“At the beginning it’s Vito, by the end it’s Michael”: Al Pacino or Marlon Brando, The Decades Long Godfather Debate May Never Get Settled

Did Al Pacino Take the Cake in The Godfather or Was It Marlon Brando?

marlon brando, al pacino, godfather


  • Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 blockbuster film The Godfather stars Al Pacino as Michael Corleone and Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone.
  • The decades-long debate of whether Al Pacino delivered a more stellar performance than Marlon Brando is pervasive even today.
  • Al Pacino decided to forgo Oscars '73 after being snubbed at the award ceremony.
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Certain films become permanently carved as classics, those that make cinematic history, and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is one such masterpiece. From its unforgettable rendition of the mafia to the entrancing performances of Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, the 1972 gangster film is perhaps one of Hollywood’s greatest pride.

The Godfather
The Godfather (1972) (Credit: Paramount Pictures)

Over 50 years later, however, the long-standing debate about whether Pacino beat the game or Brando, holds just as much weight even today. And it looks like it might not get settled anytime soon.

The Pervasive Debate Stemming From The Godfather

While The Godfather may not be Francis Ford Coppola’s most treasured creation of his, it is nevertheless one of his most showstopping films ever. And thanks to the gripping character portrayals by industry titans like Al Pacino and Marlon Brando, it was worshipped by critics and fans alike (via IMDb).


There was a time when it even got crowned as one of the highest-grossing films at the box office, amassing about $270 million globally (via The Numbers). But while everyone may be unanimous regarding The Godfather‘s astronomical greatness, there seems to be a polarizing rift when it comes to the lead stars, one which seems just as prevalent today as it was back in the ’70s.

The Godfather
Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone (Credit: Paramount Pictures)

On one side of the debate is Scarface star Al Pacino, a globally renowned icon with an assortment of accolades and hit movies under his belt. On the other end is Superman actor Marlon Brando, who was renowned for his explosive talent and even bagged an Oscar for his spectacular depiction as Vito Corleone, the stalwart head of the New York crime syndicate in The Godfather.

While Pacino, 84, enraptured fans with a flawless execution of the crafty and ruthless Godfather, Michael Corleone, the Apocalypse Now star hypnotised viewers as the unrivalled patriarch of the Corleone family. So, the question remains, who did it better?


Al Pacino or Marlon Brando? 

Brando’s committment to the Coppola-helmed sensation went deep, so much so that he resorted to method acting and even altered his physical appearance for his role (via SlashFilm). Despite getting less screen-time than his co-star, he still managed to deliver an Academy award-worthy performance, something that induced Pacino to boycott the award ceremony in ’73.

The ‘Best Supporting Actor’ nomination that The Irishman star received felt like a slap in the face, especially since he had considerably more lines than Brando. “I was somewhat uncomfortable with being in that situation, being in that world,” he told The New York Times in an interview.

Be that as it may, however, it’s an indisputable fact that both the actors completely emblazed the silver screen with their intensely powerful executions in the blockbuster film.

The Godfather
Al Pacino as Michael Corleone (Credit: Paramount Pictures)

Pacino portrayed Michael rather impeccably as he transitioned into the Godfather against a gritty backdrop of crime and violence. Meanwhile, Brando’s devoted contribution to Vito’s character, the cold and piercing air of his person was extraordinarily carved within his aura. A Reddit user perfectly described this blend:

“At the beginning, it’s Vito. By the end, it’s Michael.”

And perhaps that’s the most this debate will ever reach, because choosing one out of two seems simply impossible.

The Godfather can be streamed on Paramount+.


Written by Khushi Shah

Articles Published: 819

With a prolific knowledge of everything pop culture and a strong penchant for writing, Khushi has penned over 700 articles during her time as an author at FandomWire.
An abnormal psychology student and an fervent reader of dark fiction, her most trusted soldiers are coffee and a good book.