1. The Godfather (1972)

IMDB Rating: 9.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%

Storyline: The Godfather draws its strength from its portrait of the Corleone family, a powerful Italian-American Mafia dynasty, led by patriarch Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando). As Vito slips into old age, the reigns must be handed off to his hesitant son Michael (Al Pacino), drawing him into a world of crime, power, and moral decay that he had long planned to escape. Enveloping its audience in a rich tapestry of family, loyalty, and organized crime, the film provides a deeply layered narrative that’s as engrossing as it is thought-provoking.

Why it’s a major movie: The Godfather is one of the most influential films of the 20th century. Not only did it redefine the gangster genre, but it also set new standards for storytelling and character development in cinema. Francis Ford Coppola, with his vigilance and artistic flair, transformed Mario Puzo’s novel into an epic parable of power, family, and capitalism. Furthermore, the film’s nuanced portrayal of the Corleone family, coupled with landmark performances by Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, created a fascinating and sometimes disturbing study of power and its corruption.

Why it’s a major movie: The Godfather garnered critical and commercial acclaim, winning three Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Marlon Brando, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Puzo and Coppola. Its deep character exploration, mafia narrative, and technical prowess had a profound impact on subsequent generation of filmmakers, inspiring numerous imitators but few equals. Most importantly, it’s often considered one of, if not the greatest movie ever made, reflecting the timeless appeal and endurance of Coppola’s masterstroke.

2. Apocalypse Now (1979)

IMDB Rating: 8.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%

Storyline: Apocalypse Now descends into the insanity and horror of the Vietnam War as it follows Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), who is sent into Cambodia on a dangerous mission to assassinate a rogue Green Beret, Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has set himself up as a god among a local tribe. Willard’s harrowing journey is not only physical but also psychological, illuminating the darkness and brutality of war through a surrealist lens.

Why it’s a major movie: Apocalypse Now is a hallucinatory, horrifying, and unflinching portrait of the senseless devastation of war. It’s more than just a war film; it’s a deep psychological analysis of the human condition when exposed to the very worst that humanity could bring forth. Coppola’s daring narrative structure and lush visual style, combined with breathtaking performances by Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando, push film boundaries, creating a sensory and cerebral spectacle unlike any other movie of its era.

Why it’s a major movie: Despite its troubled and over-budget production, Apocalypse Now ranks among the best films of its generation, earning critical success and eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Its experimental approach to storytelling, along with its gritty, distorted depiction of war-torn Vietnam, has inspired countless filmmakers and remains a touchstone of war cinema. It resulted as an extension of Coppola’s masterful direction skills, anticipating the emotional chaos and the moral black hole of warfare, and ranks amongst his most iconic and acclaimed works.

3. The Godfather: Part II (1974)

IMDB Rating: 9.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 97%

Storyline: Serving as both sequel and prequel to its predecessor, The Godfather Part II perfectly intertwines the journey of a young and vibrant Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) – Italian immigrant turned mafia boss – and his son Michael, now head of the family, as he drifts further into darkness, making decisions that jeopardize his soul and the Corleones’ empire. The movie successfully extends the Corleone saga, revealing layers of depth in both story and characters.

Why it’s a major movie: The Godfather Part II amps up the cinematic majesty of its predecessor, setting itself apart as a rare sequel that equals and arguably surpasses the original. Coppola’s ambitious storytelling serves as a showcase for his prowess in weaving complex narratives and developing characters that stay with viewers long after the credits roll. The splintered structure, tracing Vito’s rise to power and Michael’s moral descent, presented a sophisticated, multi-layered study of the weight of legacy and the cost of power.

Why it’s a major movie: Winning six Oscars, including Best Picture – a first for a sequel – Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Robert De Niro, The Godfather: Part II only cemented Coppola’s status as one of the great visionaries of American cinema. Moreover, the film remains a significant influence on popular culture, affecting the way narratives, characters, and themes are approached in cinema. It’s one of Coppola’s signature creations and a testament to his impactful and innovative storytelling style.

4. The Conversation (1974)

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%

Storyline: The Conversation is a haunting psychological thriller that centers on the life of a surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), who is hired to record a seemingly innocuous conversation between a man and a woman. However, as he pieces together the dialogues, he realizes he might be an unwilling participant in a potential murder plot, leading to a crisis of conscience and plummeting him into a world of paranoia, guilt, and dread.

Why it’s a major movie: The Conversation is a film that brilliantly combines elements of suspense, mystery, and psychological thriller. A sharp deviation from Coppola’s previous mafia narratives, the film was a provocative examination of topics such as surveillance, privacy, paranoia, and morality in modern society. With a haunting performance by Gene Hackman in the lead role, the film engenders compelling character exploration against a backdrop of suspense and personal suffering.

Why it’s a major movie: Released in the same year as The Godfather Part II, The Conversation further solidified Coppola’s reputation as a versatile auteur, capable of creating deeply engrossing narratives in a variety of genres. It won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival and also scored three Oscar nominations, further testifying its critical success. Its relevance has only increased over time, specifically in consideration of modern concerns over privacy and data surveillance, and remains an important achievement in Coppoola’s distinguished career.

5. The Godfather: Part III (1990)

IMDB Rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 68%

Storyline: The Godfather Part III closes the Corleone saga with Michael, now aging and filled with regret, desperate to legitimize his family’s business and find a worthy successor. As he tries to disconnect from his criminal past, he finds himself entangled in a web of part treachery and part redemption. In this final, tragic chapter, Michael pays the price for his ruthlessness, confronting his sins and those of his father.

Why it’s a major movie: While not garnering the same level of critical success as its predecessors, The Godfather Part III nevertheless remains an essential piece in understanding the trajectory of Michael Corleone and the legacy of his family. What makes the movie substantial is its meditation on themes like redemption, regret and morality, offering a deeper look into the psyche of a character consumed by his own ambition, yet seeking salvation. It is a compelling reflection of a gangster’s life seen through the prism of old age and repentance.

Why it’s a major movie: The Godfather Part III is often viewed as the culmination of one of the most admired trilogies in film history. Even though many consider it flawed compared to the first two, the film was still nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, suggesting the impact it had among critics and fans alike. It remains an informative conclusion to the epic Mafia saga that Francis Ford Coppola carefully crafted over two decades.

6. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

IMDB Rating: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 73%

Storyline: Bram Stoker’s Dracula offers a sumptuous reinterpretation of the classic vampire mythos. This extravagant Gothic romance follows Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) as his yearning for his lost love reincarnated, Mina (Winona Ryder), drives him from Transylvania to London in search of her. Featuring elaborate costumes, theatrical sets, and a captivating plot, it’s an eerie and seductive take on one of literature’s most enduring horror figures.

Why it’s a major movie: Bram Stoker’s Dracula finds Coppola working in a more ambitious and visually spectacular style, incorporating elements of romance, horror, and tragic love into his storytelling. His attempt to remain true to the source material while simultaneously infusing it with his unique vision was met with critical success. Deeply atmospheric and hauntingly romantic, it’s a mesmerizing visual and emotional spectacle, led by Gary Oldman’s captivating performance in the lead role.

Why it’s a major movie: The film was a commercial triumph, proving that Coppola could helm big-budget productions with as much skill and insight as his more intimate works. It won three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing and Best Makeup, affirming the critical recognition of its technical and artistic merit. Bram Stoker’s Dracula remains a staple of Coppola’s filmography and is known for its innovative design and memorable performances.

7. Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988)

IMDB Rating: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 85%

Storyline: Tucker: The Man and His Dream tells the inspirational yet tragic story of Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges), an ambitious and innovative automotive designer who dared to challenge the dominance of Detroit’s Big Three automakers. Despite his revolutionary ideas for a safer, more efficient car, Tucker faces immense opposition from industry giants and the legal system, which threatens to dismantle his dream.

Why it’s a major movie: Tucker: The Man and His Dream is Coppola’s ode to innovation, presenting a story of an outsider struggling against a system averse to change. Bolstered by Jeff Bridge’s performance as the titular character, the film delicately balances the line between inspiring aspirations and bitter reality. The film serves as Coppola’s commentary on American corporate politics, and the resilience of a man who dared to dream big and revolutionize the car industry.

Why it’s a major movie: The film was received warmly by critics and nominated for three Academy Awards, attesting to its artistic success. It stands as a testament to the unique gifts of its director, who managed to weave a timely tale of entrepreneurship and corporate resistance into a rich cinematic fabric. Blending elements of biography, drama, and history, Tucker: The Man and His Dream is a sincere and vivid exploration of American industrial history, and a significant film in Coppola’s repertoire.

8. Rumble Fish (1983)

IMDB Rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 73%

Storyline: Set in a grim, monochromatic world, Rumble Fish follows Rusty James (Matt Dillon), a rebellious teenager seeking to emulate his older brother, The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), a former gang leader who has returned after a mysterious absence. The film offers a stark commentary on matters like time, loyalty, and the angst of youth, tainted with violence and illusion.

Why it’s a major movie: Rumble Fish stands as one of the more experimental endeavors of Coppola’s impressive filmography. Using a unique black-and-white aesthetic, he created a surrealistic portrait of rebellious youth, which feels as much a visual poem as a narrative film. The challenging aesthetics, alongside powerhouse performances from Dillon and Rourke, craft a dark and brooding tale of misguided idols and youthful disillusionment.

Why it’s a major movie: Despite mixed initial responses, the film has gained cult status over the years. Critics now regard it as one of Coppola’s finest works, known for its stylish direction, resonant themes, and innovative sound design. Its distinctive visual style and exploration of the angst of youth have served as an inspiration to many contemporary filmmakers. Rumble Fish remains one of Coppola’s most original and daring films and a prime example of his diverse and unconventional storytelling methods.