Francis Ford Coppola adapted Mario Puzo’s crime epic The Godfather into one of the greatest films of all time. Then, when the studio pressured him into making a sequel, he made The Godfather Part II as an arguably even greater film. Then, when the studio pressured him into completing the trilogy, he finally disappointed fans with The Godfather Part III. But The Godfather saga is still remembered as one of cinema’s finest achievements.
The cast of The Godfather trilogy is one of the most incredible ever assembled — including such screen legends as Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Talia Shire, John Cazale, and Robert De Niro — but the movies could’ve starred very different actors.
Updated on May 22nd, 2021 by Kristen Palamara: The Godfather trilogy has become an iconic cinematic experience and a must-see for any movie fan. Any Godfather fan knows the cast, but they might not know about all the other famous actors who were passed over for roles in The Godfather trilogy from Tom Hagen to Michael Corleone. Actors at the height of their careers like Paul Newman and Robert Redford lost out on roles whether for better or worse, here are the actors that missed out on having The Godfather movies in their already extensive filmography.
13 Martin Sheen As Michael Corleone & Tom Hagen
Martin Sheen had a decent acting resume before auditioning for multiple roles in The Godfather and although recognizable at the time he’d had mostly appeared in television guest spots and arguably hadn’t had his big break yet with 1979’s Apocalypse Now.
Director Francis Ford Coppola wanted the relatively unknown Al Pacino in the role of Michael Corleone and threatened to quit the movie if his demands weren’t meant and while James Caan was given the role of Sonny after auditioning for Michael, Sheen didn’t land a role in the movie at all.
12 Anthony Perkins As Sonny Corleone
Anthony Perkins is still best known for one of his first starring movie roles as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and was certainly a well-known actor by the time The Godfather was being cast over a decade after Psycho was released.
Although Perkins had certainly proved his acting talents, the role of Sonny Corleone eventually went to James Caan after Caan had impressed the team enough to get a role although not the role he initially auditioned for.
11 Paul Newman As Tom Hagen
Paul Newman had a substantial and recognizable career starting in the 50s and 60s, which made him an appealing choice to appear in The Godfather movies as they were trying to find already established stars for some of the roles.
Both Newman and Steve McQueen were considered for the role, but Robert Duvall was eventually chosen to portray Tom Hagen.
10 Frank Sinatra As Vito Corleone
When a film adaptation of The Godfather was first in development, a few high-profile stars lobbied for the role of Vito Corleone, including Frank Sinatra and Orson Welles. Coppola felt bad about turning down Welles, so he offered him the role of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, but he turned it down.
Other actors who were considered to play Vito included Ernest Borgnine, Burt Lancaster, Laurence Olivier, Anthony Quinn, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Scofield, George C. Scott, and Danny Thomas.
9 Winona Ryder As Mary Corleone
Winona Ryder was initially cast as Mary Corleone in The Godfather Part III, but she dropped out to make Mermaids instead. Madonna lobbied for the role but was ultimately deemed too old to play Mary. Julia Roberts was offered the part but turned it down to make Pretty Woman instead. The role eventually went to Sofia Coppola, the director’s daughter, which drew accusations of nepotism.
Before Andy Garcia was cast to play Vincent Mancini, a number of A-listers were considered for the part, including Alec Baldwin, Nicolas Cage, Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Val Kilmer, Charlie Sheen, and Billy Zane.
8 Elvis Presley As Tom Hagen
Some of the actors who were considered to play Michael, like Jack Nicholson, were also considered to play Tom Hagen. John Cassavetes and Peter Falk both lobbied for the role, while Bruce Dern, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman all auditioned for it.
Elvis Presley also auditioned to play Hagen, having been a huge fan of Mario Puzo’s source material, but he really wanted to play Vito.
7 Burt Reynolds As Sonny Corleone
Anthony Perkins auditioned to play Sonny Corleone before James Caan was cast, while the producers also considered John Saxon for the part. Burt Reynolds was one of the filmmakers’ top choices, but there’s an urban legend that Marlon Brando refused to work with him. Reynolds didn’t think Coppola would cast him, anyway.
Coppola hadn’t actually been the studio’s first choice to direct The Godfather. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’s Sergio Leone was their top choice, but Leone turned down the job because he didn’t like the Mario Puzo novel.
6 James Cagney As Hyman Roth
Francis Ford Coppola’s top choice for the role of Hyman Roth was James Cagney. Coppola even went to Cagney’s house to discuss the role, but the Hollywood icon ultimately passed on the part.
Oddly enough, Peter Sellers was reportedly one of the runners-up for the role of Roth. Meanwhile, Joe Pesci was considered to play the younger Peter Clemenza.
5 Mia Farrow As Kay Corleone
Diane Keaton ended up being the perfect choice to play Michael Corleone’s second wife Kay because she had an on-and-off relationship with Al Pacino during the trilogy’s production.
But she wasn’t the first choice for the role. Three horror movie starlets — Rosemary’s Baby’s Mia Farrow, Don’t Look Now’s Julie Christie, and Trilogy of Terror’s Karen Black (who got her film debut in Francis Ford Coppola’s You’re a Big Boy Now) — were also considered to play Kay.
4 Franco Nero As Virgil Sollozzo
Franco Nero, the star of Sergio Corbucci’s groundbreaking original Django movie from the ‘60s, was in the running to play Virgil Sollozzo in The Godfather. Plus, Anne Bancroft and Anna Magnani are both reported to have turned down the role of Carmela Corleone.
William Devane was considered to play Moe Greene, Olivia Hussey was the top choice for Apollonia, and Pier Angeli was under consideration for a part, but died before shooting began.
3 Marlon Brando As Young Vito
For the prequel storyline that runs parallel to the sequel storyline in The Godfather Part II, Coppola considered bringing back Marlon Brando to play the younger version of his own character, as he was convinced the actor had the ability to play Vito at any age.
However, while he was writing the script, Coppola remembered Robert De Niro’s fantastic audition for a minor role in the first Godfather film and decided to offer him the role of Vito without offering it to Brando.
2 Sylvester Stallone As Joey Zasa
Mickey Rourke was one of the choices to play Joey Zasa in The Godfather Part III, but the producers decided he didn’t fit the bill for an Italian role. After Dennis Farina and John Turturro were considered for the part, the job was offered to Sylvester Stallone.
However, Stallone turned it down. He’d previously auditioned to play Paulie and Carlo in the first Godfather movie but got turned down for both parts.
1 Robert Redford As Michael Corleone
Robert Redford and Ryan O’Neal were initially on the shortlist for the part of Michael Corleone. Al Pacino had to back out of a role in the mafia comedy The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight when he was offered The Godfather.
Warren Beatty was offered the chance to direct, produce, and star as Michael, but turned it down. Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson also turned down the part. David Carradine and Martin Sheen auditioned for the role and Tommy Lee Jones was briefly considered.
NEXT: The Godfather: 5 Ways Michael Corleone Is Pacino’s Best Character (& 5 Alternatives)
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