10 Essential Francis Ford Coppola Films You Need To Watch

5. Rumble Fish (1983)

Rumble Fish

Rusty James (Matt Dillon) is the leader of a gang of punks. His girlfriend (Diane Lane) and his drinking father (Dennis Hopper) have already given up trying to get him on the right path. In his life he always feels standing in the shadow of his legendary brother, Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). Motorcycle Boy has previously led a street gang before he has decided to leave the city.

Things change. The self-destructive Rusty messes up with the law, loses his girlfriend and the leadership of his group. A few months later, his role model and big brother returns to town. But he is no longer the man he once was. Together, the two decide to start again from scratch.

“Rumble Fish” is another youth-oriented film adaptation from the author Susan Eloise Hinton. It was filmed and released in the same year as the previous movie “The Outsiders”. Different from the colorful tribute to the cinema rebels of the 50s and 60s, directed by Ray and starred by Brando, this film is dressed in an aesthetic black and white.

A film about growing up, adulthood, loneliness, the desire for freedom and the everlasting wishfulness to find the right spot in this shark tank called life. You could describe Coppola’s film as melancholy linger in a moment. The only thing that is colored, are the “Rumble Fish”, fighting fish that are trying to kill each other. An unforgettable, innovative cinematic effect, which obviously influenced many upcoming films such as Pleasantville (1998) and Sin City (2005).


4. The Conversation (1974)


While listening to a young couple Ann (Cindy Williams) and Mark (Frederic Forrest), the tapping expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) comes in a conflict with his conscience: All signs point to an impending murder. Harry suspects that his employer, the “director” (Robert Duvall), wants to kill the couple.

The sudden disappearance of his recorded wiretap tapes after a party with his colleague Stan (John Cazale) and his competitor Bernie Moran (Allan Garfield) makes him believe that something is wrong. He also feels shadowed by Harry Martin Stett (Harrison Ford), an employee of the director. Now Harry puts all of his energy to find out more about the secret.

Because of the many headlines about NSA scandals, Coppola’s “The Conversation” is more recent than he himself has probably intended. Hackman’s difficult role of the paranoid-repressive loner sometimes refuses access to his real nature and makes it harder for the viewer to show genuine interest and feel empathy for the character’s fate. The film applies many repetitive retrospectives, cleverly positioned sound effects and troubles the audience with long tension sequences. Although “The Conversation” has a permanent place in the high ranks of the “New Hollywood”, it is not a suitable choice for fans of classic popcorn cinema.


3. Apocalypse Now (1979)

Apocalypse Now

The year 1969, the Vietnam War: Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) is asked to neutralize the renegade, mentally unstable Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who prevails his self-created realm in the Cambodian jungle. From Saigon, Willard embarks on a journey through the green hell per patrol boat along with Chief Petty Officer Philips (Albert Hall), the nervous Saucier Jay Hicks (Frederic Forrest), the Greenhorn and surfer Lance B. Johnson (Sam Bottoms) and the seventeen-year-old Tyrone Miller (Laurence Fishburne), always accompanied by death and despair.

“Apocalypse Now” begins with the end, more precisely with the unforgettable music intro “The End” by the Doors. No other title would have been more appropriate and consciously chosen while you are confronted with slow motion images of war. Coppola himself once said that the film is not about Vietnam, but it is Vietnam.

If you want to immerse yourself in the complete work and watch the director’s cut version with a length of almost 202 minutes, you would completely agree with Coppola’s statement. Due to the increasingly accelerated pace and the exploration of the spiritual depths of U.S. Colonel Kurtz, the viewer takes on the role of a conscious witness.

“Apocalypse Now” is without a doubt one of the most authentic film works of history. However, the whole film production was under no lucky star. Since the production was almost completely shot in the middle of the Philippines jungle and the surrounding areas, the working conditions were even more difficult for cast and crew.

Due to the exhausting physical stress of the main actors, Martin Sheen suffered a massive heart attack that instantly brought the shooting to a halt and the production budget of the planned $15 million rose to 31,5 million. Another problem was Marlon Brando, who asked for an unrealistic million fee for his short 10 minute performance, came unprepared to the set and let his body weight to assume uncontrolled proportions.


2. The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather (1972)

The story begins in 1945 when Don Vito Corleone, one of the most powerful Mafia bosses in New York City and head of one of the Five Families, celebrates his daughter’s wedding with many influential guests. During the dance of the just married couple in the garden, he receives friends of the “family” in the back room. On the occasion of the wedding, they want to pay their respects and ask for various favors.

With the Second World War, the drug trade becomes an attractive business branch, and the ruthless mobster Virgil Sollozzo, so-called “The Turk”, makes a proposal to the Corleones to organize the lucrative heroin trade in New York together. Don Vito refuses this dirty business, since it appears not only immoral, but also too risky for the family.

Then, an attempted murder takes place. While the Don recovers very slowly, his oldest son Santino Sonny Corleone starts a bloody vendetta against the Tattaglias. Michael (Al Pacino) flees to Sicily and marries the young Apollonia in the town of Corleone, although his American girlfriend, Kay (Diane Keaton) waits for him back in New York. Michael’s hiding place in Sicily is betrayed and a car bomb intended for him kills Apollonia. Michael returns to New York and takes over the family business. He orders the simultaneous murder of all four leaders of the competing Mafia families.

Based on Mario Puzo’s 1969 best-selling book “The Godfather”, the 33-year-old Francis Coppola dares to turn the complexly entangled Mafia saga into a 175 minute masterpiece in the gangster film genre. Numerous anecdotes are told regarding the complicated pre-production, starting with the nerve-racking casting for the clan patriarch Don Corleone. In an interview, Coppola speaks about the time how he desperately tries to convince his former sponsor Paramount Pictures to get involved with the notorious Hollywood ‘enfant terrible’ Marlon Brando as the leading role.

In his own words he describes how he was rolling on the floor like a small child and insisted that Brando is the perfect match for the role. For several years, the exceptional actor Brando was only known for his private escapades, his egocentric behavior during shooting and his multi-million dollar breach of contracts. Paramount set Coppola on a short leash and asked for countless restrictive requirements for giving an official approval. Among other things, Brando should be committed for a ridiculous salary, he should appear for unpaid screen tests and should be hold liable with astronomical amounts of compensation in case of breach of contract. Coppola persevered and asked Brando nonetheless for a personal meeting.

According to the old Italian style (he brought a gift basket with Italian delicacies), he convinced Marlon for a spontaneous, improvised interpretation of Don Corleone and filmed the session. When the biased Paramount bosses saw this performance, they realized immediately that a rejection would probably be the biggest mistake ever. The rest is history. The Godfather achieved enormous box office success of an estimated 300 million dollars, three Oscar wins and catapulted Marlon Brando back to the Hollywood Olympus.


1. The Godfather Part II (1974)

The Godfather, Part II (1974)

“The Godfather 2” has two different story lines – it describes both Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) life as the new head of the family, as well as Vito Corleone’s (Robert De Niro) past as an immigrant in the streets of New York. The Michael of the presence tries to expand his empire and the business in the casinos of Las Vegas and Havana, but he encounters resistance. Soon it also turns out that the circle of his enemies reaches into his own family.

In the other part of the story, the nine-year-old Vito witnesses the murder of his father, mother and brother ordered by the local godfather in Sicily. Then, the boy travels to the U.S. and from an ordinary worker becomes the most powerful mobster of New York, always keeping the thought of revenge.

Who else would be able to create a greater masterpiece in the sequel after an impressive introduction such as the first part of the Mafia saga, if not Coppola himself? And how did he manage to do that? With an almost twice higher budget to its predecessor and probably the largest collection of A-class actors of Hollywood. Nowadays probably each director would kill to work with actors like Al Pachino, Robert de Niro, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, and the legendary pioneer of method acting Lee Strasbourg.

As if that was not enough, Federico Fellini’s regular composer Nina Rota decided to compose the legendary theme song. It is no surprise that the second part reaped incredible six Oscars in all main categories. “The Godfather Part II” allows the viewer to make a direct comparison between the traditional authentic values of the Sicilian Mafia following Vito Corleone’s arrival in America and Michael Corleone’s rediscovery of organized crime as a lucrative industry in the progressive 21st century.

Author Bio: Natalie Wach (born 1987) is an independent film producer, script writer and director from Cologne, Germany. In 2011 she founded a video and film production called “United Rebels Production”, which stands for unconventional designs using newest technology.