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The Entire Godfather Timeline Explained

Few genres delve deeper into the mythos of the American dream like the mafia drama, and no Italian-American mafia tale is more iconic than "The Godfather" saga. Adapted from Mario Puzo's bestselling novel by the same name and premiering in 1972, the first "Godfather" film was the highest-grossing film of all time until supplanted by "Jaws" in 1976. Ultimately becoming a three-film series, the saga focuses on the Corleone crime family's rise to power after its patriarch flees mafia violence in Sicily as a child.

Although the first film begins in Don Corleone's twilight years (played by Marlon Brando), his Sicilian roots and ascension are documented in the sequel "The Godfather Part II," interwoven and juxtaposed against his own son Michael's ascension after his death, with the third film detailing his efforts to legitimize the family. Due to the epic scope of the film series and a few details from the novel series omitted due to narrative constraints, the Corleone family can sometimes be hard to follow. Hang onto your cannoli because we're drawing a straight line from Vito's childhood in Sicily to the real Five Families who worked to halt the film's production with this complete timeline of "The Godfather."

1892 to 1901: Corleone family origins in Sicily

Chronologically speaking, "The Godfather" saga begins in "The Godfather II," which recounts the Sicilian origins of the many who would one day establish the Corleone crime family. Vito Corleone is born in December of 1892 in the Sicilian town of Corleone. His original surname is Andolini, but it's a name he will come to abandon upon fleeing from his native home. In 1901, his father Antonio insults a local mafia chieftain named Don Ciccio, an error that leads to his own murder. Bent on retaliation, his elder brother Paolo swears revenge only to be killed during his father's funeral procession, leaving the young Vito alone as the head of his household at just nine years old. 

As the sole surviving male heir to the Andolini line, custom maintains that Vito will grow up to exact revenge, something Don Ciccio cannot allow to happen. Signora Andolini pleads with Don Ciccio at his home to spare Vito, but when Ciccio refuses, she holds him hostage with a knife just long enough to allow Vito to flee before she is killed by Ciccio's men. Although Don Ciccio's men search the town relentlessly, the other villagers help the young boy remain hidden and escape from his hometown.

1901: Vito travels to America

Young Vito somehow makes it aboard a crowded ship bound for America, and after sailing to the United States, he and the other immigrants find themselves standing in awe in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Upon arriving at Ellis Island, he is registered under the name "Vito Corleone" by the immigration clerk and made to quarantine for three months due to a smallpox infection. As a child, he is taken in by the Abbandando family and raised alongside his friend Genco as a brother. He grows up and marries Carmela in 1915, working for the Abbandando family's Lower East Side grocery, to support his wife Carmela and infant son, Santino (Sonny). The family struggles to get by while living in their small New York City apartment.

The neighborhood is menaced by Don Fanucci, the local arm of the extortion racket Black Hand. One day, Fanucci complains to Abbandando that no one pays their fees and he has to double his fees, demanding the grocer hire his nephew Sandiago and pushing Vito out of a job. But Vito's money problems are temporarily solved when his neighbor Peter Clemenza asks him to hide a bag of guns for him. In repayment, Clemenza brings him in on a job as the pair steal a high-end rug from an even higher-end apartment, a moment that marks Vito's official entry into New York's criminal underbelly. Vito gifts the first rug to Carmela, and he and his pals Clemenza and Salvatore Tessio make a business of selling the rugs they steal door-to-door. After Vito goes into the rug business, life improves for the Corleones, who add three more children — Fredo, Connie, and Michael — to their brood.

1917: Vito gets serious about the crime business

If not for the greed of Don Fanucci, there's a good chance Vito would have remained a small-time criminal. But when the flashy crime boss learns of Vito and his pals' rug business, his extortion demands seal his own fate. Rather than pony up, Vito convinces Tessio and Clemenza to let him talk to Fanucci. When Corleone shows up short on cash amid the excitement of a festa, Fanucci admires his bravery, offering him a job for his troubles, Vito pretends to accept the gig while secretly harboring other plans, sneaking into Fanucci's apartment building under cover of the festa chaos and executing the man in the doorway of his home.

Rather than following in Fanucci's footsteps, Corleone works on becoming a community hero, offering his newfound pull for the benefit of his neighbors through a balance of both favors and intimidation. Around 1920, Corleone begins running his operation inside Genco Pura Olive Oil Company, named for his friend Genco Abbandando. In 1925, Vito travels with his family to Sicily. While there, he travels to the home of Don Ciccio, where he saw his mother killed as a child, using a ruse to approach the aging don. When Don Ciccio asks his father's name, Corleone leans in, telling him, "Antonio Andolini" before eviscerating the old man in revenge for his family.

1930s: The Olive Oil Wa and Vito's rise to power

At some point during Don Corleone's rise to power, his young son Sonny convinces him to take in the homeless orphaned 11-year-old Tom Hagen, who is raised as a member of the Corleone family but never formally adopted. Although not depicted in the films, the period between Vito Corleone's initial rise to power and his family's ultimate dominance is detailed in the Mario Puzo novel "The Godfather" as the Olive Oil Wars. The novel establishes that Genco Pura is primarily meant to serve as a shell corporation for the Corleone crime family's less legal operations, making it that much more fitting that Genco Pura Olive Oil was used as the ruse to get to Don Ciccio. Like many organized crime families, the Corleones benefit from the 1933 prohibition of alcohol, which creates a thriving black market. Around that time, Vito reaches out to mob bigwig and Tattaglia crony Salvatore Maranzano, offering to trade part of his gambling operation in exchange for access to Maranzano's law enforcement and political connections in "The Godfather Part II."

Not wanting to play ball, Maranzano asks his buddy Al Capone to intervene, and things quickly escalate into a full-scale war. When Maranzano finally sends his emissaries to Corleone seeking an armistice, he ends up dying violently in the Brooklyn restaurant he agreed to meet Corleone in at Vito's behest, leaving his empire ready for the resilient Sicilian to pick up the pieces and rocketing the boss to the zenith of his power. 

1939: The Corleones move to Long Beach

According to Ed Falco's novel "The Family Corleone," Vito has the Corleone compound built on Long Beach during the 1930s. According to the novel "The Godfather," the project is completed in 1939, with the Corleones and Abbandandos moving onto the property around this time. The property, referred to as the Corleone Mall in the novels, includes eight houses that house Corleone's friends and family during peacetime. By the time of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Corleone children are grown. Tom Hagen has finished law school, and Michael (Al Pacino), a Dartmouth student with a keen interest in politics, chooses his father's birthday party to tell his indignant family he has decided to enlist in the Marines. The news is poorly received by all but Fredo, with Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) admonishing Michael that his father expects him to sign on to the family business. After Genco Abbandando's death, VIto makes Tom his new consigliere.

For his service on the Pacific front of World War II, Michael is awarded a Navy Cross. When the combat veteran is injured in 1944, Don Corleone bribes his doctor to overstate his injury, sending him back home to New York in 1945 toward the end of the war. Michael returns to Dartmouth, where he meets and begins seeing Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), who accompanies him to his sister Connie's wedding where she quickly realizes exactly what the family business is in "The Godfather."

1945: Don Corleone is shot

After his daughter's wedding in the first "Godfather" film, Don Corleone gets to work answering all of the requests for favors he heard during the wedding celebration. On behalf of his godson Johnny Fontaine, Corleone sends Tom Hagen to intimidate a Hollywood director into giving the singer a major role by placing the severed head of the bigwig's prized racehorse in his bed with him in it. Later on, the Corleones meet with Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), a man known for his heroin empire and backed by the Tattaglia family, about Sollozzo's proposal to bring Vito in on his business in exchange for influence and financial support.

Although Sonny (James Caan) speaks against his father during the meeting, Don Corleone flatly refuses, stating that his influence would be jeopardized if he got into the drug trade, but sends his enforcer Luca Brasi to infiltrate the Sollozzo-Tattaglia operation and gain information. Sollozzo and Tattaglia see through the ruse, stabbing and garroting Brasi during the initial meeting and arranging an assassination attempt on Corleone. Corleone's bodyguard Paulie calls in sick to work, leaving the don under the protection of his less-than-competent son Fredo (John Cazale) when he is gunned down in the street near his office while shopping for Christmas oranges. Meanwhile, Sollazzo kidnaps Tom Hagen and tries to persuade him to negotiate with Vito's heir apparent, Sonny, as Vito fights for his life in the hospital. 

1946: The Five Families go to war

With Don Corleone in the hospital, things spiral out of control rapidly at the Corleone compound. An enraged Sonny, clearly no fit heir to his father, flies off the handle, demanding Sollazzo be brought to the Corleone Mall and ordering a hit on Paulie. Sonny refuses Sollazzo's second offer to join the drug trade and receives a pair of fish wrapped in his late enforcer's vest symbolizing that "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes."

Arriving at the hospital, Michael finds his father unguarded, with the nurse on duty revealing his guards were dismissed by police only moments prior to his arrival. The Marine is quick to take action, moving his father to another room and taking guard in front of the hospital with help from an unarmed ally, Enzo the baker. The ploy works, scaring off Sollozzo's men and likely saving his father's life. When the crooked cop captain Mark McCluskey shows up to find out why the plot was foiled, Michael calls him out for his corruption, which McCluskey repays with a broken jaw. Tom Hagen shows up with a licensed and armed security team. Sonny orders a hit on Bruno Tattaglia, an act carried out by Salvatore Tessio's crew. Sollozzo and McCluskey reach out to the family, and Michael uses the meeting to kill them both, escalating the conflict into a full-scale war with the Five Families targeting the Corleones.

1950: Michael Corleone comes home

To lay low during the Five Families War, Fredo heads out to Las Vegas under the cover of Moe Greene, whose hotels were bankrolled by Vito Corleone, and Michael heads to Sicily, where he meets and marries the lovely Apollonia. But his happiness is short-lived when his bride is killed by a car bomb the Five Families meant for him. When Sonny beats his sister's husband Carlo Rizzo for abusing the pregnant Connie, Rizzo retaliates by plotting a successful hit on the eldest Corleone son with a rival family. The ambush is successful when Sonny is gunned down by a waiting hit squad while passing through a toll booth.

Having recovered and devastated by the loss of his son, Vito meets with the other families to negotiate a ceasefire, telling them the Corleones will provide protection for their drug business as long as they refuse to sell to children and promising not to pursue further vengeance. As the new heir apparent, Michael returns to the States and marries Kay, who has two children with him. He begins to take his rightful place as Don Corleone with his father remaining as a figurehead, aware that Barzini was behind the Five Families War as well as Sonny's execution but not of Carlo's role in it. Around the same time, Michael sends Tom Hagen to Las Vegas, where it soon becomes clear Fredo's loyalties to Moe Greene now exceed his commitment to his family.

1954 - 55: Michael takes over the family business

Vito continues to guide Michael, gradually handing over the reins to the family business and preparing him for an imminent move from the plotting Barzini family, predicting that a Corleone traitor would arrange a meeting with the Barzinis as a trap meant to take out Michael. When the aging don suffers a heart attack and dies while playing with his grandson in the Corleone compound's tomato garden, leaving the business in Michael's capable hands, the Barzinis make their predicted move with Tessio proving himself the traitor at Vito's funeral. 

The decisive new don acts swiftly, ordering a secession of murders set against the backdrop of Connie and Carlo's son's christening that include the leaders of the Five Families as well as Moe Greene, Carlo, and Tessio. Moe Greene is executed with a gunshot through the eye mid-massage, Tattaglia is shot in bed with a sex worker, and Stracci is executed along with his bodyguard in an elevator by Clemenza. Barzini, his driver, and his bodyguard are all executed on the steps leading into his office. Tessio is killed off-camera after realizing he's been made, and Carlo is garroted in a car he believes to be taking him to a Las Vegas flight. After Michael sufficiently reassures Kay that he hasn't done what she thinks he has done, he receives the capos for the first time as the new Don Corleone. The action closes out the ending of the first "Godfather" film. 

1958: Trouble in Havana

With Michael still in charge, the Corleone family has relocated to Lake Tahoe. Just as Vito Corleone used Connie's wedding to conduct business, Michael takes meetings at his son Anthony's first communion. One of those meetings includes a tense discussion with Senator Pat Geary regarding the family's failed efforts to acquire licensing for their recent casino purchase. Connie declares her intention to marry someone Michael disapproves of, and Corleone capo Frank Pentangeli relays his trouble with Hyman Roth and the Rosato Brothers back in the Bronx. Later that night, a pair of hit men rain bullets into Michael's bedroom and are killed in the process. Michael charges Tom with keeping his family safe in his absence and takes off to escape the heat.

Michael meets with Hyman Roth to deceptively assure him the Corleones believe Frank Pentangeli tried to kill him, and Pentangeli himself is nearly killed while attempting to meet with the Rosatos, with the assailant claiming to work for Michael Corleone. Meanwhile, Senator Geary is set up for the murder of a sex worker at Fredo's brothel, with Tom Hagen stepping in to "rescue" him — at a Corleone cost, of course. Michael travels to Cuba with Roth and others to discuss business amid rising tensions from Castro's guerillas, with things falling apart when the president abdicates. While there, Michael realizes his own brother Fredo is Roth's mole, revealing the fact to him just as the rebels advance, with Fredo fleeing in the ensuing chaos. Michael orders a failed hit on Roth that also falls apart as the men flee the country.

1959: Key and the Feds

Upon returning home from Cuba, Michael finds his control waning. Roth, who has narrowly escaped death twice by surviving both a stroke and Michael's attempt on his life, has made it safely to Miami. Michael also learns his wife Kay suffered a miscarriage in his absence. To make matters worse, Senator Geary now sits on a Senate committee charged with investigating the mafia and more specifically, looking into the Corleones. After Michael testifies before the committee, he learns they plan to bring Pentangeli as a witness, with the former capo believing Michael ordered the hit on him as part of Roth's elaborate plan to use the government to bring down the Corleones.

At Michael's behest, Fredo returns to Tahoe, where he admits he helped Roth out of resentment for not being chosen to head the family but did not realize Roth planned to kill Michael. Michael responds by disowning him but telling his enforcer to wait until their mother dies to put Fredo in harm's way. That business out of the way, Michael shows up at the Senate hearing with Pentangeli's brother from Sicily, causing the former capo to recant and the claims against Michael to fall apart. After the hearing, Kay demands a divorce, admitting she did not miscarry but aborted the son she was carrying as she has no wish to bring more Corleone men into the world. He responds harshly by taking custody of their children and limiting her access to them. Later that year, after Carmela dies, Michael begins tying up loose ends. Tom encourages the imprisoned Pentangeli to die by suicide knowing his family will be taken care of. Michael has Fredo shot while fishing on Lake Tahoe, and Roth is taken out while returning to the United States after Israel refused his plea for asylum.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

1979: Michael tries to go legit

Many a mob boss dreams of going legit, and Michael Corleone is no exception. In his middle age, he regrets the way he has lived his life and is ready to leave a better legacy for his children, Mary and Anthony, who now live with his ex-wife Kay, with Michael having relented and given her custody despite their initial power struggle in "The Godfather Part III." Tom Hagen is long dead, having been killed in 1964 by Corleone capo Nick Geraci as part of the fallout from the Hyman Roth affair, according to the Mark Winegardner novel "The Godfather's Revenge." The Corleone's compound in Tahoe has also fallen into disrepair, symbolizing Corleone's failure as a father and husband despite his immense wealth and power.

As public sentiment has turned against the mafia, Michael has worked to legitimize his family's holdings by pouring his money into the corporate world and creating the non-profit charity The Vito Corleone Foundation. The Corleones' illegal ops are now under the leadership of enforcer Joey Zasa but are plagued with drama due to a rivalry with Sonny's illegitimate son Vincent Mancini. At a reception following Michael's knighthood into the papal Order of St. Sebastian, Kay criticizes his hypocrisy, Anthony announces his plans to leave school and pursue a career in the opera, Zasa and Mancini get into a fight, and Michael agrees to include Mancini in the family business. Afterward. Zasa sends hitmen to kill Vincent, but Mancini reacts quickly, killing them both.

1980: Vinnie becomes Don

Michael plans to use his vast wealth to bail out the Vatican by arranging to purchase a huge chunk of their real estate holdings, but he finds the political game more complicated than originally anticipated. When the mafia commission demands a cut of the deal, Michael pays off every don save Zasa. The enraged Zasa declares war on all of them, sealing them into the Atlantic City conference room and executing them via bullet spray from a circling helicopter above the glass-domed facility. Michael escapes but is later hospitalized after suffering a diabetic stroke.

Vincent and Mary hook up in a relationship straight out of "Les Cousins Dangereux," and acting without the hospitalized don's consent, Vincent carries out a hit on Zasa and his men. Using Michael's disapproval of his relationship with Mary as an entree, Vincent infiltrates the family opposing Michael's acquisition of the papal holdings. Michael is absolved of his sins and reconciles with Kay, with both confessing they still love one another. The old Pope dies, and a Corleone ally ascends to the papacy. Amid a nascent new blood feud, Michael passes his donship to Vincent in exchange for Vincent abandoning his relationship with Mary before traveling with his family to Palermo to see Anthony perform. During the performance, the Corleones take down all of their enemies, but their celebration is short-lived when an assassin kills Mary in his attempt at Michael's life. Michael Corleone lives to old age, dying alone in Don Tommasino's Italian villa.

The making of the Godfather saga

Fans of "The Godfather" who long for more of the Corleone saga were given a treat when Paramount+ released the 2022 10-episode series "The Offer," which recounts the events surrounding Francis Ford Coppola's efforts to produce "The Godfather." Created by "Deep Impact" and "Changing Lanes" writer Michael Tolkin and starring Miles Teller, Giovanni Ribisi, Colin Hanks, Dan Fogler, and Juno Temple, to name a few, the biographical drama emphasizes the Italian-American community's outrage at Mario Puzo's depictions of the mafia in his bestselling novel. The series also portrays the real mafia's campaign of intimidation aimed at shutting down the film's production, which involved a dead rat getting sent to the studio as well as a car getting shot up, among other various terrors.

Besides the production's problems with the Five Families and later, the Italian mafia, "The Offer" details the producers' many frustrations with studio politics, scriptwriting, casting, and even filming location, emphasizing just how close the masterpiece of American cinema came to not being finished.