What Might Have Been Wednesday: Winona Ryder in The Godfather: Part III

Ryder in Godfather III

In honor of Winona Ryder‘s birthday, we’re looking at one of the actress’ biggest missed opportunities.  Originally, Ryder was supposed to appear in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part III which was released in 1990.  But Ryder dropped out of the picture at the last-minute citing exhaustion (or something – accounts are vague and sometimes contradictory).  The role was eventually played by Coppola’s daughter, Sofia, who proved that as an actress, she makes a great director.

Many claim that Sofia Coppola’s stiff performance in a key role ruined the ending of the beloved trilogy.  I don’t know about all that.  The third movie in the series had flaws that had nothing to do with Sofia’s performance.  But there’s no denying that an actress of Ryder’s calibre would have been an improvement.


Posted on October 28, 2015, in Movies, What Might Have Been and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. While I quite like Winona Ryder she was far too young for the part. But then so was Sophia Coppola.

    If you do the maths Mary Corleone should be at least in her mid twenties in the third film. She is a girl of about four or five in the second film, set in 1958 and Part III takes place twenty one years later in 1979. Yet the character came across as very much a naive, sheltered teen girl – not simply sheltered from the world of the Mafia but sheltered from the wider world too.


  2. Sofia Coppola wasn’t the only thing wrong with THE GODFATHER PART III, but she was the worst and most obvious problem. And why was she schtupping her first cousin? Gross.

    Meanwhile, Winona would later help mess up BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA.


    • I don’t know that I’d say Ryder messed up BSD. If you’re going to point out a bad performance, Reeves is the obvious one. I’d say Coppola messed up that movie worse than Ryder did.


      • That’s why I said she helped mess it up. She was not the sole or main reason the movie was sub-par, but she wasn’t very good in it.


        • I don’t remember her being bad in it. But then, I was a fan of hers at the time. Reeves stood out as being bad. Hopkins was hammy. Oldman was good and creepy. The rest of the cast was just good looking.


        • I liked the visuals, atmosphere, and Gary Oldman in it. I hated the love story aspect of it. Dracula is a vampire. He has no soul. Therefore, he should not love. He is a monster spawned from Hell. Don’t make him some wussy who loves. Pre-damnation that’s fine. After damnation? No. Winona and Keanu (Especially Keanu!) stunk.


        • If I had a preference, I could have done without the love story. But that wasn’t the movie they made. It didn’t bother me. I know others feel passionately as you do. And that’s understandable. Any time I hear about sparkling vampires, it gets a knee jerk reaction out of me. I don’t remember Ryder being bad in the movie. I’d say I was going to go back and rewatch it, but I don’t really want to sit through it again. I would argue that Oldman is the only one who gave a good performance. Hopkins probably has more to be embarrassed about than Ryder.


  3. I can’t remember the last time I tried to watch Godfather III, or even if I’ve managed to sit all the way through it, but my recollection is that many people, myself included, felt that the absence of Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen left a huge void that none of the new cast members came close to filling.


    • George Hamilton’s character is the Tom Hagen clone. His role is actually quite good for what it does in the movie. BJ the lawyer has some interesting things to say and do. He attempts to recruit Tom Hagen’s son who is a priest as a spy before Michael calls him off. I’m a bit of a George Hamilton fan.

      But it’s no excuse. That they didn’t offer Robert Duvall the paycheck he deserved is very sad.


    • Re: Sophia didn’t ruin it…

      While it’s far from the worst film ever, it’s such a comedown from the high standards set by the first two that people naturally overreact to it. It’s disappointment, and frustration at the wasted potential.

      Sophia was a blot on the landscape, sure, but there were a multitude of other problems:

      — The attempts to make ever more over-the-top murders as some kind of “signature” for the series. The ridiculous eyeglasses of death were truly a crowning moment of awful.

      — Michael was no longer Michael. He was Al Pacino going by a different name. He gave up on portraying that brooding, hard-as-nails bastard from the earlier films and came across as an utterly different person. Sure, people change, but come on.

      — The whole plot with the papacy and their company. It was presented in a dull and tedious fashion that you don’t care about.

      — No Tom Hagen. Enough said on that score.

      — The silent scream at the opera house. Please.

      — Just a sense of clunkiness and being cobbled together. It felt forced, the progression was off, everything was a bit askew.


      • I can argue this, the problem with Godfather III is that it seemingly believes its protagonist (Michael Corleone) is a tragic hero instead of a contemptible villain. Coppola became a Michael fanboy and tried to gloss over all of the awful things he did to the family, and so the third film is completely misaimed in its sympathies. Godfather II ended with Michael stealing his children away from his wife; you can’t expect us to see a happy reunion in the next film.

        On the other hand, I think that Coppola himself said that he had not paid for his sins from the second movie and wanted Part III to show that-you can try and atone for your past through small gestures, but it wasn’t enough and Michael had to pay a great price for his past deeds which is where we get the ending from.


    • 12 problems with The Godfather: Part III

      1) Coppola made this movie for the money and not because of artistic passion
      ( it`s OK to make film for the money but here we talk about third and final part of the best movie franchise ever )

      2) unnecessarily rushed filming by Paramount ( big mistake )

      3) absence of Robert Duvall ( This man asked to pay him a reasonable sum for participation in this film and they refused. Another big mistake by Paramount )

      4) absence of Winona Ryder ( Coppolas dream choice for the role of Mary was JULIA ROBERTS !?! OMG, NO !! It would be even worse than Sofia. Julia was too WASP for daughter of Al Pacino. On the other side, Sofia was too Italian - dont forget that character of Mary Corleone was supposed to be half-American. Winona was perfect choice and she was 19 at that time; she even looked a bit like female version of young Al Pacino ).

      5) acting of Sofia Coppola ( I don`t blame her, I blame her father )

      6) character of Michael Corleone ( I know that people change a lot over 20 years, but this is too much. I mean, I actually love this new lighter side of Michael but some of the Michael Corleones old darkness
      is really missing in this film . And that hairstyle is wrong, Al Pacino
      s hairstyle from Scent of a Woman would be better )

      7) script is a mess ( because of absence of Tom Hagen. I like Vatican plot but its got a little space in script. And Michaels need for redemption is too forced and out of place)

      8) character of Vincent Mancini ( Performance of Andy Garcia is one of the best things in movie but his transformation from hot tempered, street thug to calm, wise head of powerful mafia empire is too simple. Few advice from his uncle and thats it. So why that way didnt worked in Vito-Sonny relationship?)

      9) character of Anthony Corleone ( this guy is totally out of place in this film. I love opera but for god`s sake why Coppola and Puzo were not able to come up with something better ? It would be much better that Anthony is conflicted and troubled character. And at least hire better actor for the role ( Johnny Depp in that time would be perfect )

      10) villains ( compared to villains in first two movies, bad guys in Part III are lame: Joe Mantegna overacting, Elli Walach is annoying, while for others I will not ever waste a word. Mosca is best villain in Part III. Helmut Berger is decent. This movie was needed better, more memorable actors for the roles of Luchessi and archbishop. And it would be interesting to see Frank Sinatra in the role of Don Altobelo ( as originally planned ), and Joe Spinell in some bad-good guy sub-plot performance ( unfortunately,he was already dead ).

      11) underused actors and characters: Bridget Fonda ( hottie ) and John Savage – why they were in this movie at all? I really don`t know. Their characters needed to get some purpose in the plot but alas, no. At lest, Andrew Hagen in Vatican would be a nice sub-plot)

      12) character of Key ( why is Diane Keaton in this movie at all? I loved Key in first two films but in part III she is annoying as hell. She looks like more to be in some Woody Allen film. And her scenes with Michael look like they were from some bad 80s-made for TV soap opera. I think that scene in Part II when Michael closed the door in front of crying Kay would be much better and definitive end of Kay Adams character in The Godfather trilogy).


      • 10 Dead Movie Franchises That Hollywood Must Revive

        The Godfather

        I’d always be wary of messing with the heavyweight perfection of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. These are films that make up some of the pantheon of Hollywood’s greatest ever cinematic achievements, along with Raging Bull, Schindler’s List, Fight Club and George Clooney. Imagine making a long-awaited sequel that didn’t measure up: or, worse, actively screwed the pooch.

        However, since Francis Ford Coppola has already done that job for us with The Godfather Part III, we’re quids in and ahead of the game. Let’s do this. Let’s make The Godfather Part IV.

        Al Pacino is seventy-six years old and making toxic waste like Misconduct: he’s pretty likely to be up for a cameo as Michael Corleone, but in flashback to shortly before his death, naturally. Ridiculously, they’d need to make him look a little younger to match the terrible ‘old age’ make-up from the last scene of the third movie.

        The action would take place immediately following that scene, in scenes of chaos at the hospital and at Michael’s villa as doctors pronounce him dead. Inter-cut with preparations for a wedding in the present day. It’s 2005, a quarter of a century since Michael Corleone passed on, and Don Vincent Corleone (a returning Andy Garcia) is the same age that Michael was in Part III, and has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As the film begins, his daughter is getting married, but – never the best judge of character – he’s a man who’s surrounded himself with sharks, and they smell blood in the water…

        Really, plot has to be secondary here to the one overriding objective in making a fourth Godfather movie: don’t f*ck it up. Don’t cast non-acting members of the family. Don’t dress up Catholic guilt and self-pity as a belated sense of morality. Don’t over-complicate matters to the extent that exposition is your default storytelling mode. Definitely, absolutely, don’t base the narrative of a two-and-a-half hour movie around a protagonist who’s desperate to do nothing as quietly as possible.

        Arrange for the same gorgeous production design, the same sweeping cinematography and a cast of heavyweights to keep the more portentous dialogue flowing (it’s a Godfather movie. There has to be portentous dialogue). Above all, don’t let this be the same crushing, miserable disappointment that the third part was. Do all of that, and – whether Coppola returns or not – The Godfather Part IV could be the triumph that Part III never was.


  4. It’s not a popular position, but count me one of those who does not think Godfather III is a bad movie. Perhaps it’s because I am not old enough to have emotional ties to I and II and no sense of betrayal by FFC by doing such a lesser movie as the conclusion to Michael Corleone’s story. Was III great like I and II? No, of course not. Does III have things going for it though? Yeah. At the very least, it’s an entertaining movie about international high finance and crime and the way the two meld together using fictionalized real life events.

    Is Mary Corleone the greatest character? No, she’s not. Is she badly written? Absolutely. Was Sofia the best possible choice for the role? Not at all. 🙂 But I don’t think Winona would have done much better.


    • I can agree with a lot of what you said except for the last line. Ryder is a talented actress. Coppola is a talented director, but she has no business acting in a pivotal role in a movie like GF3. The difference would have been huge. It would be like a professional dentist vs letting the kid down the street fix your teeth with a hammer.

      While GF3 isn’t horrible, I would rather it not exist.


    • I disagree with the last line as well. One can still act well with a poorly written character. Mary Corleone wasn’t much- she was just one man’s daughter and another man’s love interest, though it’s hard to see why because there was nothing interesting about her. She was a blank. Winona Ryder would have at least projected a bit of personality, and where personality falls short, at least she’s pretty enough that you’d understand the appeal of such a seemingly empty girl. The casting choice of Coppola was strange; it isn’t as if there weren’t a dozen other reasonably competent actresses whose name had more marquee value than Sofia. Almost anyone could have done better than Sofia Coppola. Hell, Tori Spelling would have done a better job, and she owes her career to shameless nepotism too.


    • I actually like everything about “Godfather III” (it’s biggest sin is just not being the masterpiece the previous films were) except for Sophia Coppola’s performance. Usually I stick up for an actor/ress when critics and viewers pile on, but in this case I believe majority rules. I’m a big fan of her in the director chair though. Winona Ryder was more seasoned a performer; she likely would’ve gave a more convincing and less awkward take on the character.


  5. Considering how poorly The Godfather III is regarded today, it’s interesting that Gene Siskel ranked it among his 10 favorite films of 1990….


    • Well, he did rank it several spots below Die Hard 2…

      1. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese)
      2. After Dark, My Sweet (James Foley)
      3. Avalon (Barry Levinson)
      4. The Plot Against Harry (Michael Roemer)
      5. Too Beautiful for You (Bertrand Blier)
      6. Die Hard 2 (Renny Harlin)
      7. Dances With Wolves (Kevin Costner)
      8. Reversal of Fortune (Barbet Schroeder)
      9. The Freshman (Andrew Bergman)
      10. The Godfather Part III (Francis Ford Coppola)


      • Siskel got it completely right with his #1 pick for 1990, at least. Goodfellas is my favorite movie of the whole decade.


        • His list isn’t a bad one. I like that he was willing to take a commercial movie like Die Hard 2 and put it above eventual Best Picture winner, Dances With Wolves. A lot of critics, no matter what they actually thought, wouldn’t have had the guts to admit a Renny Harlin movie was in their top 10.

          Goodfellas was the clear #1 unless you are a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.


        • Ha! Well played, sir.


  6. 12 Movies That Would Have Been Great With a Different Lead Actor


    Coming off of two of the greatest films ever made, most felt that The Godfather Part III was a great letdown, and one of the biggest reasons for this is the subpar performance from Sofia Coppola. There may be no better example of nepotism in film than the casting of Sofia Coppola, the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, as Mary Corleone.

    Sofia’s lackluster performance was by far the worst part of this film, and served to pull audiences out of the story, poorly delivered line after poorly delivered line. Sofia Coppola has proven herself as a fantastic writer and director, but her trial run as an actress was unfortunately a trainwreck. The most offensive aspect of this poor display of acting is the fact that it follows two of the greatest films in the history of cinema.


    • How do you think Winona Ryder would have done in The Godfather Part III?

      I think she might have been pretty great. She was really good at that teenage angst stuff and this was at her peak right after Heathers and Beatlejuice etc.
      Pity she didn’t get to finish the film.
      —Anonymous (89 views)

      12 replies 10 a day ago

      In the minority, but I think she’s a terrible actress. Saw her in that Worricker series with Bill Nighy and she sucked. She looked more beautiful than she ever did when she was young. She’s very beautiful. But she has that reedyNellie Oleson voice and self-conscious way of always being Winona Ryder in every role.

      Sofia Coppola wasn’t any better. Also in the minority for loving her movies. But her acting was baaaad.

      But to answer your question: she would have been better. Yes.


      reply 1 a day ago

      Winona was really fun in “Black Swan”, though.


      reply 2 a day ago

      Did her dropping out at the last minute alienate people and cause her surprise Oscar loss to the child Holly Hunter.


      reply 3 3 hours ago

      Rebecca Schaeffer would have been the best choice. It’s such a tragedy what happened to her.


      reply 4 2 hours ago

      Rebecca had an interview with Francis Ford Coppola that morning she was murdered. She was waiting for the courier to deliver the script when Robert Bardo showed up at her door for the second time and shot her.


      reply 6 2 hours ago

      was this after Ryder quit or before [R6]?

      That was terrible how the DMV sort of aided the killer. Back then you could just go there and request someone’s home address which is what he did. Thankfully they stopped that. It was especially odd since she wasn’t that successful of an actress. She wasn’t someone who could have security and all that stuff.


      reply 7 2 hours ago

      I think it was before she quit. Yeah, Rebecca had a measure of fame, but she wasn’t Julia Roberts level of fame. So she probably thought she didn’t have to worry about a stalker yet. I’m sure she didn’t know the DMV was selling home addresses to anyone that filled out a form and paid 5 bucks.


      reply 8 2 hours ago

      Francis Coppola’s first choice was a then relatively unknown Julia Roberts. She had gotten a lot of heat off of one movie: Mystic Pizza. She could have been perfectly cast as the daughter of Al Pacino and Diane Keaton. And I bet she would have had a lot of chemistry with Andy Garcia.

      But she had just finished Steel Magnolias, and was committed to Sleeping With the Enemy. So he offered it to his second choice, Winona, who dropped out a week before filming because of….er… “exhaustion”.


      reply 9 38 minutes ago

      Julia Roberts would have been a terrible choice. She would tower over Andy Garcia.


      reply 10 29 minutes ago

      Winona would steal the whole movie.


      reply 11 29 minutes ago

      Seeing sweet pretty Winona get shot at the end would have been more disturbing then seeing apathetic annoyed looking Sophia get shot.

      (I just listened to a podcast with her on Marc Maron’s site and she is so bland and whiny. Not interesting at all. )


      reply 12 13 minutes ago


  7. 9 Terrible Casting Decisions That Ruined Great Movies

    Sofia Coppola – The Godfather: Part III

    A decision so infamous people still laugh about it, the casting of Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III might not be the film’s only issue, but it’s definitely the biggest. Winona Ryder was originally set to play the role of Michael Corleone’s daughter, but had to drop out suddenly. Young Sofia was wheeled in to replace her and – to put it nicely – she wasn’t much of an actress, and putting her in such a key role, complete with lots of emotional scenes, was a recipe for disaster.

    She’s hopelessly stilted from her first scene on, and she jars particularly badly with Andy Garcia, the other newcomer to the cast who provides Part III with some much-needed energy. He’s vibrant and alive in every scene, she’s just kind of there.

    Part III gets a bad rep, especially when compared to the first two movies, but it’s ultimately the sad story of a man haunted by his past sins, and praying his loved ones don’t pay for them. When Michael’s daughter dies in his place it should be a heartbreaking moment; instead, it’s just relief Sofia Coppola is finally out of the movie.


  8. Film-sets that were a notorious NIGHTMARE to work on….….

    To hear Frances Ford Coppola tell it, all three “Godfather” films. A good drinking game would be to play Coppola’s commentary during GF1, then take a drink whenever he whines “They wanted to fire me…”

    Also, on GF3, Winona Ryder, encouraged by her boyfriend Johnny Depp, bowed out due to “exhaustion” just before filming started, forcing Coppola to drag his daughter Sofia, kicking and screaming, into the major role of Mary Corleone, which required a complete re-write of the role. I am of the belief that Sofia was the third actress cast in the role; Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered the morning of her callback audition (Coppola, to this day, will neither confirm nor deny that she was about to be cast)


    reply 274 Last Saturday at 5:57 PM

    Coppola’s first choice before Winona Ryder was Julia Roberts. This was before Pretty Woman and Steel Magnolias had been released. But Julia was already committed to Sleeping with the Enemy. I had known about this for years but never saw it confirmed anywhere. Finally it appeared in the IMDB trivia page. Never heard the Rebecca Schaeffer thing.

    And Winona wasn’t with Depp yet. From what I recall, “exhaustion” was a cover for mental illness and she was in the hospital. But that was heavily rumored. Don’t know for a fact.


    reply 276 Last Saturday at 6:26 PM

    Rebecca Schaeffer was being considered for the role at the time she was murdered.

    Julia Roberts would have been terribly miscast. Talk about dodging a bullet.


    reply 279 Last Saturday at 6:36 PM

    Re Ryder and GF III: I read an interview at the time in which she indicated that she had an ear infection and would have lost her hearing if she hadn’t received treatment. Also, she apologized for getting sick and having to drop out of the movie.


    reply 282 Last Saturday at 6:42 PM

    [R279] With Julia Roberts height, and darkening of her hair like in Mystic Pizza, she could have been very believable as the daughter of Diane Keaton and Al Pacino. And she definitely would have had far more chemistry opposite Andy Garcia than Sofia Coppola. I think she’d have been great.


    reply 285 Last Saturday at 6:46 PM

    [R282] I don’t doubt you read an interview, but c’mon. An ear infection? I’m sure she could have brought the ear drops to the set with her. Sounds like her publicist had the day off during that interview.


    reply 286 Last Saturday at 6:49 PM


  9. The Godfather 3

    Post by Captain Hokage on 7 hours ago
    What happened? Do not get me wrong it is a good movie in its own merit but for me it is always the most difficult to sit through. It felt more like a stand along story than anything but in saying that if you did not see the first 2 movies you were shit out of luck to know what was going on. Not going to get into the actresses acting as that is always brought up anyway.

    What are your thoughts on the Godfather 3?

    Post by Alexander The So-so on 4 hours ago
    I’ve heard that if they had managed to keep Robert Duvall on board, the original idea for the story would’ve centered on Tom Hagan turning on and feuding with Michael. Would’ve made more sense than the Vatican stuff we got.

    Not a terrible movie, but it’s just…off. It doesn’t feel right, and doesn’t have the same vibes as the first two.

    Post by mizerable on 4 hours ago
    I agree they should’ve rolled out the money to get Duvall back. His absence was truly noticeable.

    But yeah…poison canolis.

    Post by Captain Hokage on 4 hours ago
    Hagan vs Michael would of been amazing. They should of shelled out that money.

    Post by “Playboy” Don Douglas on 3 hours ago
    Yeah, that’s what I had heard. It was going to be a power struggle between Mike and Tom, possibly with there being no clear cut hero or villain, as much as that means in the context of the Godfather universe.

    Supposedly, they low balled Duvall and he walked.

    I like 3 better than most people seem to, but whoever tightened the purse strings needs a swift kick in the ass.

    Post by Joe Bob Briggs on 2 hours ago
    I was actually one of the few who didn’t hate this film. It obviously nose dived in quality after the first two films it was still expertly filmed and acted (for the most part and in her case I can give a little slack since the original actress pulled out right before shooting if my memory serves.) Not saying it’s amazing but I can still appreciate Pacino’s performance as always and the complex narrative they were attempting to convey. The incest plotline on the other hand? Yeah that wasn’t needed at all and you could’ve easily made the other male lead not Sonny’s kid and told a similar story of forbidden romance. Regardless of who’s kid he was, he was still a gangster and not someone Micheal who’ve wanted for his daughter. That’s just my two cents though and I can totally understand the hatred this movie gets as a whole and in my defense I can find bright spots in almost anything I watch. (Almost)


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