Although many films about gangsters preceded The Godfather, Coppola's heavy infusion of Italian culture and stereotypes, and his portrayal of mobsters as characters of considerable psychological depth and complexity was unprecedented. Coppola took it further with The Godfather Part II, and the success of those two films, critically, artistically and financially, opened the doors for numerous other depictions of Italian Americans as mobsters, including films such as Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and TV series such as David Chase's The Sopranos. A comprehensive study of Italian American culture on film, conducted from 1996 to 2001 by the Italic Institute of America, showed that close to 300 movies featuring Italian Americans as mobsters (mostly fictitious) have been produced since The Godfather, an average of nine per year.
Popular culture and legacy
The Godfather epic, encompassing the original trilogy and the additional footage Coppola incorporated later, is by now thoroughly integrated into American life and, together with a succession of mob-theme imitators, has led to a highly stereotyped concept of Italian American culture. The first film had the largest impact and, unlike any film before it, its depiction of Italians who immigrated to the United States in the early decades of the 20th century is perhaps attributable to the Italian American director, presenting his own understanding of their experience. The films explain through their action the integration of fictional Italian American criminals into American society. Though the story is set in the period of mass immigration to the U.S., it is rooted in the specific circumstances of the Corleones, a family that lives outside of the law. Although some critics have refashioned the Corleone story into one of universality of immigration, other critics have posited that it leads the viewer to identify organized crime with Italian American culture. Released in a period of intense national cynicism and self-criticism, the American film struck a chord about the dual identities inherent in a nation of immigrants. The Godfather increased Hollywood's negative portrayals of immigrant Italians in the aftermath of the film and was a recruiting tool for organized crime.
The concept of a mafia "Godfather" was an invention of Mario Puzo's and the film's effect was to add the fictional nomenclature to the language. Similarly, Don Vito Corleone's unforgettable "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse"—voted the second-most memorable line in cinema history in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes by the American Film Institute—was adopted by actual gangsters. In the French novel Le Père Goriot, Honoré de Balzac wrote of Vautrin telling Eugene: "In that case I will make you an offer that no one would decline."
Real-life gangsters responded enthusiastically to the film, with many of them feeling it was a portrayal of how they were supposed to act. Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, the former underboss in the Gambino crime family, stated: "I left the movie stunned ... I mean I floated out of the theater. Maybe it was fiction, but for me, then, that was our life. It was incredible. I remember talking to a multitude of guys, made guys, who felt exactly the same way." According to Anthony Fiato after seeing the film, Patriarca crime family members Paulie Intiso and Nicky Giso altered their speech patterns closer to that of Vito Corleone's. Intiso would frequently swear and use poor grammar; but after the movie came out, he started to articulate and philosophize more.
John Belushi appeared in a Saturday Night Live sketch as Vito Corleone in a therapy session trying to express his inner feelings towards the Tattaglia Family, who, in addition to muscling in on his territory, "also, they shot my son Santino 56 times".
In the television show The Sopranos, Tony Soprano's topless bar is named Bada Bing, echoing the line in The Godfather when Sonny Corleone says, "You've gotta get up close like this and bada-bing! You blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit."
The film has been parodied several times on the animated television series The Simpsons. In the season four episode "Mr. Plow", the scene in which Sonny Corleone is shot at the tollbooth is mimicked when Bart Simpson is pelted with snowballs. The scene is again parodied in the season sixteen episode "All's Fair in Oven War", which includes James Caan as himself in a guest voice role. In the season eighteen episode "The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and Her Homer", the film's final scene is mimicked with a door being closed on Lisa Simpson.