Technically, The Godfather, Part II is a sequel to what was at the time the biggest grossing film of all time, The Godfather. In reality, the film is both a prequel and sequel as it tells the story of how Vito Corleone rose to the power he already enjoys in the previous film while also charting the rise and fall of Michael Corleone. Michael is seen assuming the position of Godfather, Don Corleone, in the final scene of previous film.
What may surprise some is that The Godfather, Part II won twice as many Oscars as the first film, including Francis Ford Coppola’s only win thus far for Best Director. (Although The Godfather was named Best Picture in 1972, Bob Fosse won in the directing category for Cabaret). The Godfather Part II enjoyed quite an unusual time at the Oscar ceremony: Robert DeNiro’s win in the Best Supporting Actor category for playing the young Vito Corleone made him and Marlon Brando the only two actors to ever win Oscars for playing the same character. Together with the original, the sequel produced an unprecedented six nominations in the Best Supporting Actor category while also becoming the first sequel to earn five acting nominations on its own. And, of course, proving the exception to a rule that has become the conventional wisdom, The Godfather Part II became the first sequel to win Best Picture.
One interesting bit of trivia: the word “Mafia” is never spoke during The Godfather, but is mentioned on three separate occasions in the sequel. Another tidbit: John Cazale, who plays Fredo Corleone, appeared in only two feature-length movies before The Godfather, Part II and would appear in only two more movies after this film before succumbing to cancer. Each of those five films were all nominated for Best Picture. Amazingly, Cazale himself was the only actor never nominated for playing one of Vito Corleone’s children across the span of two films.
On its original list of the 100 greatest American films of the first 100 years of Hollywood released by the American Film Institute, The Godfather, Part II ranked at number 32 between Annie Hall and High Noon. Ten years later when the AFI released an updated list, the film remained solidly in the number 32 spot, but was now bookended between The Maltese Falcon and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.