The Academy Took Back One ‘The Godfather’s Oscar Nominations

The Big Picture

  • Francis Ford Coppola’s
    The Godfather
    had an Oscar nomination revoked due to the use of previous compositions in its score.
  • Nino Rota’s iconic score for
    The Godfather
    captures the movie’s focus on family, power, loyalty, and violence.
  • Despite the revoked nomination,
    The Godfather
    still won three major Oscars on its successful night.

The Academy Awards have long since been a distinguished celebration of filmmakers, actors, editors, and the beloved movies that have shaped the industry since 1929. With strict criteria and a meticulous voting process, nominations for an Oscar are hard to come by as only Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members can nominate and vote. This ceremonial, artistic, and technical merit represents the best of the best within the film industry; nonetheless, this award show has been met with its fair share of shocking moments and controversy.

Throughout the history of the Academy Awards, only nine nominations have been revoked, one of them being one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on Mario Puzo‘s novel, was a significant cinematic achievement and received widespread acclaim. During the 45th Oscar Awards in 1973, the epic gangster film was nominated eleven times, but the Academy’s rules detail very fine print that caused The Godfather to lose one nomination for its iconic “Love Theme.”

‘The Godfather’s Score Elevates Francis Ford Coppola’s Masterpiece

According to the biography Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola, since The Godfather was such a dark film, Coppola strove to bring an air of romance to the movie to blend with the bloody mayhem of the Corleone family. In 1971, the director flew to Italy to hire classical maestro Nino Rota, whose works were notably recognized in the films of the legendary Italian director Federico Fellini. Coppola gave the composer an earlier copy of the gangster film, allowing him to visualize the mood and atmosphere of the movie and its characters. When creating the soundtrack, Rota crafted original melodies for The Godfather, however, he borrowed musical elements from his past scoring work in Eduardo De Filippo‘s 1958 Italian comedy Fortunella, as mentioned in the book The Godfather Legacy by Harlan Lebo.


‘The Godfather’ Made Frank Sinatra So Mad, He Almost Fought the Author

It’s no secret that ‘The Godfather’ was initially contentious with some of Hollywood’s Italian stars.

What Nino Rota created was a haunting score that effortlessly captures the legacy of the Corleone family with its authenticity to Italian American culture mixed in with dramatic tension. The main theme, “The Godfather Waltz,” is an instrumental piece representing Marlon Brando‘s character, Don Vito Corleone, and his authoritative power in a time of corruption and betrayal. Yet, the most iconic song in The Godfather is the “Love Theme”, otherwise known as “Speak Softly, Love.” This song is played during the movie’s second act and is a poignant and emotional piece that reflects the inner struggle and newly found love of Al Pacino‘s character, Michael Corleone. Undoubtedly the key to the film’s success, Nino Rota’s score was the cherry on top of Coppola’s masterpiece. The score expertly embodied the theme of family, power, loyalty, and violence and went on to be regarded as a cinematic, musical landmark. Despite its popularity and influence, however, it caused a stir when it was nominated for an Oscar.

Why Was ‘The Godfather’s Score a Problem?

In 1973, The Godfather was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including a nomination for Best Original Score by Nino Rota. When the nominations were announced, Rota’s score came under fire for using parts of the composition he had previously made for Fortunella. This discovery led to controversy because the Academy’s rules stipulate that a score must be entirely original to qualify for the Best Original Score category.

Consequently, Nino Rota’s nomination for Best Original Score was deemed ineligible and was disqualified from the category. This decision was a significant event, as it is rare for the Academy to withdraw a nomination after it has been announced. The controversy led to a re-balloting where the Academy members had to pick from the other shortlisted films that were nominated for the award but were not chosen. The vote replaced Rota’s Godfather nomination with John Addison‘s score for the mystery thriller film Sleuth.

Despite this setback, The Godfather still had a successful night at the Oscars. The film won three major awards: Best Picture, Best Actor for Marlon Brando — who did not show up to receive the prize — and Best Adapted Screenplay. Still, Sleuth didn’t win the Best Original Score, as that honor instead went to Charlie Chaplin’s 1952 movie Limelight, which was eligible because of its delayed release in Los Angeles in 1972. Composer Nino Rota later redeemed himself at the Academy Awards when he won the Oscar for Best Original Score for The Godfather Part II in 1975. In 2021, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences changed the criteria for the Best Original Score award, stating that, for a score to be eligible, it must comprise a minimum of 35% of the total music in the film, lowered from 60%. The incident with The Godfather and its revoked nomination remains a notable example of the Academy’s strict adherence to its rules regarding original compositions and the complexities involved in film scoring and eligibility.

The Godfather is available to watch on Paramount+ in the U.S.

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