Why Marlon Brando Did Not Return For ‘The Godfather Part II’

Marlon Brando’s performance as Vito Corleone is iconic. So iconic that it has never been replicated or reprised. Brando never returned in the role, even though he had an opportunity to do so in The Godfather Part II. There is a reason why he rejected the chance to return, despite being so heavily praised for his performance. 

Francis Ford Coppola wanted Marlon Brando to return as young Vito Corleone

Marlon Brando plays Vito Corleone in The Godfather.
Marlon Brando in The Godfather | CBS via Getty Images)

The Godfather Part II is part sequel and part prequel. It follows Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and his rise to power in the mafia world, while also paralleling this with flashbacks to a young Vito Corleone’s (Robert De Niro) rise to the top in New York City and in Sicily. 

De Niro was fantastic as a young Vito. The role skyrocketed De Niro into stardom and earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. However, director Coppola wanted Brando to return to the role, despite Brando being in his late 40’s. A letter written by Coppola and shared by the Daily Mail reveals Coppola urging Brando to return to the role. 

“​​I heard you were back from the South Pacific; but I didn’t want to call you because I always feel stupid bringing up the matter of The Godfather,” Coppola wrote. “My problem is simply that I am stalling and stalling because I have the inkling that it may be possible that you will play the young Vito Corleone. I’ve seen in the past, that even a slight possibility may blossom into a fact, and so I’ve tried to kindle this as best I could…I tell [Paramount] the movie cannot be made without you. But what it really comes down to is me. Marlon, I respect you enormously; and if you told me that you did not want to do it… I would accept that, and never mention it again.”

Apparently, this was an offer that Brando could refuse because he did. However, Brando also didn’t show up when asked to return in a smaller role.

Marlon Brando agreed to cameo in ‘The Godfather Part II’ but didn’t show up

Toward the end of The Godfather Part II, there is a flashback sequence that goes back to the era of The Godfather. The scene features an appearance from Sonny Corleone (James Caan), who was murdered in the first movie. The scene takes place on Vito’s birthday where Michael discusses with his brother wanting to join the Marines. Vito is offscreen and arrives at the house at the end of the sequence. 

Brando was originally supposed to be in this scene. According to Screenrant, Brando just didn’t show up after being “mistreated by Paramount” during the production of the first film. Coppola then had to rewrite the scene in order to focus on Sonny. Despite only working for one day on the sequel, Caan “earned the same amount as he made on the first entry.”

‘The Godfather Part II’ is regarded as one of the greatest sequels of all time

When people argue that the sequels are never as good as the first, The Godfather Part II is often brought up as a counterpoint. There are arguments to this day about which one is better. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are the only two films in a series to both win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The only series that has come close is The Lord of the Rings trilogy. While all three films were nominated for Best Picture, only The Return of the King ended up winning. 

Brando and De Niro are also the first two actors to win Oscars for portraying two versions of the same character. The only other time this has happened is with Joaquin Phoenix and Heath Ledger, who both won the Academy Awards for their performances as Joker in Joker and The Dark Knight

RELATED: ‘The Godfather’: Francis Ford Coppola Used a Real Horse Head for 1 Famous Scene