Consider This: Mario Puzo Wrote Both The Godfather and Superman

Mario Puzo Superman Godfather Marlon Brando Coppola Scorsese James Gunn Marvel

Lost in the debate over Marvel movies and revered directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese is the possibility of a world where superhero movies and deeply personal gangster epics can co-exist. Case in point: Mario Puzo wrote both Coppola’s The Godfather and the first big-budget superhero film, Superman.

It happened in a more daring time, the 1970s, when filmmakers from Puzo to Scorsese to Coppola took bold risks, and the lack of social media made them less likely to be pigeonholed or divided into supposed teams.

Puzo went from writing the novel The Godfather to collaborating with Coppola on two Godfather film adaptations to working with Richard Donner on the charming and beloved Superman: The Movie. (Puzo wrote the story for the films, and collaborated on the screenplays.)

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The Godfather and Godfather Part II are revered as our greatest gangster saga, and as two of our greatest movies overall, while Superman is respected as the proof-of-concept for superhero movies that have made billions since. (The Godfather and Superman shared Marlon Brando, who brought gravitas to both films.)

Social media has, to some extent, turned Martin Scorsese’s recent comments about Marvel films into a fight between old and new. Coppola fed into that narrative when he called Marvel films “despicable” and said Scorsese was being kind to merely say Marvel films were “not cinema.”

James Gunn also serviced the old vs. new narrative when he said Sunday that superhero films “are simply today’s gangsters/cowboys/outer space adventurers,” as important to today’s audiences as gangster movies once were. Gunn has made a point of honoring both Scorsese and Coppola while disagreeing with them about Marvel movies.

Also read:Francis Ford Coppola Calls Marvel Movies ‘Despicable’

But what’s been largely lost in the discussion is that Scorese wasn’t looking for a fight between old and new. As he explained at the BFI London Film Festival, his goal is to protect the “communal experience” of watching films in theaters. He expressed fear that smaller films will be crowded out of theaters if big-budget Marvel-style films occupy every screen.

He discussed “the value of a film that’s like a theme-park film for example, the Marvel-type pictures where the theaters become amusement parks.”

“It’s not cinema, it’s something else,” Scorsese said. “Whether you go for that or not. But it is something else, and we shouldn’t be invaded by it. And so that’s a big issue, that’s a big issue, and we need the theater owners to step up for that, you see, to allow theaters to show pictures that are narrative films.”

Also read: Watch Martin Scorsese’s Full Comments on ‘Theme Park’ Marvel Movies

The most successful film this month, meanwhile, is Joker, a mashup of a super villain origin story and Scorsese classics like Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. Whether you like Joker or not, it clearly illustrates an audience appetite for adult-minded films about comic-book characters, as did Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Yes, those films, based on DC characters, are more dramatic than most Marvel films, which tend to have a light touch. But they prove that comic-books and grown-up narratives go hand-in-hand, as comic-book fans have been saying for decades.

So yes, superhero movies and auteur-driven films can peacefully co-exist—if there are enough screens for both of them. MM

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