini and Tattaglia (another Mafia boss).
Played by Sterling Hayden
A corrupt, bigoted policeman who moonlights as Sollozzo’s bodyguard.
Played by John Marley
A Hollywood film producer who refuses to give Johnny Fontane a part in his latest war movie. Woltz is crass and materialist, more capitalist than artist.
Played by Lee Strasberg
An aging Jewish gangster and an old colleague of Vito. Roth partners with Michael in business dealings in Las Vegas and Havana, Cuba, in The Godfather Part II. Roth is terminally ill and seems to be dying throughout the film, but he still finds time between doctor’s visits to manipulate foreign presidents and plan assassinations.
Played by Dominic Chianese
Roth’s right-hand man.
Played by Michael V. Gazzo
The head of the New York branch of the Corleone family after Michael moves most of the operation to Las Vegas. Pentangeli is a Mafia traditionalist who feels that Michael isn’t running things like Vito did. But despite their differences, Pentangeli refuses to testify against Michael during congressional hearings on the Mafia. While serving out a prison term for contempt of Congress, he kills himself, reenacting the ritual suicide of a failed Roman conspirator.
Played by G. D. Spradlin
A corrupt Nevada senator. One of the least attractive characters in the trilogy, Geary is two-faced, bigoted, and adulterous. He defends Michael in the congressional hearings, but only because Tom caught him in Vegas, unconscious in bed with a murdered prostitute. Geary’s presence in the movie is a sign of Coppola’s cynicism about politics.
Played by Morgana King (1, 2) and Francesca de Sapio (2)
Vito’s loyal, loving wife.
Played by James Gounaris (2) and Franc D’Ambrosio (3)
Michael’s son. Rather than joining the family business, Anthony pursues a career as an opera singer.
Played by Sofia Coppola
Michael’s daughter. Closer to Michael than her brother is, Mary is head of the Vito Corleone Foundation for the Poor of Sicily. To her father’s dismay, she becomes romantically involved with her cousin, Vincent Mancini.
Played by Andy Garcia
Michael’s nephew and successor as head of the Corleone family. Over the course of The Godfather Part III, Vincent evolves from a leather jacket-wearing street hood into a silk suit-donning don. Thug or Godfather, he is always a ladykiller.
Played by John Savage
Tom Hagen’s son and a Catholic priest.
Played by Joe Mantegna
A smalltime gangster who has become boss of the old Corleone neighborhood in Little Italy in The Godfather Part III. Publicity hungry, arrogant, and insecure, Joey challenges both Michael and Vincent.
Played by Eli Wallach
A scheming old-time mafioso who pretends to play the role of peacemaker.
Played by Mario Cotone (1, 2) and Vittorio Duse (3)
Michael’s friend and guardian in Sicily.
Played by Enzo Robatti
The leader of the Vatican conspirators in The Godfather Part III who poison the new pope and plot unsuccessfully to kill Michael.
Played by Donal Donnelly
A frail, twitchy-fingered, chain-smoking, corrupt archbishop.
Played by Richard Bright
One of Michael’s enforcers.
Played by Raf Vallone
An earnest, caring, genuinely devout priest who hears Michael’s confession. Lamberto is assassinated shortly after his election as pope.
Played by George Hamilton
Michael’s right-hand man in The Godfather Part III. Harrison, a silver-haired, blue-blooded, financial guru, couldn’t be more different from the slick-haired (or balding), ring-kissing mafiosi who attend to Michael in the earlier films. Harrison’s presence symbolizes Michael’s desire to be perceived as “legitimate.”