The Godfather vs. Scarface: Which is better?


Fact Box

  • The Godfather was based on the best-selling 1969 novel by Mario Puzo, who surprisingly “had no personal knowledge of organized crime,” and relied on research to accurately portray the fictional Corleone family.  
  • Directed by Brian DePalma, Scarface is a remake of the 1932 Howard Hawks film of the same name, with the main character based on famous gangster Al Capone. 
  • Marlon Brando turned down his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather when he won the coveted statue in 1973, citing “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.”
  • Oliver Stone, who wrote the screenplay for Scarface, drew from his own experiences as a cocaine addict when writing the film.

Andrei (The Godfather)

Both The Godfather and Scarface are epic crime films featuring legendary actor Al Pacino. However, despite the talented portrayals he lends to both of these masterpieces, The Godfather easily rises to the top. For most mob fans, comparing Michael Corleone's cold calculation versus Tony Montana's brutish bravado is like juxtaposing a bottle of Dom Perignon with a six-pack of Corona--they're just not in the same category. As Den of Geek's Tony Sokol quips, 'As far as crime tactics and strategic villainy, Michael Corleone plays a game of chess. Tony Montana plays hopscotch.' 

Aside from the main characters' differing levels of sophistication, The Godfather--a New York mafia movie centered around the Corleone family--emphasizes loftier themes such as the importance of family and respect for others. In one scene, the head of the Corleone family, Don Corleone, even remarks, '...a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man.' Despite running a powerful and lucrative drug and extortion business, both Don and Michael value family, love, and loyalty above money. The same can't be said about Scarface’s Tony Montana, whose love for excess causes him to be careless and start slipping. 

Additionally, there seems to be an over-exaggeration of Scarface's merits. The Godfather was ranked third on the American Film Institute's '100 Greatest American Movies of All Time' list, while Scarface didn't even make the cut. Further, with The Godfather's three Oscar wins--compared to Scarface having never taken home an Academy statue--the proof in the pudding. 

Finally, there's something to be said for how The Godfather was culturally more significant, as it influenced how Italian-Americans were perceived in society. Scarface just doesn't have the same gravitas. 

Mark (Scarface)

Scarface has surpassed The Godfather as the greatest movie of its genre in almost every conceivable metric. It has impacted pop culture in countless ways and has inspired performers and artists across all industries. Al Pacino has gone on record saying Tony Montana was his favorite role to play, and it's understandable why. The character is one of the most iconic in all of film, spawning countless imitators. Scarface is one of the most universally quoted films in cinematic history, with 'say hello to my little friend' recognizable in any part of the world. 

Aside from Tony Montana, Scarface's overall narrative and scope are far more relatable than The Godfather. Few people have experienced being in any kind of mafia, but millions have endured poverty and uncertainty while clinging to a dream. In many ways, Scarface is the realization of the American dream in the most gritty and realistic way imaginable. Al Pacino has described Scarface as a more multifaceted film than The Godfather, and frankly, he is one of the most qualified authorities to make such a claim. But, this is not to say that the movie is inaccessible. Scarface has a simple plot and is easy to understand, whereas The Godfather requires a more concentrated effort from the viewer. 

It's also important to remember that Scarface achieves in one film what it takes The Godfather three installments to do. Scarface is a standalone effort, and most--if not all--of its characters reach a definitive climax. Fifty years from now, people will still be quoting lines from Scarface. It's a movie that has only grown more powerful over time.

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