Adaptation Displacement: The original novel by Mario Puzo is less well-known to modern audiences than the films. The way that the films are titled Mario Puzo's The Godfather were actually an attempt by Francis Ford Coppola to avoid this.
There's a fairly popularfan theory that Rocco was involved in Roth's plot against Michael in Part II. While there's little textual evidence for it, it would explain Rocco's failure to foil the assassination attempt or to bring the shooters in alive. It would also explain why Michael would order, and he would readily accept, a borderline suicide mission to kill Roth later in the film as a chance of atonement with Michael.
When Fredo is about to be assassinated, he is heard saying Hail Marys. Is this an allusion to his earlier instruction to Anthony in the film, or does he know he's about to die?
Michael is still shown to be rather forgiving toward Fredo in Part 2, telling him that they are still brothers and telling Tom Hagen that he feels Fredo was misled. However, after listening to his rant in the boathouse, Michael instantly disowns him and prepares to order his death. Did Michael plan on killing him from the start and just feign forgiveness so he could draw information out and question him? Or did he genuinely want to reconcile and only considered killing him after realizing that Fredo's insecurities were both petty and a continuing threat?
And You Thought It Would Fail: Paramount had no expectations for the film, despite it being based on a bestseller. Francis Ford Coppola was hired only for his Italian origins; the studio gave him limited funds and complained about every decision of his. It became the highest-grossing movie ever upon release, and is frequently in "best of all time" lists.
This might seem churlish in light of the fact that the first two movies each won Best Picture and numerous other Oscars besides (though Coppola lost Best Director for the first one to Bob Fosse for Cabaret, he won for the second one), but amazingly enough, Gordon Willis's seminal camerawork in the first two movies wasn't even nominated. Think about that.
Al Pacino's performances as Michael Corleone in Part I and Part II (especially the latter) are considered to be among the best performances in film history. Yet, he received no Oscar for either one. He was even nominated in the wrong category (as Supporting Actor) for Part I when he was obviously the main character.
Three actors were nominated for Part II, but John Cazale wasn't among them, even with Fredo taking on an emotional crux in the latter portions of the film. Cazale deserves special mention; during his sadly short lifetime that got cut by lung cancer at the age of 42, he appeared in five movies, all of which were at least nominated for Best Picture (he also appeared in Stock Footage for a flashback scene in Part III, which was also nominated). No other actor can claim every role he made was in a Best Picture nominee.
There's a quite lengthy subplot in the original novel about one of Sonny's mistresses who goes out to Hollywood, becomes friends with Johnny Fontane, and eventually falls in love with a plastic surgeon who performs reconstructive surgery on her vagina and then marries her. Francis Ford Coppola later said he was so disturbed by this portion of the book that it almost put him off filming it. Part III ignores this entirely by introducing Vincent, who is the same mistress's son (the book makes a point of saying Sonny never knocked her up before he was killed).
This subplot ties into a bizarre string of borderline poetic passages going to great lengths to romanticize Sonny having an abnormally large penis (to go with his girlfriend's abnormally large vagina), with descriptions such as "Sonny's cock is so large prostitutes charge him double!" and "Sonny's cock is so large his wife's glad he's having affairs!" Understandably, this was cut from the film as well, although in the background of the wedding scene, you can see an allusion being made to it.
The Superman scene in Part II, for similar reasons, though it at least ties in with the plot.
Common Knowledge: A minor example: Richard Matheson is often said to be one of the Senators in Part II (even IMDB lists him), but he's uncredited on the film, Matheson himself denies it, and there's no evidence beyond it being repeated ad nauseum.
Contested Sequel: Part III, big-time. Opinions range from "absolutely terrible" to "not terrible, but not as good in comparison to the two masterpieces that preceded it". Some people contend that Part III would be a great movie, if not for Sofia Coppola's performance (though in all fairness she was a last-minute replacement for Winona Ryder) as Michael's daughter. It would have also been nice to have Robert Duvall back as Tom Hagen. There are some who consider it just as good as the first 2; this video essay makes an argument for how the third film works if seen as the epilogue to the first two, as Coppola and Puzo originally intended.
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: As long as you don't look too closely, the mob life looks very attractive when you can live it like Michael and Fredo and the rest. Even all the shady stuff - killings, fights, wife abuse, prostitution, drugs, animal cruelty, and double parking - seems so appealing. Not to mention that many real-life mobsters loved the movies.
Tom Hagen is a pretty minor character whose backstory is barely even touched upon in the films, and yet he still manages to be a fan-favorite character for being the consigliere of the Corleone family and being one of the most logical and having a lot of common sense.
The other crime bosses of the Five Families have quite a bit of fans even though they barely get any screentime or development.
Luca Brasi is only in the first film for a few minutes, and has less than five minutes of screentime. He's also very popular, and in the first video game, was featured prominently as a sort of mentor. Al Neri is also popular despite saying virtually nothing in the first two films.
Apollonia has quite a following on websites such as Tumblr or Pinterest even though she does not get that much screen time and very little dialogue.
Don Vito is such a cool character that many real-life mobsters changed their methods of operations after the film came out to emulate his code of honour. His origin story in Part II is just one Moment of Awesome after another, culminating in his murder of Don Ciccio.
This movie's fandom has one with The Dark Knight's, and now, The Shawshank Redemption's, over which movie deserves to be #1 on IMDB's Top 250 movies of all time list, see Shawshank's YMMV page for full details.
Fans of Scorsese's gangster films Mean Streets and especially, GoodFellas tend to insist that the latter is more realistic, more truthful and less sentimental than The Godfather, and expect people to debate which is the better "gangster" film. Note that this is only among fans, Scorsese and Coppola are themselves good friends and Coppola even cast Catherine Scorsese, Martin's mother who would often cameo in her son's films (and shared a famous scene in GoodFellas) in Part III.
Fight Scene Failure: When Sonny beats down Carlo, one of his punches very obviously misses by a mile, but comes with an impact sound effect and reaction. Ironically, James Caan really did injure Gianni Russo during the filming of this scene.
First Installment Wins: While The Godfather II is considered a masterpiece and as good, and by some to be the better film, Part I still remains the more iconic and better known of the two films. This is mainly because Marlon Brando's Vito Corleone is the single most iconic character of the films and he's only there in the first film, with most of his screen-time happening in the early acts of the first film, being the Decoy Protagonist before Michael takes over. As such that remains the most well-known and well-remembered part of the entire series at least among the general public and most of the parodies around this series.
Long-lost Corleone family friends emerging from nowhere (Don Altobello)? Hello, Hyman Roth and Frank Pentangeli! Historical background woven into the main plot (the Vatican Bank scandal)? Remember Michael testifying before the Kefauver Committee and visiting pre-revolutionary Havana? And Coppola's casting family members goes back to the original: Talia Shire, his sister, played Connie in all three films. This was accepted back then, because the main characters (Michael, Kay, Tom Hagen, Fredo) from the original films carried over with the story-arc continuing directly, and the fact that the first two films released in proximity meant that audiences could easily suspend disbelief about World Building, as opposed to the decade plus gap between Part II and Part III and the greater Time Skip which changed the entire context audience had with the films and these characters. Aside from Michael and Kay, Part III had entirely new characters with Coppola himself admitting that Tom Hagen's absence crippled it from providing real closure to the story. Talia Shire in addition to being a good character actress also played a minor role in the first two films, having an expanded part in the third one, whereas Sofia Coppola in addition to being inexperienced (and never wanting to be an actress in the first place)note Coppola had to cast her once his first choice of Winona Ryder, who he later worked with on Bram Stoker's Dracula anyway, bailed out and he needed to make the film to get out of bankruptcy was expected to play the emotional center of Part III, which was a far more demanding part that brought greater scrutiny and attention to the perceived nepotism.
The new characters in the second film were also crime bosses and rival gangsters and the historical bit was tied to US History and Politics (i.e. American intervention in Cuba) which was thematically appropriate to the first film's exploration of the American Dream. Part III on the other hand had shady financiers, corrupt cardinals, and basically works in its early section as a boring business procedural (Michael gives speeches at Wall Street, as if he's trying to keep up with the Gekkos) without any further explanations as to the sudden Genre Shift, since the high-rolling finance side of the Corleone Empire never really connects with Vincent Mancini's classically street gangster story arc. The focus on European financial corruption feels esoteric and remote in comparison to the US History references of the first two films and doesn't really tie into the overall immigration and assimilation story of the first two films. The Vatican Bank scandal by its very nature is also extremely topical and arcane with many facts still unknown, as compared to Cuba where Mafia influence and collusion with the Batista regime, with the support of the US Government, was fairly well known.
Genius Bonus: The establishing shot of the meeting between Vito and the heads of the other five families shows that it is being held in the Federal Reserve.
Genre Turning Point: This was one of the most groundbreaking and important movies in American history:
Until The Godfather, gangster pictures and crime movies were seen as disposable genre movies, and famous stars who started their careers in popular gangster films such as Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney won critical acclaim, in their day and age, for their non-genre performancesnote James Cagney for instance won his only Oscar for the musical biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy, Bogart who started playing gangsters, then played detectives in many Film Noir, eventually won an Oscar for The African Queen where he played an ordinary seaman. Yet after Coppola's film, an instant-classic and commercial powerhouse, gangster movies and crime dramas was raised in profile and esteem and started getting bigger budgets and more elaborate production design than ever before.
It also did this for Italian-American and ethnic Americans in general. Before The Godfather, Italian-Americans were usually considered Funny Foreigners in Hollywood movies and the general look of Hollywood was fairly WASPy. While films feature Italian-Americans and other hyphenated immigrant Americans did exist before, it was usually seen as a niche film. The Godfather brought the immigrant experience to the mainstream, and its critical, sympathetic and down-to-earth portrayal of Italian Americans, while ironically catering to The Mafia stereotype, broke all the cliches with American audiences identifying with Michael Corleone to the same extent they once identified with Scarlett O'Hara.
Bank robber John Wojtowicz had seen the film the same day as his famous hostage situation, and said it was an inspiration for some of his tactics. Al Pacino would go on to play him in the film adaptation of the event, Dog Day Afternoon, with John Cazale as his accomplice.
Bruno Kirby's casting as young Pete Clemenza in Part II becomes this after his casting, years later, in The Freshman where he plays Marlon Brando's son - with Brando's character a dead ringer for Vito Corleone.
When Vito goes to buy oranges before being shot, a poster for an upcoming boxing match featuring Real Life boxer Jake LaMotta is visible next to the fruit cart. Eight years after The Godfather, Coppola's close friend Martin Scorsese went on to direct a highly successful biopic about LaMotta, where he was portrayed by the same actor who portrayed a young Vito.
The Corleone family's opposition to the dealing drugs becomes this when after the legalization of marijuana in California and other states, Francis Ford Coppola being a well-known vintner opened a side business dealing luxury marijuana.
Part I: Vito Corleone, the Godfather himself, is the charismatic head of the Corleone family who started the crime family from nothing. After being bullied in his youth by the supposed mafioso Don Fanucci, Vito soon outplayed and disposed of him, becoming a "treasured friend" to the neighborhood who traded favor for favor. Even in his old age, Vito is the true strength of the Corleone family, who holds most of New York's judges and politicians in his pocket. When he is gunned down by the assassins of Virgil Sollozzo, Vito later returns after his eldest son's death, but uses a peace summit to determine who the true mastermind of the war was before making plans so his son Michael will wipe out all the enemies of the family, even after Vito's death. An iconic who defined The Don, Vito misses little chance to show why he is the most talented and powerful Don in the nation.
Part II: Hyman Roth, seeking revenge for his protege and friend Moe Greene at Michael's hands, has Michael's brother Fredo manipulated into giving his men a chance to murder Michael. Also manipulating a situation in New York through his proxies the Rosato Brothers, Roth has them attempt to murder Michael's New York caporegime, Frank Pentangelli, while making him think it was Michael's doing. Roth then uses Frank's survival to get him to turn witness for the State, even buying out the members of the Senate's investigative committee so Michael will be personally indicted. Soft spoken and relaxed, Roth hides an utterly devious mind, seeking personal revenge under the guise of everything being "strictly business" and comes closest to bringing Michael down.
Memetic Mutation: Many phrases and Mafia tropes originate from these movies, to the point that people who haven't seen the movie don't even realize that they're referencing a specific movie. Some examples:
The line "an offer he can't refuse," as well as "the day of my daughter's wedding", "may your first child be a masculine child," and "leave the gun. Take the cannoli" have become so common many don't even realize they're referencing a movie.
You X but you do it without respect.
The horse's head scene is ripe for parody.
The first known use of the phrase "badabing!", and many more.
Part II has the "I don't want to know you or what you do" speech.
Michael giving Fredo the Kiss of Death, as well as "I knew it was you, you broke my heart" is universally parodied.
Willie Cicci's "The Family had a lot of buffers!" is frequently applied to real-life business or political scandals.
"Michael, we're bigger than US Steel" gets quoted often to describe the scope of corruption in business, in politics, in the world.
From the third movie, "Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in."
Vito's reaction to seeing Sonny's body ("Look how they massacred my boy") has become an often used reaction to things getting ruined.
Related to "You don't X with respect" above, the "You found paradise in America" speech has become popular to quote on social media in response to being asked about a controversial topic.
They gave him an offer he refused. (Marlon Brando turned down his Oscar for Best Actor.)
Misaimed Fandom: More than a few people have, when discussing the film, referred to Michael as the ultimate Badass. Smart, powerful, decisive, etc. That is not the point of his character arc. His story is a tragedy. Real-life mobsters are huge fans of the trilogy.
And more specifically, the first case was an offscreen example, with two men attempting to rape Bonasera's daughter and brutalising her for resisting, to the point that her jaw was broken and her face was irreparably damaged. After this, nobody blames either Bonasera or Don Vito for repaying the favour. And the second case was an offscreen example of Vito pulling strings so that an Italian POW can get a green card so that he can marry the girl he honorably courted. Vito asked money for this favor, some of which likely was used to bribe officials, but the audience can sympathize with a man wishing that his protege and prospective son-in-law be able to remain in the country to be with the one he loves.
Captain Mark McCluskey is as dirty as they come and on Sollozo's payroll, so it comes as no surprise that he easily crosses and becomes an accomplice to Don Vito's attempted murder and that he uses unwarranted violence against an (at this point) undeserving Michael. It does drive home though, that many supposedly respected authority figures are every bit as vile as the criminals they claim to hunt.
Part II's Moral Event Horizon is much clearer where Michael has his own brother Fredo killed for unwittingly betraying Michael to Hyman Roth. Even when it's become obvious that there was no need for the killing at this point, and even he seems to understand this at the end of the movie, when it's too late. It's so painful that Part IIIcan be viewed as Michael's attempt to atone for the sin of fratricide by seeking salvation allying with the Catholic Church. For some it's even earlier than that when he has one of his own prostitutes killed just to have some dirt on a Jerkass Senator. Up until that point the Corleone family only targeted gangsters or other combatants, and generally tried to avoid violence, especially against civilians.
In the same film, Kay deliberately crosses this in Michael's eyes by aborting his to-be son, to ensure he couldn't forgive her and wouldn't stop her from leaving him. It's pretty ballsy considering what he's had done to people that cross him - possibly, the only reason he left her alone was his traditional values forbidding him from hurting his family. In the Winegardner sequels, Kay upbraids Michael for killing the family physician Jules Segal (who is absent from the films but a supporting character in Puzo's novel) simply because Michael thought Segal was the one who performed the abortion.
Carlo viciously beating Connie in order to draw Sonny out and have him killed. Which was an only slightly more ambitious reason than the usual of beating her for nothin'. This leads to Mike openly lying about sparing Carlo for info on his enemies only to have him brutally strangled mere minutes later. Notably this has consequences for Michael's relations. Did Carlo deserve it? Absolutely. But the lie, combined with becoming Carlo's son's godfather that day and neglecting how it would wreck Connie's (by all accounts already messed up) life, shows how ruthless Michael has become, even if this was one of the most justified executions in the film. It's topped off by lying straight to his own wife's face about it.
Narm: Michael's meeting with Moe Greene had the latter go on a rant about the former family's waning power over New York and the Five Families. It is threatening at first, but when Moe says "I talked to Barzini", his voice goes so low to the point where one can snicker remembering what Darth Vader sounded like.
A family-drama about an Italian-American family, whose Patriarch is a "legitimate businessman" with mob ties, who wants his young son to be The One Who Made It Out and whose elder brothers compete for their father's approval and legacy. The film we are discussing is Joseph L. Mankiewicz's House of Strangers. Incidentally, Richard Conte (the actor who played Barzini in Part I) plays the hero in this film, and in his day was considered the first major Italian-American actor.
Likewise, the film's portrayal of the Mafia and Little Italy in Part II was also preceded by Richard Wilson's Pay or Die a 1960 film with Ernest Borgnine as the Italian-American police officer Joe Petrosino, who became a martyr when he was killed by the Mob. Coppola also cited several Italian films which inspired him, such as Francesco Rosi's Salvatore Giuliano, Alberto Lattuada's Mafioso among others, which inspired him, especially for the Sicilian sections.
Much of the plot also resembles Martin Ritt's The Brotherhood (1968) with Kirk Douglas, about a mobster's war hero son (Alex Cord) returning home and joining the family business, a subplot about a congressional investigation into organized crime, and several scenes set in Sicily. However, that movie's story mainly focuses on the fraternal dispute between Douglas and Cord over control of their family than The Godfather's more expansive plot and ensemble cast. These similarities may not be a coincidence; Mario Puzo believed that Paramount (which produced both movies) stole plot elements from an early draft of The Godfather novel without attribution.
One-Scene Wonder: Moe Greene has precisely two scenes (one consisting of him being shot in the eye) yet manages to be among the first film's most memorable characters.
This was the first gangster movie to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It also ranks among the very few crime dramas to ever win the top award: The French Connection won the year before, The Sting won shortly after, The Godfather Part II won later, and after that one had to wait until The Silence of the Lambs and most recently The Departed before a crime movie was considered "worthy" of the award.
Likewise, Marlon Brando became the first actor to win an Oscar (albeit his second one) for starring in a gangster film (at least it was considered as such before release). And it's also the only franchise in film history to win two best picture awards.
Woltz has this realisation in the novel after that (in)famous scene, recognizing that if The Mafia could sneak onto his grounds and do the deed they did... In the sequel novels written by Mark Winegardner, when Tom Hagen is obligated to pay Woltz a visit several years later, he finds that much of the tasteful statuary and landscaping on the property have been removed and replaced in favor of greater visibility and security, giving the house a stark, almost fortress-like feel.
The sheer amount of people that betray the Corleones is staggering: Paulie, Fabrizio, Carlo, Tessio, Fredo, Hyman Roth, Pentangeli, Willi Cicci, and Don Altobello to name a few. It breeds so much mistrust in Michael that by the end of Part II, Michael trusts no one and it's kind of hard to blame him.
Fredo is this to a lot of fans for being such a weak, incompetent, pathetic character, and his betrayal in the second movie doesn't help.
Mary Corleone. Sofia Coppola's performance as Mary in the third film is hated by nearly all. Compounding the issue is the apparent nepotism of her casting. She was actually cast only because Winona Ryder backed out at the last minute and there was no time to get another actress. Sofia fared MUCH better as a film director.
"Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: On account of being so ubiquitous in popular culture and influential, it's often lost how radical and innovative the film was when it came out:
Until The Godfather there were many crime movies, many great films, that more or less covered the themes it did, but this was the first mainstream commercial film to fully embrace the perspective of a Villain Protagonist who remains sympathetic despite being and remaining a criminal who goes unpunished legally. It was the first film to fully take advantage of the end of the moral censorship of The Hays Code, after all even Bonnie and Clyde ended (for historical reasons) with the charming villain protagonists dead. The sequels also subvert many of the old crime movie tropes, such as Redemption Quest, the cops and the government trying to end the mob (they actually go into business together) and even the Angels with Dirty Faces concept of a priest reforming a criminal in The Godfather Part III, while also deconstructing and even mocking the idea of Italian-Americans needing to be a model minority from the WASP establishment (who are shown in the film to be just as corrupt and not in any way morally superior), that was featured in the original Scarface (1932).
Fans of Martin Scorsese's gangster films as well as The Sopranos sometimes attack The Godfather for having a too romantic view of the mob and sentimentalizing The Mafia. At the time Coppola made the film, romanticizing the mob was the radical thing to do, since all gangster films before it had been too Anvilicious and painted gangsters as one-dimensional thugs with no personalities. To radically break from the tropes that existed before, Coppola and Puzo, went to the opposite end and overlaid the style (with Coppola even comparing it to an opera). The films by Scorsese and others that followed were more realistic in emphasizing the violence and sociopathy of the mob life but they also sought to make them three-dimensional relatable characters the way The Godfather did, which does at times make The Godfather take on the crime family and genre feel a little off, mixed as it is with Epic Movie and old-fashioned Hollywood touches.
Sequelitis: Part III. Coppola felt the Corleone saga was finished with the second and only made the movie due to financial issues, hence the movie coming out sixteen years after the last film. As opposed to the universally beloved originals, the third's reception is... mixed, to say the least.
The opening scene, where Don Vito Corleone talks with the undertaker, Amerigo Bonasera, about how friendship, respect and etiquette works in the Sicilian mob, is one of the most often referenced and parodied scenes from the films.
The Baptism scene, where Micheal proves that he is even more cunning and ruthless than his father, by having his men elimating all the family's enemies in one fell swoop, through a montage of assassinations, interspliced with him calmly reciting the baptismal vows as he stands as Godfather at his nephew's baptism, is perhaps the second most referenced scene from the first film.
When it comes the second film, the scene where Micheal gives Fredo the Kiss of Death, and tells him, "I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!" is the most referenced one.
Special Effects Failure: When Sonny beat the bejesus of out of Carlo for hitting Connie, the third and especiallyfourth punch did not connect (with the fourth actually hitting thin air), and Carlo still hilariously reacts as if he's been hit full force respectively in the right-ribs and left jaw.
Tough Act to Follow: Part III is not an awful film by any stretch and is pretty decent on its own. Unfortunately, when you're coming after two of the most well-regarded and iconic movies of all time, "pretty decent" falls far short of the mark.
Vindicated by History: The Godfather Part II was released to mixed reviews, with some critics feeling that the flashbacks to Vito's rise to power hampered the flow of the movie. It's since become thought of as one of the greatest sequels ever made (if not the greatest), with a lot of praise going to Vito's flashbacks and the way they compare and contrast with Michael's story.
Fabrizio is trying to kill Michael with a car bomb while an exiled Michael enjoys a marriage in Sicily. You'd Expect: The perpetrator to make sure that A) nobody else triggers the bomb before Michael gets in the rigged car, and B) Michael actually gets in the car, or at least stands close enough to the car to be gravely injured. Instead: The perpetrator just walks away from from the scene after planting the bomb. Unfortunately for him, Michael's wife Apollonia is attempting to operate the car. By the time this happens Michael is not only nowhere near the soon-to-explode car, but has caught the perpetrator red-handed and is about to confront him. Apollonia is blown up instead, and Michael lives.
What Do You Mean, It's Not Political?: Some of the movies' broader and social commentary about American society, the interplay between capitalism and crime and how the Mafia as depicted by Puzo and Coppola parallels the government is certainly intentional. Some of the more specific commentary is more open to interpretation. The second film features a scathing depiction of American involvement in pre-Castro Cuba, which is either a fictionalization of well-attested historical fact or a commentary on American foreign investments and overseas actions generally. Many contemporary critics felt that the Senate hearings in Part II were meant to invoke the then-recent Watergate scandal, though modern viewers might not think so considering how ubiquitous the Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee trope has become.
In the first film at least he's clearly one in-universe as well. When he filled in for Paulie as Vito's bodyguard the two assassins completely ignore him even though he's armed (for a second until he pathetically fumbles the gun). Under the "rules" he was not a civilian and they'd have been perfectly justified in shooting him. However while killing Vito was business, killing Fredo would've likely been seen as murdering a helpless innocent man and would've been unforgivable making the business hit on Vito pointless.
In the novel, Sollozzo tells Hagen that his men left Fredo alone specifically because the (attempted) hit on the Don was "only business" and Sollozzo didn't want more bloodshed. Basically, it was a weird kind of goodwill gesture.
Apollonia. She was a young Sicilian wife who was happy to start her new life with Michael and make babies. Despite this, she still wanted to embrace new ideas of independence like a modern woman, which ultimately led to her death. As she was trying to impress Michael with learning how to drive, she turns on the car, which ignited a car bomb that killed her. But the worst part about it? The car bomb wasn't intended for her; it was intended for Michael, by the hands of Fabrizio who even specifically asked if she would be in there before planting the bomb. So really her death was a combination of things: being in the wrong place at the wrong time, marrying the wrong man, and wanting nothing more than a family while also embracing modern independent values.
Vito's Mother. Her husband and older son are both murdered by a man who seems both ruthless and petty. When she goes to him to beg for the life of her other son he flat out tells her that he's going to die. She then makes a heroic sacrifice to give him a chance for survival.
Carmela (Vito's wife) in the novel. It mentions how, after Sonny's assassination, none of her beloved sons were there for her: Sonny was dead, Fredo was semi-exiled to Nevada, and Michael was in hiding in Sicily. And her only daughter was married to an abusive brute.
For the games:
Annoying Video-Game Helper: Your allies' pitching in with firepower can get annoying if you're trying for certain execution styles. Some other times, all you want is to run away without escalating a situation, but they just have to open fire...
While bosses may wear body armour and wield heavy firepower, a single Boom, Headshot! will end them every time.
This tends to be the case a lot in the second game. Unlike the first game, where murdering a boss are actual full-on levels, the enemy Dons of II can be just as randomly and easily killed as any of their soldiers. If you're not careful, you're likely to be denied a final confrontation with them if they die by someone else's hand or you just never cross their path at all when you destroy the compounds.
Damn Tommy gun and shotgun mobsters will tear you a new one for a lot of the game if you're not careful. And if an enemy with a magnum gets the drop on you, may God have mercy.
Mobsters with trench-coats. They take more hits to take them down.
The Barzinis (color green) are the toughest family in the game. They have powerful weapons (including street sweeper shotguns) and many wear trench-coats, which as mentioned above means it takes more shots to take them down. Unless your stats are high, don't even try to take on a Barzini business below the rank of Capo.
Designated Love Interest: Frankie Malone in the first game. Aldo rescues her from some hoods, there are one or two quick cutscenes of the two showing mild romantic interest, then suddenly they're treated as an inseparable couple, being given an apartment together, etc. This may be somewhat justified, as it would be difficult to show a romance story in a crime/action focused game.
Goddamn Bats: The Tattaglias (tan), easily the weakest family in the game. Even those with trench-coats are easy to take out.
It's Easy, So It Sucks!: A charge often leveled at the sequel. Players often didn't bother with the "hunting the rival family's made men" side quests because the benefit was negligible when it came time to take down the family compound. Elite Mooks, up to and almost including the family Don, were almost indistinguishable from ordinary buttonmen.
Player Punch: It seems like nearly everyone you know ends up getting killed by other mobsters, or betraying you and then getting killed by you. Luca Brasi, Paulie Gatto, Frankie, Sonny, Monk, Tessio, and Jaggy Jovino (and Sergeant Ferreira in the Wii version). YMMV because you never see these characters outside of missions anyway, so it's hard to get attached to them. Still, you gotta give the game some credit for trying.
That One Achievement: The first game rewards you for killing an enemy by every method the game keeps track of. By far the most difficult is "Traffic Accident". This requires you to grab an enemy and then throw them so they are hit and killed by a moving car. First, this requires you to find an enemy (preferably alone and not armed with a gun) near a trafficked street, then injure them enough that the collision will kill them, while you are at the mercy of the Random Number God whether there will be passing cars spawned on the street. Getting the enemy hit by the car requires precise placement and timing. Throw them too early or from too far, they will hit the ground next to the car. Too late, they will hit the side of the car, which the game treats the same as if you throw them against a wall. Either of the previous instances will also injure and likely to kill the enemy in their weakened state and require you to start over.
While badass, the Don and Don of NYC cutscenes that effectively end the game are fairly lackluster. While all of the promotion scenes up to that point have extensive involvement with the other characters in the game showing their reaction and adoration for the player, all the characters of note effectively vanish after the Underboss promotion and in the cutscenes the characters that do appear don't say anything. It would have been interesting to get some context by showing the players how the process of promoting an underboss to Don and ruling over New York City actually plays out.
In the sequel, whilst Carmine Rosato receives a proper, if somewhat lacklustre, end, Tony Rosato is only encountered during the attack on his compound and can even then be missed if you just mow down all your enemies in the assault. Considering that both brothers' actors were still alive and active at the time, it seems like a missed opportunity not to have included them more.