Corleone is the main protagonist of Mario Puzo's novel The
Godfather. In the three Godfather films, directed by Francis Ford
Coppola, Michael was portrayed by Al Pacino, for which he was
twice-nominated for Academy Awards.
In June 2003, Michael
Corleone was recognized as the 11th most iconic
villain in film history by the American Film Institute, although some
critics consider him to be a tragic hero.
2 The Godfather
The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Part III
5 The Sicilian
7 Family members
Born in 1920 to mafia don
Vito Corleone and Carmela, Michael has two
older brothers; Santino "Sonny"
Corleone and Frederico "Fredo"
Corleone and a younger sister, Constanzia "Connie" Corleone. The
family consigliere, Tom Hagen, is their informal adoptive brother.
Unlike his two older brothers, Michael wants nothing to do with the
Corleone “family business”. Vito does not want Michael to join the
Corleone criminal empire either, preferring that his favorite son go
into politics. As a young man, Michael enrolled in Dartmouth College,
prompting his brother Sonny to call him "Joe College." But when the
United States entered
World War II
World War II in 1941, Michael enlisted in the
Marine Corps. During the war, he was in the Pacific, receiving a
battlefield commission to the rank of captain and awarded the Navy
Cross for bravery. In 1944, his war heroism is featured in Life
During the summer of 1945, Michael has been discharged from the Marine
Corps, having been wounded. Vito had secretly arranged for his
discharge. He returns home to attend his sister Connie's wedding,
accompanied by Kay Adams, his college sweetheart. Michael stays for a
few weeks before re-entering college without consulting his family.
Just before Christmas 1945, Vito is severely wounded in an
assassination attempt by drug kingpin Virgil Sollozzo, throwing
Michael into the middle of the
Mafia world he had for so long avoided.
Arriving at the hospital to find his father unprotected, Michael calls
Sonny and prevents Sollozzo's second attempt on Vito's life, then
reaffirms his loyalty at his father's bedside. Captain McCluskey, a
corrupt NYPD officer on Sollozzo's payroll, breaks Michael's jaw. In
retaliation, Sonny orders the murder of Bruno Tattaglia, son and
underboss of Sollozzo's ally Philip Tattaglia. Sollozzo proposes that
Michael to be sent to broker a truce, but Sonny, believing that it's a
trap, refuses and demands that the other
Mafia families hand over
Sollozzo to the
Corleone family or else face war. Michael suggests
they agree to Sollozzo's meeting but insist that it be in a public
place with people, where he will kill both Sollozzo and McCluskey.
Tom Hagen warns Sonny that killing McCluskey
would violate a long-standing
Mafia rule not to kill members of law
enforcement and that the backlash from rival
Mafia families and law
enforcement would be severe. Michael successfully argues that
McCluskey is fair game because he is a corrupt cop mixed up in the
drug trade and serving as Sollozzo's bodyguard. Sonny agrees and
approves the hit.
Michael meets with Sollozzo and McCluskey at an Italian restaurant in
the Bronx, retrieves a handgun that
Corleone caporegime Peter Clemenza
had planted beforehand in the toilet and kills Sollozzo and McCluskey.
This ignites the New York underworld's first
Mafia war in a decade.
Michael flees to Sicily, where he spends two years under the
protection of Vito's friend and longtime ally, Don Tommasino. Michael
meets and falls in love with a young local woman named Apollonia
Vitelli. They marry, and when Michael is notified that Sonny has been
murdered they prepare to move to the safer Siracusa. Apollonia is
killed by a car bomb intended for Michael, planted by Fabrizio,
Michael's bodyguard, after being bought off by the Corleones' rivals.
Michael returns to the United States in early 1951 and assumes
Sonny's role as Vito's heir apparent. After Don Corleone's suspicions
are confirmed that Don Emilio Barzini, his main rival for power in New
York, had been behind Sollozzo and Tattaglia all along, Michael and
his father begin a secret, long-range plot to wipe out the other New
York Dons. They deliberately allow their rivals to whittle away at
Corleone interests in order to lull them into inaction. Meanwhile,
Michael convinces his father the time is right to remove the family
from the Mafia. More than a year after his return, Michael reunites
with Kay and they marry. He promises her the
Corleone family will be
completely legitimate in five years. Within two years, they have two
children, Anthony and Mary. In the novel, Kay gives birth to two sons.
Vito semi-retires in 1954, and Michael becomes operating head of the
family. He attempts to buy out casino owner Moe Greene's stake in the
Las Vegas casino that the Corleones bankrolled, intending to move the
Nevada and legitimize all
Corleone enterprises, but Greene
refuses to sell. Before his death in 1955, Vito warns Michael that
Barzini will likely attempt to assassinate Michael under the pretense
of establishing peace between the families, and tells Michael that
whoever approaches him about the meeting is the traitor within the
family. When caporegime
Salvatore Tessio unknowingly exposes his
complicity with Barzini by arranging the meeting, Michael sets the
plan in motion to murder the other New York
Mafia heads: Barzini,
Philip Tattaglia, Carmine Cuneo, and Victor Stracci, as well as Moe
Greene. The plot unfolds on the same day Michael stands as godfather
to Connie's newborn son. Later the same day, Tessio and Carlo Rizzi,
Connie's abusive husband who conspired in Sonny's murder, are
executed. In one stroke, Michael re-establishes the
Corleone family as
the nation's most powerful crime family, and makes a reputation for
himself as being even more cunning and ruthless than his father.
Connie accuses Michael of murdering Carlo. Michael dismisses her
accusations as hysteria, and when questioned by Kay denies any
involvement. In the novel, Connie recants her accusations a few weeks
later, assuring Kay she was mistaken. Kay, initially believing
Michael, later observes him receiving his capos. Clemenza addresses
Michael as "Don Corleone" and kisses his hand in the same manner that
he did with Michael's father. Kay realizes Connie's accusations were
true, and that Michael has become his father's successor in every way.
In the novel, Kay leaves Michael, but Hagen persuades her to return.
The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Part II is set in 1958 and 1959. The
Corleone family has
Frank Pentangeli runs the family's
operations in New York, Clemenza having died a few years before.
Although Michael is the most powerful
Mafia leader in the nation, he
still actively works to remove the
Corleone family from crime. His
efforts have been largely unsuccessful, however, as his many enemies
and growing obsession with revenge keep him tethered to the criminal
underworld. Michael plans to finally legitimize the family by
negotiating with Hyman Roth, his father's former business partner,
over controlling casino operations in Cuba.
Hours after Anthony's
First Communion party, unseen gunmen shoot at
Corleone house, nearly killing Michael and Kay. Michael suspects
Roth ordered the hit, and believes a mole within the
aided him. To uncover Roth's involvement, Michael maintains their
business relationship, and orders Pentangeli to settle a dispute with
Roth's business partners, the Rosato Brothers. When Pentangeli meets
with them, they try to kill him, but he survives.
Michael, Roth, and Fredo travel to
Cuba to forge a partnership with
Fulgencio Batista allowing them to operate casinos in
interference in exchange for generous payments to the Cuban
government. Michael sends his bodyguard to eliminate Roth on New
Year's Eve, but Cuban soldiers kill the bodyguard during the attempt.
That same night, Fredo unintentionally reveals that he was the mole
within the family; Michael confronts Fredo and gives him the Sicilian
"kiss of death". During the
New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve festivities, victorious
rebel forces enter Havana, forcing Batista into exile and ruining
Michael's plans. Fredo, fearing Michael, runs off; Roth escapes to
Meanwhile, Pentangeli, believing Michael had ordered a hit on him,
prepares to testify against him in the Senate's investigation of
organized crime. However, Michael has Pentangeli's brother Vincenzo
brought from Sicily. Just prior to the hearing, Vincenzo and Frank
exchange glances. Understanding the threat, Pentangeli recants his
earlier sworn statements, throwing the hearings into chaos and
effectively destroying the government's case against Michael.
Fredo confesses to Michael that Roth's right-hand man, Johnny Ola, had
promised to reward him for information about Michael. Fredo also
reveals that he resented being "passed over" to head the family in
favor of Michael, and that he withheld key information about the
Senate investigation. Michael disowns Fredo, and tells his capo Al
Neri that nothing is to happen to his brother while their mother is
alive — the implication being Neri has been given a contract to
assassinate Fredo after their mother's death.
Meanwhile, Kay decides to leave Michael and take their children with
her, believing Michael will always live in a world of crime and
violence. Michael asks her to reconsider, but Kay reveals she aborted
their unborn son because she refused to bring another child into the
Corleones' crime world. Enraged, Michael strikes Kay and banishes her,
preventing her from seeing their children.
Following their mother's death, and at sister Connie's behest, Michael
seemingly forgives Fredo; soon after, however, Neri murders Fredo on
Michael's orders. At the same time, Michael sends Hagen to persuade
Pentangeli to commit suicide to spare his family, and has caporegime
Rocco Lampone kill a heavily guarded Roth at Idlewild Airport upon his
return to the U.S.
The film ends as Michael recalls a surprise birthday party for his
father on December 7, 1941. In a flashback scene, Michael informs the
family that he has dropped out of college to enlist in the Marines.
Only Fredo supports Michael's decision. When Vito arrives off-screen,
everyone goes to greet him except Michael, who sits alone. The film
closes with Michael sitting alone in the Corleones' Lake Tahoe
The Godfather Part III
The Godfather Part III is set in 1979 and 1980. Michael has moved back
to New York and taken great strides to remove the family from crime.
He turns over his New York criminal interests to longtime enforcer
Joey Zasa. Ridden with guilt over his ruthless rise to power, he uses
his wealth in an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation through
numerous philanthropic acts, administered by a foundation named after
his father. A decade earlier, he gave custody of his two children to
Kay, who has since remarried. He sells his gambling interests to the
Mafia families and reorganizes his vast business holdings as the
Holy See has named him a Commander of the Order of Saint Sebastian
for his charitable works. At the ceremony, Michael and Kay have an
uneasy reunion after nine years. Kay wants their son, Anthony, to have
nothing to do with the
Corleone "legacy", and tells Michael that both
she and Anthony know the truth about Fredo's death. Michael had
initially wanted Anthony to finish law school, but consents to Anthony
becoming an opera singer.
Michael's new connection to the Church provides an opportunity to take
over the large property company, Immobiliare. He is already its
largest shareholder, and offers to buy the Vatican's 25 percent share,
which will give him controlling interest. He also takes in Sonny's
illegitimate son Vincent Mancini, a soldier in Zasa's crew, as his
protegé. Michael recognizes that Vincent has inherited Sonny's fiery
temper and fears Vincent will suffer his father's fate. Michael also
disapproves of the romance developing between him and Michael's
daughter, Mary. Michael fears that Vincent's growing involvement in
Mafia will endanger Mary, just as it did Michael's first wife,
On the night Michael announces he is dissolving his gambling empire,
Zasa wipes out most of The Commission in a helicopter attack in
Atlantic City. Michael escapes with help from Vincent and Neri.
Michael quickly realizes that his old friend, Don Altobello, conspired
to murder him. Traumatized by the attack, Michael suffers a diabetic
stroke, briefly incapacitating him.
Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola reveals in
his audio commentary that Michael is seen drinking a lot of water in
the first two films—subtle hints that he is a diabetic. While
Michael recovers, his sister, Connie, gives Vincent her consent to
assassinate Zasa. Michael is enraged upon discovering this, and
demands that no similar orders be issued while he is alive.
Michael returns to
Sicily for Anthony's operatic debut at the Teatro
Massimo. Suspecting that Altobello may make another attempt on his
life, he has Vincent infiltrate Altobello's regime under the pretense
of defecting. Michael and Kay tour
Sicily together, during which
Michael asks for Kay's forgiveness. Kay admits she will always love
Immobiliare deal has stalled, supposedly because Pope
Paul VI must personally approve it. Michael learns that the
Immobiliare deal is an elaborate swindle concocted by Immobiliare
chairman Licio Lucchesi, who schemed with
Vatican Bank head Archbishop
Gilday and accountant Frederick Keinszig to embezzle a fortune from
the Vatican Bank, using Michael's "investment" to cover their tracks.
Hoping to salvage the deal, Michael seeks Don Tommasino's assistance.
He directs Michael to
Cardinal Lamberto (the future Pope John Paul I).
With Lamberto's prodding, Michael makes his first confession in 30
years, tearfully breaking down as he admits to ordering Fredo's
murder. Lamberto tells Michael he deserves to suffer for his terrible
sins, but that there is hope for redemption.
John Paul I dies soon after being elected pope, poisoned by Gilday.
Michael learns that Altobello (in league with the conspirators) has
hired an assassin named Mosca to kill him. Mosca murders Tommasino,
and Michael vows before his old friend's casket to sin no more.
Vincent reports that Lucchesi, working with Altobello, is behind the
assassination attempts on Michael.
Weary of the bloody, lonely life of a Don, Michael retires, making
Vincent his successor but not before giving him permission to
retaliate. In return, Vincent agrees to end his romance with Mary.
That night, Michael, reconciled with Kay and Anthony, watches his
son's performance in the opera Cavalleria Rusticana. Meanwhile,
Vincent orchestrates the murders of Lucchesi, Gilday and Keinszig, and
Connie murders Altobello with a poisoned cannoli.
After the performance, Mosca shoots Michael, and the bullet passes
through his body and hits Mary, killing her. Her death breaks
Michael's spirit, and he screams in agony over her body. He returns to
Bagheria, Sicily, where he dies with only a dog for company in 1997.
Michael is a secondary character in Puzo's novel The Sicilian, which
takes place during his first exile in Sicily. He learns from Clemenza
about the legendary exploits of the novel's main character, Salvatore
Giuliano, and is eager to meet him, but Giuliano is murdered before
the meeting can take place.
Michael appears in Mark Winegardner's sequel novels The Godfather
Returns and The Godfather's Revenge. In Godfather Returns, set roughly
during the time of Godfather Part II, Michael battles with a new
rival, Nick Geraci, while attempting to legitimize the family. In
Godfather's Revenge, set a few years after the second film, he moves
to protect his criminal empire against Geraci and the machinations of
a powerful political dynasty, while dealing with his guilt over having
Fredo murdered. In the latter novel, he has a relationship with
actress Marguerite "Rita" Duvall in the early 1960s, but he ends it
upon realizing that he is still in love with Kay.
Vito Corleone – Michael's father and The Godfather, played by
Marlon Brando in The Godfather, and by
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro in flashback
scenes in Part II
Carmela Corleone – Mother, played by
Morgana King in The
Godfather Part I and Part II, and by
Francesca De Sapio in flashback
scenes in Part II
Tom Hagen – Adopted brother and consigliere, played by Robert
Santino "Sonny" Corleone – Eldest brother, underboss to Vito,
James Caan in
The Godfather Part 1, and by
Roman Coppola in
flashback scenes from Part II
Constanzia "Connie" Corleone – Sister, played by Talia Shire
Frederico "Fredo" Corleone – Elder brother, underboss to
Michael; played by John Cazale
Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone – First wife, played by Simonetta
Kay Adams-Corleone – Second wife, played by Diane Keaton
Anthony Corleone – Son, played by Anthony Gounaris in The
Godfather, by James Gounaris in Part II, and by
Franc D'Ambrosio in
Mary Corleone – Daughter, played by an uncredited actress in
Part II, and by
Sofia Coppola in Part III
Vincent Corleone – Nephew and succeeding Don, played by Andy
^ AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains Archived October 23,
2007, at the Wayback Machine.
The Godfather Movie Review by Anthony Leong". Mediacircus.net.
^ Puzo, Mario and Coppola, Francis Ford. (1971, 29 March). THE
GODFATHER, The Internet Movie Script Database
^ a b
The Godfather Part III DVD commentary featuring Francis Ford
Accessed on June 27, 2014
Amazon.com Accessed on June 27, 2014
Puzo, Mario (1969). The Godfather. G. P. Putnam's Sons.
Coccimiglio, Carmela (2006). "I'm with You Now. I'm with You...":
Corleone as Gangster Figure in Mario Puzo's and Francis Ford
The Godfather Texts. Lakehead University (Canada).
Messenger, Chris (1 February 2012).
The Godfather and American
Culture: How the Corleones Became "Our Gang". SUNY Press. p. 31.
Coppola, Francis Ford (2004). Francis Ford Coppola: Interviews. Univ.
Press of Mississippi. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-57806-666-7.
Bondanella, Peter E. (2004). Hollywood Italians: Dagos, Palookas,
Romeos, Wise Guys, and Sopranos. A&C Black. p. 244.
Tamburri, Anthony Julian; Giordano, Paolo; Gardaphe, Fred L. (2000).
From the Margin: Writings in Italian Americana. West Lafeyette,
Purdue University Press. p. 406.
Head of the
Corleone crime family
Tom Hagen (Interim)
Tom Hagen (Interim)
Head of the
Corleone crime family
The Godfather Returns
The Godfather's Revenge
The Family Corleone
The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Part III
The Godfather (1991)
The Godfather (2006)
The Godfather II (2009)
Billy Van Arsdale
The Godfather (soundtrack)
The Godfather Part II (soundtrack)
The Godfather Part III (soundtrack)
"Speak Softly, Love"
"Promise Me You'll Remember"
List of minor characters in
The Godfather series
The Godfather Effect
The Godfather Papers and Other Confessions
The Godfather Saga
The Last Don