Why The Godfather Part IV Never Happened

Were there plans to make Godfather 4? Apparently it was in the works -- and then it stopped cold.

Andy Garcia in The Godfather Part III
Photo: Paramount Pictures

The question first came up in the 1990s, following the release of The Godfather Part III, and it has surfaced occasionally over the years: will we ever see The Godfather Part IV?

The fact is that we came fairly close at one point — but a potential fourth entry in the series was ultimately stopped in its tracks.

While The Godfather Part III was a modest success with both critics and audiences (it earned $136 million in 1990 money at the box office), it was not enough of a blockbuster to indicate that there was a large audience out there still hungry for more of the Corleone family.

Nevertheless, the Godfather movies in total were lucrative enough that Paramount Pictures would not necessarily say no to more. And sure enough, in the late 1990s, director Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo (author of the original novel and co-writer with Coppola of the first three films) began talking about a fourth movie. The reasons were primarily financial, although Coppola — who had done Part III as a way to get his production company out of debt after a string of box office flops — was not the one who needed the money this time.

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The director told GQ in 2012, “Mario knew he was sick and wanted to leave his kids some money. So I said to Paramount, ‘Give Mario a million dollars to write it and I’ll work with him for free.’ And at that time, Paramount had a very low-budget mentality and didn’t do it.”

Had The Godfather Part IV gone forward, it would have focused on Vincent Corleone’s (Andy Garcia) reign as head of the crime family, after we saw him anointed as the new Don by a retiring Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in The Godfather Part III. The film would find Vincent steering the family fully into the drug trade that his predecessors did their best to avoid, essentially turning it into a drug cartel, with the film tracking its descent back into corruption, decline and eventually final destruction.

Much like The Godfather Part II featured flashbacks to Vito Corleone’s early days as an immigrant in Little Italy (where he was played by Robert De Niro) and the start of his criminal empire, Part IV would have also looked back to the peak years of the Corleones. Vito (to be played again by De Niro) would have been seen at the height of his power, with his eldest child Sonny just beginning to flex his own criminal muscles. The younger children — Michael, Fredo and Connie — would gradually learn the true nature of their father’s business.

As for what the older, more matriarchal version of Connie that we saw in Part III might have done in a fourth chapter, Talia Shire — who played the role in the three existing films — says with a laugh, “I don’t know. Maybe she’d be a senator. There was always this thing about, ‘Let’s become legitimate and who knows, we could get ourselves a president.’ Francis was a drama school major. He knows about 2500 years of dramatic literature…you feel all of these epic-sized themes in his pieces, dramatically. I don’t know if there would have been a fourth one, but franchises are an interesting beast in what they can and cannot explore. So I can’t say.”

Puzo had reportedly written a treatment for the fourth film and the UK press even had Leonardo DiCaprio cast as the young Sonny Corleone. But then the author died in July 1999 at the age of 78, and the project died with him. Elements of his story — the Sonny Corleone portion — formed the basis of a 2012 novel called The Family Corleone by Edward Falco, which was published with the permission of the Puzo estate and led to a legal fight with Paramount that was later settled (Paramount continues to own the rights to make more Godfather movies, although no plans have been announced to date and Francis Coppola says he’s no longer interested).

“Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t come to me and say, ‘Hey, man, where’s Godfather IV?’” Andy Garcia told the New York Times. “I say, ‘I’ll let you know when I get the call.’” Garcia also recently told Business Insider that he’d be happy to reprise the role with Sofia Coppola or another director behind the camera, and would be interested in doing a limited TV series based around Vincent as well.

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While you can never say never when it comes to anything in Hollywood — after all, it took 35 years but they eventually made a sequel to Blade Runner — it seems somehow appropriate that the Godfather saga ended where it did. A fourth film about Vincent’s rise and fall might have been interesting in its own way, but it would take the story further and further away from its core: the corruption of an idealistic young American whose loyalty to his family is twisted by the evils of the world.

For now, the story ends with The Godfather Part III, which has just been re-edited and restored by Coppola under the title Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone.

Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone is out now on Blu-ray and digital.