‘Goodfellas’: Why Marlon Brando Told Martin Scorsese Not to Make the Movie

If you were picking the most famous character in mafia movie history, The Godfather’s Don Vito Corleone would be the one. Nearly 50 years after the first Godfather film’s release, you can’t go long without hearing someone quote Don Corleone (either in person or on TV). And Marlon Brando’s performance has a lot everything to do with that.

Brando has had some competition in the iconic film gangster space in the decades since The Godfather hit theaters. Al Pacino’s work as Tony Montana in Scarface (1983) certainly ranks high on the list. And you can say the same about Joe Pesci’s turn as Tommy DeVito in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990).

Goodfellas has been taking something of a victory lap (deservedly so) in its 30th anniversary year. And Made Men (2020), Glenn Kenny’s book on the film, has served as an invaluable guide in that department. In the book, Scorsese recalled Brando’s advice on making Goodfellas.

Marlon Brando told Martin Scorsese he shouldn’t make another crime movie

Marlon Brando kissing his fingertips on a film set in 1980
Marlon Brando in 1989 | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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While many think “gangster movies” as soon as they hear Scorsese’s name, that wasn’t the case in the late ’80s. Sure, he made his name with Mean Streets (1973), but the strictly mafia focus ended there.

In the late ’70s, Scorsese made Taxi Driver and The Last Waltz. Then he kicked off the ’80s with Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, and After Hours. From there, Scorsese took on his ambitious The Last Temptation of Christ. The man didn’t make gangster pictures.

When he went to visit Brando on an island in Tahiti, Scorsese recalled the legendary actor telling him to keep it that way. “During these times, I had misgivings about making another film about organized crime,” Scorsese said in Made Men. “And [Brando] said, ‘You don’t wanna do that again.'”

That advice stuck with Scorsese. “I was going sour on [Goodfellas] a little bit,” he said of that period in Made Men. But advice from another film legend pushed Scorsese back to a “yes” on Goodfellas.

‘Red Shoes’ director Michael Powell convinced Scorsese to make the film

Martin Scorsese framing a shot in the director's chair in the 1980s
Martin Scorsese on set of “GoodFellas” in Queens, New York | Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Scorsese has always surrounded himself with heavyweights from the film industry. (His March 2020 Harper’s article on Federico Fellini serves as yet another reminder.) And while Brando was advising him against Goodfellas, Michael Powell was telling Scorsese he had to make the picture.

Powell, best known for The Red Shoes (1948), was married to Scorsese’s longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. “Thelma had read the script to Michael Powell,” Scorsese recalled in Made Men. “And Michael was not a great fan of the gangster genre. And Michael called and told me, ‘You must do this.'”

Scorsese couldn’t ignore that advice. “That shifted me back into the original energy and original impulse to make the picture, from when I’d read [Wisgeuy: Life a Mafia Family].” Scorsese and Wiseguy author Nicholas Pileggi had already written the Goodfellas script; it was time to get it on film.