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James Caan Played The Godfather's Sonny Corleone Way More Times Than You Think

Cinephiles across the world were left in shock when a statement was issued on July 7, 2022, revealing that legendary actor James Caan had died at the age of 82. It's difficult to relay just how impactful Caan's various roles in film were throughout his long career. A New York native, Caan rose to prominence after starring in Walter Grauman's "Lady in a Cage." His supporting effort in the thriller led to a string of buzz-worthy appearances throughout the mid-to-late '60s (via IMDb).

It wasn't until 1972 that he played Sonny Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather," widely considered one of the best films ever made. Though he was most popularly associated with the role, Caan later popped up in a variety of very different films, including as a safecracker in 1981's "Thief" and an imprisoned author in 1990's"Misery." Younger audiences might best remember Caan as the estranged father of Will Ferrell's Buddy in the feel-good Christmas classic "Elf."

Of course, to many audiences, Caan is still best remembered as the hotheaded Sonny Corleone. The eldest son of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), Sonny assumes the role of Don while his father tends to injuries from a failed assassination attempt in "The Godfather." Far Out named him one of the best characters in the entire series. Sonny's impact on the franchise cannot be overstated, as even the most hardcore fans of "The Godfather" might not realize how many times Caan took on the role.

James Caan reprised his role as Sonny Corleone for The Godfather miniseries and video game

Most fans of "The Godfather" know that James Caan appeared as Sonny Corleone in the first film. After receiving an Academy Award nod for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Sonny, he later returned as the angry criminal for a cameo appearance in "The Godfather: Part II." Most people probably think that film marked the end of Caan's tenure as the heir to the Corleone crime family, but that's actually far from the case. 

In 1977, NBC aired "The Godfather Saga," a miniseries that aired over four nights. The "Saga" presented the films in chronological order and included roughly 75 minutes of deleted and additional footage as confirmed in Peter Cowie's "Coppola: A Biography." The extra footage included a pivotal scene of Sonny assuming the role of Don of the Corleone family. Yet again, however, this was not the final time Caan portrayed the character.

More than 30 years after the release of "The Godfather: Part II," Caan and several other "Godfather" stars reprised their roles for the video game of the same name. The 2006 "Godfather" video game notably also featured a handful of lines from an ill Brando, in what would end up being "The Godfather" star's final acting job before his death in 2004 (via Collider). According to review aggregate site Metacritic, the Electronic Arts-released video game went on to receive mostly positive reviews, depending on the console of choice.

All in all, Caan essentially appeared as Sonny in four different productions over the course of nearly four decades. For the film's 50th anniversary, Caan told The Hollywood Reporter that playing the short-lived leader of the Corleone family was "a great honor."