The release of The Godfather in 1972 was a milestone in cinema. The near 3-hour long epic, which chronicled the saga of the Corleone family, received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, and fetched Coppola the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, which he shared with Mario Puzo, and two Golden Globe Awards- for Best Director and Best Screenplay. However, Coppola had to face a lot of difficulties while filming The Godfather. Firstly he was not Paramount's first choice to direct the movie. Italian director Sergio Leone was offered the job first, but he declined in order to direct his own gangster opus, Once Upon a Time in America. Peter Bogdanovich was then approached but he also declined the offer and made What's Up, Doc? instead; Bogdanovich has often said that he would have cast Edward G. Robinson in the lead had he accepted the film. According to Robert Evans, head of Paramount Pictures at the time, Coppola also did not initially want to direct the film because he feared it would glorify the Mafia and violence, and thus reflect poorly on his Sicilian and Italian heritage; on the other hand, Evans specifically wanted an Italian-American to direct the film because his research had shown that previous films about the Mafia that were directed by non-Italians had fared dismally at the box office, and he wanted to, in his own words, "smell the spaghetti". When Coppola hit upon the idea of making it a metaphor for American capitalism, however, he eagerly agreed to take the helm.
There was intense clash between Paramount and Coppola on the issue of casting also. Coppola stuck to his plan of casting Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, though Paramount wanted it to be either Ernest Borgnine or Danny Thomas. At one point, Coppola was told by the then-president of Paramount that "Marlon Brando will never appear in this motion picture". After pleading with the executives, Coppola was allowed to cast Brando only if he appeared in the film for much less salary than his previous films, perform a screen-test, and put up a bond saying that he would not cause a delay in the production (as he had done on previous film sets). Coppola chose Brando over Ernest Borgnine on the basis of Brando's screen test, which also won over the Paramount leadership. Brando later won an Academy Award for his portrayal, which he refused to accept. Coppola would later recollect:
The Godfather was a very unappreciated movie when we were making it. They were very unhappy with it. They didn't like the cast. They didn't like the way I was shooting it. I was always on the verge of getting fired. So it was an extremely nightmarish experience. I had two little kids, and the third one was born during that. We lived in a little apartment, and I was basically frightened that they didn't like it. They had as much as said that, so when it was all over I wasn't at all confident that it was going to be successful, and that I'd ever get another job.
After it was released, the film compelled overflowing laurels from all corners. It went on to win multiple awards, including Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Coppola. The film routinely features at the top in various polls for the greatest movies ever. It has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In addition, it is ranked third, behind Citizen Kane, and Casablanca on the AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies list by the American Film Institute. It was moved up to second when the list was published again, in 2008. Director Stanley Kubrick believed that The Godfather was possibly the greatest movie ever made, and had without question the best cast.