The Godfather has plenty of brutal scenes, from the man who finds a severed horse’s head in his bed to another man being strangled to death and yet another man being shot over and over by a seemingly unending barrage of bullets.
The most surprising thing to me about The Godfather Part II is that its violence is so restrained compared to the first film. It has just as many shocking moments as the first one, but it has far less blood and gore.
I think The Godfather Part II is right on par with the PG-rated Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and it would have also been PG had it not been for one minor detail. Let’s examine the violence level in these Godfather and Star Trek sequels to see why The Godfather Part II could have easily earned a softer rating. And then I’ll reveal the tiny detail that made it rated R.
At the start of The Godfather Part II, we see the body of Vito Corleone’s older brother after he is gunned down. Then we see Vito’s mother killed by the single blast of a powerful shotgun.
At the start of Star Trek II, we see all of the bridge crew seemingly killed in a Klingon attack, but it turns out to just be a simulation. Soon after, Chekov and Captain Terrell scream in agony as scary aliens enter their ears and take over their brains.
Even though the Klingon attack turned out to be fake, I’d say the close-up shots of the ear aliens were much more visceral than the sight of Vito’s mother being shot, which we only see from a distance.
Attempt on the Main Character’s Life
Michael Corleone and his wife Kay barely escape getting shot to pieces in their bedroom. The two gunmen are soon discovered, but they’re already dead.
Admiral James T. Kirk is ambushed by Khan Noonien Singh. The Enterprise gets badly damaged and Kirk and most of his crew barely escape with their lives.
Once again, the scene in Star Trek II is far more brutal than the one in The Godfather Part II. The attack lasts longer and it actually leads to many bloody injuries and at least one innocent death.
A senator is horrified to find himself waking up inside a brothel to the sight of a dead prostitute who had been tied up and brutally murdered.
Kirk and a few of his crew are stunned when they find a large group of scientists strung up and covered in blood.
I’ll admit The Godfather Part II might be worse in this instance because of the sexual nature of the violence done to the prostitute, but Star Trek II has a lot more dead bodies that look nearly as brutalized as that woman.
Michael’s bodyguard gets shot several times, including once through the head. And Vito guns down a Mob boss, shooting him once in the chest and twice in the head.
Captain Terrell vaporizes one man with a single shot from his phaser, leaving behind a scream of pain. He then turns his phaser around and kills himself in the same manner. This is quickly followed by the alien forcing its way out of Chekov’s ear, leaving a trail of blood.
Phasers may not be as messy as old-fashioned guns because they don’t leave behind a bloody residue, but I’d argue that the alien exiting Chekov’s ear and then being shot by Kirk is just as violent as the moment Vito fires a gun in the Mob boss’s mouth.
Stabbed and Burned
As an adult, Vito returns to his hometown and stabs the Mob boss who killed his mother. A firefight ensues, but no further blood is shown.
During a submarine-like conflict, Kirk fires a number of shots on Khan’s ship, killing many of Khan’s men in explosions and falling debris. Half of Khan’s body gets mangled and bloodied.
Vito slashes the old, senile Mob boss with a knife all across his chest while Kirk manages to badly burn most of Khan’s face and body. I’d say they’re pretty close to even.
Killing Old Friends
Michael cold-bloodedly has three of his former friends/family members killed.
Khan kills himself intending for the blast to also kill Kirk. At the same time Spock exposes himself to lethal levels of radiation in order to save Kirk and his crew.
This is a tough call because it’s so sad to see Spock die as Kirk watches helplessly. But when we see a man lying in a pool of blood after slitting his wrists and then hear the sound of a gun killing Michael’s brother, it’s definitely shocking, too.
So What Makes The Godfather Part II Rated R?
As you can see, the violence in The Godfather Part II is basically on par with the violence in Star Trek II. There’s no graphic nudity, although there are a few hints of sexual innuendo and even talk of an abortion, as well as domestic violence. But none of this would necessarily warrant an R rating.
A lot of The Godfather Part II’s brilliance comes from making the audience think something terrible is going to happen and then holding back and not letting anything bad happen yet. Like when a Mob boss threatens a woman with a knife and when mobsters pull out guns and make it clear that they’re willing to shoot police officers if they see too much. But by not always letting blood fly, the film makes those moments when things do turn violent that much more shocking. However, this film’s suspense didn’t earn it an R rating, either.
No, the real reason The Godfather Part II is rated R is because it contains three uses of the F-word. When the senator addresses Michael at the start, he denigrates Michael and his “whole blank-ing family.” The other two uses of the F-word come in rapid succession during an attack where a Mob boss is nearly strangled to death.
Take out those three uses of this one word and you’ve got a PG film. Wouldn’t that have been interesting? Would The Godfather Part II have been regarded as highly if it hadn’t earned the same rating as the first film? Would it be seen as a lighter film, even though it deals with a lot of hard topics? It’s something to think about.
Coincidentally, Francis Ford Coppola also made The Conversation (which is rated PG) in 1974, and I don’t think anyone would criticize that film for not being hard-hitting enough.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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