The world premiere for The Godfather took place in New York City on March 14, 1972, almost three months after the planned release date of Christmas Day in 1971, with profits from the premiere donated to The Boys Club of New York. Before the film premiered, the film had already made $15 million from rentals from over 400 theaters. The following day, the film opened in New York at five theaters. Next was Los Angeles at two theaters on March 22. The Godfather was commercially released on March 24, 1972 throughout the rest of the United States. The film reached 316 theaters around the country five days later.
The Godfather was a blockbuster, breaking many box office records to become the highest grossing film of 1972. It earned $81.5 million in theatrical rentals in the USA & Canada during its initial release, increasing its earnings to $85.7 million through a reissue in 1973, and including a limited re-release in 1997 it ultimately earned an equivalent exhibition gross of $135 million. It displaced Gone with the Wind to claim the record as the top rentals earner, a position it would retain until the release of Jaws in 1975. News articles at the time proclaimed it was the first film to gross $100 million in North America, but such accounts are erroneous since this record in fact belongs to The Sound of Music, released in 1965. The film repeated its native success overseas, earning in total an unprecedented $142 million in worldwide theatrical rentals, to become the highest net earner. Profits were so high for The Godfather that earnings for Gulf & Western Industries, Inc., which owned Paramount, jumped from 77 cents per share to $3.30 a share for the year, according to a Los Angeles Times article, dated December 13, 1972. To date, it has grossed between $245 million and $286 million in worldwide box office receipts, and adjusted for ticket price inflation in North America, ranks among the top 25 highest-grossing films.
The Godfather has received critical acclaim and is seen as one of the most influential films of all time, particularly in the gangster genre. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 99% rating based on 84 reviews. It has an average score of 9.2. Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a perfect weighted average score of 100 out of 100, based on 14 reviews from mainstream critics, considered to be "universal acclaim". The film is ranked at the top of Metacritic's top 100 list, and is ranked 7th on Rotten Tomatoes' all-time best list (100% "Certified Fresh").
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times praised Coppola's efforts to follow the storyline of the eponymous novel, the choice to set the film in the same time as the novel, and the film's ability to "absorb" the viewer over its three-hour run time. While Ebert was mainly positive, he criticized Brando's performance, saying his movements lacked "precision" and his voice was "wheezy." The Chicago Tribune's Gene Siskel gave the film four out of four stars, commenting that it was "very good." The Village Voice's Andrew Sarris believed Brando portrayed Vito Corleone well and that his character dominated each scene it appeared in, but felt Puzo and Coppola had the character of Michael Corleone too focused on revenge. In addition, Sarris stated that Richard Castellano, Robert Duvall, and James Caan were good in their respective roles.
Desson Howe of the Washington Post called the film a "jewel" and wrote that Coppola deserves most of the credit for the film. Writing for The New York Times, Vincent Canby felt that Coppola had created one of the "most brutal and moving chronicles of American life" and went on to say that it "transcends its immediate milieu and genre." Director Stanley Kubrick thought the film had the best cast ever and could be the best movie ever made. Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic wrote negatively of the film in a contemporary review, claiming that Pacino "rattles around in a part too demanding for him," while also criticizing Brando's make-up and Rota's score.
Previous mafia films had looked at the gangs from the perspective of an outraged outsider. In contrast, The Godfather presents the gangster's perspective of the Mafia as a response to corrupt society. Although the Corleone family is presented as immensely rich and powerful, no scenes depict prostitution, gambling, loan sharking or other forms of racketeering. Some critics argue that the setting of a criminal counterculture allows for unapologetic gender stereotyping, and is an important part of the film's appeal ("You can act like a man!", Don Vito tells a weepy Johnny Fontane).
Remarking on the fortieth anniversary of the film's release, film critic John Podhoretz praised The Godfather as "arguably the great American work of popular art" and "the summa of all great moviemaking before it". Two years before, Roger Ebert wrote in his journal that it "comes closest to being a film everyone agrees... is unquestionably great."
The Godfather was nominated for seven awards at the 30th Golden Globe Awards: Best Picture – Drama, James Caan for Best Supporting Actor, Al Pacino and Marlon Brando for Best Actor – Drama, Best Score, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. When the winners were announced on January 28, 1973, the film had won the categories for: Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actor - Drama, Best Original Score, and Best Picture – Drama. The Godfather won a record five Golden Globes, which was not surpassed until 2017.
Rota's score was also nominated for Grammy Award for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture or TV Special at the 15th Grammy Awards. Rota was announced the winner of the category on March 3 at the Grammys' ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee.
When the nominations for the 45th Academy Awards were revealed on February 12, 1973, The Godfather was nominated for eleven awards. The nominations were for: Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Marlon Brando for Best Actor, Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola for Best Adapted Screenplay, Pacino, Caan, and Robert Duvall for Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Nino Rota for Best Original Score, Coppola for Best Director, and Best Sound. Upon further review of Rota's love theme from The Godfather, the Academy found that Rota had used a similar score in Eduardo De Filippo's 1958 comedy Fortunella. This led to re-balloting, where members of the music branch chose from six films: The Godfather and the five films that had been on the shortlist for best original dramatic score but did not get nominated. John Addison's score for Sleuth won this new vote, and thus replaced Rota's score on the official list of nominees. Going into the awards ceremony, The Godfather was seen as the favorite to take home the most awards. From the nominations that The Godfather had remaining, it only won three of the Academy Awards: Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.
Brando, who had also not attended the Golden Globes ceremony two months earlier, boycotted the Academy Awards ceremony and refused to accept the Oscar, becoming the second actor to refuse a Best Actor award after George C. Scott in 1970. Brando sent American Indian Rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place, to announce at the awards podium Brando's reasons for declining the award which were based on his objection to the depiction of American Indians by Hollywood and television. In addition, Pacino boycotted the ceremony. He was insulted at being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor award, noting that he had more screen time than his co-star and Best Actor winner Brando and thus he should have received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
The Godfather had five nominations for awards at the 26th British Academy Film Awards. The nominees were: Pacino for Most Promising Newcomer, Rota for the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music, Duvall for Best Supporting Actor, and Brando for Best Actor, the film's costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone for Best Costume Design. All of The Godfather's nominations failed to win except for Rota.
|45th Academy Awards||Best Picture||Albert S. Ruddy||Won|
|Best Director||Francis Ford Coppola||Nominated|
|Best Actor (refused)||Marlon Brando||Won|
|Best Supporting Actor||James Caan||Nominated|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||Mario Puzo, Francis Ford Coppola||Won|
|Best Costume Design||Anna Hill Johnstone||Nominated|
|Best Film Editing||William Reynolds, Peter Zinner||Nominated|
|Best Sound||Bud Grenzbach, Richard Portman, Christopher Newman||Nominated|
|Best Original Dramatic Score||Nino Rota||Revoked|
|26th British Academy Film Awards||Best Actor||Marlon Brando (Also for The Nightcomers)||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actor||Robert Duvall||Nominated|
|Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles||Al Pacino||Nominated|
|Best Film Music||Nino Rota||Won|
|Best Costume Design||Anna Hill Johnstone||Nominated|
|25th Directors Guild of America Awards||Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures||Francis Ford Coppola||Won|
|30th Golden Globe Awards||Best Motion Picture - Drama||Won|
|Best Director - Motion Picture||Francis Ford Coppola||Won|
|Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama||Marlon Brando||Won|
|Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture||James Caan||Nominated|
|Best Screenplay||Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola||Won|
|Best Original Score||Nino Rota||Won|
|15th Grammy Awards||Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or TV Special||Nino Rota||Won|
|25th Writers Guild of America Awards||Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium||Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola||Won|
- 1990 Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
- 1998 Time Out conducted a poll and The Godfather was voted the best film of all time.
- 1999 Entertainment Weekly named it the greatest film ever made.
- 2002 Sight & Sound polled film directors voted the film and its sequel as the second best film ever; the critics poll separately voted it fourth.
- 2002 The Godfather was ranked the second best film of all time by Film4, after Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
- 2005 Named one of the 100 greatest films of the last 80 years by Time magazine (the selected films were not ranked).
- 2006 The Writers Guild of America, West agreed, voting it the number two in its list of the 101 greatest screenplays, after Casablanca.
- 2008 Voted in at No. 1 on Empire magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.
- 2012 The Motion Picture Editors Guild listed The Godfather as the sixth best-edited film of all time based on a survey of its membership.
American Film Institute recognition
- 1998 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – #3
- 2001 AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – #11
- 2005 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse." – #2
- 2006 AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – #5
- 2007 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #2
- 2008 AFI's 10 Top 10 – #1 Gangster Film