The release of The Godfather in 1972 was a milestone in cinema. The near 3-hour-long epic, which chronicled the saga of the Corleone family, received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and fetched Coppola the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, which he shared with Mario Puzo and two Golden Globe Awards: for Best Director and Best Screenplay.
However, Coppola had to face a lot of difficulties while filming The Godfather. He was not Paramount's first choice to direct the movie; Italian director Sergio Leone was initially offered the job, but declined in order to direct his own gangster opus, Once Upon a Time in America.
Peter Bogdanovich was then approached but he also declined the offer and made What's Up, Doc? instead; Bogdanovich has often said that he would have cast Edward G. Robinson in the lead had he accepted the film. According to Robert Evans, head of Paramount Pictures at the time, Coppola also did not initially want to direct the film because he feared it would glorify the Mafia and violence and thus reflect poorly on his Sicilian and Italian heritage; on the other hand, Evans specifically wanted an Italian-American to direct the film because his research had shown that previous films about the Mafia that were directed by non-Italians had fared dismally at the box office and he wanted to, in his own words, "smell the spaghetti". When Coppola hit upon the idea of making it a metaphor for American capitalism, however, he eagerly agreed to take the helm.
There was disagreement between Paramount and Coppola on the issue of casting; Coppola stuck to his plan of casting Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, though Paramount wanted either Ernest Borgnine or Danny Thomas. At one point, Coppola was told by the then-president of Paramount that "Marlon Brando will never appear in this motion picture".
What happened to the guy who gave us The Godfather, Apocalypse Now and Rumble Fish?
Survided a nightmare in the Philippine jungle (see Apocalypse Now Redux), then his private insolvency has to be announced after the horrible flop The Cotton Club, and now a "movie" like Youth Without Youth?.
Where is the inspiration gone? Where are the red fish from Rumble Fish?
Where are the voluminous characters from Godfather gone?
All the faboulous work turned into an "arthouse" movie?
After pleading with the executives, Coppola was allowed to cast Brando only if he appeared in the film for much less salary than his previous films, perform a screen-test and put up a bond saying that he would not cause a delay in the production (as he had done on previous film sets).
Coppola chose Brando over Ernest Borgnine on the basis of Brando's screen test, which also won over the Paramount leadership.